"I DO" (I Really Don't)
The term “stereotypes” can relate to many topics. Regarding Indian stereotypes, we can go from smelling like an odorless spice to wearing socks with our sandals. Arranged marriages fall between this arrangement of stereotypes on Indian culture. Living amongst cultural stereotypes creates a foundation about one’s life. It is as if one is expected to bind to those rules and regulations and, if one went against them, she would outcasted from that society. Being raised in the northwestern part of India put me in the Gujarati Patidar region. My 23andMe test revealed that I was 96.0% Gujarati Patidar, 1.2% Northern Indian, 1.9% Central Asian, and 0.8% Broad Asian (23AndMe, 2019). The Human Genome Project has allowed hundreds of people to learn more about their origins and find more relatives than they would ever imagine to be related to (Reich, 2018). My maternal haplogroup is the U2b haplogroup that was traced back to a woman in the Middle East. My paternal haplogroup was not ascertainable during the analysis. After communicating with family members and hunting through hundreds of pictures in the attic, I was able to learn a lot about my genealogy and found more relatives. In this process, I learned about how this part of my own world was filled with stereotypes and restrictions. Arranged marriages and male domination are prevalent in Indian culture, especially in the time of my ancestors and my very own mother. Through genetic testing, I was able to learn about the barriers of arranged marriages and how the women in my family faced the wrath of male domination, which forced them to change their lifestyles and follow a very restricted lifestyle that was gated by cultural stereotypes put up by society and the fear of what would happen if one went against them.
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The Life of Manubhai
Starting the time capsule way back to 1903, we go to a village named Vadod, which was in Gujarat, India, to the home of Manubhai Patel. Manubhai was one of the wealthiest farmers in the area. His home was surrounded in platinum encrusted fencing and he rode a horse around town. At the age of fifteen, Manubhai was married to Maniben, who was only eleven, at the local temple in the village. A young Maniben was merely in the fifth grade but was about to start a new home with her husband. She entered a new reality at such a young age and was immediately expected to cook, clean, and raise a family. Maniben had her first child at the age of fifteen. It was a young boy named Jasubhai. She struggled with becoming a mother as she herself was not even mature enough to live alone let alone raising a child and looking after everyone in the house.
Two years later, her second child was born, a daughter, who was not worth nearly a quarter of her son. In this time in the subcontinent of India, women were not valued. Infant girls were faced with infanticide. Infanticide in India was brutal. In India, a girl was considered a burden, and until she is married off, she is considered a mass that is expensive as dowry had to be given by the girl’s family during the marriage. Knowing this, there were families that did not want to even bother with the fact of having a girl and would immediately take the baby as soon as it was delivered out of the womb and thrown in a huge vessel of boiling milk (Sahni, et al. 2008). The baby was immediately murdered as it was nothing but a burden to the world. Manubhai did not commit this crime. but coldheartedly kept his daughter, Madhuben; however, she was not given the same love and care as Jasubhai was. Maniben raised her two children with the utmost love and care. At the age of twenty, Maniben was again pregnant with another child, she was hoping for it to be a boy as she was not sure if this daughter would survive the brutality the country was facing. Nine months later, it was a bright and hot September day in Vadod. Maniben was in labor in her home and was ready to be the mother of a third child. On September 4th at 8:46 p.m., Savitaben Manubhai Patel was born.
The Life of Savitaben
The birth of Savitaben Manubhai Patel was an interesting time. The birth of the girl did not call for excitement at the time, but for some reason her birth was different. Manubhai had held her in his hands and remembered seeing “motis”, meaning her eyes were like pearls. The hostile relationship between a father and daughter was present but for some reason, it was not as prominent as it was with Madhuben. Manubhai had slowly begun to see the world in a different light as he saw something different in this daughter of his. Manubhai loved to spend time with Savita as much as he did with his horse. Maniben finally saw the life she ideally wished for herself after so many years.
Then, came the night that was only imagined happening in a Bollywood movie. Manubhai was riding his horse around town to make sure everything was properly situated for the upcoming monsoon. He was soaring through town until he heard a cry in the nearby winds. He slowed down and realized it was the cry of a woman. He rode his horse closer to the noise and came to a well. The night was filled with fog and visibility was minimal. Manubhai got off his horse and slowly approached the woman.
