Kolkata lady works hard to earn bachelor’s degree; husband, in-laws harass in return

Kolkata: Parboti (name changed) had toiled hard for five years to balance her household chores to complete her degree in humanities in face of constant protests from in-laws. Her major concern was to be able to supplement the meager family income. After realizing her dream however, the constant harassment from in-laws and husband forced her to file for a divorce, she claimed.

According to the city-based Working Women Welfare Group fighting for the rights of working women against harassment, there has been a steady increase in married women subjected to domestic violence. “Thirty per cent of all working women face some kind of humiliation from husband or in-laws owing to their being financially independent” Anonya Basu, the president of the foundation, said.

However, her husband had a different tale to tell. He claimed that he was very supportive of her, and had in fact saved for her education despite having a meager monthly income of just rupees 2,000 a month.

Parboti, now 33, sacrificed nearly half a decade of her life to earn her degree and simultaneously manage household and keeping her husband pleased. But the sudden turn of events has left her devastated. “There are many women like me who suffer silently at the hands of insecure husbands and inconsiderate in-laws”, rued the woebegone humanities graduate.

Misfortune, it seems, has been a constant companion of Parboti. To provide for her ill father’s medications, she had to drop out of class 10 despite being a brilliant student. Her aspirations took a further beating when her conservative parents and relatives made her marry a man whose family was plagued by poverty, much against her wishes, and who himself had dropped out of the school after finishing his class 11.

After marriage she realized, her husband had to also fund his brother’s studies apart from supporting his parents and her. It was under these circumstances that her husband suggested that she take up an evening bachelors course to be able to supplement the family income. She was reluctant to accept the idea, but took up the challenge as she thought it was the best thing to do under the given circumstance as her husband had become more insistent. To be able to pay her fee and buy her books she had to borrow money from her already burdened parents, but as the demand was from their son-in-law, they had complied.

After all the toil she finally successfully completed her course and clinched a job at a private firm. Parboti said she had hoped for a more comfortable and happier life after she had secured the job. Her husband, however, did not retain the same enthusiasm any longer, as she painfully found out. He allegedly picked up arguments over minor issues as he was jealous of her for earning more than himself, said she.

Her husband also grew increasingly suspicious of her. Initially, he did not speak much about it, but later she sensed his suspicions had grown stronger. The suspicions, she claimed, were totally unfounded and just a product of his insecure mind’s imagination. However, she did not counter him and maintained a dignified silence in the hope that her pacifist attitude would let things get normal.

But they didn’t. Instead, the situation kept on worsening. She was left with no option, but to file for a divorce last month. The court has directed the couple to try mediation.

The husband however says that he and his parents were very supportive, and in fact that despite his meager income he had financed Parboti’s education on her insistence.

He added that Parboti’s success had “gone to her head” and that is why she had filed for the divorce.

Kindly answer this question:

Now, please read the original story: Bangalore man funds wife’s studies, gets divorce in return (click).

Now kindly answer this question:

Did your response change after reading the original story?

Dear reader,

Sorry for making you go through this. At the time of publication, I am not sure if my experiment succeeded, but I just wanted to highlight how merely changing the tone of ones language, and the amount of space given to different characters in a story our perceptions can significantly be altered. The observant reader would notice that except for changing the name of the city and the degree course, there is very little additional information I have provided. Most of the events have been kept the same.

The entire exercise was to demonstrate the power of the mass media. With just a clever sleight of the hand (that runs over the keyboard) perceptions can be manufactured. Plus, add to it the fact that new facts could be cooked up and none would be wiser. I obviously do not know how accurate or inaccurate the Bangalore-story is, but it could have been tilted either ways to make the reader sympathetic towards one or the other, in this particular instance, it was the husband. I hope, now onwards, the readers will read news stories more circumspectly. 🙂

Thanks for your participation!

