Monday, November 12, 2012

Single White Female

While co-habitation is not illegal in India, it remains a social taboo. It's becoming more common in some of the larger cities. Often times, young people are away from their native places for employment purposes and can face some sticker shock when finding a flat to rent. While hostels are common, and gender segregated, many would prefer to rent a flat so that they can chose who they room with, have their own kitchens, and generally more privacy.
While this may be coming more common, women living alone is not. While it's fine for them to stay in ladies hostels, rent apartments in groups, or stay with family, securing your own flat as an independent female is met with suspicion.
When negotiating the terms of our current flat, my now husband had a lot of explaining to do.  At the time we signed our lease, we were not married, and couldn't provide a wedding date. Just the same, the landlord wrote up the lease as "Aimee, WIFE OF, Zia." You see, when signing legal documents, women are either listed as "WIFE OF" or "DAUGHTER OF." They are not their own independent entities.
My bank recently called me trying to sell me a credit card. I bit. I gave them the application information and a few days later someone from the bank called me regarding my application. They wanted to speak to my father in order to gain his permission for me to get the credit card. I explained I was 33 years old, had been making my own financial decisions for over a decade and I wasn't about to provide my father's contact information so the Indian bank could harass him for permission for me to secure a credit line. I told them to cancel the application.
Previously, we had two teachers from Spain living in our building. They were perfectly friendly individuals. They went to work and they went out on the weekends. They might have had a party or two, but for the most part, were considerate neighbors. A few months ago they moved out but come back to visit often. One of them decided she'd like to move back into the building, but she wanted to live alone. She explained this to the landlord and also asked that the landlord wave a few of the conditions in the lease, namely the landlord's right to inspect the flat at any time, and the option to paint the walls. The girl even offered additional monthly rent to sweeten the deal.
The landlord was hesitant and the girl continued to beg. This went on daily for over a week. The two would sit on my balcony (that's another post) and try and come to an agreement on the lease terms. The landlord finally convinced the girl that she would not rent to her and that was the end of it. When talking to the landlord, I came to learn that the real reason the landlord wouldn't rent to her, was the assumption that a single girl staying alone and refusing to allow the landlord access to the apartment at any time, lead the landlord to believe that she was going to start a prostitution business. How that conclusion was made is beyond me. This particular girl had and has had a steady boyfriend since coming here and never had any male visitors apart from that.
It's so strange to me that Indian society is suspicious over a woman wanting to live alone. My teacher friend did find a landlord that would rent to her and only her, and she loves the place because she got what she wanted with free reign to paint the walls and hang pictures (we can't do that either). But I also hate the requirement that a woman has to be a "WIFE OF" or "DAUGHTER OF" in order to sign a lease, fill out an application for a cell phone, or open a bank account. Currently my dad's name is on my PAN card (kind of like a social security card, it's used for tax identification purposes).
When will women stand up and demand their independence? When will it be socially acceptable to be a self supporting female? A woman shouldn't have to be handed directly from her father to her husband. When will she require more - more of society and more of herself?

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