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Asha Kachru: Whatever my Family Thinks, I am Happy I Did it My Way!

August 15, 2012

       by Asha Kachru

Recently I read Rita Banerji’s article ‘Secret Betrayals Between Mothers and Daughters’ on this blog, where she raised a topic that is often not discussed, especially here in India.  It made me want to share my personal story too.

I am now 69 years old and I can finally tell this story without feeling guilty.

I was born in the state of Kashmir in India in 1942, before India got its independence, and before the battle and bloodshed would mar this beautiful state.  I grew up in a well-educated, well to do family.  But as a child I would always protest against the unequal behaviour of my mother and father towards my three brothers and myself I was the only daughter.  But I never examined or questioned why my mother, specially being a woman, should have understood my feelings and treated me the same as my brothers.   

In fact it was not till after the age of 26 years, when I married a German mathematician and moved to Germany that I was first made aware of how generally bad mother-daughter relationships can be.  In Germany at that time it was hostility between mothers who were mostly pro Hitler and the younger generations of women were against fascism.

But it was only over the last 25 years, after I returned to India, and after the sad death of my 90-year-old mother that I deeply realized how much my life was influenced in a negative way due to my mother’s not being able to accept me.

Asha with her mother

My mother had a very bad time in the last phase of her life.  And I tried being kind and nice to her.  I cried a lot of times thinking of her painful life and her painful end.  Even now as I write this I get tears in my.  I thought I had overcome this.  Every time I read it, even I get tears in my eyes.

When I returned to India in 1987, I was at the peak of my career as a scientific officer at a national informatics center as well as a City Councillor with the Greens in Bonn city.  I was divorced, and had already being living as a single mother, with my son in Germany.  So I could have continued living in Germany, but I wanted my son to learn Indian culture before he was grown up and yes, I was homesick. I was 45 years then, and a good looking, fun loving, intelligent woman. I had a very good relationship with my son.  When we went to parties at the German embassy I was invited to, my mother would fuss much about my having had a beer and sometimes smoked.  She would not say anything to my brother who was an Airforce officer and would in fact wait till late hours after he had had 2-3 whiskies to have dinner late night with him.

Later when Raoul, my son, left for Europe for his higher studies, I decided to move to a rural area and live on my own.  I did not get any support/empathy from either my brothers or my parents. For some time even my son turned against me, I think, because of the messages given by my family to him! They would remind him that it was his duty as a son towards his single mother,  to give proper assistance or advice.  My brothers and parents are economically-educationally well off, they felt I should have stayed in city, taken a good computer professional’s job or the like  Instead I  started my own small feminist retreat and ngo in the rural region in Andhra Pradesh where I still live in a rural house, and work on projects to facilitate organic agriculture, and help with rural women’s and children’s empowerment.

I am happy with the choices I have made in my life and the work I do.

Organic farming with her village community

  As against the warnings of some of my friends too, I was going backward, each year.  But I was feeling better and better.  The real problems I have had all these years, I realised  had to do with the fact that again and again I would visit my parents-out of a sense of responsibility as well as for their love.  And each time I returned from my family home in Pune to my home in the village of Kohir, Andhra Pradesh, where I still live.  I would be totally sad and hurt.  Every time I would fight with my mother for her double standards first towards her daughter, daughter-in-laws and sons and later towards the maids who really were so kind to her. “Jab bhi aati hai, ladai karke aur ro ke wapis jaati hai” [Everytime she comes, she fights and cries and returns] was the pet sentence of my brothers.  My mother never listened to me but kept listening to her sons, whom she gave more and more powers over money and family property too. I found my mother always asking me to be polite and understanding towards my brothers and she would always give their decisions more value.  Finally I just told her she may just be totally with her sons and be happy rather than being divided between me and them.

What makes me wonder today, why tears come to my eyes everytime I think of my mother, is that today I understand it well how an average woman, like my mom, is dependent on male supremacy and is not able to accept that a woman can also be on her own and feel good too

I wasted so many of my years of life waiting for her approval, just because everybody in India would tell me “Oh, a mother is a mother, she can never do bad to you” and things like that. 

The worst thing is that all my friends in ngo sector in India  too spread the image about me that I am “always fighting.” I would share with them these conflicts and would always tell other men and women to not to accept a mother’s (or father’s) dictates if they don’t fit your world view.

After my mother’s recent demise, I am slowly becoming totally emancipated from the hold she had on my life.  I feel sorry for her never having lived life on her own terms and also not having accepted her daughter living an autonomous life.

On the water

photo by Navejo

In 2011 I visited Kashmir and met with many people and NGOs. I am a MAJ Kashmiri (a Kashmiri Mother) and I want my son and my granddaughters to visit Jammu and Kashmir, not only to enjoy its beauty, but also to realize their role and responsibility as children with roots in this region of the world. In my vision of future, I want to see happy children and youth of both Hindus and the Muslims in Kashmir.

 I want people to recognize the patriarchal nature of the Kashmir problem that’s causing the destruction of life and the pain and sufferings inflicted on innocent people, especially women and girls.

In Kashmir, at the Yakhjay ( which means “together” in Kashmiri) young student’s group meeting, one woman talked about the issue of safety for women in the valley.  She said she has no problems except with men of the security forces, from whom Muslim women face constant sexual harassment.  It opened up the discussion to other sorts of examples and the women openly acknowledged violence they face at home, and how common sexual harassment and even  rape is in the valley.  I realized there is an internalized belief in the women, that they will always be vulnerable to male violence.  