7 thoughts on “Kolkata lady works hard to earn bachelor’s degree; husband, in-laws harass in return

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Kolkata lady works hard to earn bachelor’s degree; husbands, in-laws harass in return « Neglected Serendipity -- Topsy.com

  2. Dear Ketan,

    Great job this is another way of telling the people to be vigilant. Not buy into everything that the media presents, as it can be exactly opposite of facts. It take but a little effort and a different picture emerges.

    However coming back to your story I think we go on the defensive and want to be politically correct and hence holding both responsible is selected since middle path seems a safer bet.

    Once the actual news report is read it leaves no room for any speculation and the right decision is reached.

    The message is clear and very well delivered. Which no reader would forget in a hurry.


  3. This was interesting, and I copied it, looked at it, forgot about it, now found it again. It’s the *way* facts are presented, for me. Regarding the headlines, for example, the first one is too sympathetic to women. You never see an actual headline like that, it sounds like a blog post. Lol. Then on to the stories:

    She claims harassment, but does this mean violence? That cited 30% sounds too low, but is she part of that, or is it irrelevant? It says the situation got worse but how much worse?
    It says he “had to” fund his brother’s studies—why? Putting his brothers before his wife makes him look like a jerk, and how could he afford to pay for both? Then it says he maneuvered her parent’s into paying for her: that would add up, but he says he paid for her, from which I conclude he is probably lying and by “paid” he means “convinced her parents to pay”. Again he looks like a jerk. Both sides claim the other picked fights, but he was he was jealous, he was suspicious—maybe so but these points have nothing to do with the money. Conclusion = a jealous, controlling husband who harasses his wife till she finally leaves him.

    In the second story, the 2nd para tells all you need to know: SIF? If they’re involved, he’s wrong, simple as that. But let’s assume the reader doesn’t know about SIF and ignore that whole paragraph.

    He paid for her school and got stiffed, ok, but he “sacrificed a decade?” “to make her an engineer?” come on, I think her own efforts made her an engineer, and his efforts are mostly aimed at crying for sympathy. “there are several others?” no shit, which has what to do with it? He’s trying to build a case for the evil wimmen conspiracy that’s to blame for all his problems. Not buying it.
    He’s paying for two brothers, yet he was more than happy to pay for her ? She was angry “because he earned less”? WTF? That could be the first time I’ve ever heard of a person complaining about that. These guys always invert the facts, so he’s true to form. Then, right on cue, he says she had affairs—totally irrelevant to the question at hand, which is a court case about money. Unless of course, he wants to paint her as a slut who deserves punishment. Then, ROFL, he “maintained a dignified silence” while she was out running around on him. !!!!! He must be the only man in the world who acted so saintly. This hardly fits with all the petty histrionics in the rest of his whine.

    His wife’s story makes sense. His is just a transparent attempt to shift blame and avoid responsibility. Conclusion = screw him.
    Upshot: The two stories tell different sides, but they tell the same story if you’re informed enough to read between the lines.

    • Uzza,

      Welcome to my new blog! It’s always nice to see comments from someone who I admire so much. So, thanks! 🙂 I also thank you for such a detailed analysis.

      Many things would not make sense without your knowing a bit more of how Indian society and the mass media function. I will try to lay out the context for you.

      “You never see an actual headline like that, it sounds like a blog post. Lol.”

      Indian media actually works in a very shoddy fashion. I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire original story is largely a work of fiction.The web site where the original story was published belongs to one of the most influential media houses in India. And even their headline sounds like a blog post. I wanted to preserve the basic essence of the original news article that I had tweaked. Personally, I would not use such sensationalist, one-sided headlines.

      “She claims harassment, but does this mean violence? That cited 30% sounds too low, but is she part of that, or is it irrelevant?”

      Yes, exactly those were even my thoughts! Of course, I made up the 30% thing, but you would find that violence against men was mentioned in the original story, too & I thought that to be quite irrelevant, except for if one uses an excessively inclusive definition of ‘violence’, which might include nagging and pestering/verbally abusing, etc.

      “It says he “had to” fund his brother’s studies—why?”

