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Being a happily unmarried ‘freemale’ in the city
By Surekha Kadapa-Bose
A decade ago it was unthinkable - girls waiting for the right man to get married or opting to remain single. As soon as they hit the twenties, groom hunting would begin with a vengeance, as parents and relatives spread the word around. And, God forbid, if the wait stretched on for longer than five years. Tongues would start wagging: Why is she still single? What's wrong with her? Is it because of her dark complexion? Is she 'healthy'?

Times are changing rapidly now. The percentage of single women, or 'freemales', as they are called, has increased considerably with no one feeling apologetic or guilty about their unmarried status. "I don't want to push for marriage or compromise to get hitched," declares Ishita Chopra, 31, senior manager at SARE real estate development group, Delhi. Chopra is part of a growing tribe of women in India, who don't find it necessary to tie the knot in order to find happiness, security or to please their family.

Till a while ago, this was a very western reality - according to America's Families and Living Arrangement survey of 2009, more than 43 per cent of all Americans are single with more than 61 per cent never having walked down the aisle. Of these, more than 50 per cent are women. Today, of course, at least in urban conglomerations, being 'single' is not necessarily a bad thing for women; it doesn't suck them into a vortex of gloom and self pity.

Anamika Prasad, a native of Patna, Bihar, who has been residing in Mumbai from the last several years, says, "I am not against marriage. Certainly if I find a like-minded partner, I would tie the knot. But no way will I concede to societal pressures and marry a confused man. I feel the problem with men today, especially from my home state, is that they don't know what they want. They want an educated, modern wife, who should be holding a well paid job, and at the same time she should also be conservative, wear the traditional sindoor and dress in a sari with a 'ghungat'!"

On the threshold of 30, Prasad, a former journalist with the Live India & Me Marathi channel, has now started her own production house, Raj Kumari Film Combines. Any prospective groom and family she meets for the first time seems to presume that because she heads a film production company, she must have had several affairs. "I never ask such questions to the boy, then what right does he or his family have to pose them to me? I am happy being single till I find a man who understands me and willingly gives me the freedom to work as I please," says the ambitious young woman.

Yamuna Krishnamurthy (name changed) is in her late 30's and works for a reputed software company in Bengaluru. She says, "Marriage earlier meant financial and emotional security for the woman. Right now, I have bought myself a three-BHK flat and drive a cool middle segment car - and I am paying the EMIs from my salary. I am looking for emotional security from my marriage but where is the guarantee for that? Just look at the increasing number of divorces."

It's not just the girls, even their parents are okay with the idea of their daughters leading independent lives. Chopra, whose mother practices the healing science of Reiki, and Prasad, whose father works with MTNL in Mumbai, have been told by their respective parents to marry only if they feel they will be happy with the idea. "If you want to be sad, do so in your own home rather than in someone else's by marrying a wrong guy!" is what Neera Chopra told her daughter. When Krishnamurthy's parents forwarded some suitable matches to her they did so on the condition that they would go ahead only if she was okay with it.

Most parents are happy to see their daughters pursue dreams while being with them rather than marry them off to some "buffoon", as Sevanthy Sharma, a leather bag manufacturer and exporter from Mumbai, puts it. This mother of three daughters - the eldest, an engineer and management graduate, is 36; her second daughter, 32, is a dentist; while the youngest is a print media journalist in her late 20's - is okay with her daughters having declared that "we will marry the day we find our match".

Not only parents and young women, but even the Government of India has taken cognisance of this fast-growing trend. The Planning Commission, under the 12th Five Year Plan, is pushing for special privileges for single women, particularly for those who are single by choice. Apart from reserving a certain percentage of jobs for single women under centrally sponsored schemes, the Commission wants to promote and strengthen federations of single women at the block and district level.

But where social acceptance has increased and opportunities for single women have multiplied, there are some drawbacks as well. Finding safe rental accommodation can really become a problem many a time. Also, life in the big city can be terribly lonely. There are biases to be contended with at the workplace, too. They are expected to sit in late for meetings or to complete assignments - "we are often told, 'who's waiting for you at home, so stay back!'" Singles also become easy targets for casual flings - "when their wives are out of town, married men in our office ask us out for a coffee or a movie. They are very good friends otherwise, so why the duplicity?" Being 'freemale' does have it downside.

Providing a networking to the growing numbers of single people are singles' clubs or organisations that are neither marriage bureaus nor dating clubs. Siddharth Mangharan started Floh ( in Bangalore in 2011. He says, "Floh connects singles in the real world. The objective is to help our members meet like-minded people."

Sixty-five per cent of Floh's members are women and they are well-placed professionals - from doctors and lawyers to MBAs, bankers and architects. A recent survey conducted by the Floh team has thrown up some interesting insights related to dating and marriage. It has found that these days, women are more particular than men about choosing a mate and that they are a lot more pragmatic when it comes to love - no love at first sight for them. Also, women prefer intelligence over wealth in their man.

Dr Shubangi Parkar, who is head of department of psychiatry at KEM Hospital in Mumbai, talks about some of the factors that have led to this phenomenon. "These days, with one-night stands and live-in relationships on the rise in urban India, women do not have to be in a marriage to find sexual fulfillment. They also have good careers to take care of the financial aspects. Many even fulfill their maternal instincts by going in for adoption or IVF therapy."

But, according to Parkar, there's a flip side to this story that need to be recognised. Many single women take to alcohol or get hooked on anti-depressants to feel good. Ultimately, according to Parker, "it all depends on the woman's state of mind and, of course, her circle of friends.

(© Women's Feature Service)

News Updated at : Sunday, July 21, 2013
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