One can imagine what education mothers with such low self respect, must be giving to their daughters and more importantly to their sons. This has to change in the next generation.

Asha’s grandparents in traditional Kashmiri attire

And that more sensitization work needs to be done to make women more active in the promotion of social justice issues in the Kashmir valley.  Kashmiri Pandit (Hindu) women were also upset and talked about how no Muslim neighbor came to help them when they were being assaulted, raped and killed in 1986, and how their homes and properties were stolen from them.  I think Mothers have a key role in the healing here.  On the whole I am rather surprised at the absence of women in the discussions on societal issues.  I used to be invited by my honorable friend Zareefsaheb, who is an intellectual and a poet too, to his house and we used to have good discussions. But his wife and young daughter-in-law would not even be present in the drawing room.

Even at the weddings I attended in Srinagar, of the son of a friend of Zareefsaheb, men eat first, and the women have to wait till evening till they get their lunch. 

Empowering the girls of her village

A man at one of the NGOs told me about the low sex ratio in the valley and how Muslims too making use of the sex selection clinics, to get rid of daughters.  In fact Kashmir’s sex ratio bias against girls is the worst in India.  I was invited to a poetry recitation at a Women’s college.  One young girl Afroza read out a story at the function organized by the women’s college to give a boost to the young writers and poets in Kashmir, emphasizing the fact that women don’t even have their own name as it gets changed when they marry.  One of the judges criticized this opinion and said this was due to feminist influences and girls need to “keep one’s own reality/culture in mind”. The female staff of the college strongly protested. I was stunned to see the Muslim lady professors speak so loudly and so self-confidently to a male judge!  Also I was very much touched by its very accurate depiction, in a story of a KP boy returning to Srinagar in search of his house and whereabouts, written and read out by Dheeba Nazir.

My grand-parents’ house, with a large garden and cherry trees, where I’d spend my school vacations every year till about 1963, is ruined and being turned into a shopping mall. One of the family houses of my elder aunt’s Jigri, is being used for a school which my niece runs, attended mostly by Muslim children.  Later, I went to the Christian Bishops hospital in which I was born. I was surprised to note that some doctors and nurses from Andhra Pradesh were running the hospital. What a coincidence, I thought — I am a Kashmiri Pundit (KP) born in Anantnaag, who studied and worked in Delhi and Germany, and am now living and working with rural poor in Andhra Pradesh, and  here in my birthplace it is the Andhraite health professionals who are looking after my Kashmiri brothers and sisters.

It gave me a nice feeling ofVasudev Kutumbam[The earth is a family] and again a reminder that after all we are all a family of human beings with human needs.

All photos (except the one with the boating women) are credited to Asha Kachru.

© The 50 Million Missing Campaign. All Rights Reserved. To cite, please see our copyright guidelines.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Asha Kachru was born in Kashmir in India.  After her marriage to a German mathematician in Delhi, she moved to Germany where she lived from 1968-87.  In that duration she has held a wide range of posts of Scientific Officer and a  Green Feminist City Councilor with the GREENs at Bonn City Council.  In 1987 she returned to India, and since 1992 has been living in a village in Andhra Pradesh, where she set up an ngo STRAINATA and is working with rural communities to promote organic agriculture and women’s empowerment, through educational workshops and income generation schemes.  To know more about her click here. She blogs at It’s Not Yellow www.itsnotyellow.com

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Navejo whose photo of  the Kashmiri women rowing the shikara (boat) appears here is a supporting member of The 50 Million Missing Campaign’s Photographers Group on Flickr  which is supported by more than 2400 photographers from around the world.   To see more of each of her works, please click here.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Michelle permalink
    August 16, 2012 5:56 am

    What an amazing story!! I am sorry to say this but I’ve rarely met Indian woman who has been so independent in her thoughts and actions, especially in a culture where there is so much pressure to conform! You are an inspiration to women the world over.

  2. August 16, 2012 6:47 am

    Vasudev Kutumbam:
    [The earth is a family]
    we are all a family of human beings
    with human needs
    – indeed, not only male,
    even female human beings …
    greetings from Germany
    Grüße aus Deutschland!

  3. August 16, 2012 3:20 pm

    Dear Asha-thank you for sharing your story with such honesy; you are brave. There are so many many stories that need to be told so we can heal and change the next generation of (Indian) women. And thank you Rita…for publishing this and all the work you do:)

  4. Rahul Patil permalink
    August 23, 2012 11:08 am

    Inspiring story to say the least..Seeing male dominance everywhere in the Indian society n not doing something is a moral crime..
    That said, I’d like to bring to the writer’s notice that many crime against women are carried and supported btly women as well! I know of many instances where a daughter is supported to take her own decision by father but Mother dont’!!

  5. Sneha Patel permalink
    January 10, 2013 12:12 am

    loved your story. I applaud your independent thoughts & conviction to fight whats wrong!

  6. Jodi-Ann Richards permalink
    August 18, 2013 10:54 am

    Thank you for sharing your story. It inspires even more to be a woman who speaks up for what she believes in rather than just conforming to what culture says.

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