Mumbai autowalas are among the most talkative autowalas in India. While traveling in an auto here, as I prefer minding my own business when it comes to meeting random strangers, I often end up just nodding to whatever they say and keep adding fillers (oh achha, ha sahi kaha, ha woh to hai, barabar and so on) out of politeness.
However, last Friday it was one of those unusual conversations which were a dialog instead of a monologue. It started like the latter but the guy told something that dragged me into the conversation.
Typical conversations with Mumbai autowalas start with either on weather or on traffic. This time it was the former. Soon he changed to topic and started describing his conversation with one of his earlier passenger who was a lady from Mirzapur UP, which is close to the village he was from (which is again somewhere near Allahabad).
During the conversation with girl, he came to know a lot about her – things like where was she from, her family, since how long she has been in Mumbai, what does she do and so on. When the autowala asked if she is married, she responded in negation. The driver was, obviously amused, as the lady was in her late 30s and it is very unusual for a girl in India to be unmarried for so long. And, the reasons she gave for her singlehood was dowry which she was against and no man from her region will marry without dowry. Clearly agitated, the driver started convincing her why it is important to get married and how dowry is just a “gift” that girl’s parent give to the boy’s side for the wellbeing of their daughter. The lady, obviously pissed off, asked him to shut up since he, uneducated “gawar” (rustic), would not understand this. The driver, offended by the “gawar” term, asked her not to teach or preach him anything as he had seen the world much more than her. Being in Mumbai doesn’t make her “super-knowledgeable”.
Coming from an anti-dowry culture, I completely support the lady’s stand against dowry. However, there was no point in persuading the driver since he already had the heated argument and his conviction of dowry being a voluntary gift was even stronger. In spite of that, somehow, I couldn’t just let it go since it was a wrong belief. I might not be able to convince him within the time I had but definitely can try to make him see a part of the darkest side of dowry.
After getting some idea around how the dowry system in his region works and what are the general perception, I moved the conversation to female foeticide/infanticide. The logic was, if dowry is so prevalent (which was proudly accepted by him), as a head of the family, I would only want a male child. Having a female child would be a financial nightmare for me while a male child would bring dowry and thus, financial prosperity. While someone already wealthy might still be able to afford a female child but a poor just cannot. His puzzled look clearly stated that I had conveyed my message. However, he quickly structured his thoughts to refute the existence of female foeticide completely. Reason? – children are God’s gift. Indian culture doesn’t allow us to kill children.
My reaction – O yeah, right 😛
Unfortunately, I couldn’t carry on the conversation after that since I arrived at my destination. However, I had tried whatever little I could to change one mind in this country on dowry. Yes, a lot more can be (and need to be) done, definitely.