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Being Single

I was sitting in the second class compartment of Konark Express heading to Bhubaneshwar, when after a few hours of travel, the matriarch of the Marwari family, sitting opposite me, about 60 years old (she had three generations with her), whose delectable lunch and snacks I had just eaten with great relish, asked me first my age (I must have been around 30 or 32 at the time), and after nodding wisely many times, asked, “When did you get married and where is your husband?” Immediately thereafter followed another question: “How many children do you have and who is looking after them?”

This was the first time I had been asked these questions and I was at a loss for words. After a few minutes of dilemma, I thought it best to be honest, and said with some nonchalance (buffered by a smile) that I did not have children or a husband and was not married. Immediately her face showed signs of uneasiness and with great concern she advised me to marry soon for, “After all, who will do your shraddha”.. At that moment I realised that the two of us, in spite of our bonding over food and small talk, were located in two different worlds and that there was an all-embracing social, intellectual and political distance between us. At the time, I did not have the requisite social or intellectual resources to communicate my point of view, and was flummoxed about how and in what manner to explain that being married or having a husband and children were not important issues for me, or that I did not need to explain this to anyone.

I was on my way to do field work in the villages of Balasore district, Odisha. Over the course of the next month and a half, I was constantly asked the same question in the field: who was my husband and where was he? Over time, I found the requisite answer which helped my respondents, who were married and had families, to understand me and, most importantly, accept me, so that I could continue with my research. I realised that it was best to say that I was educating myself and had very little time for other things. This was an answer that I came up with in the first few days which became my refrain whenever this issue arose. It allowed me the space to not explain my choices and thereby maintain my privacy. By then, the mid-80s, even in the rural areas of Odisha, it was accepted that education and studying were important commitments (although only for males), and I remember how in one household, as I gave this standard answer, a young girl of about 16 looked at me shyly and longingly and stated, “Only daughters of rich parents staying in towns have this choice.” Looking back, it was unfortunate that I did not take her aside to talk to her and find out how I could help her; post-facto, I regret that I did not do what I should have–comprehend her urge and help her realise it.

In 2005-06, a brilliant student of mine, a priest asked me: “Is sociology your calling?” When I did not understand the import of his question, he qualified it by asking, “Is this why you are single?” and I realised that there is something here that needs reflection. At the time he was reflecting on the many complications affecting priesthood and I wondered whether this question was asked because he thought that for priesthood, he needed to be single like I was, that this is what being committed to the profession entails! It is this conversation with my student that I recall as I write this essay and I wonder: why is it that being single is thought to be so unusual, and why is it a choice that questions the system? Why is it seen to be a decision that lets us take the first steps to achievement and empowerment and is therefore a dangerous act for a girl? Why does this feat need a specific explanation and, depending on one’s ideology and subject-position, generate positive or negative feelings and emotions, whereas being married is thought to be natural?

Unfortunately, since then, I did not give myself time to think through this issue and so I am glad that the opportunity has arisen now. For many years, I thought I did not need to explain my choice of being single; that it is a very private matter. Today, as I write this, I think differently; that this choice is a political intervention and needs some analysis by activists and scholars, and that as a scholar I should map some of its contours.


I don’t know if anyone chooses to remain single; circumstances make them exercise this choice at a certain point of time. In my case, I decided quite early in life that if I wished to nurture a child, I would adopt one; that before marrying, I needed to be employed; and that the first need not follow the second. Coincidently, after finding a job, my  relationship then did not work out, so I started living alone and continued  because by then I was clear that this is the only way I can remain autonomous and unfettered from ‘doing things’ with one person all the time—maybe for all my life. I also realised that I would like to use my energy to establish myself in my work/profession (always such a struggle for a woman of any class/caste) rather than deploying it to first comprehend, and later deliberate and negotiate differences in living and ‘being’ with a partner. I loved being alone and managing my own household and I became over time an accomplished homemaker. And so, after some years, getting married was no longer a choice. However, I need to add a caveat; though I lived alone in a rented home for a decade after I made this decision, my parents shifted into my household when they became infirm and needed caring, and lived with me for almost fifteen years before they passed away in 2002 and 2013, respectively. Those were interesting times; on the one hand I learnt what caring was and on the other, I was exhausted by the caring and anguished by the slow decay in their physical and mental abilities. Since then, I have again started living alone and have appreciated and applauded the freedom and autonomy that I now have to live in the way I wish to.