      It would be very difficult for you to understand or to be able to relate to many of the Indian social phenomena. Many Indians live as part of what are known as ‘joint families’ [see the relevant Wikipedia article here (click)]. In India, parents and elder siblings (in that order) conventionally take responsibility of children’s studies. The concept of student loans is hardly existent in India. It is expected that children would take care of their parents when they grow old. Also, a part of this quid pro quo is a degree of servility and submissiveness of the younger children that passes off euphemistically as ‘obedience’ and is held as a virtue in the India society. Also, thus the elder siblings get to dominate the lives of younger siblings after the death of the parents. Usually, the younger siblings would not go against the diktats of their elder siblings. And if they display ‘insubordination’, then that is seen as highly inappropriate behavior. Also, as you would find in the Wikipedia article, it is only males that are related by-birth to each other; all the females in the family, except for if born in that family, would have been brought up by some other family. This is because in Indian customs, a girl after getting married leaves her maternal family to live with the husband’s family. It almost never happens the other way round. Thus, it is expected that a husband show greater ‘loyalty’ to his consanguineous family members (parents/brothers/sisters/cousins, etc.) than to his wife. In fact, if in familial ‘politics’ if a husband supports his wife (even if rightly so) it is seen as betrayal by all other family members. As I write this, I realize yet again, and more acutely than ever, as to how oppressive the Indian society is towards women. Anyway, so in context of Indian society, there was nothing unusual about an elder brother sponsoring his younger brother’s education and prioritizing it over his wife’s.

      “Then it says he maneuvered her parent’s into paying for her: that would add up, but he says he paid for her, from which I conclude he is probably lying and by “paid” he means “convinced her parents to pay”.

      Actually, in both the versions of the story, both the lady and the man are respectively claiming that her education was sponsored by her parents and by himself. So, it is impossible to determine who is speaking the truth here [which was basically the point of this post! 🙂 ].

      “He paid for her school and got stiffed, ok, but he “sacrificed a decade?” “to make her an engineer?” come on, I think her own efforts made her an engineer, and his efforts are mostly aimed at crying for sympathy.”

      LOL! True. Perhaps, what the ‘reporter’ meant by sacrificing a decade is all the financial compromises he might have made in that one decade of financing his brother’s and wife’s education.

      ““there are several others?” no shit, which has what to do with it? He’s trying to build a case for the evil wimmen conspiracy that’s to blame for all his problems. Not buying it.”

      Yes, as I said above, that portion is totally irrelevant. It is only to subliminally influence the readers into believing that the problem is widely prevalent and that this is a new trend in the Indian society wherein husbands are being harassed by wives to this extent. Perhaps, only to give it this spin of a ‘new trend’ that the entire story was made up or presented in such a partisan fashion by NDTV.

      “She was angry “because he earned less”? WTF? That could be the first time I’ve ever heard of a person complaining about that.”

      I’m afraid, again you’ll need the ‘Indian context’ here. In India, many marriages are arranged by the girl’s and the boy’s parents. In the sense, depending upon what they feel should be the attributes of their daughter-in-law they go ‘shopping’ for prospective brides. Many times it is ensured that the bride be of the same mother tongue, same ‘caste’, same ‘subcaste’, and then there has to be ‘astrological compatibility’, which is determined by horoscopes prepared on the bases of place and time of birth. Apart from all that, at all stages it is ensured that the bride would be perceived to be inferior to their son in most respects. She has to be younger than the husband so that she would ‘respect’ the husband (as you might have understood from the arrangement in the ‘joint family’, chronological age is an important determinant of perceived superiority); she has to be less educated or perceived to be less educated than the husband; she has to be lesser earning than the husband; she has to be shorter than the husband (of course, statistically men are taller than women, but a couple with taller wife is seen with some amount of ridicule by others). If any of the above conditions are not met before marriage or are offset after it (practically speaking, if the wife starts earning more than the husband or gets higher education), then the husband becomes an object of ridicule – that he is not ‘manly’ enough. He would be perceived as ‘inferior’ to his wife, which is a grave insult in the Indian society. And as you might have made out from the above description, wives are ‘by default’ perceived to be inferior to their husbands, and in fact great care is taken that this perception is sustained. So now, it should not be difficult to understand why the husband would feel jealous and angry at a wife who would start earning more than him. However, despite saying all this, I would also like to add that the influence of social conditioning right from childhood and peer pressure is very strong. I do not entirely blame such husbands for harboring these kinds of insecurities. In fact, these oppressive-to-women-practices are so many centuries old that almost nobody finds anything wrong with them. Not suprisingly, women themselves embrace them. It is no surprise that quite frequently, it is the mother-in-law who would be most actively involved in abuse of the married woman, rather than other male members (instead of being empathetic of and sympathetic towards a fellow woman). So husbands, while behaving in this ridiculous manner, don’t even realize that they are fundamentally being chauvinistic and are thus wrong. It is difficult to for people to consider something wrong that has such widespread social sanction.

