Child-rearing of Punjabis



There is a fascination shared by most human beings about how people in other societies organise and run their lives. Other peoples’ world views, motives, intentions, hopes, anxieties and ways of doing things are forever a great source of wonder and amusement rather than mere idle curiosities. Moreover, most societies in the world have become (or are in the process of doing so) multicultural, although some people find it hard to come to terms with this new-found cultural diversity. Therefore, in our view, it is imperative for all concerned to understand and, hopefully, appreciate the diversity of belief systems and ways of life of the ethnic communities in Britain, Australia, North America and throughout the world.

At an academic level, cross-cultural studies provide a valuable check against our ethnocentric world view and stimulate critical reflection and debate on concepts and theories developed within a specific cultural milieu. The field of comparative child-rearing practices provides an excellent opportunity for doing this. It embraces very many aspects of a community’s culture, including family structure and its functioning, religion, basic beliefs, diet taboos, myths and superstitions, language and the way inter-personal relationships are built and sustained.

Most parents are keenly interested to know how best to care for their children. They see children as an investment in the future. The popularity of Spocks’ and other writers’ books on child-rearing in Britain, US and elsewhere is an eloquent testimony to the inherent parental interest in the subject. The desire to find out how children are reared and cared for has been with us since antiquity. Manu, an Indian social philosopher and lawgiver of the fourth century B. C., had this to say on the treatment of children (Kakar, 1994: 192) : ‘ The protective indulgence shown towards the child is manifested most clearly where it matters the most (at least to the child) - namely, in Manu’s pronouncements on the chastisement of children. Children (and women) are only to be beaten with a rope or a bamboo stick split at the end.’ Plato regarded the care of children as a grave responsibility. Rusk (1969: 6) quotes from Laches to show Plato’s deep concern: ‘ For children are your riches; upon their turning out well or ill depends the whole order of their father’s house.’ One of the seminal influences on modern-day thinking about the nature of the child has been that of Rousseau who postulated that the child is naturally ‘good’ and ‘equal’ at birth. More recently, pioneering theories of Freud, Piaget, Erickson and Bruner have greatly changed the child-rearing practices of the Western European and North American middle classes.

Early child-rearing practices have been linked to adult personality by pschyoanalysts and to intellectual development by many child psychologists. Watson, the arch behaviourist, claimed the overriding influence of the environment on development. His extravagant claim was: ‘Give me half a dozen healthy infants... and my own specialised world to bring them up in, and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select - doctor, lawyer...and yes , even beggar man and thief, regardless of his talents....’ (Quoted in Hayes, 1993: 249).

For the anthropologists and sociologists, the child’s early socialization throws up insights into how a society/community culturally reproduces itself and how it sees its future. For society’s capacity to survive depends on how effectively it can pass on its stock of knowledge and skills and its basic values and beliefs to posterity.

There is a paucity of literature in the field of the child-rearing practices of ethnic minority communities. We have not come across a single collated source of research about any of the Asian ethnic minorities in Britain or North America, though there have been a few research reports based on small-scale studies (Woollett et al., 1995; Hackett & Hackett, 1994; Ghuman,1975). This present book aims to make a modest contribution in this important and somewhat neglected field. The book should be of special interest to social and health workers, nursery, infant and primary teachers, students in the field of child development and cross-cultural studies and others interested in the welfare of children.

The main aim of the book is to provide information on the changing patterns of child-care practices, bilingualism, and the nature of young children’s identities among the Punjabis who have migrated in large numbers to Britain, Australia, Canada and the US.. The book is based on two research projects. The first was completed by Dosanjh under the supervision of Professor John Newson of the University of Nottingham. In this study, Dosanjh (1976) made detailed comparisons between the Punjabi parents’ ways of bringing up children and those of the English sample studied by the Newsons (1976) in the early 70s. The two ethnic groups were compared on: child-centredness, independence training, discipline and the role of physical punishment, patterns of play and friendship, adjustment at school and personality development. The second research has been conducted with a smaller number (forty) of second-generation Punjabi families probing the same concerns as discussed above. Also included in the study are twelve white British families and ten Punjabi families in the Punjab to broaden the data base. The main objective, however, was to find out to what extent the second-generation Punjabis have changed their child-rearing practices compared with the first-generation. To give readers both the substance and tone of the mothers’ experiences of, and attitudes towards, their children’s upbringing, we have made liberal use of extracts from the interview transcriptions. The selection of quotes is essentially a subjective exercise but an attempt was made to present as comprehensive a picture as possible and to eschew overt bias, at any rate. We feel that such an in-depth approach to the study of one ethnic minority group can be applicable in helping us to understand the tensions and apprehensions not only of other Asian groups, eg of Bengalis and Gujaratis, but also those other ethnic minorities in western Europe and the US. The overriding dilemmas chiefly relate to the propagation of religion, the mother tongue, core values of the family and the support of kinship networks.