After waving off the fog, he noticed the woman standing very close to the edge of the well. He observed her take one foot off the ledge and realized she was going to commit suicide. His first instinct was to grab her hand to stop her from doing such a task. The woman screamed in fear as she was pulled away from ending her life. Manubhai demanded to know why she was doing such a thing. She told him how she was being domestically abused and did not want to live in a world with this treachery. She demanded him to let her proceed with suicide. He refused to let her continue and the woman finally stopped and gave him an ultimatum. Her ultimatum was that she either he let her continue with her actions or take her hand in marriage like he did when she was about to jump. A broken Manubhai could not let a woman die on his watch and agreed to marry her, being a married man with three children.
Manubhai took his new wife, Sarojben, back to his residence to meet Maniben and his three children. A worried Maniben opened the door to see her husband of ten years with another woman. She did not say a word and continued to prepare the Hindu rituals for welcoming a new bride. Savita watched all this happen from the kitchen and was confused about what was about to happen in her life with a new mother. Maniben became pregnant with her fourth child. A girl named Sumatiben was born to her. One year later, Sarojben had her first child named Rameshbhai. In the course of five years, three more children were born to Sarojben, giving Savita a total of seven siblings. Savita continued to live her life until the age of sixteen where it was her time to say goodbye to her family.
A family in the village of Ranoli had a respected son to be married. Shivabhai Patel of Ranoli was awaiting a girl to marry his fourth son Vithalbhai. Vithal was a man of morals and was very strict on following his morals and religious values. In the summer of 1966, the marriage of Vithalbhai and Savitaben was done in full swing. A great amount of dowry was given to the groom’s side as the wedding was successfully completed. In the spring of 1968, Savita became pregnant with her first child. Vithalbhai completed many prayers for the child to be a boy as he did not know how to parent a daughter. With his luck, on February 21st a daughter was born to him. Dipika was the first child in the Patel household, which was already filled with six people. Feeding a household and raising a child was already very difficult for Savita to do.
Two years later, Savita became pregnant with her second child. Due to Vithal’s harsh behavior towards Dipika, Savita feared what would happen if another girl was born. On March 10th, 1971, a girl named Mita was born to the house of Vithal and Savita. Vithal’s happiness was slowly diminishing as he was thinking of all the dowry and burden these girls would put upon him. Another two years went by, and Savita became pregnant again. The hopes for a boy were still in the air and on February 27th of 1973, another girl was born to the name of Avani. Life was tough in the house as prayers and rituals were done for a boy to be born. Again, after two years was the birth of another girl named Anjana on November 18th of 1975, whose birth was not appreciated and she was also for a ride in her future, being my mother. The birth of their fifth daughter, Minal, was on July 19th of 1977 in which Vithal was so upset that he refused to know anything about his fifth child’s health unless it was a boy. Five tries. Five girls. Yet one more try was done and on the night of June 5th, 1979, a boy finally came to the parenthood of Vithal and Savita named Punit. Being a father of five girls, Vithal was strict and controlled almost every single aspect of the girls’ lives. Little did he know that these actions would come back to him and affect more than one: my mother and younger aunt.
The Life of Anjana
Anjana and Minal were the youngest girls in the house and found their own ways of familial love as their family was not the most supportive. Anjana was under the care of her aunt and uncle, who adored her dearly. Minal, on the other hand, spent most of her day with the neighbors and their cattle. They moved to America at the young ages of twelve and fourteen and were put into middle school in the city of Chicago, Illinois. Both girls were beyond excited to be going to school even though it meant they had to work countless hours at McDonald’s and Wendy’s to give money back to their father. The two sisters were trying very hard to find happiness in their life from the smallest things possible. They were thriving in America as they finally received some freedom. This only lasted for a short amount of time as an incident was to change their lives.
Avani, the fourth child of Vithal and Savita was also enjoying her life in America and had met a man in this process. She fell in love, knowing that a love marriage was completely against all of the morals and values her father had followed. Hemant, a limousine driver of Scottie Pippen, was also five years older than Avani. The age was not the problem. The caste was. Hemant belonged to the Brahmin Jati while Avani belonged to the Vaishnav Jati. The intermarriage was something Vithal would never agree upon. Avani continued to follow through with the relationship in secrecy. Then came the day where she decided to tell her parents about her relationship. She was immediately shut down and arrangements for her marriage began to be made as they began to search for a suitable groom.
