Wednesday, 11 June 2008


there are many things i could say about the senseless murder of mr navtej singh. there are the issues around the police, and whether they acted quickly enough or not. there are issues around the safety of small business owners, the majority of whom tend to belong to ethnic minorities. i could discuss policing levels in south auckland, or simply the tragedy of the murder itself, and the impact on mr singh's surviving family.

however, something that came to my attention this morning, when listening to the morning report coverage, were these translated words about the widow from her own brother:

in our culture, remarriage is not an option. navtej's mother and father are very old and she is the only one to look after them. and with three kids, she doesn't know how she is going to live her life. navtej was the only supporting person for them, and there's nobody for them now.

if that's not enough, harjinder kaur has also lost her grandfather five days later.

i'm surprised to hear that remarriage is simply not an option for her, and that it is her own family that is ruling out this option. india has had a major issue around the treatment of widows in the past, and the deep mehta film water (which i haven't yet seen) deals with this issue.

there has been considerable activism within india by women's groups to improve the treatment of widows, and my understanding was that considerable progress has been made. so i was saddened to hear that she will never have the option to remarry. the reality is that it will be almost impossible to find someone to marry, given the family responsibilities she now has to carry. but i would like to think that in theory she could remarry if she wanted to.

another issue raised by this situation is the burden of elder care, which tends to fall largely on ethnic women. it's definitely not culturally acceptable to put elderly parents into a nursing home, and i understand this applies across asians, africans and pacific islanders. i don't believe that we have yet taken into account the stress placed on women because of this, nor have we developed policies to provide the support such women need.

but at this time, my thoughts are with harjinder kaur. i hope that we, her kiwi community, can provide her with all the support she needs.

update: this interview with verpal singh, president of the sikh council, clarifies (right at the end) that there is no cultural barrier to harjinder kaur remarrying. i really appreciate him clarifying that, because i think it's an important statement that needs to be paid. overall, hats off to the sikh community in the way they have dealt with this whole tragedy. i think it has been a mature, measured and very caring response.


Deborah said...

I felt for her just knowing that she was now going to be rearing her three children all by herself. That's enough of a burden, even though it may be a joyous one, for anyone.

Julie said...

Thanks for this Anjum, I was wondering about the remarrying thing. The whole thing is just awful. Who will support the family now?

Water is an amazing film, although depressing. For me it was just so totally outside my own experience and expectations of marriage, and the treatment of women, that it was shocking to watch.

Interesting points too about the cultural differences about nursing homes. Given that a lot of caregivers are Pacific Islanders I wonder if that will change the demographics in the future? I imagine many of those women look after the elderly all day/night at work and then go home and do the same.

stargazer said...

well water was set in 1938, and things have changed quite a bit since then. quite a few widows are remarrying these days. but in this case, the argument is mostly academic, because as i said in the post, she's unlikely to find a partner anyway.