Chapter 1 describes a socio-cultural background of the Punjabis now living in Britain, Australia and North America within a wider context of post-Second-World War migration. It reviews the history of migration of the Punjabis and deals with their patterns of settlement, family structure, religions, marriage systems, the position of women and biraderi (kinship) network. It also aims to give the reader an outline of the background of the second-generation Punjabis, the majority of whom were born in Britain, Canada and the US.

The second chapter introduces discussion on the aims and objectives of the research, examines the samples and evaluate the methods of data collection and analysis.

Chapter 3, section 1, describes the child-care practices of the Punjabis. including: pregnancy, birth, toilet training, feeding, the role of religion and father’s participation, and examines the changing family structure and its bearing on child care. The chapter is supported by in-depth interviews with the native Punjabi mothers and grandmothers in the Punjab and the previously-published researches, notably those by Kakar - a well-known Indian psychoanalyst. Finally, the views of some English scholars are presented to provide a broader perspective on the child-rearing issues. The discussion contained in this chapter should serve to put into context the findings reported in the subsequent chapters.

Chapter 3, section 2 relates the findings of our 1970s research on the myths and superstitions surrounding birth, and chronicles the mothers’ comments on the role of religion and associated ceremonies. Conclusions are drawn concerning the ‘changed pattern’ of child care of the first-generation of Punjabis.

Chapter 4 reports the empirical findings on the lifestyles of the

second-generation Punjabis, which provide a context for the discussion of early child-care matters. The topics dealt with are: preference for baby boys, antenatal and postnatal care and the learning of mother craft such as bottle-feeding, weaning and toilet training, the fathers’ participation and cot deaths. The chapter discusses these findings within a wider perspective of published researches.

Chapter 5 recounts and then analyses mothers’ views on a variety of topics: training for independence, discipline, rewards and punishments, play, the sharing of household chores and playmates. Further, it explores personal development - highlighting the main anxieties, fears and interests of the children. As before, the views of the two generations are compared and contrasted throughout and these in turn are compared with the small all-white British sample. All findings are placed in the wider context of previous researches.

Chapter 6 discusses bilingualism, religion, racism and identity and investigates family language, how it has changed since the early 70s, and parents’ attitudes and their role in promoting bilingualism. There is a description of the places of worship and their role in maintaining the community’s language and, finally there is a full examination of the question of the identity of the third generation and their experiences of racism. The discussion on these issues include other ethnic minority groups.

Chapter 7 Analyses home and school matters including: parental involvement in the 3Rs, adjustment at school, general activities of children after school and friendship patterns as revealed by the interviews; followed by a discussion of these matters in relation to the research extant in the field.

In the concluding Chapter 8, an attempt is made to draw together the various strands of the research projects into a coherent whole. The findings are placed within the wider context of previous researches carried out in various parts of the world. A summary of the findings and implications for bilingualism and the identity of Asian and othe ethnic minority children is presented.

Chapter 1: Setting The Scene

Anthropology has ignored children in culture while developmental psychologists...ignored culture in children. The result is ignorance of the process and content of the child’s emerging competence as member of a culture. (Shwartz, 1981: 4)


Since antiquity, homo-sapiens has migrated from place to place, from one geographical area to another, in search of food, shelter or simply to better its economic circumstances. Other reasons for migration have included such imperatives as escaping persecution, staving off starvation and fleeing from mass-scale annihilation. Examples of this type of migration are to be found even in the modern-day world in parts of Africa, Europe and Asia. At the time of writing, a major migration of refugees from the former Yugoslavia is proceeding apace to Germany and to Scandinavian countries.

There was a massive migration of people after the Second World War. In addition to the migration of refugees from the various east European countries, there was a large scale migration of people from the ‘third world’ countries to the developing countries in western Europe, North America and Australia. Cohen (1991: 15) has described this period of migration in some detail: ‘... the mix going to individual countries was different. Greeks, Turks and Yugoslavs went out Germany; Algerians, Portuguese, Spaniards, Italians and West Africans arrived in France; while the initial influx to Britain and the Netherlands tended to come from their former colonies....Belgians "foreigners" were largely drawn from Spain, Greece, Morocco and Turkey... By the mid-1970s, when immigration restrictions were introduced in all the Western countries, some 13.5 millions "foreigner" were officially counted as residing in Belgium, Denmark ... the UK, Sweden and Switzerland.’

