Everyone knows how important mother in-laws are in Indian marriages. But get this… Malaysia’s The Star Newspaper has claimed that marital interference by in-laws is such a big deal in the Indian community, that it provokes 30% of all Malaysian Indian divorces.
Desi marriages: What’s mum got to do – got to do with it?
How do Desi emigrants who’ve flown the South Asian nest and settled in the UK find the issue of the in-laws, in a country where one in four marriages typically ends in divorce?
Strong values are placed on marriage and family in Britain’s Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, and divorce and separation are still frowned upon. In the past, the success of arranged Desi marriages was a source of pride for first and second generation Desis in the UK. Successful matches were often determined by the mother of the bride or groom, who selected a suitable suitor.
Times are changing and today’s Desi wife is more educated and independent than ever. Desi community leaders actually cite this new found freedom as the most likely reason for the increasing failure of both arranged and “love” marriages.
Speak to a divorced young Desi however, and it’s often another story.
The roots of tradition and the seeds of change
The generational rift between more traditional parents and younger and more progressive young adults (and their spouses) is growing more pronounced in the UK’s Desi communities. Rising divorce rates and social changes mean elders of the community cling to the values and standards they left the sub-continent with, in some cases, half a century ago.
Not surprisingly, it can be a culture shock for both sides: modern couples find marrying into a traditional family challenging and the older generation are anxious to see the next uphold their values. Friction is sometimes inevitable (and understandable).
Some say that expatriates of any faith commonly feel a stronger pull towards their roots once they’ve left their country of origin. In many ways this stands to reason, but the only way forward (in my humble opinion) is bridging the cultural and generational gap with mutual respect and trying to find a middle ground. Of course this is often easier said than done.
Divorce: the final frontier or the last straw?
According to many young divorced Desis, the established community’s disapproval of single parenthood means that once divorced, single parents often find themselves even further estranged from the tight-knit community and family structures.
Parents and in-laws can find it especially intolerable that daughters and daughter-in-laws attempt to go it alone. In the words of one Muslim mother of a single parent in the UK, in an article by BBC online:
“She thinks she is complete – but she has got a daughter, her husband is still alive, they are not together, therefore she is socially and psychologically incomplete.”
In the same article, Counsellor Ramesh Telwar, explains that Britain’s Desi community is modest and discrete about what goes on behind the closed doors of a marriage.
“They do not want any other families or neighbours to know their business and that is drummed into us – especially to women.”
It’s good to talk
Help is at hand and this doesn’t mean renouncing one’s faith and heritage, moreover sharing the highs and lows of marriage within a close community. Self-help groups for Desi divorcees of both genders have been emerging over the past few years. Among them, the Asian Women’s Lone Parents Association (AWLPA) based in Camden, London, offers help specifically to Asian single mothers, and one hopes, their mothers and mother-in-laws.
Have you got an interesting or funny story about in-laws you’d like to share with us? It’s good to talk!