Introduction It is a great fact of modern life in India. Most women, including the rural folk, are caught in an identity crisis. On the one hand, the frantic cries for the liberation of women are becoming stronger day after day. On the other hand, the same women are often seen to be confused as to how they should empower themselves. The traditional values and the family upbringing, which is based on some good values, often conflict with this urge to express herself. If the woman has a very supportive environment before and after marriage, no issues. But if not, the real problem starts. The question, "who am I?" keeps repeating itself with monotonous regularity and the woman becomes confused. Yet, understanding parents and relatives can solve these questions and manage such situations in different stages. These stages are: a) the educational phase b) the employment/after marriage phase c) phase after children arrive and d) phase after the age of 45. A number of real-world experiences are mentioned, without mentioning the actual names. The viewpoints mentioned here by the author are his own. This may or may not be agreeable to the readers. This is an entirely different issue. What is important, in this author's opinion, is that there should be a marriage of the old and the new. There cannot be "either-or" situations. Once again, it is this author's firm conviction. The arguments are presented in this article.
The educational phase When the girl becomes an adult, she is naturally drawn into matters related to the opposite sex. There is so much of exposure to television and to movies today. The internet also teaches them everything. Yet, it is the duty of parents to constantly speak to the child to only concentrate on studies. The girl should also be trained in the traditional pooja, the religious practices as applicable and so on. It is widely seen that such practices and a firm rooting in those traditions, does help the woman to make intelligent choices and also be confident. This has nothing to do with excellence in studies. For example, from Tamil Nadu, across all communities, hundreds of thousands migrate abroad to study further, on pure merit. This is not restricted to just the IITs and NITs. I have mentioned Tamil Nadu, but am sure this is a pan-India phenomenon. Yes, the ladies get to settle abroad. But the Indian values are intact. The question is: why not? So, the key is to get to talk to the girl, even before eighteen years and get her to concentrate only on studies. It is as simple as that.
Well, those who have settled in the USA even attend special classes on Vedas, along with Americans. They have, as a routine, superb qualification. I know of a lady, with a financial engineering background, who advises the world's best companies on futuristic business strategies and is also a leading faculty member in some B schools. Yet, this same lady, now 39 years old, with two kids, does recite the Vishnusahasranamam with such accuracy and sincerity. So, I am of the firm opinion that we should always blend the old with the new. Our Indian values, even if there is a huge amount of diversity, is worth emulating at all times.
The employment/after marriage phase Very recently, a boy aged 24 and a girl, just four months younger to her, got married. What was special? Both were from VIT, Vellore. Both engineers. Both employed in different IT organizations in Mumbai. Yes, the girl was from West Bengal. The boy, a typical Tamil Brahmin. Yet, when they decided to get married, a big discussion followed. Every step of their life was explained in full detail. Every plan was also discussed. The parents agreed happily. The wedding also happened in Kolkatta, in traditional style, with full family blessings, on either side. The Tamil family got to eat the best rasgullas they had ever eaten in their lives!!
Not every woman is so lucky. The key is to guide the woman, now employed, to make intelligent choices. Even mid-term change in careers is often noticed. They become entrepreneurs. Some relative comes calling and the marriage is a very smooth affair. The urban landscape is fast changing. Even inter-religion weddings are taking place. The picture becomes complicated, only if the girl is trapped in some love affair and the man is not a trustworthy person at all. Parents have to be very cautious here. Even taking the help of experienced counsellors can help. It is noticed that when the girl is the breadwinner and only child, the parents either sacrifice everything and retire in some village, or become totally dependent on the earnings of the daughter. Even if the daughter is very talented, and wants to go abroad, say, for employment, after marriage, she is unable to do so, because either parent is sick. Here, some amount of counselling should be done to convince the woman to make a temporary sacrifice, as there is no other way. This is exactly what happened in one case, where the girl had a doctorate in economics. The sick father passed away three years after her marriage. The mother also became very sick. The girl, though employed, somehow managed to take care of her mother. It so happened that the mother died seven years later. The girl, then 36 years old, had a very supportive husband, who understood every situation. This chartered accountant also migrated abroad, when she found a teacher's job in a private university in Dubai. The children also migrated there. For every problem, there is a solution. The endurance and patience of the girl paid off handsomely. The identity crisis of women can be sorted out through patience, a little bit of understanding of the complexity of different situations and so on.
Phase after children arrive In this phase, the support of parents on either side is vital. It is a sure fact of life that the first three years of a child's growth is so vital. The career woman does face a huge problem. She is emotionally involved with the child but is also after a career of her own. It is refreshing to note that husbands are now happily doing the babysitting, almost as a routine, in the big cities. They even take leave, utilize the work from home option and get on with life.
Personally, I do feel that the woman has to even avail of creche services if the parents are not able to stay on with her. In fact, sometimes the in-laws do chip in for support. This is sometimes a problem. Yet, the woman has to identify which is vital. Intelligent women also take a sabbatical of two years to settle with their husbands either abroad or in some other city. Am afraid this is going to be the norm in the cities. The single-company careers, for both men and women, are becoming rare.
Likewise, it is fine to teach children everything about life. In particular, any girl of over eight years, ought to be told everything about how to safeguard themselves from men or even boys in their own class. Such education should become a daily affair. The identity crisis of the girl, in fact, becomes more important and complex, when she attains the age of fifteen. With the most horrible movies around, this task is far more complicated indeed.
For the rural folk, some sort of basic technical training in bakery, tailoring or setting up small businesses, or involvement in self-help groups is something very essential. This not only helps them to make some money but also relate to others. Their identity crisis vanishes after they are productively involved in something very useful, either to supplement family income or just to keep themselves engaged if they otherwise belong to the rich families. Spending quality time with children, to teach them good values is a huge responsibility. Of course, she does have to involve her husband in getting things done. However, the lion's share of building good values and good citizens out of children, it is often seen, is being done by women, for the most part. It is not without reason, that they say, the hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world.
Phase after the age of 45 children arrive This is the most important phase. Earnings may come down, as the jobs may no longer be secure, even in Government. Long-term benefits are slowly coming down. For example, the so-called NPS is in and the age-old PF scheme is as good as gone. Similarly, the fact that the husband may also lose his job above the age of fifty, in the years to come, is a fact of life. The Voluntary Retirement Schemes will become a daily affair. Hence, one needs to save huge amounts of money from a very young age. Once this is done, when the parents look to just settle down, after settling the career and the marriage of their children, they will have something to fall back upon. Something to help them to feel secure. Hence, preparation for this phase has to start from phase two, that is, the beginning of the second, namely, employment phase itself. There is absolutely no choice here.
Conclusion The crux of the story, that is, the identity crisis of the modern woman, has to be solved by the woman only. She can take the help of trained counsellors, parents, husbands, even relatives and so on. Yet, their path to success and happiness has to be decided only by them. In fact, that they are able to do this with a great amount of freedom in modern times, in the urban areas, is a refreshing change. An identity crisis can happen anytime, Managing it requires elementary and basic common sense. It should always be a blend of the old and the new. The "either-or" situations cannot work, in the opinion of this author.