Our concern in this chapter, however, is with the Punjabi migrants from the Indian sub-continent to Britain and North America - though the discussion should be of relevance in understanding the predicament of all minorities in Europe, North America, Australia and elsewhere.

Migrants tend to take with them their language, religion, dietetic habits, clothing styles and social mores, conventions and attitudes. In short, they migrate with their ‘world views’ and lifestyles. It is widely accepted now that it is important to understand the religious and cultural backgrounds of migrants to facilitate the processes of adjustment and integration. Moreover, the child-rearing practices of a migrant/ethnic community can only be fully understood within the context of its own religion and social mores. This chapter describes in some detail the social and historical background of the first and second generation of Punjabis living in Britain - though references are also made to North America and to other ethnic groups. The information and discussion should serve as a backdrop to the empirical researches described in the subsequent chapters.


Indians have been associated with the British since the beginning of the colonial rule of India in the seventeenth century. Initially, a few personal servants and Ahyas (nannies) were brought home by returning officers of the East India Company. Queen Victoria, for example, had several Indian servants, the most notable one being Abdul Karim who came to England in 1887 after the Golden Jubilee. He was promoted later to be her munshi - a teacher of Hindustani. The Queen became proficient enough to greet visiting Indian Maharanis in Hindustani (Visram,1986: 231).

Indian presence in Britain up to the end of the nineteenth century was confined to a few Ahyas, lascars (seamen), students from rich families and some medical practitioners. This number increased somewhat at the turn of the century when some Punjabi Sikhs and Muslims of ‘British Indian’ army background found their way here to become peddlers and hawkers. Rex (1985) argues that Sikh peddlers’ pioneering spirit can be compared with that of the trail-blazing journeys of Livingston in Africa. According to one estimate, however, there were only 7,128 Indians in the UK by the year 1900 (Visram,1986: 190). Visram describes their first settlements: ‘ The earliest settlers lived in the seaport cities of Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Southampton and London.’ Desai (1963) argues that the total population of Indians at the turn of the century was around 5,000, which included 1,000 general medical practitioners and 1,000 other professionals and students. The rest were mainly seamen in Cardiff, Bristol and Liverpool or the Sikh peddlers who came to Britain after a period of service in the armed forces. Maan (1992:119) gives this account of Indian immigrants, who were mostly from Punjab, to Scotland:

The number of such people in Scotland at that time (1920s) was very low compared with England or even Wales; and nearly all of them were in Glasgow. When Nathoo did well in travelling or peddling and realised the potential in that trade for hard -working young men, he sent for his two younger brothers from India, who arrived in 1924.

Punjabis also emigrated to the USA and Canada in the first two decades of this century. There were 2,544 Punjabis, mostly in rural areas of California, by 1920 (Leonard, 1993: 4). Likewise Punjabis were to be found in small numbers in Vancouver. According to one source (Buchignani et al.,1985), there were 951 South Asians, mostly Sikhs from Punjab, in 1921 in Vancouver. A story of a Punjabi Sikh is illustrative of the immigration pattern (Buchignani & Indra, 1985: 14)

My brother Kapur Singh was one of the first Sikhs to go to Canada. He soon wrote back to our village saying that work was available at RS. 7 a day - a princely sum in those days. Sixteen of us assembled to go off and try our luck . I was just eighteen. Some were reserve army men, but most were farmers’ sons. After a quick train trip to Calcutta and short voyage to Hong Kong we had to wait quite a while for the next ship to Canada. We were on the ‘113 boat’ that arrived in Vancouver in October 1906. We were very worried about being rejected because of disease or some other reason - I think I aged two years - but none of us was. (Tara Sing Sidoo)

The Punjabis, both from India and Pakistan, are well known for their internal and external migration. The major reason behind this migration has always been the desire to improve their standard of living and thereby to enhance their social standing and influence in the community. A large number of farmers (240,000) left the overcrowded districts of the Doab ( Jullundur, Hoshiarpur and Ludhiana) to cultivate the newly-opened canal colonies in the west Punjab between 1921 and 1931. Subsequently, their external sojourn has taken them to the neighbouring countries of Malaysia, Singapore and farther afield to East Africa, Australia, Canada and America. For instance, during 1987s around 32,000 Indian workers, mainly Punjabis, were recruited on a voluntary basis to work in East Africa on the building of railroads (Bhachu, 1985a: 21).

India was partitioned in 1947 to create a homeland (Pakistan) for the Muslims. The Punjab was at the heart of this divide. Nearly fifteen million people were affected. As Aroura observes (1967:140):

The partition of the country and the Hindu-Muslim communal carnage which followed in Punjab, further aggravated the instability of this generation...Munjeet came to England in 1954: his main plan was to get admission to a provincial university to read for B.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering...but under the circumstances he got a factory job.

