My wife Ramona said the other day, quite out of the blue, ‘I am quite happy, I am not Indian.’ She must have been thinking about something, so I asked her why. 'Indian people have lots of expectations on women but it is okay that I don't meet them, simply because I am not Indian!' When I posted this sentence on my facebook page, a discussion started which made her explain her statement a bit more in detail. I thought you would like to hear the insights that she has after six years of living in Vrindavan:
“What I said comes from my experiences here in Vrindavan, with friends, our staff and the parents of the children of our school – we are not living in one of the metro cities where empowered women are working as executives in big companies! Maybe my experience would have been very different in a bigger city of India – here, many people still think if a woman works, it is because the family is too poor to survive without.
The expectations I am talking about exist towards women’s behaviour, their clothing, how they talk, that they should be ashamed when talking about certain topics, how they should react to men talking and keep back their opinion. Adult women cannot decide on their own if they should go to work or not, how much salary they should get and if the work timing is fine. They come with their husbands, elder brothers or fathers to the job interview and rely on their decision. Teachers tell me 'I will work six more months, then I will marry' and when I ask whether they wouldn't want to work after that they say 'If my in-laws allow it…'! 25-year-old-women, studied and working, are not allowed to come to a school event that will end after 7pm. So much to working women.
In private life, too, there are so many expectations on women and restrictions on what they can do. If a girlfriend – an adult woman – who comes to visit me at the Ashram gets half an hour late, her phone starts ringing: ‘Where are you? What are you doing?’ When I join a conversation and my father-in-law is talking and I object to something he said, I get shocked glances and people start giggling nervously…. my father-in-law doesn't mind but others think 'Oh, she's a foreigner, she doesn't know…’
That's what I was saying with one sentence. I know that change has started in the metro cities and that there are many strong Indian women who don't care about those expectations – but here in Vrindavan this is what I see every day.
Don't get me wrong though – I love India and I love India’s people but most of all I love my family who does not stick with any rigid tradition, who don’t keep expectations on me and who gave me a home where I am free to be who I am.”