For a woman to take a decision to be single demands that she be economically independent, receive acceptance and legitimacy for being single from her family and professional networks; own or make enough money to rent accommodation (generally difficult for single women who are not enmeshed in recognised family or kin networks) and has the strength to confront and sustain herself against the prejudice, discrimination and sexism heaped on her by all and sundry, of both sexes. Given that she does not carry the visible symbols (sindoor and/or mangalsutra) that protect her from patriarchal interrogation, she faces constant questions regarding her personal life from all manner of individuals, including from those who provide everyday services such as plumbers, electricians, telephone repairers, dhobis and domestic workers, to professional colleagues.

She also faces discrimination and/or pity at work, as most institutions in the public domain (whether headed by males or females) are misogynous. Males at work/professional sites do not know how to relate to single women as colleagues. (I recall when I was in hospital and very seriously ill, my male professional colleagues at Pune University sent their wives to enquire about my health rather than come themselves). Some think single women are aggressive (women’s assertiveness is perceived as aggression), hysterical, unaccommodating (because marriage would have tamed women to patriarchal principles) and too demanding, constantly questioning everyday practices, not knowing how to demonstrate obeisance to those in authority; standing up for their rights and those of others. All such ideas and impressions allow them to develop negative feelings for single women. Such men and women gossip about them, think that being sexually unfulfilled, single women are ready for one-night stands or affairs. Thus, a single woman has to confront predators of all kinds, not only those who create obstacles to her advancement in institutions/professions but also those who prey on her body. These colleagues (both male and female) can use their power and authority within the official structures to question the single woman’s everyday alternate professional practices especially if they feel threatened by her constant assertion for hers and others independence and autonomy. I am sure like me, many single women (more than married ones) have faced both inquisitions and formal inquiries because of their insistence on being self assertive.

Single women need to sustain themselves by creating alternate support structures and new networks of friendship. However, creating these is difficult, if not impossible, given that most individuals network and build relationships as couples, with or without children, and operate within accepted class-based kin and caste groups. Being single is not easy; it is a major struggle and does not come without initiating all manner of battles to maintain material and psychological autonomy and freedom. Most of the time, women who are single also support their parents and/or siblings. It is extremely difficult for a woman from a low-income background to make this choice; they are married very early in life even before they can understand their agency in order to take such a decision.

In these circumstances, I take the statistics made popular by the Government of India’s Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, that there are about 71 million single women in India (an increase of almost 39 per cent from the 2001 census) with a pinch of salt. These women are single because they may be widowed, separated and/or divorced or deserted by their husbands and/or children, and his family, also oftentimes discarded by their natal families. Demographers have informed us that most women in India are married by the time they are 19 and almost 99 per cent are married by the time they are 30.  The above statistics on singleness relate to those who have become single after marriage. Such single women face enormous difficulties and vulnerabilities; material, social and psychological, together with sexual harassment, prejudice and discrimination. But one needs to distinguish this single-ness from the one that we are discussing in this book.

I am now convinced that being single, that is, as being never married is a state that questions the way the institutions of marriage-family-kin organise the private domains and intersect with the public domain in India. The choice to remain single not only subverts these institutions and norms of behaviour that ensure women’s subordination but affirms her agency to constitute a distinctive and alternative lifestyle. This empowers her to interrogate the private-public institutions that had earlier entangled her into accepting and legitimising her dependent personality and reproduce her identity within the cultural site of ‘home production’.*

It also allows her to question the power that such institutions have over her labour/work, friendship networks and social capital; over sexual choices and also allows her to situate her emotions of love, happiness and joy as also of hurt, anger and disgust on a completely different and new register than the one that has organised emotions for married women.