Another vivid description was given by a parent who was interviewed by Ghuman when he was researching for a project on the acculturation of young Asian people (Ghuman,1994: 3):

We had nothing left when we came to Julundur from Pakistan - just the clothes we were wearing We were in a refugee camp for six months. Then we were allotted 10 acres of land per household. A small grant was also given for buying some agricultural implements. It was a miserable existence. I then vowed to emigrate abroad, preferably to Canada or California because I could farm there or work on a farm.

The other salient factor in the migration of Punjabis is that of the scarcity of farming land amongst the peasants and the subsequent lack of employment for the young people. Shaw’s (1988: 22) concluding inferences of the Punjabi emigration are succinct: ‘Thus the tradition of army and navy service and of labour migration abroad and the experience of colonisation had the effect of instilling in Punjabis the desire and the confidence to seek their fortunes abroad... .’

The tradition of migration is so well-established that even the young people belonging to high castes and materially well-off families are trying to emigrate abroad. In our recent interview a retired engineer elucidated:

It is not only the unemployed young who want to emigrate but the educated too. They want to live a peaceful life; they are fed-up with terrorism (in the Punjab) and the fact they are enchanted by foreign countries, especially America. Also most of them have their relatives living in England, America and Canada.

A village farmer explained yet other reasons for emigration:

Phinder has done well in it takes 5 to 6 lakhs (£10,000) Rupees to migrate. Now some people are going to Arab countries. The thing is this: nobody wants to leave his home, but it has become imperative for some to emigrate because of recent police excesses - even terrorism . Also there is so much corruption and filth in this country; and then lifestyles are better over there....The only person who came back to settle in the village is now planning to go to America, though he is highly successful here. (Why?) You know I have been to England; they are a very civilised race . I was given so much respect (he has an amputated leg and walks with a crutch)...they would stand aside and let my wheel chair pass. Here, I dare not go on a bus for fear of being crushed and general rudeness of bus conductors. So people abroad are really civilised; that is the main reason.

We feel it is important for the reader to appreciate that alarge proportion of the migrants from the subcontinent were from the middle strata of their respective societies, though most of them - including university graduates - were only successful in finding manual jobs. Ballard (1994:10) succinctly describes their situation: ‘Overseas migrants are therefore usually drawn from families of middling status, whose members , are neither sufficiently prosperous to be wholly content with their lot, nor so poor as to be unable to afford the migrant’s ticket, passport and visa.’

The Sikhs from Punjab have been emigrating to Vancouver, in Canada, and California since 1902. As in Britain, the first migrants were men from rural backgrounds who were employed in manual jobs (Ghosh:1983: 91). In Canada, for instance, 225 persons were allowed to stay in 1940, but they were not allowed to bring their wives and children (Basran, 1993: 344). In the USA, the passage of the 1965 immigration laws put Third Word countries on a par with European countries and as a consequence the migration from India increased dramatically. Saran (1985) estimates the population of Indian-origin people to be around three-quarter of a million. Bouvier and Agresta (1985) estimate that their total number will be close to one million by the end of the millennium. Likewise , in Canada there has been a huge influx of people from India after the passing of the immigration act of 1967.

Chain Migration

This takes place within a tight-knit community through established links of blood relationship, biraderi (kinship) and sometimes through friends. Punjabi men, who settled in various parts of the UK during the 1950s and 60s, started sending for their close relatives as there was an increasing demand for low-paid , unskilled workers in foundries, cotton mills and on the buses as conductors. Maan’s (1992: 159) account of the Punjabi migrants illustrates this process:

His elder brother Sardar Ali, came to join a cousin in Scotland, probably in 1949. Mr. Yaqub Ali arrived in 1952 to join his brother. Then a number of new friends and contacts of the Ali brothers kept multiplying and the pool of sponsors in Scotland kept getting larger with every new arrival from the sub- continent.

A Birmingham respondent gave a personal account to show this process in action (Ghuman,1994: 5):

I came to England in 1959. Got a job as a bus conductor. I worked overtime and made £30 per week. on average - a lot of money at time. I spent £5 on food and rent and saved the rest. Some I sent home and the rest went on a house deposit: I could rent out rooms then. I contacted a dalal and paid £300 deposit for my brother’s immigration.

Aurora (1967) gives very many examples of this migration process amongst the Punjabis who were residents of Southall in the mid-fifties. He gives an example of a Sikh worker who was the first to be employed in an all-white workforce and who created such a good impression with the firm that subsequently several more Sikhs were given jobs on his recommendation - a form of sponsorship which supported chain migration.

