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Follow-up post on NRI women September 10, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, culture, india.

Sorry guys, I had been traveling and hence have not been able to reply to your several comments to my previous post. Thanks for all those comments – and quite a windfall at that – and Proses Anonymitus’s very informative and humorous post. Let me try and distill your comments and add a little bit that occurred to me since I wrote the post and which was not touched upon in the follow-up posts/comments so far.

Firstly, the topic of returning to India per se has been often discussed and much has been written on it by people at all points in the spectrum – those who did return and those who did not and everyone in between (see Vishnu’s links here). We are talking about how differently (if ever) women and men approach this question, with the hypothesis being that women have more compelling reasons and show more conviction when it comes to staying back abroad.

Abi, in his post, suggested that it is likely that once we have an opinion on this issue, we are primed to think of examples and no counter-examples, a sort of confirmation bias. We should probably keep that in mind when we think of candidate examples. But once we have sufficient number of people thinking this issue through, we will have a sizable number of both examples and counter-examples. Ideally, this will still be in the ratio of how the initial opinion is and hence, not a random sample. Nevertheless, I believe just having enough cases provides some insight into what are issues out there. So Abi, I am glad you linked to the post and helped initiate this discussion.

Let me address the issues raised in the comments. There appear to be several trails leading out from this topic as complex as this. But as I read each comment, it occurred to me that most of these trails lead to a single underlying reality. That no matter how much India has changed over the years, marriage still changes more things for women than men. This is no secret and is probably true in most societies to varying degrees. The consequences of this phenomenon are as wide-ranging as its prevalance.

From the discussion, a few factors that determine whether women choose to stay back or return appears to depend on –

– Upbringing (from Natasha, Aparna)

This is indeed interesting. On one hand, there may not be any relative improvement for women (relative to men) who already have been brought up in a liberal setup and so that aspect of the appeal is not really there. But as Aparna suggested in-laws not being similarly liberal would deter them from returning to India. Besides, issues relating to extended families and that of colleagues’ (who increasingly comprise social circles) and the general neighborhood that Proses Anonymitus raised are also relevant, no matter how liberal the parental upbringing has been. Women have to adjust more to their in-laws and general neighborhood than men to theirs (do they?).

Whether they came here of their volition (studies, work etc.) or if they came here after marriage (Joy’s comment)

There is little contention one can have with Joy’s comment here. Women who have come here for studies have already made that leap of faith, in terms of leaving behind ties to motherland (in some sense) and heading to an anonymous location thousands of miles away. While homesickness may still be there to start with, come what may they are here at least until completion of their studies (1-2 years). By the time they have completed studies, they are likely used to the system. And several of them have taken loans and would likely want to work here to help repay loans. Those who have no such financial commitments would want some international experience. By the time its all done, they are even likely married to guys here. Why would someone want to disrupt a well-settled married life to head back? Call it status-quo bias !

Of course, much of the above is true of men as well. But there is one aspect of the above that is not yet the same. And it comes down to the fact that the difference between the married life in India versus outside is more often than not, larger for women than for men.

Whether they are married at all and if so, the chemistry with their in-laws (from Sailatha, THE_GIRL_FROM_IPANEMA)

The “Chemistry with the in-laws” comments from Sailatha are critical and take us back to where we started – women have to adjust to their in-laws, men seldom need to. If they are married with dependent visas, then Aparna’s argument – “The class of women that come to the US on dependent visa after marriage are the ones that experience sudden freedom, self-expression and independence. These are the kind of women that would want to stay abroad considering purely these factors.” holds in a large number of cases. If they were here anyway, then we are back to Joy’s point.

This may even depend on more complex attributes like whether the groom has male siblings and if so, whether he is the eldest of the male siblings (especially in communities where the in-laws often stay with eldest son). As a slight digression, we need a freakonomics-like study which must investigate the dependence on families returning depending on the birth position of the man in question and presence of male siblings. 😀

– How supportive their husbands are (Panjumittai Porivilangaurundai, from here)

Panjumittai warned Indian women without supportive husbands to not return to India. That is sane advice, except of course it begs the larger question (but not dealt here lest we digress) of why should anyone put up with nonsupporting husbands spouses in the first place? 🙂

– How long they have been outside India (Achala)

True, along with the (somewhat amusing) corollary being that if the husband is keen on returning to India, he should do so before his wife is acclimatized to the place.

Some points not raised earlier :

Whether it was a love marriage or an arranged marriage.

I have known women who think that inter-caste/inter-religion marriages have a better chance of success for couples abroad. Apparently, men have more confidence about ‘making it’ back home, but women somehow think distance helps cool off things or make them matter less. I don’t know how much of this is really true, but just floating ideas I have heard.

Any ideas ?

– Career-orientation/employability of the women in question

Career-oriented women (or men for that matter) who are not professionals (like doctors/engineers/MBA) have a hard time getting a work-permit as long as the spouse does not have the PR status. This can be frustrating and should lead to the woman arguing for a return to India. ( See this article from the Post ) But how often does that happen ? Does it indicate that workplace issues are really less of a concern than family issues ? Interestingly none of the comments elaborated on workplace differences between India and the US for women. Are there none? ( I have never had a job in India, besides I am a guy  …so no sarcasm there).