This act of subversion gives her a new agency which she is sometimes conscious of, sometimes not. For women who become aware of the agency, being single provides them with further intellectual resources to extend the critique of domination and power that they have developed as a consequence of single-ness and extend it to other institutions within the public domain. It enables them to play a public role in analysing the way symbolic and cultural power finds its expression in the public domain, and to question ways in which everyday overt and covert violence stamps our public arenas. Ultimately, single-ness provides one with intellectual resources to comprehend the true meaning of difference, individuation, equality and democracy.

Being single, therefore, finds expression in various ways, sometimes as defiance, at other times in symbolic silence, and at still others in protest. It promotes an attitude of fearlessness and pluckiness, and encourages daring, courage and bravery to struggle against all odds. It also asserts the woman as an independent persona, an autonomous, sovereign, self-sufficient and free individual in control of her body, emotions, feelings and ideas. Singleness, I think, means all this and more. This essay explores my family background and its imperatives, and combines analysis with my personal journey to comprehend what it means to be a single woman for me.


I grew up as an only child, born when my parents were in their middle years: 35 and 41. By then they had been married for almost two decades and were immersed in themselves, their work and their public/political commitments. They were also working parents—they would leave home at 7.30-8.00 am and return at 6.00-7.00pm, sometimes even later. My only interaction with them was generally late on Saturdays (when they had half-day work) and on Sundays.

I recall as I was growing up, listening to their concerns and their interventions on issues concerning the experimental school that they were managing as principal and teacher, respectively. I think I unconsciously assimilated their thoughts on education, pedagogy, learning, and particularly on Gandhi’s views on education, about Gandhians and their experiments in ashram-schools and other such institutions. I also learnt about their own involvements in many other public activities in Mumbai and Gujarat and the rest of the country. I grew into adulthood early, concerned with ideas governing the public domain of the country, and had little or no time for games or my peers.

Not all single children of middle-aged parents involved with radical public concerns grow up to be single. But my childhood experience set the pattern for my living alone. My socialisation as a single child, allowed me to learn to embrace a feeling of alone-ness, of being with myself, with my books and my daydreams. I recall loving the solitude and silence that surrounded me, and I still love it. I didn’t think that being alone was strange; felt that this was the only way to be. It also made me feel that I have to learn to depend on myself for everything and be self-sufficient, and led me to learn to live with myself and create a world for myself.

This silence and the notion of privacy that I constructed around myself was reinforced because our family had little or no interaction with my parents’ extended family and kin group. My parents had eloped and got married when they were 16 and 21, respectively, and had practically no contact in the early years of married life with either of their natal families. Immediately after their marriage, they got involved with the national movement and forged deep bonds with their compatriots from the Congress party and other radical groups, including communists. And although by the time I was born, contact had been established with my mother’s sister and her family, and later with my fathers’ family, I grew up without having any clear understanding of the enmeshed relationships of blood that organise intimate interactions within kin/caste groups. To me, my family were my mother’s friends, whether young or old, who I sometimes called masi(s) and masa(s), but more often by their first names.

A chance remark by the social historian Ravinder Kumar about Gandhi and how he created an alternate political family/kin group, bonding young and old, women and men, ashram-ites and party workers on public and private concerns through his letters, made me understand the origin of my own family network. I realised that by creating a friendship network that bonded over public concerns, my parents and their friends were also creating an alternate family/kin group, based on non-blood relationships. Additionally, I was never asked whether I wanted to get married–I guess my parents would have found it difficult to find someone for me, given that they and their various friends took their own decision on this issue. The only prescription that I remember being given is that I needed to study and get a reasonably good job. I was also encouraged to become economically independent very early; my higher education abroad and in India was mostly covered through awards and fellowships.