The migration from the Indian sub-continent became highly selective after the 1962 Immigration Act: entry permits were issued mainly to doctors, teachers, scientists and engineers. Primary immigration to Britain almost ceased when the second immigration bill was passed by parliament in 1970.

The vast majority of the migrants from the Indian sub-continent were men of rural background, belonging to middle socio-economic groups, who originally came for a limited period of time to make their fortune and then returned to the family-fold back in India and Pakistan. One estimate is that 95 per cent of the migrants from Pakistan during the 60s were of rural origin and over two-thirds of them were from the Punjab (Dhaya,1972). Aroura (1967: 21) noted that in Southall - now the main enclave of the Punjabi community - there were only 11 Indian women on the electoral list in 1958. According to Maan (1992:160) : ‘ the first Punjabi Muslim family to come to Scotland was perhaps that of Mr. M. Ismail in 1948. Mrs. Sakina Ismail who still lives in Glasgow, related that the all-male Muslim community of Glasgow did not approve of her coming over.... no other Muslim families came over until about 1952.’ Shaw (1988) cites evidence from the electoral register to show that most of the Pakistani families were united in Oxford in the mid-sixties when there was an imminent anxiety over the increasingly tighter control of immigration from the sub-continent. According to the latest census data available, the number of South Asians in Britain is estimated to be 1,476.9 (nearly one-and-a-half-million) - 2.7 per cent of the population (see Owen, 1992); and. nearly one-third of the Asians are of Punjabi ancestry. Nearly half the Punjabis are from the Punjab in India (mostly Sikhs, but a quarter are Hindus) - the other half are Muslims from the Punjab in Pakistan (Ballard, 1994: 19-20)




Patterns of Settlement

The chain migration of Punjabis ensured the formation of enclaves within inner-city areas of Britain. The China-towns in San Francisco, Vancouver and elsewhere in North America are also well-known examples of the consequences of this process. Punjabi migrants found it difficult to get accommodation and were obliged to live in overcrowded houses. Aruora (1967.: 37) cites an example of discrimination in housing:

To let

A decent single bed sitting room with facilities to cook in basement kitchen. Suit a working gentleman or a woman. Only respectable people need apply. No coloured please.

In England, Punjabis have settled in the Midlands, Yorkshire, and some London Boroughs - notably in Gravesend and Southall. The latter is popularly known as ‘little Punjab’ amongst the ethnic communities and the local whites. Bath (1972) studied the geographical distribution of the Punjabi families in Smethwick., West Midlands. He found that the house-ownership pattern closely resembled the Punjabi village scene: adjacent houses were bought on biraderi, religious and caste bases. Likewise, Shaw (1988: 41) found that Punjabi Muslims have settled in Oxford in line with their past village and kinship associations. Bhattra Sikhs in Cardiff have settled very close to Ninan Park , where they have also built a Gurudwara (Ghuman, 1980b). Punjabi settlements in the Sacramento valley, California and in Surrey and Victoria in British Columbia are also along the caste, religion and kinship bases. Anwar (1979:11) summarises the situation succinctly: ‘ Extensive research shows that individuals with similar cultural origins tend to cluster together and thus become residentially segregated from the rest of allows it to preserve a sense of ethnic identity and to feel a familiar social networks.’

Formation of Gurudwaras, Mosques and Temples

Most Punjabis, especially Hindu and Sikhs, felt settled enough during the mid-sixties to unite their families in the UK. At that stage their lifestyles were very restricted and revolved around their jobs. Most men did excessive overtime: seven days a week and from ‘7 to 7’ tended to be the norm. There was little time left for leisure, sports or social activities. One of our informants described his experience (Ghuman, 1994:11):

When I arrived in Birmingham in 1958 I had to share a room with another person. Rates were ten shillings(50p) for a shared bed (i.e. on shift work basis), one pound to a share room with three to four people and £2 for a room. Then we have to pay for our communal langar (cooking) and take turns to make chappatis and cook vegetables and lentil curries. I could save fifteen pounds a week. It was a lot of money at that time. My other expense was a few pints of beer over weekends. Life was routine and dull. I did as much overtime as I could get. There was only ‘lino’ on the floor and very occasionally Gymna (landlord) would light a coal fire in the dining room. So it was always cold in the house. For our baths we had to go to the public baths near H....park. It used to be freezing cold in winter. We listened to Punjabi folk music and Hindi pop a lot. There was a camaraderie in the house; we talked a lot about the Punjab and how we missed it.

Dhaya (1972: 26)) argues that, since the prime purpose of the migrant was to earn and to save as much as possible, there was a great reliance on thrift, hardwork and sober habits.