The older two daughters, Dipika and Mita, were already married and were sent off to their in-laws' homes. Avani refused to get married to anyone else and decided to make a drastic decision. She decided to elope. Knowing how awful of a decision this will be, she followed through and was married without the blessings of her parents or family. Avani was shunned from the family and this action triggered the fear in Vithal’s head regarding his two single daughters. Searching for a groom began to happen right away. Minal was only sixteen and Vithal was still adamant about finding her a boy in fear that she would elope. A boy named Nilesh from the village of Chikodra, about twenty minutes away from Anjana’s home was also looking for a suitable bride. Nilesh was a close friend of Anjana’s first cousin Jayesh and spent a lot of time at their residence. His parents, Bhanuben and Babubhai met with Anjana’s parents and the marriage was fixed to occur without proper consent from Anjana. The marriage took place on March 7th, 1994 and ended in a very emotional farewell for Anjana.
Anjana’s “I Do”
Anjana had to drop out of college due to her marriage and work fulltime so Nilesh can receive a green card and come to America. Nilesh and his parents came to America in 1996 after two years of long-distance marriage. Anjana was rushed into marriage and had no idea how to be a housewife. Nilesh was not the type to hold her back from working, but his mother was. Bhanuben was the definition of a typical mother in law and demanded Anjana to do everything. Anjana struggled for years trying to please her mother in law all while working and raising a family. On March 26th, 1998, a boy named Shivam was born to their family. Shivam was raised with love and care and loved to cry past midnight. He grew up to be a respectful and loving son. Anjana and her sisters all gave birth to boys at this point. There was not a single little girl in the family.
Then one day, Anjana learned she was pregnant with her second child. She was expected to be born on November 1st, but that did not necessarily happen. Diwali processions of the year 2000 were in full swing and it was the first day of Diwali, Dhan Teras, the day of wealth and prayers to the Goddess Laxmi. Anjana went into labor in the afternoon and the doctor told her everything was normal up until twenty-seven minutes before the birth of her second child. The gynecologist learned that it was not the baby’s head, but this was about to be a breech delivery. On October 24th, 2000 at about 8:12 p.m., during the Dhan Puja, a baby girl was born to the Patel household for the very first time. The Patel family was beyond blessed and overjoyed that a form of the Goddess Laxmi was born into their form. The birth of Payal was beyond exciting for the entire family and the opposite of the births of Anjana and her sisters.
The Life of Payal
Payal, on the other hand, lived a life filled with luxury and freedom. She lived a lavish life that was covered in glamour as her parents did not want her to see or live the life they lived. She had no idea that this part of her ancestry even existed. Finally, after fifteen years of living under a blindfold, she was sat down and told the truth. Payal’s eyes had opened and she realized what hardships her mother had faced due to stereotypes that were placed in her life. Payal began to see the world in a different light: the light of reality. She began to appreciate everything that was given to her as she realized her own mother was not given these luxuries but never hesitated to give her children the best. A thought struck in Payal’s life and she began to live by it.
A question that was once asked Payal was “What is the greatest compliment you have ever received and how did it resonate with you?”
Here and there in life, Payal had received many compliments about her manners and personality, but there is only one compliment that stood out amongst them all: “You remind me a lot of your mom.”
Every day, Payal began to see her mother work hard without a college degree as a mortgage underwriter. She came home after exhausting days of dealing with calls from angry customers demanding their money simply because of cultural barriers. Yet, she never gave up. She pushed through everything. Anjana was married at the age of eighteen due to stereotypes and was stopped from pursuing her dream career. She was the strongest person Payal had ever met. She works nine hours a day with a two-hour commute and comes home to make a full course Indian meal that typically consists of five to six items. Anjana instantly became Payal’s hero. Receiving a compliment that signifies the resemblance of her personality onto one’s own strongly resonated with Payal. There are hundreds of leaders out in the world that is recognized for their achievements while some do not get recognized. The one compliment jingled in Payal’s ears every day as being thought to be like a woman who fought every barrier for her children and not take any credit for it, is a moment of pride that anyone would take.
23andMe. (n.d.). DNA Genetic Testing & Analysis. Retrieved from https://www.23andme.com/.
Reich, D. (2018). Who we are and how we got here: ancient Dna and the new science of the human past. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
Sahni, M., Verma, N., Narula, D., Varghese, R. M., Sreenivas, V., & Puliyel, J. M. (2008). Missing Girls in India: Infanticide, Feticide and Made-to-Order Pregnancies? Insights from Hospital-Based Sex-Ratio-at-Birth over the Last Century. PLoS ONE, 3(5). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002224
Patel, Payal N., ""I DO" (I Really Don't)" (2019). Genetics and Genealogy Family History Narratives. 4.