It was a regular OPD. Not too busy, but enough patients to keep all of us occupied. As we were coming to the end of the morning clinic, this man came in to check the report of his daughter. She was an epileptic and also had hypothyroidism. He had come to collect the Thyroid function tests. Not being too complex a patient, I told him everything is fine, let her continue treatment. He got up to go and then paused for second. Will she be okay, he asked? I responded in the affirmative, yes, she should be okay, but she will have to continue drugs lifelong or at least 5 years. He again paused for a second and said, her marriage is fixed. And almost within a few minutes one of the OPD helpers walked in and said, sir, this patient’s marriage is fixed! Not too common for a patient in the middle of a busy OPD to bring up such personal issues, nor an OPD helper to get these details from a relative.
We asked him to sit down, or he was already sitting down by then, and I asked him a question – I hope you have told the boys side that she is on treatment. He looked at me with surprise and said – how can I tell, I cannot. The conversation started off from there. The reason he could not share the information was because if they come to know they will not marry her. And no one might ever come to marry her. And the challenge of an unmarried girl in their context, the social repercussions are much, he has to get her married of. The family cannot live with the dishonour of having an unmarried girl at home!
I asked, suppose she gets married and the family comes to know that she is on treatment, what would happen. He did not want to say anything, though I suppose he knew the potential complications. So I offered the answer – she might be abused, beaten up or even destroyed or thrown out. He will have to face the wrath of the in-laws. He agreed that this was true. We continued the conversation. I asked him what do you think you should do. He said, I do not have much choice than getting her married of. And if something happens then I will see. I pursued the issue of communicating the illness to the boy. He said, the marriage will be called off. He was willing to sacrifice the life of his daughter for an unforeseen and potentially difficult future, for the sake of the honour of the family.
But after thinking for a few minutes he said, may be a boy will come who is willing? Was a change happening in his attitude – I was not sure. He left soon, promising to think about this.
Why is life so complex for the poor? A decision to marry the daughter linked to many other social issues. The stigmatizing illnesses, the social pressures of unmarried girl at home, the fear of girl being abused or thrown out, the fear of in-laws fighting for dowry and other issues. All complicated by the honour of the family in the society. Is there not another way of looking at these issues? A simpler and easy solution? Or will family honour over rule all decisions’….
When family is more important than values, honour and shame is more important than truth…. When members of family and their life can be sacrificed for the honour of the family…. The “familyism” which is destroying families in our Nation…. Can this world view of “familyism” be changed…? How long would it take for our nation’s world views to be changed….?
What would I do, if I was in the father’s shoes…? Would I stand for God given values more than honour….