However, with the arrival of wives and children the situation changed drastically. As the Punjabi communities grew in size they recreated some of the cultural and social organisations of their home country, as migrants to a new country are wont to do. Places of worship for the Asian communities are pivotal in this respect. The institution of religion helps in maintaining their distinctive cultural traditions and social mores in addition to providing opportunities for collective worship and observance of religious customs and practices. Maan (1992:174) writes: ‘The Asian community at this stage had at last accepted the fact that they are here to stay....New mosques, temples and religious schools were set up in every locality and every town with a viable Asian community, to ensure the spiritual welfare of the present and future generation.’ Thus, run-down church buildings in the inner city areas have been bought and converted to Sikh Gurudwaras and Hindu temples and there are plenty of newly-constructed Mosques in every major British city. A Hindu teacher informed us (Ghuman,1994:14):

We opened Gita Bhavan in the old church in L.....are in 1967. Statues of lord Rama , Sita, Sri Krishna and other deities had to be brought from India - Jodhpur. Also we arranged to get a Brahmin as a priest. Our temple is also a centre for social and cultural activities. We have a provision for free meals on Sundays. We have a lot of holy men and women from India and elsewhere for Katha (special sermons). We also teach Hindi to the youngsters twice a week.

Parekh (1994:610) argues that Hindu religion has played an important part in the lives of Hindu migrants all over the world in providing them with a degree of stability and cultural continuity. This has happened in Singapore, Malaysia, East Africa, West Indies, Guyana, Britain, Canada and America.

Thus Hindu Mandirs, Sikh Gurdwaras and Muslim Mosques, though organised around sectarian, regional and caste bases, came to play an important part in the lives of first-generation Punjabis in Britain and elsewhere. This re-creation of religious and other social structures, such as Workers Associations and economic/market niches, is a feature common to the Punjabis in British Columbia, Toronto and in California.

General Comments on Punjabis

The Punjabis have come from three distinct religious backgrounds, namely Muslim, Sikh and Hindu. The Muslims are mostly from Pakistan, which was created in 1947, and the other two communities hail from India. Despite their religious differences and dietary requirements, they share a common language (Punjabi), literature, music, dress, styles of cooking, ways of relating to one another, a spirit of entrepreneurship and a sense of humour. Before the partition of India, they lived cheek by jowl in relative harmony.

In Britain, relationships between the Punjabis of different religious persuasions have fluctuated from harmony through co-operation to downright hostility. Events in the sub-continent have, to a degree, influenced their social behaviour. India and Pakistan have fought three wars, for example, and within India the holiest shrine of the Sikhs at Amritsar was invaded and desecrated (in the eyes of most Sikhs, anyway) by the Hindu-led Central Government. Likewise, Muslims all over the world have been deeply shocked and offended by the incident at Ayodhya, in India, where a Mosque was demolished by an unruly Hindu mob under the glaring presence of the world’s TV and press.

However, there was, and is, a solidarity and common purpose born out of the predicament of being together in a country, Britain, which has condoned racial discrimination in the past and treated them as second-rate citizens ( see Brown, 1985; Jones, 1993). This has also been the case in north America, especially in the 40s and 50s. In Canada, for instance, the immigration laws prior to 1967 were extremely discriminatory against people from the Indian sub-continent. Basran writes (1993: 342) ‘ East Indians (mostly Punjabis) like other Asians, were also denied the right to vote...remained alien residents , were vulnerable to deportation. East Indians also bore the brunt of racial stereotypes, facing considerable racism and open prejudice.’ In America, at the turn of the century, the first Punjabi settlers were not given the right to bring their wives so they married into Mexican families. The story of the Punjabi-Mexicans’ struggle to build their distinctive identity is evocatively told by Leonard (1993).

Most Asians, we are sure, have heard the racial jibe ‘Pakis go home’ hurled at them sometime or another. The second generation who are relatively free from the burden of traditional and religious loyalties, are prone to forge a common front to secure equality of opportunity and to fight racism. They are not too perturbed at being labelled with the generic term Asians by the indigenous whites.

Values and Belief Systems

Traditionally, Punjabi families are known to have been extended, where two or three generations of people lived in a single household in a patriarchal set-up. This meant sharing resources, pooling incomes and supporting the weaker and elderly members of the family. Most rural Punjabis came from such a background. But this tradition is being eroded both in India and Pakistan as a result of geographical mobility, though the bonds of biraderi (kinship) remain strong. The Muslim Punjabi communities perpetuate and reinforce the biraderi bonds through arranged marriages to first cousins. In contrast, Hindu and Sikh communities do not approve of marriages within their immediate kinsfolk. Their custom is to avoid the union of two families which have blood relations running up to three generations - some even avoid marrying into families which have the same gotra or Jati (sub-caste). Nevertheless, their affiliations with their kith-and-kin remain very strong and individuals often sacrifice their own advancement in the broader interest of the extended family.