One of the lessons I learnt in my early years which has resonated in many of my personal decisions (including being single) and which has imprinted my scholarship, relates to an assessment of power and its entanglement in personal lives. Though never discussed upfront, I grew up with the notion that one has to move away from the lure of power/authority to ensure freedom and autonomy for oneself. I learnt to be wary of power of all kinds: interpersonal, institutional and that of ideas. This principle found its significance in daily practices within the family. I was brought up to have few needs, live a life of simplicity, invest only in functional commodities and to recycle everything that I possessed. I recall rebelling against some of these strictures especially after seeing my peers with new clothes or finding my own favourite clothes and books being recycled to others. Over time I appreciated the importance of this principle in addition to its being embedded in ecological wisdom.

I learnt very early how that the lure of power can displace one’s commitments, an understanding that has remained ever-present in my consciousness and has affected my everyday life and my choices. The first lesson I learnt about this concerns my mother. My mother was an important member of the Congress party. She was in jail, first at Arthur Road and then at Yeravda, for more than a year during the Quit India movement and after that achieved a high position within the hierarchy of the Bombay Pradesh Congress Committee. After learning about Gandhi’s call to all Congress workers to resign, she immediately left the Party. She was offered all kinds of enticements, including a promise of a Parliament seat in the 1952 elections if she maintained her membership. But she remained steadfast in her resolve. Soon after resigning, she followed Gandhi’s advice to get involved in social/constructive activities, and later associated herself with my father in the educational experiments he had initiated while implementing Gandhian basic education practices in schools. It must have taken a lot of courage for her to give up the power she had achieved within the party, which would have allowed her to walk into the public domain and obtain nation-wide recognition and fame.

The second was an incident related to my father. We received an intimation that he had been given an award for the work he had done in school education and that he must go immediately to Delhi to receive it from the President. I recall my mother’s excitement, and then her extreme disappointment when he refused to accept it because it was given to him by the government/state– he did not want his autonomy and possible future critical interventions against the Indian state to be compromised by accepting the award.

From this I realised that my father believed that if one covets power, it distorts one’s moral compass. My mother also upheld this principle. I learnt unconsciously that one should not make oneself subservient to an individual/parent/guru or a collectivity; to an idol or to a religion; to institutions, group solidarities or political parties or their ideologies. Some of these ideas were an interpretation of Gandhian positions but they also carried with them other traces, of Rabindranath Tagore’s ideas on education and of the merit in recognising difference and its implications for democracy, as advocated by the philosopher John Dewey, whose views had influenced my father when he was at Columbia University. No wonder there were no photographs (including those of us, the family) or statues and paintings of gods or individuals (including Gandhi) in our home.

Another incident that remains imprinted relates to the months just before Emergency was declared in 1975. I had bought, and placed on the wall just above the dining table, a lithograph of Karl Marx made by Vivan Sundaram. The same evening my father held a meeting of the Akhil Bharatiya Nai Talim Samiti at our home, as secretary of the organisation. One of his colleagues teased him about this lithograph, but he did not take the bait and explained it away as a sketch of his grandfather! I realised then how much he appreciated my right to be different both personally and politically from him, and to uphold this right. He was willing to leave the lithograph on the wall and suspend his own (strong) views against Marx, and as well of making gurus out of individuals.

This principle dominated everyday practices in the family: each of us started the day with different drinks: coffee for my father, tea for my mother and lemon and honey water for me. Though my parents only wore khadi, I was asked to make my own choices. But more significant was the lesson I learnt from my parents’ marriage and their relationship with each other. I was just 13 or 14 years old when I became conscious of the differences in my parents’ personalities, expectations and needs. I also started noting arguments and raised voices (mainly from my mother) between them. One day when my father and I were sitting and reading the newspapers, my mother walked into the room and said that she was leaving us. She had a suitcase with her. I recall feeling shocked and had tears flowing down my face.

