“Unfortunate stereotyping”- 22 June 2011

Stereotyping is dangerous. It does not indicate the truth. In fact, mostly, it tends to ignore the reality. Yet, stereotyping takes place at all times, at all places, unconsciously, subconsciously. Journalistically, a recent headline may have been just such an example of mismatch with the text. The text talked about how sons are more responsible for the neglect of the elderly in the family. The headline, however, was a good case of thoughtless stereotyping: it stated that the daughters-in-law are responsible for the neglect of the elderly persons! Some people felt enraged at another level. They felt, daughters-in-law were being blamed unnecessarily. That was certainly not the case, but the headline got given stereotypically just like a reflex action! That’s how deep rooted stereotypes can be.

‘Saas-bahu’ fights are a reality, we know. And the daughters-in-law have earned a big bad name over time. So have the mothers-in-law. The society, too, has accepted the stereotyping and never questions it. The newspaper report to mark the special day of the elderly also got the wrong headline out of the tendency not even to question the stereotyping. That is something the society needs to start changing rather quickly.
This is an ancient issue, of course. And yet, there is a need now to start discussing it and changing our approach to it. For, leave alone the third rate stereotyping on the television and cinema, the reality is different. Any society that ignores the reality on such a massive scale and goes on rubbing in a wrong belief, only harms itself.
The whole thing is somewhat like ragging that goes on in senior schools and colleges. There was time when everybody felt sure that ragging cannot be stopped. Some individual rebellions or efforts also were made to stop the nonsense. Yet, ragging went on unhampered. However, now ragging is a bad word, thanks to the notice the lawmakers took of the evil. Now, nobody ever thinks that ragging cannot be stopped. So change is possible-only when there is a collective concerted effort.
Similar efforts need to be made at all levels. For, the average Indian family deserves to be a happier place. It deserves a true peace and harmony, which can come if the traditional notions are thrown away. This is the time when we need to refashion our thoughts about the great institution of daughter-in-law.
We need no reminder that the daughter-in-law will always be younger and more modern. Naturally! She is born in a different time. She is differently educated, differently bred in a different family setting. She would take her own time to imbibe her new family’s values and culture. Until that happens, she is going to make comparisons, howsoever undue. And the mothers-in-law (who, too, were daughters-in-law at some time) should allow that much time and space for the DiLs to identify themselves fully with the family.
There is no doubt that the DiLs, too, need to understand the importance of their own role, their own responsibility, their own place in the family they should occupy rightly. Youth need not deprive them of a great virtue of patience. In fact, patience makes one stronger, better, deeper.
But more important than these is the role men, the sons in particular, need to play in changing the traditional style and mindset. The study referred to in the newspaper report on the care of the elderly states clearly that it is the sons who should be held more responsible for the neglect and not the daughters-in-law all the time. In fact, their role is far more crucial than most would understand. They should take responsibility and care of their parents. They should spend more time and effort in their care rather than traditionally leave it all to the DIL and then blame her for this and that. Therefore, the sons have to play a greater role in the family matters, especially as regards the care of the elderly persons in the family. Of course, they can if they decide. Of course, they have when they decided. And that is what should be done now also, consciously. The onus should be on them more even through everything is a shared responsibility in a family.

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