      ” Then, right on cue, he says she had affairs—totally irrelevant to the question at hand, which is a court case about money.”

      No, actually that is not irrelevant, because in India proved adultery is a strong grounds for divorce. And if adultery is proved, then the husband does not have to pay alimony (‘maintenance’ money) to the wife after divorce. Of course, in both the versions of the story it is the wife that files for divorce, but the additional significance of the fact is that society and family members would be far more sympathetic of a man if his wife is found to be cheating than if the divorce would be on some other grounds (like marital discord). And perhaps, what the ‘reporter’ wanted to highlight was the ingratitude of his wife. You know sexual infidelity is the ultimate sabotage a wife could subject her husband to? 😉

      “His wife’s story makes sense. His is just a transparent attempt to shift blame and avoid responsibility. Conclusion = screw him.”

      Well, I am afraid I really do not know which version to trust. I truly feel both the versions are palusible, though statistically speaking, I would tend to believe it was the wife who must have been the aggrieved party here.

      “Upshot: The two stories tell different sides, but they tell the same story if you’re informed enough to read between the lines.”

      Yes, that precisely was the message of my post that with clever jugglery of words, an entirely different picture could be painted. And this I did, because Indian media is highly unreliable, yet people tend to believe what the media houses report quite blindly without verifying or even pausing to think of the implausibilities and glaring logical flaws in the reportage.

      The purpose of my post was not commentary on prevalent gender biases and how they especially harm the women, but to make the readers aware of the psychological tricks that reporters, journalists and editors can play on our minds to push around their hidden agenda. I believe, the motive behind the partisan approach was not to push around the ‘evil wimmen’ conspiracy (because it is widely acknowledged among urban Indians at least that woman’s status in India needs vast improvements), but only to sensationalize the news so that it would serve as good ‘gossip’ material.

      I might have painted a very gloomy picture of the status of women in India, and it is quite accurate in my knowledge, however I would also point out that with increased literacy among women and urbanization, things are improving. In cities, and especially among affluent people things are very different. Most youngsters choose their own life partners or have a significant say in the process. Many of these choices are independent of caste, mother tongue, etc. Also, most husbands accord an absolute equal status to their wives. However, for most practical purposes, a husband who earns less than his wife, would be looked at with some ridicule even in such circles.

      I would like your views on this post – Discrimination against Women: Possible Causes (click) by me.


  4. Damn, I’m slow! But I’m thorough. Wrote these notes ages ago and never finished typing them. But here they are.

    You tell me that many things won’t make sense without knowing about Indian society. You’re totally right, and from your blog and comments I get a valuable education, and its awesome. So thank you. (you said it in regards to the headlines there being “shoddy”. I have noticed that; just thought it was funny, mostly. You also talk about how people blindly follow the media—shit, you should see what we got in this country! lol )

    For example, I didn’t know about student loans there. Did know some about the family dynamics you describe, but that one data changes the whole dynamics. A fault of mine is that I tend to be idealistic, to expect people to stand up and say “that sucks” and do the right thing. Lol—as if I did all the myself!

