Immigrants in the Indian diaspora — from South Africa to Mauritius to California — are straddling an intense inter-generational conflict over dating, reports Little India. The islands of culture and religious traditions that many Indian immigrants create in their homes seem to be under growing pressure from a new generation being groomed in a far more permissive and liberal environment.
Rima Patel, a 20-year old nursing student in California says, “I was raised in an environment where it was all seen as wrong — dating, relationship, sleepover — and I was taught to do the ‘right’ thing only.”
Patel said that excessive restrictions by parents could alienate the children, and she has kept her parents in the dark about her dating a non-Indian.
“My mom doesn’t like me hanging out even at the mall. Her not trusting me has led me to lie to her. I mean…I feel that is the only way I have,” says Patel.
Nishta Sookdiyal, 22, a media student from Durban, South Africa, has also rebelled against a restrictive home environment.
“When I was a teenager, my parents were very strict about dating and going out late at night. They would take me to where I was going, and then pick me up. I wasn’t allowed to go places alone and do things on my own. We don’t become independent and this hinders us in the future.”
Sookdiyal dated a boy in school, but hid it from her parents. “Eventually I had to tell them about my boyfriend because my family was seeing us together and that was upsetting my parents because they didn’t know who he was. Once they met him, they knew him and they still didn’t like the idea of us dating,” she says.
Immigrant parents have always tried to preserve Indian cultural mores and traditions in their children, Little India reports. Renu Jokhun, 46, a primary school teacher in the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, is one such mother, arguing that dating is not a part of Indian culture. But her 21-year-old son Keshav disagrees.
“I believe there is nothing wrong or against Indian values in dating someone. But it is very important that both partners stay within their limits and avoid any physical or sexual relationship before marriage. Taking a girl out for a movie or for a coffee may be considered a date and I do not see anything wrong in this.”
Immigrant parents are often oblivious to the cultural transformations sweeping many cities in India itself, bringing greater tolerance of dating and inter-community marriages back home.
Smita Dev, 37, a home executive and mother of a teenage son in Mumbai says: “Dating and relationships are an eventuality. But if you are not open to them, your children will never tell you about it. So it’s better you accept and be open to it.”
As in India, some immigrant parents are also adjusting to the changing realities of their children’s lives.
Says Ankit Doshi, 24, a business management student who works as a receptionist in a hotel in Charlottesville, Virginia, “I am an Indian and I do love my culture, but I need my freedom and space.” His parents gave him the independence to date a girl in college and he introduced her to his family.
With or without the knowledge and consent of their parents, overseas Indian youngsters date and have relationships like their local counterparts. But would they dare to marry someone who is not an Indian and how would their parents react to it? “I’m open to dating and marrying someone who is not an Indian,” says Doshi.
“As long as they are happy and stay true to each other, we are fine with that,” says his father Hiren Doshi, 59, an executive at the supermarket chain Kroger.