My father did not say a word and gestured me to stop crying. I later realised that he did this so that my mother would not feel pressurised to change her mind about her decision. He merely asked her whether he should get her a taxi. She declined and left. Today I can’t recall when she came back except that one day, returning from school, I noticed that her clothes were back and that she had gone to work.

Her coming back had an impact on my life. I noticed that I was encouraged to make friends and organise activities on my own, and my involvement with my parents’ activities decreased. After completed schooling at 16, I was almost pushed out of the home and encouraged to have friends of my own and travel outside Bombay as much as possible. As a consequence, I was able to carve out my own identity, be recognised for myself and was no longer known only for my relationship with my parents. Later, many individuals were astonished to learn who my parents were; we were so different in all aspects: politics and ideology, lifestyle and personal choices.

But if this event sowed within me the first doubt regarding marriage as an institution, it also made me conscious that even a perfect relationship, (which was what I thought my parents had, changes and become not-so-perfect as new needs and expectations emerge between two closely intertwined yet strong-willed individuals, one of whom was passionately committed to his ideas. Years later, I wondered whether the break happened because my mother could not find her space and her identity. She was too young when she married and if she had continued in politics, she might have forged a new life and become a different person.

Growing up with such freedoms was a challenge but it made me develop skills not only to comprehend myself, my needs and expectations, but also to understand those of other people, whether young or old, female or male. It also made me self-conscious and observant, learn ways to establish intimacies and trust, and simultaneously cultivate bonds of care, nurture and sexual companionship across wide networks. Through them I learnt to organise my emotional commitments. I grew up to think that such families were normal and drew my emotional strength and even material support from this ‘institution’. I believe that my family is constituted of people whose age and sex, size and numbers were and are always changing. It includes friends of my parents (who are alive), their children, and my own friends of long years made during my travels. It has been expanded today to include some of my ex-students.


My being single has a lot to do with being a ‘traveller’. I was initiated into taking journeys by my parents. They were always travelling for meetings, work and other activities and took me along.  I think I must have seen the entire country at least three to four times, visiting both historical/religious and tourist sites during school vacations, including doing the Badri-Kedar treks and understanding these sites variously for their  ecological/environmental/aesthetic value, and as well as for their modern and contemporary significance and their import in nation-building. It was on these travels I learnt what diversity is and the need to reject all kinds of religiosity and insularity.

After the age of 16, I was encouraged to go on these journeys with a friend or even alone. Inevitably we travelled in second class compartments and lived cheaply, sometimes in low-priced hotels/dharamshalas and consumed whatever was available on stations/dhabas. I recall once taking a five-hour journey in Bihar on the steps of a railway compartment as my reserved seat had been occupied by a gang of young men. Travelling alone challenged me to be courageous and tough. Not only did I learn the geography, history and culture of India (and later of the world) but also simple things such as how and where to buy bus and train tickets, how to negotiate fines when travelling ticketless; find food; trek in unknown mountainous regions; convince lorry drivers to drop me/us at the nearest town while warding off their sexist behaviour. I learnt how to take risks, make mistakes and emerge resilient and strong from these experiences. In fact, I realised slowly that to learn something new I need to travel and that taking a journey should become my way of life/being; being on the move became both physically and metaphorically important for me.

From the late 1970s, my travels took on a new orientation. The trigger for this was a letter I received from my mother sometime in September 1975, after I reached Canada where I went to complete a Master’s degree. I left India in late July 1975, a few weeks after the Emergency was declared in India. In that letter, my mother narrated all the events that had taken place after the imposition of the Emergency and wrote how personally traumatic it was for her not to participate in the demonstrations that began soon after 26 June. But she decided against participation in these demonstrations as she knew that in case she was arrested, I might decide not to go to Canada for further studies, and that I might also participate in these demonstrations–by then, I had started taking an interest in the nascent civil/democratic rights movement being organised in the city. This letter haunted me during my 14-15 month stay in Canada and on my travels across North America and Europe during the summer of that year. When I completed my master’s degree, I returned to India immediately I realised that I could not remain an outsider, surveying social and political developments affecting the country; I needed to become an insider and, through this process, find meaning for my person, myself and my life.

