Chapter 2: Chasing dreams at high cost | ET REALITY


As Nasreen Parveen ran, her mind was focused on nothing but putting one foot in front of the other.


Every now and then, for a brief flash, he remembered the high window sill and his decision not to jump. That she was alive because she wanted her life back instead of ending it. Which meant that at that moment she Nasreen had only one task to focus on: escaping her before her family realized she was gone.

Fierce and wild dogs barked in the distance. If there’s one of them in the way, I’m dead, she thought.

Finally, after running more than four miles on torn and blistered feet, Nasreen reached the bus station. From there, a bus took her to a train station in the nearest city. Staring at the ticket counter, Nasreen could only think of one place to go: New Delhi, the capital of India, where she had lived with her family.

He had memories of the city from childhood. But going there now would mean arriving alone, with no home to go to.

What else could I do?

Nasreen had left her house to escape. the trap of a concerted violent commitment. But she, like millions of other young Indian girls, was still caught in a much bigger trap.

Alice Evans, a senior lecturer at King’s College London, studies why some countries have made huge strides in gender equality over the last century, while others, including India and many in the Middle East, have remained more patriarchal. .

An explanation is what she calls patrilineal trap. In societies that place great importance on “family honor” – which depends on women’s chastity outside of marriage – families are reluctant to allow their unmarried daughters to do anything that might make them appear less chaste than their peers. That includes working outside the home or traveling to other cities for secondary education, which creates opportunities for unsupervised contact with men.

Even many families who would like their daughters to continue their education or get a job fear the reputational cost of being the first to try.

In many countries, Dr. Evans said, the patrilineal trap is broken as the economy industrializes and more young women move to cities to seek employment. But that requires women’s salaries to be high enough to be worth the reputational risk. And in India, economic growth has been largely concentrated in small family businesses; industries where people have precarious and informal jobs; or factories that rarely employ women. Although the country has its share of tech unicorns and other companies that have created salaried jobs, they have tended to cluster in a few large cities.

As a result, kinship networks are an important source of income, employment, and social support. And because a family perceived to be dishonored may find itself cast out of that broader network of blood and marital ties, the perceived cost of allowing a daughter to risk her reputation may seem too high to bear.

Even women who are employed often quit as soon as their families can spare the income. The percentage of women in India’s workforce has increased fell sharply since 2005, to 23.5 percent last year; The country now has one of the lowest formal employment rates for women in the world. Only one in five Indian women has a paid job. In China, that rate is more than double.

That has limited India’s pool of productive workers, hampering economic growth.

In neighboring Bangladesh, economic growth and per capita income have soared, progress that economists attribute, in significant part, to the country’s economy. greater success to get women access to paid work.

“Every month I read somewhere a statistic about how our GDP is losing because we don’t have ‘productive workers’ in the workforce, and by that they mean women,” said Shrayana Bhattacharya, a World Bank economist and author of a book about Indian women’s struggle for independence, intimacy and respect in a patriarchal culture.

When his train arrived in New Delhi Late in the morning, Nasreen could only think of one person who could help: Nazreen Malik, her family’s former landlady, a kind woman who used to take her on trips to the vegetable market.

Much to Nasreen’s relief, Malik was still living in the same apartment in Kashmere Gate, a neighborhood hidden against a wall of Delhi’s ancient fortifications. He recognized Nasreen immediately and took her in. Over the next few weeks, he helped Nasreen negotiate a release from her engagement, in part by threatening to file a police report against her fiancé’s family.

But Nasreen, not only by fleeing the commitment her family had chosen for her but also by speaking out about the abuse she had suffered, had created bad blood between her nuclear family and the broader network of relatives who made up her community in the village.

Nasreen’s maternal grandmother, mother and siblings moved to Delhi. The family told Nasreen that they had decided to make up for the poor treatment he had received in Bengal by supporting his efforts to return to school. She believed them, but she also knew that wasn’t the only reason.

For a while, it seemed as if his parents had accepted his new life in Delhi. They rented a three-room apartment and Nasreen’s father returned from abroad and started driving an autorickshaw. Nasreen enrolled in an educational program run by a local women’s empowerment charity, known by the acronym OUTBREAKSand worked to become the first in her family to complete high school.

But every small success required a battle against his parents’ fears about his reputation and his own. She worried about letting Nasreen leave the house alone, lest a sexual assault jeopardize not only her safety but also her ability to get married. She was concerned about allowing her to get a job or pursue a career because people might think that the men in the family were not fulfilling her proper roles as providers for her.

The family’s situation was too precarious to take financial risks.

When the coronavirus pandemic began, life became even more difficult. As people quarantined at home, demand for rickshaw rides decreased and his father stopped working as much. At the same time, anti-Muslim sentiment and violence were on the rise. Although Nasreen’s family, who is Muslim, was never a victim of sectarian violence, growing reports of attacks in the city made her parents nervous about staying in Delhi. The family began making plans for one of her brothers to follow in her father’s footsteps and work in the Gulf, and to discuss returning to the village in West Bengal.

Meanwhile, Nasreen’s cousin and his family started pressuring Nasreen’s family to rekindle the engagement. His parents, perhaps hoping to keep their options open about returning to the village, finally agreed and then pressured Nasreen to accept.

He immediately regretted the decision. Nasreen’s fiancé began harassing her remotely, she said, demanding she tell him where she was at all times and forbidding her from participating in ordinary activities. If she did not comply with his demanding demands, he would verbally abuse her over the phone, frequently changing numbers so that she could not block his calls.

“’I have your address in Delhi. I can come and I can do anything,’” she said he told her. “He said, ‘I’ll throw acid in your face, ruin your life and everything.’”

To escape for the second time, Nasreen secretly recorded her fiancé’s threats. Once she gathered enough material, she gave it to her parents. “If this is how you treat me before marriage, what will you do after marriage?” she asked. Finally they agreed to definitively break off the engagement.

But Nasreen still fell out with her family. After a fight, she said, her family punished her by locking her alone in a dark room for hours. Desperately frightened by the darkness, she felt as if she were suffocating. Panicking, she made deep cuts on both wrists, leaving permanent scars.

“There were times when I felt like ending my life or running away,” he said. “But I left it because my parents would have had to answer a lot of people and a lot of questions. “I didn’t want to give them that burden.”

He had relied on his wits and will to get out of the violent confrontation. He now felt that he needed to find a way out of the suffocating control of his family.

Bhumika Saraswati, Nikita Jain and Andrea Bruce contributed with reports.

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