Shaw (1988), who carried out an ethnographic study of the Pakistani community (mainly Punjabis), was surprised to discover her own misunderstanding of strong Birderi bonds. She writes: ‘In fact my disappointments arose from my own prejudices.... From a western point of view, an individual who fulfils her or his role with the family, birderi and community, does so at the cost of individual freedom. However, most Pakistani themselves, including the younger generation do not see the matter in this way. They do not prize ‘individuality’ as highly as westerners do, and for most of them the sacrifice of ‘individuality’ that the culture requires is more than offset by the advantages of fulfilling one’s role within the family, biraderi and community.’ In our interview with the second generation, we were struck by the sacrifices of the first generation. A Sikh mother told us this story:

My father left us in the Punjab in 1960 - all five of us with our mother. We had our kinsfolk who helped my mum, but she took all the responsibility. My father, who was a graduate teacher in the Punjab could only get a job in a foundry to start with, then he became a bus conductor and then a driver. He worked amazingly hard to save up for a house and for our upkeep and then paid our fares including our grandmother’s. When we were here he worked on the buses day and night and even sent some money home to other relatives in the Punjab. I am sure his high blood pressure and early death caused by a heart attack was all due to all the sweat he put into his job - and then he worried about us...would we accept arranged marriages?

Cross-cultural psychologists (Kim & Gudykunst, 1988; Triandis, 1994) and anthropologists (Kluckhon & Strodbek,1961; Levi-Bruhl,1985) have attempted to pinpoint the differences between the value systems of traditional vis-a-vis modern western European societies. One of the differences, which has surfaced from extensive empirical investigations, concerns the dimension of collective versus individual orientation. According to this conceptualisation, collectively-orientated people seek achievement for the group’s sake and stress the value of co-operation, order and self-control. In contrast, the individually-orientated view achievement as for self-glory, and believe in competition and the pursuit of power. Triandis (1994) describes other differences between the two contrasting types of individuals in social norms, values, attitudes and behaviour. Stopes-Roe and Cochrane (1990), in a wide ranging and in-depth study of two generations of Asian people report, that compared with the British, the Asian considered the interest of the family should come before that of the individual. Parekh (1986:198) argues that ‘for the Indians, it is the family rather than the individual which is the basis of social structure.’ He has elaborated on this theme in a recent article (Parekh,1994: 610): ‘Children study for the family and believe that to fail to achieve what is expected of them is to let down the family....Women go out to work for the family.’ According to another researcher, who has worked extensively with Indo-Canadian communities (Buchignani et al.,1985:127), individuals in the traditional Indian family set-up were weak but families were strong because these hold the land resources.

The other attributes which are associated with collectivity are respect for and obedience to the elders and accepting the decisions of the head of the family, particularly in marriage arrangements and choice of work. These values no doubt had strong bearing on the child-rearing practices of the first-generation Punjabi migrants.

These values are antithetical to the cherished ‘individuality’ of people in western countries. This chasm between the value systems of the migrants and that of the host society has posed very serious difficulties for the second generation Asians.

Arranged Marriages and the Position of Women

On the sub-continent, the practice of arranged marriages is the most important part of Asian social mores. This practice enhances the financial welfare and prestige of the family. Therefore it is the business of the family and not of the individual to arrange marriage. There is a popular belief amongst the Punjabis that ‘love comes after marriage’ and that pre-marital dating and courtship are only ‘lustful’ customs of the West. A comment of a parent amplifies this (Ghuman,1994:17):

I believe in this custom - otherwise what would our bhaichara say - they have become Goras (whites)! Our customs will pass on to the next generation - Punjabi language, our food, dress and music. Otherwise there won’t be anything left of us and people at home will be shocked and terribly disappointed. Also our marriages last longer than Gora’s...all we hear is a lot of them get divorced in so-called ‘love marriages’.