Within a few months of my return, the Emergency was lifted. I met those who had been released from prison and re-connected with friends who were involved in civil/democratic rights movements. For the next decade, till the end of 1990s, I remained active with the Committee for Democratic Rights (CPDR) and later, when I registered for a doctorate at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, with the Peoples’ Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR). This was when we saw the growth of protest movements across the country. Over the decade as I did field work, first as a doctoral student and later as an independent research scholar studying contemporary social movements, I connected with social and political activists who had become involved in public concerns and in various social movements across the country, who subsequently became, and remain my friends even today.

As I travelled on foot, in processions, in buses, trucks and boats with the populace and activists who wanted to question State power, I perceived how these political concerns are significant to grasp contemporary issues concerning the country. But I also realised, how the women involved in these movements, were rarely acknowledged by the male leaders. (who could be members of their families/kin-caste/tribal groups) while some others had faced sexist onslaughts. This allowed me to understand how power plays out within social movements and how male/patriarchal power interlaces the public and the private domains at many levels, from everyday lives to in/formal institutions, from parties/NGOs to the State. I heard the narratives of women activists as they discussed their struggles to find their space and their identity within the movement and within the household, about the sexism, abuse, violence and rape suffered by some of them, both within the home and outside it. And I felt a surge of hope as I listened to various activists in the autonomous women’s movement wishing to question, disrupt and dislocate patriarchal power. Things will change.


Over the years, I have tried to comprehend the moorings of sexist and misogynous cultures in the intersecting ‘secular’ private-public domains of our country. While I could understand (but not accept) how blood-based caste-kin relations fostered such misogyny, I was astounded to see that these could also be reproduced in families of ‘progressive’ couples within academia and activism. I learnt that such families need not be different from those organised through arranged marriages. Both these promote sexist partnerships in which there is a strict sexual division of labour, wherein the male is the dominant figure and his professional and emotional needs and expectations organise the household. More often than not wives/partners cooked and looked after the home, and after bearing children nurtured them to become employable adults. When husbands could not find permanent jobs, wives worked to manage the household. While some of these wives/partners forgot about their own ambitions, husbands stayed at home, did some consultancies, read, reflected and held forth on their academic/political work while the wives listened, encouraged and propped up their egos.  I don’t think these husbands or their children ever thought it important to understand their wives or mothers’ desires. Nor did they worry about how they were coping with double and treble workloads. If any of these women were able to manage their professional and personal lives, it was because they could afford domestic help to look after their households.

I found that these marriages/partnerships were oriented towards achieving the ambitions of the male partner, whether in the profession or in alternate politics, and together the couple reproduced a family strategy to command the status for the family in many differing ways. Such couples rarely lived as two individuals investing in reproducing a household/family that respected differences, shared household work and jointly nurtured their children and made space for all of them to grow differently. Surely reproducing a democratic and inclusive family is also a political project?

This scenario anguished and disturbed me and I asked myself why marriages between so-called progressives repeat conservative patterns? Does wanting a child and a family necessarily imply being in an unequal relationship? Does the fear of living alone imply that one must live with such compromises? I am convinced today that we need to interrogate the unequal practices in the private domain. These reproduce and legitimise male ambitions to triumph in the public domain, accept their competitiveness as the basis for reconstituting utopias of change within scholarship/politics. Without this, there will be little questioning of clientism, patronage and instrumental wheeling-dealing that governs our public domain, whether by the mainstream or radical elite. The absence allows ‘progressive’ males and females to sidestep and more often to fudge or make opaque, practices related to class/caste/patriarchy patronage within professional/activist cultures. The inequity of practices within the household has promoted the reproduction of patriarchal and misogynous cultures in the public domain. In turn, given that males overwhelmingly dominate authority positions in the public domain these patriarchies legitimise class/caste-based masculinities. Thus, misogynous practices are produced and reproduced in intersecting public-personal relationships. I have been intrigued by the fact that in spite of the recognition of such private-public intersecting misogynous cultures, feminists continue to produce texts that discuss how to improve and make equal practices within marriage and family systems, rather than examine the way institutions are subverting these mainstream systems.