    Again I got an education when you described marriage arrangements. You make it sound like buying a hog, to me, but I didn’t take into account the social conditioning, as I should have, since I am aware of the androcentric attitudes you describe. It still leaves me puzzled though. Those attitudes “explain” why ‘men’ get all pissy when their wives earn more than them, but this is the opposite. True enough that women embrace those same anti-woman atttitudes, notoriously Mother-in-laws do, but this is a case where the woman herself does. It still seems like she, who has bucked society enough to go out and get educated ans so forth, of all people would reject such attitudes. Typically baffling human behavior there I guess, but your remarks shed light on it.

    I liked your wink at infidelity being Teh Horror. We’re both being tongue in cheek there, knowing its irrelevant to he court case at hand, and it’s irrelevant that it’s irrelvant, whatever.

    Your speculating about primitve societies, mmm… Here’s the note wrote in the margins: “Aw fuck, the old mighty hunter meme.”. A major theme in anthropology is that modern people really have no clue about how primitive hunter-gathering societies operate, and they make wrong speculations based on their assumptions/misconceptions. Like you say, it’s not difficult to imagine something, and maybe that’s the problem. My thought is to look at baboons and apes, our societies are just jazzed up versions of theirs, and we are related most to bonobos. You know what they’re famous for!

    Finally, your comments about women being trained to conform I thought were very insightful.

    That’s all 🙂 You asked, so I left another long winded preachy post over on that “discrimination” post, too.

  5. Uzza,

    Thanks a lot!

    Fortunately, lot more Indians go the US (largely for education and to an extent, employment) and when they come back, we get to hear about the US society. Plus, we get to read a lot more about American news, novels, watch Hollywood movies, TV serials than a typical American getting to know India. Also, Indians in the US do not live there the way they do in India, they have to or quite willingly adapt to the American ways of life. Also, the Indian movies (colloquially called ‘Bollywood’ movies are hardly representative of the Indian society, which anyway is very, very heterogeneous – both because of cultural and economic factors). So summarily, it is lot easier for me to understand and empathize with what you say, compared to your understanding what I would say about India. In that regard, I am really glad that you’re trying your bit to understand.

    As a sidenote, I am personally a very reticent/non-intrusive kind of person. So, I am sort of ashamed to say that it is rare that I would point to glaring wrongs and try to stop them, except for if the involved persons are those I know closely. Why I am like that – I do not know. However, one good thing about becoming aware of all the prejudices, attendant abuses of power is that – when I myself reach a position of power, I will not abuse it. Social conditioning is a huge evil, the damage of which cannot easily be appreciated. As an example, let’s think of suicide bombers – everyone hates them, and perhaps, rightly so. But I do not think all of them, in other areas of life would be qualify as requiring psychiatric help. The thing is in their societies and places where they grow up, people committing suicides to kill the ‘infidels’ in most spectacular fashion possible are rather revered. I do not know how much the incentive of 72 virgins and et al counts, but what I know is that this kind of social sanction somehow precludes the suicide bombers from seeing the most obvious things – that it is wrong to kill innocents and secondly that they are giving only one thing that truly belongs to them in the process – their life.

    As another example. In some places northern India, as part of a highly convoluted practice, girls and boys are not supposed to marry each other if they belong to the same group called gotra. Now, this gotra is not even linked genetically, so actually it makes no sense to restrict such an alliance. However, there have been few instances, where if a boy and a girl belonging to the same gotra had fallen in love, and married each other against the wishes of their parents and villagers, they were killed by their own families! How cruel could this be. In one of the programs, grandparents of a girl killed thus were interviewed by a TV news channel. They were visibly grieving and were sad at what happened, but all the grandfather said was: “we loved her very much, but what she had done was wrong and this (killing her) had to be done, for tradition has to be preserved”. This is the degree to which social conditioning makes people blind to all kind of logic and rationality.

    Take care.

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