Selection Process

For arranged marriages, when alliances are sought for the girl, some parents prefer grooms who are already abroad (some only consider grooms abroad). Their assumption and expectation is that the guy is well-settled abroad and their daughter will have a good future, employed or otherwise. This is a trivial case – a lady in such a marriage already has a strong preference to stay abroad, irrespective of whether the husband changes his mind. The way this process is structured, it ‘selects’ (statistically) girls who intend to stay abroad.

I suspect the reason this might be less applicable for guys is that women who have already spent some time and are currently abroad prefer grooms from more liberal backgrounds and are familiar with her expectations as a married working woman abroad. My guess then is that they are more likely to choose guys already abroad or who have spent some time abroad. It’s a signal (who reliability is debatable, in my opinion) of one’s liberal credentials to have lived and prefer to live abroad.

Some form of selection bias, if you will. Any thoughts from single, studying/working Indian women abroad ?


As an aside, a lady friend of mine has so far rejected several proposals because grooms intend to settle in the US or at least are non-committal either way. It appears that finally she is getting engaged on the pre-condition that they return to India within 3-4 years. All (my) eyes are now on how this plays out. 🙂



1. Sheethal - September 10, 2007

I just skimmed your article , and like I said, haven’t yet met anyone of my generation, who wants to stay back here after a couple of years…Personally I’d be willing to take a pay cut to go back.. after I repay my loans.
I think all that you said applies to an older generation where females did have all those problems you mentioned. All the females I know are refusing to get married to guys who won’t go back. My friends who DO want to stay here or anywhere abroad are the people who came here more than 5 years ago and i think no one realizes how much home has changed in 5 years….

2. GG - September 10, 2007

Great discussion and nice new points like inter caste, inter religion marriages having better chance working outside India. To that I’d say – yes, specially in the initial few years.

3. Joy - September 10, 2007

If I were to deviate a little from the US-centric debate here, I think most women wouldn’t hesitate to pack their bags and go back ‘home’ as soon as they have achieved their targets.

After having lived abroad for about 30 years, my parents decided to move back to Mangalore and now have been staying there for about a year. The move from a cosmo city to a smaller city like Mangalore(in my Mom’s case) can be a bit trying but it’s not so grave a situation that it can’t be dealt with.

And these days, there is not really much of a difference in the quality of lifestyle whether it is LA or Bangalore or Melbourne or Dubai. Guess one’s priorities matter more than any other factor.

As for someone like me, who has been constantly on the move and cannot really call a particular city ‘home’ I’d much rather weigh my options and stay in a city which at that point in time will cater best to my needs. The upbringing, the in-laws situation(though it’s a non-factor right now) etc would then be redundant issues.

4. Sharath Rao - September 11, 2007

@sheethal : “i think no one realizes how much home has changed in 5 years….” …cant agree more.

@GG : Thanks, I tend to agree with that part – more so earlier than later.

@joy : “I’d much rather weigh my options and stay in a city which at that point in time will cater best to my needs.”

Certainly, except that one of your needs will be to have non-intrusive neighborhood/home-mates including, but not limited to, the in-laws. 😀

5. Staying back in US - men and women « Epistles - September 11, 2007

[…] : A follow-up post based on your comments is […]

6. Achala - September 11, 2007

I think it’s commendable that you’re not personalising the debate by not answering one question – which I quote “How do you feel about going back to India?”

7. Sharath Rao - September 11, 2007

@ Achala – sarcasm well received 😀 …but a short answer would be “the option is not ruled out” …long answer is in ur email. 🙂

and the reason I did not take it up is that it would be an unnecessary digression, would require a full post by itself, and contribute nothing to the debate…

8. LateralThinker - September 12, 2007

@ Sheetal – Why repay your loans if you intend to settle in India 😉 They don’t check your US credit history in India. LOL.

9. LateralThinker - September 12, 2007

General Thoughts ….

As someone who lived in the US for 4 years (2 yrs grad school+2 yrs work) before returning back to India (Blore) can definitely say that quality of life out here is way better than the US. I can’t think of any sector with the exception of Infrastructure which an Indian Metro city lags behind compared to a US city. The Retail sector (malls, supermarkets etc..) are better or ON PAR with the US. The Healthcare you get in India (again I speak of only Metro’s) is probably better than what you would ever get in a US hospital. The Banking & Financial services are again pretty good with most banking services having pretty good customer service. In terms of infrastructure our highways are already pretty good & major cities (Blore,B’bay etc..) are investing in Metro’s & new Airports which would be ready in due course. There’s lot of FDI in infrastructure and this should give the much needed Fillip to the sector.

In terms of social barriers to women etc…hey if you’ve trouble with in-laws etc…you & your hubby can always get a place of your own right ? If everyone in America decided to leave the country just becoz they can’t get along with their in-laws I am pretty sure it would probably have a population of 30 and not 300 million.
In terms of sexual harassment etc…once again it’s much higher in the US (just check your local/campus newspaper !!) compared to India.

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