Cultural issues: The challenges of growing up as an Indian woman in the UK
As an Indian woman born and raised in the UK by parents from the subcontinent, I have faced the challenges of reconciling my Indian culture with life in the UK in two important respects - independence and relationships.
Choosing to be independent and living life on one's own terms is, for a woman from any culture, a big challenge.
For the Indian family, the thought that a daughter would wish to choose independence over marriage is one that is very difficult (if not impossible) to accept. However, Indian families living in the West are changing and becoming more liberal so that, today, the Indian woman choosing to live on her own before marriage - whilst not always accepted - is more likely to be tolerated.
Choosing to be independent can be empowering as it gives us the freedom to live our lives by our own rules. It allows us to break away from the cultural pressures of finding a suitable life partner and settling down into married life. This is not always an option for all, as more Indian women are becoming career oriented and want to travel. They may have their own plans and choose not to marry until later in life - if they choose to get married at all.
There are also issues for the Indian woman who wishes to leave her family home after she has finished her studies and to go out into the world independently. Today young Indian women place a premium on education and many these days are going to university. This will result in them leaving the family home to live first in a university residence and, then, to share accommodation with multicultural friends. This will introduce them to the advantages of living independently.
There is still some stigma attached to a young Indian woman living away from home before marriage and this itself will often encourage gossip within the Indian community. Their family may be concerned that her marriage prospects will be harmed by the experience.
As a result, some Indian families find it difficult to accept their daughter leaving home and choosing to be independent, even if she has a good job and is sharing a flat with friends or living alone. This can be felt even more if she leaves to move in with a partner before marriage; not only will her family have to deal with their own concerns, but they also have the additional burden of dealing with their community and their often hurtful comments.
Most Indian women are expected to marry within their culture and caste system. This can work well if they are introduced or meet through friends and get to know each other before they marry. However, where the introduction is effected through their family, the period they have to get to know their future husband can be brief and they will be denied the opportunity to get to know each other over a longer period of time. As a result, problems often arise after the couple start living together.
These days, young Indian women living in the UK start to date at school and university. It is extremely difficult to live in the UK and follow the old Indian ways of not dating before marriage. Instead, young Indian women want the freedom and flexibility to do as they wish. This includes marrying whom they want to or living with their partner before they decide to marry or not. But, this can result in tensions within the family even if the husband is Indian.
However, these days, Indian women are choosing to date men from other cultures and religions and that is the cause of a whole new set of tensions which place an additional burden on the young married couple.
A young Indian woman faced with the challenges I described above, will not necessarily be able to turn to their relatives for help and advice - particularly if their own mother or female relations have followed the more traditional path. She will then be faced with what, for her family, are unchartered waters.
Not only will she have to deal with the resistance of her family, but she also may not have the cultural awareness to prepare her for the struggles ahead.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, a coach can provide some clarity of thought. Having an outsider’s perspective can help guide you through uncertain times.
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