Chapter 2: Chasing Dreams at a Heavy Cost

Chapter 2: Chasing Dreams at a Heavy Cost

As Nasreen Parveen ran, she was not focused on anything other than putting one foot in front of the other.


Sometimes, for brief glimpses, he would remember the high ledge of the window and his decision not to jump. She was alive because she wanted to take her life back instead of ending it. This meant that right now, Nasreen had only one task she had to focus on: escaping before her family realized she was gone.

Dreaded wild dogs were barking from a distance. She thought, if there is even one of them on the way, I will die.

Finally, after running more than four miles on cracked, blistered feet, Nasreen reached the bus station. From there, a bus brought him to a railway station in the nearest city. Staring at the ticket counter, Nasreen could only think of one place to go: New Delhi, the capital of India, where she lived with her family.

He had memories of the city since childhood. But now going there would mean reaching alone, where there would be no home to go to.

What else could she do?

Nasreen had left the house to run away A web of violent systematic engagement. But she, like millions of other young Indian women, was still caught in a much larger net.

Alice Evans, senior lecturer at King’s College London, studies why some countries have made huge gains in gender equality over the past century, while many in India and the Middle East remain more patriarchal.

One explanation is what she says patrilineal network, In societies that place great importance on “family honor”—which depends on the chastity of female members outside of marriage—families are reluctant to allow their unmarried daughters to do anything that would make them look less than their peers. Look less holy. This includes working outside the home or traveling to other cities for secondary education, both of which create opportunities for unsupervised contact with men.

Even many families who want their daughters to continue their education or take up a job are intimidated by the reputational cost of trying in the first place.

In many countries, Dr. Evans said, the patriarchal trap breaks as economies industrialize and more young women move to cities to take jobs. But for this, women’s salary needs to be so high that it is worth the risk to reputation. And in India, economic growth has been largely concentrated in small, family-owned firms; Industries where people have precarious, informal jobs; Or factories that rarely employ women. Although the country has its share of tech unicorns and other companies that have created salaried jobs, they are concentrated in a few big cities.

As a result, kinship networks are an important source of income, jobs, and social support. And because a family that is perceived to be dishonored may find itself disenfranchised from wider networks of blood and marriage ties, the perceived costs of risking its reputation by having a daughter may seem too much to bear.

Even women who have jobs often quit when their families have to survive without income. The percentage of women in India’s workforce is Rapid decline since 2005, up 23.5 percent from last year; The country now has one of the lowest rates of formal employment for women in the world. Only one in five Indian women has secured salaried jobs. This rate is more than double in China.

This has limited the number of productive workers in India, hampering economic growth.

In neighboring Bangladesh, economic growth and per capita income have increased – economists attribute this progress, significantly, to the country. more success In bringing women into paid work.

“Every month, I read a statistic somewhere about how our GDP is weakening because we don’t have ‘productive workers’ in the workforce, and by that I mean women,” said World Bank economist Shreyana Bhattacharya. Author of a book about Indian women’s struggle for independence, intimacy and respect in a patriarchal culture.

When his train reached New Delhi Late in the morning, Nasreen could think of only one person who could help: Nazreen Malik, her family’s former landlady, a kind woman who used to take her to the vegetable market.

To Nasreen’s great relief, Ms Malik still lived in the same apartment in Kashmiri Gate, a neighborhood adjacent to Delhi’s ancient fortification wall. She recognized Nasreen immediately and took her inside. Over the next few weeks, he helped Nasreen negotiate her release from the engagement, partly by threatening to file a police report against her fiancé’s family.

But Nasreen created rift between her nuclear family and the wider network of relatives who formed their community in the village, not only by running away from the engagement that her family had chosen for her, but also by speaking out about the ill-treatment she faced. Had done it.

Nasreen’s grandmother, mother and brother went to Delhi. The family told Nasreen that they have decided to make up for the poor treatment she received in Bengal by supporting her efforts to return to school. She believed him, but she also knew that wasn’t the only reason.

For a time it seemed as if his parents had accepted his new life in Delhi. They rented a three-room apartment and Nasreen’s father returned from abroad and started driving an auto-rickshaw. Nasreen enrolled in an educational program run by the local women’s empowerment charity known as budsAnd worked toward becoming the first in her family to complete high school.

But every small success required a fight against her parents’ fears about her reputation and their own. They were concerned that Nasreen should be allowed to leave the house alone, lest sexual harassment jeopardize not only her safety but also her marriage prospects. They were worried about her getting a job or studying for a career because people might think that the men in the family were failing to perform their proper roles as providers.

The family’s situation was too delicate to take financial risks.

When the coronavirus pandemic started, life became even more difficult. As people started quarantining at home, the demand for auto-rickshaw rides decreased and his father also stopped working. At the same time, anti-Muslim sentiment and violence was increasing. Although Nasreen’s family, which is Muslim, has never been a victim of communal violence, increasing reports of attacks in the city made her parents worried about living in Delhi. The family began planning for one of his brothers to follow in his father’s footsteps and work in the Gulf and discuss returning to the village in West Bengal.

Meanwhile, Nasreen’s cousin and his family start pressurizing Nasreen’s family to get engaged again. Her parents – perhaps hoping to keep their options open about returning to the village – eventually agreed, then pressured Nasreen to accept.

He immediately regretted the decision. Nasreen’s fiance, she said, began following her from a distance and demanding she tell her where he was at all times and forbidding her from participating in normal activities. If she failed to meet his strict demands, he would verbally abuse her over the phone, repeatedly changing numbers so that she could not block his calls.

“’I have your Delhi address. “I can come, and I can do anything,” she said he told her. “He said, ‘I’ll throw acid on your face, I’ll ruin your life and everything.’

To escape the second time, Nasreen secretly recorded her fiance’s threats. Once he collected enough material, he played it for his parents. “If he is behaving like this with me before marriage, what will he do after marriage?” He asked. Ultimately, they agreed to break off the engagement forever.

But Nasreen still kept quarreling with her family. After a fight, she said, her family punished her by locking her alone in a dark room for hours. She was terribly afraid of the dark, she felt as if she was suffocating. In a panic, he cut deep wounds into both wrists, leaving permanent scars.

“There were times when I felt like ending my life or running away,” he said. “But I stopped because my parents would have had to answer to a lot of people and a lot of questions. “I didn’t want to give them that burden.”

He had to rely on his wits and willpower to get out of the violent preoccupation. Now, she felt she needed to find a way out of her family’s oppressive control.

Bhumika Saraswati, Nikita Jain and andrea bruce Contributed to the reporting.

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