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India

Renée Sugar

To person

Renée Zucker, born in 1954, lives as a publicist in Berlin and enjoys traveling to India.

Young people between social compulsion, a sense of family and personal dreams

Young people in India are often caught between social coercion, a sense of family and personal dreams. To this day, very few people find it bad that their parents choose their spouses for them. But there are also young people who rebel against the rules of society.

Young couple in rainy New Delhi. (& copy AP)

Javed * and Iqbal are friends in winter. In winter they both have work and see each other every day. From November to March is the main season in the small tourist town on the coast of the southern Indian state of Kerala. The 26-year-old Javed works from nine in the morning until late at night in an internet café and the 24-year-old Iqbal has to sell souvenirs from his homeland, 4000 kilometers away, in one of his family's shops next door. Both went to school for a few years and, like most young people in India, live with their parents.


Javed is the third of four children and the only son in his family. Before he can think of starting his own family, the girls must first leave the house so that they do not become a further financial burden on their parents. Because there is no work outside of the tourist season, many Keralites go to the Persian Gulf states. More than a million men and women hire out as migrant workers there. As a result, there is a certain amount of prosperity in Kerala, but hardly any jobs are being created there.

Javed's father also worked in Dubai for a long time. Now he's sick. Javed cannot go to the Gulf, he has no money for the trip or the work permit. As the only son, he conducts interviews with the candidates for marriage for his sisters and makes a pre-selection. The father then decides who the daughter will marry. The daughter can turn down a candidate from time to time, but she shouldn't use it too often.

When Javed is in the same room with his father, he doesn't sit down until he gives him permission. He is not allowed to sit on the same level as his father, but always has to squat a little lower.

The two older sisters have already been married, now Javed hopes to earn enough money this winter that the youngest can also get under the hood. Then he just has to support his parents and no longer the whole family. "Sisters are expensive," he says with a shrug, "you have to give them not only money, but also a piece of land. Before they even get to know the girl, first ask what you want to pay."

Although Kerala is one of the richest and most progressive states in the Indian Union, and there are hardly any illiterates even among the girls here, the strict rules of the Dowry, the dowry, is still common - among Hindus, Christians and Muslims alike. It would be best, says Javed, if a family had the same number of sons and daughters. Then she could get what she had to pay for the girls back through her sons.

To earn money abroad

Iqbal doesn't know these worries. He is the youngest of five siblings in a fairly wealthy Kashmiri merchant family, and he doesn't have to worry about anyone. His two brothers and two sisters are already married. The brothers live with their wives and children in the house that Iqbal's parents built. They in turn live with their grandparents. Iqbal's sisters moved in with their husbands' families. In summer, everyone in Kashmir, northern India, lives on an island in Dal Lake, which borders the capital Srinagar. A large part of the family moves to Kerala in winter. Here the women and girls traditionally stay in the house. They clean, wash, cook and look after the children; the men keep the shops going. Many Kashmiri earn their living as traders in the tourist strongholds of the subcontinent.

Iqbal is very attached to his family. In the house in South India he sleeps in a room with his grandmother. If he ever has to sleep alone, he is scared. When he's on the phone with his mother or an aunt in Kashmir, he is agitated and restless for a long time afterwards. Since independence from Great Britain, there has been a conflict between India and Pakistan over this region, which has so far led to three interstate wars and a state of civil war in the Indian part of Kashmir that continues to this day. Although the hostile neighbors are getting closer, there are still bomb attacks, raids and arrests almost every day.

Iqbal is used to dealing with tourists from an early age. In the past, when Europeans and Americans were still vacationing in Kashmir, when it was still called "paradise on earth", the strangers lived on houseboats that belonged to his family. He didn't learn his English at school but from the guests.

Very few young people in Kashmir have a school education that can be called even passable. Few can read and write, there is too little work for them and many are traumatized by the ongoing conflict. Almost every family has at least one member who is either missing, injured in a bomb attack, or died; was with the "militants" or was ill-treated by the Indian army. For young people, it is both exhausting and boring in Kashmir. There are hardly any places where they can meet or do something, everything takes place either under the anxious, worried eyes of the families or under the attentive gaze of the police and army. Anyone who sees any possibility will turn their backs on the dangerous and depressing Union state.

Young men in particular without a good education have to earn their money elsewhere. They can be found in all parts of India, where they either work in souvenir shops or as traffickers.

Just like 30-year-old Majid, who strolls around the huge Connaught Place in the heart of Delhi every day, appealing to tourists and taking them to various shops. If they buy something there, he gets a percentage. Sometimes he only earns 200 rupees a day, around four euros. The rickshaw that takes him to and from work alone costs him a hundred of them. He and his friend Ashraf live in a windowless, damp, small room that costs 3,000 rupees.

Ashraf is 27 years old, also from Kashmir, and has been married for a few months. His wife lives with his family in the Himalayan state. She owns a houseboat there and Ashraf is looking for tourists at the train station or at the airport - preferably young, adventurous backpackers - whom he is trying to make a trip with a houseboat overnight stay attractive.

Sometimes the two of them are lucky, then Majid finds Americans who buy a carpet, which brings him 2000 rupees. Or Ashraf can persuade young Europeans to go on his houseboat for a week. But mostly they just hang around Connaught Place with other boys, drink sweet tea and talk politics.