After I joined the teaching profession, I have tried to communicate in my classrooms how marriage represents deep-seated power relationships. I have argued that marriage camouflages three desires which can be realised without the act of being married: sex/lust, reproduction/children and companionship. Individuals may not want to realise all three at any one stage of one’s life cycle. However, given the overwhelming power of this institution in everyday cultural practice and in the media, it has been difficult to convince young women of this position. One of the reasons why we don’t understand that marriage is unnecessary is because of the normative value placed on biological reproduction. It is thus important that, as a first step, we move away from the official understanding of the joint/extended heterosexual family sharing one residence/household, enmeshed in blood relationships organised through kin/caste groups, and try to explore how groups live together without such rules or norms.

I have found many examples of alternative ways of living together in common residences or households of fe/male groups that have no blood relationship with each other. While some of them are formed for ideological reasons (such as communes for political, religious and recently, ecological reasons) others are organised for survival. The latter is particularly true in poor countries like India. I am not suggesting that these formations do not reproduce new hierarchies and are not enmeshed in dominant-subordinate relationships. However, recognising these forms is important as it will help to puncture the facts that common residences are only possible through kin-based marriages. For example, many of us growing up in middle class buildings in south Bombay have encountered families-households formed by male working-class domestics, who cook, eat and live in small one room tenements, called kholis for decades until they retire from domestic work. It is unfortunate that we are not documenting and recording these alternate family-household networks that continue to sustain unorganised informal work in India.

Years later, when one very sensitive and adventurous student wanted to do a dissertation on conflicts and tensions in Indian family life, I convinced her to direct her gaze outside the ideal type of family popularised as a norm by the Indian middle classes. I asked her to focus instead on networks of support, care, nurturance and material and emotional sustenance made by runaway kids in railway stations, the latter becoming their place of residence and cohabitation. This helped me to understand how new forms of trust were being constituted even among children or young people of both sexes. It affirmed how the urge for human connection transcends age and allowed me to see how non-blood families or households were being built in contemporary India, where precarity commands long term family/household life of the poor.

We need to live together and develop trust among ourselves because we are sociable beings. Can we not make families of single individuals from different age groups?

Sujata Patel


My sincere thanks to Aban, Anu, Lakshmi, Navaz, Pooja, Prachi, Sonalben and Vishal who read and commented on this paper. Errors if any are mine.

* Women are trained or socialized to produce and reproduce the home. Their labour is deployed to enhance the status and mobility of the family as a whole. This consists of a basket of tasks and roles including income generation but also child care, housework, networking with extended kin and community, meeting obligations, nurturing relationships as also preserving cultural notions of honour and prestige. Hannah Papnek has called it ‘status production’ while other scholars have called it ‘home production’.

(Sujata Patel is Distinguished Professor at Savitribai Phule Pune University. Earlier she was National Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla and has been a teacher of sociology at the Universities of Hyderabad, Pune and SNDT Women’s University. Her work on modernity and social theory, history of sociology/social sciences, urbanization and city-formation, social movements, gender construction, and caste and class formation in India combines a historical sensibility with four perspectives – Marxism, feminism, spatial studies and post structuralism. She has authored, edited and co-edited 13 books and 63 peer reviewed papers/book chapters. She has worked in different capacities with various educational institutions and publication houses.)


(This article was first published in the book ‘Single by Choice – Happily unmarried women’. The book is edited by Kalpana Sharma and published by Women Unlimited (an associate of Kali for Women) in 2019.)

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