Why doesn't Nisha Sharma come on OPRAH now?
March 1, 2012
Read this article from 2004 a period when Nisha Sharma was a Feminazi's Poster Child, the next person who was heading for Sainthood. I am surprised she didn't receive the Nobel Prize?
Oprah and the Indian bride who said 'no'
Jan. 15, 2004
NEW DELHI - When an Indian is flown specially from India to feature in the Oprah Winfrey show in the United States it becomes an occasion to revisit all that the person stands for. Such is the case of 22-year-old Nisha Sharma.
Nisha did something different, she dared to fight back when threatened with possible death, in this case, a dowry death. Ever since, she has become a symbol of the new Indian woman.
Nisha called the police when the family of her husband-to-be demanded extra dowry on the day of her marriage in June last year, and turned into an overnight heroine in India. Nisha chose to stand up to a man who was to be her husband, and also took on his family. In India, this can be close to staring death in the eye. For such behavior, girls have been ostracized by their own families and killed by their husband's family. According to government figures, in 2001, angry husbands and in-laws killed over 7,000 women over small dowry payments. Nisha's not-to-be husband has been quoted as saying that if he had ended up marrying her he would probably have thrown her off the terrace.
In Nisha's case, events unfolded as dramatically as in any Bollywood potboiler. The irony is, just as in the movies, it was the mother of the groom (the emphasis here being that she is woman),who masterminded the plot. It did not matter that her son was just a lowly paid teacher who probably would have lived off his software-professional wife's income, or even that of her father, from the successful business he runs.
He was born a man, and that's often enough in India. There was already plenty on offer, arranged by the bride's family. Photographs of Nisha with the dowry were splashed across the media - fridge, air-conditioners and TVs. She was to drive off in a new black Maruti Esteem that cost US$10,000, bought by her father for the use of her husband's family, the rights duly transferred in their name.
But, they wanted more. The baraat (marriage procession), with the groom's mother as master of ceremonies, asked for cash ($30,000) to be hand-delivered at the reception area itself, before her son, who followed on a traditionally bedecked horse, would condescend to alight. The father of the bride demurred, and was therefore pushed, abused and finally slapped by the groom's mother.
When Nisha, in her traditional finery and mehendi (temporary henna tattoos) heard the commotion, she reached for her cell phone and called the police. The rest is history.
It should be noted at this point that Nisha and her family had accepted the original dowry. The problem arose when the groom's family suddenly demanded more. Both families were in breach of the law. In India, the punishment for demanding a dowry is imprisonment for not less than six months and up to two years, and/or a fine that is up to 10,000 rupees ($215). The punishment for giving or taking dowry is worse: imprisonment for not less than five years and a fine of 15,000 rupees, or the value of the dowry, or more. In this case, the groom's family is in jail, but Nisha's is not.
What followed though was an outpouring of emotion, support, commercial interest and now Oprah, whose show featuring Nisha was scheduled to be run on Tuesday. Bollywood bigwigs and television producers wanted Nisha's story; politicians of every leaning lined up at her house to congratulate her, inviting her to join their party. TV news channels ran a ticker to accommodate the thousands of salutations from a fan club that has cut across class, geographic and gender barriers. Many men have written letters offering their hand in marriage.
Traditionally in India the script for Nisha's story would have gone another way. The father would probably have died of a heart attack on hearing of the fresh demand for money, or worse, begged the boy's family to go ahead with the marriage, allowing him some time to somehow arrange the money. He would have gone to any extent to save his izzat (honor) as nobody would marry his daughter after they found that she had been lined up to marry someone else. The girl, to protect the izzat of her father, would marry, then be tortured, probably killed. Nisha had other ideas.
Nisha, now married to software engineer Ashwini Sharma, considers the invitation to the Oprah show as an opportunity to be heard on an international platform. She, along with her husband and brother, have been in Chicago for the past few days for the recording.
As expected, Nisha was excited and said: "I am happy I have a chance to be heard internationally. No one should submit to social blackmail, anywhere in the world," she said. "I agree with her basic message and will be honored to help spread it," her husband said.
Two things stand out in this episode. One, it was purely Nisha's decision to do what she did, and she did so with her own cell phone, a modern gadget used as a window to the rest of the world that she had access to and knew about.
In India, commercials portray women with cell phones incessantly, in big cars and at board meetings. They aren't seen being beaten by prospective husbands. Nisha called the police without alighting her bridal seat, without seeking anybody's advice. Given the delicate situation, she might have been stopped had she sought advice. Her mother, like many mothers in the past, could have said: "Beti[daughter], think about your father, the husband is like god, you have to learn how to keep quiet, who will marry you." With a cell phone, however, it was a matter of seconds once she made the decision to call the police.
Indeed, Nisha is the new face of Indian woman, exemplified by the cell phone she carries and the software degree she is studying. She must have faced a dilemma before she took the split second decision. The thoughts inside her turbulent mind must have been sharply divided into two: of a life in which she could probably never text-message her friends again, with her new home a dungeon she could never escape. Or another life as an independent woman, a successful professional and a husband who deserved her, respecting her for what she is.
Two, Nisha also knows that she has the power to emancipate herself through her skills. Her family has stood by her, but it was they who needed her strength, not she. Her father did what he had been brought up to believe, his daughter did what she thought was right.
The strings of tradition did tie her down in the beginning. As she said in an interview, she kept quiet while the initial demands for dowry were being made. She knew her parents considered it their duty to marry her and she did not want to make the job difficult for them.
In the end, Nisha chose her own path. Many have gone the other way; probably they didn't have a choice. Some might have had, but didn't or couldn't exercise it. Nisha did. Now the world wants to know about it, although it will be interesting to see whether Nisha's initial acceptance of the concept of dowry will become an issue, or conveniently forgotten as it does not quite fit the image of Nisha that is now being projected around the world.