By now, you’ve probably heard the story of the 33-year-old Indian-American woman sentenced to 20 years in prison for feticide after she had a miscarriage and threw the fetus in a dumpster. Many have rightly condemned Indiana’s draconian laws and the implications for women’s freedoms, but how did Patel find herself in this grisly situation in the first place?
The media have told us that she likely hid the pregnancy from her parents because, to quote the Guardian, “Patel lived with her religiously conservative parents who did not believe in premarital sex.”
At 33, Patel is a fully grown adult, yet her story — that of hiding anything that dishonors the family — is only too familiar among South Asian children of all ages and religious backgrounds. I wonder how many South Asians have avoided discussing this tragedy at home for fear of sparking an “embarrassing” conversation?
Granted, Patel was allegedly involved with a married man, a situation few would would admit to anyone. Yet had there been even the slightest bit of trust in the relationship between Patel and her parents, she might have called them for help or dialed 911 when she was bleeding profusely in the bathroom. Better, she might have told them about the pregnancy earlier and gotten real help.
Instead, Patel hid everything (even from her doctors) presumably to save herself and her family from shame. “Shame” in South Asian culture can be caused by any number of things, from something as mild as choosing a career in the humanities and wearing clothes that are “too Western” to more egregious behaviors like drinking, dating, and coming out as LGBT.
The consequences for Patel are unusual in that they were very public and sparked a national debate, but more often, the consequences of “deviant” behaviors are dealt with behind closed doors. Disownment, beating, and other drastic punishments are not uncommon in conservative households.
South Asian parents have been the brunt of jokes by standup comedians and YouTube personalities for years, and while the sketches may be funny, the authoritarian parenting isn’t so fun. Parents, it’s time to decide what’s worth more: your child’s life and a relationship built on mutual trust, or your reputation, built in the eyes of others.
This post was originally published on Medium