As much has been written on this subject, some scholarly (Vaidyanathan & Naidoo, 1989; Ballard & Ballard 1979; Wilson,1978), others in newspaper features and pamphlets (The Observer, 12 March 1994; The Guardian, 25 June, 1994), the researchers do not think there is need for detailed discussion of this topic. But this issue, and that of dating, are the main antagonisms over which inter-generational tension does arise (Drury, 1991; Wade & Souter, 1991). The second generation are increasingly prone to question the traditional values and to exercise their right to individual choice. This threatens the very survival of ethnic groups which want to cling on to this custom of arranged marriage. From a survey of literature, it becomes apparent that it is the Asian/Punjabi girls who are more likely to complain and moan about the arranged marriages and their position within the family ( Drury, 1991 ; Wilson, 1978.; Anwar, 1979). There is a custom of lavish dowry-giving amongst the Punjabis when their daughters get married. An average family can spend up to £10,000 on jewellery, household goods, brides clothes and lavish parties. This custom, to our knowledge, is not being modified or changed. It is widely practised in Canada, America and other places where the Punjabis have settled. This has a knock-on effect of lowering the position of girls in the family. In India, there is a flourishing illegal medical practice for aborting female foetuses for this reason. Indeed, girl infanticide was practised until very recently by some high-Jati Hindu Rajput to escape from the grip of this financially crippling social custom. The local newspaper in Chandigarh, The Tribune (20 April, 1995), has highlighted the dismal plight of Indian girls by publishing reports which include incidents of ‘bride-burning’1 among all strata of Hindu and Sikh communities.

The predicament of Punjabi women in the US and Canada depends on the social class of the family. The long-established Punjabi Sikh families, which tend to be concentrated on the lower rung of the economic market, are still patriarchal in structure. Whereas, the structure of the professional families is more akin to the Canadian pattern where women enjoy equality with men - which is similar to the situation in Britain.

The first generation internalised the patriarchal norms of the Punjabi communities and believed in clearly defined roles for men and women and boys and girls. This observation must be qualified, however. There is a wide variation of attitudes on gender-related issues (e.g. equal opportunity of education and employment) within the Punjabi communities depending on the religion, caste and social position and status of the families. In Hindu polity, there is a strong matriarchal cult (Kakar, 1994: 84); the most widely worshipped goddess is Mata Kali or Durga in the Punjab. Then there are other goddesses : Lakshmi of good luck and fortune; Sarsawati of knowledge; and Parvati of security. Grandmothers are revered both by men and women in Hindu and Sikh households and similarly they can achieve a formidable status in Muslim families. Shaw (1988: 74) summarises their position in Muslim households: ‘ A woman who begins her married life under the mother-in-law’s authority can gradually acquire a major role in managing the households, influencing the men and making decisions about her own children’s marriages.’ However, a visiting woman scholar (Akhtar, 1991: 288) from Pakistan made some very interesting comments about the attitude of Muslim men towards women in the UK: ‘Villages are more advanced now in Pakistan but people here are still as they have left 40 years back.’

In India the position of middle-class women is changing owing to their newly found freedom to work. Sinha (1984: 12) sums up the changing position of women in India: ‘From a purely subservient and dependent role in the traditional family system, she has begun to contribute to family earning. Because of their changed economic status, women have inevitably begun to have a say in decision-making and enjoy, at least partially, the income earned by them.’

A comment of a Sikh woman is very poignant of most first generation Punjabi women’s plight (Ghuman,1994: 18):

Firstly I was a Guluam (slave) to my father’s wishes, followed by my brothers’, then my husband’s and after his death my sons’. When will I be free? We are human beings, too. Men have tea, beer, gossip, laugh and joke in their spare times, but us...too busy cooking, cleaning, washing, looking after children and entertaining some cases we are also beaten up by the Jungalis (savages).

This description echoes a dictum of Manu on the treatment of females. Manu, a social philosopher of the fourth century BC, was the architect of the Indian political, social, and jati (caste) system. According to his laws (Bhular, 1886: 145, quoted in Kakar, 1994): ‘In childhood a female must be subjected to her father, in youth to her husband; when her lord is dead , to her sons; a woman must never be independent.’

Wilson (1978) has evocatively depicted the predicament of Asian women through her ethnographic researches. She highlights, particularly, some of the anxieties of second generation Asian woman who have to reconcile the conflicting demands of two ‘cultural worlds’. We will return to this issue presently.

Knowledge of English

The vast majority of the Punjabi migrants were from a rural background and had completed their primary education, though the ones who migrated after the 1962 Immigration Act were mainly professionals (Ballad, 1994). Most of the Punjabis did not speak English at all, some had the basic minimum and only a minority of college graduates were able to speak with any fluency but even they were handicapped by their different idioms and accents. Desai (1963: 9) describes it graphically: ‘ All university educated have had experience of writing and reading English, but very little of speaking it. Hence almost all immigrants need a severe adjustment in their knowledge of English before they are able to communicate with the English. Those who are not well educated have a meagre vocabulary, few phrases, little grammar and a sing-song accent. At best they achieve bare mutual intelligibility in everyday situations.’

A Punjabi Hindu woman described her predicament(Ghuman, 1994:19):

I joined my husband in 1967 along with kids. We came in January. It was very cold, but Pitta Ji lit coal fire so it was alright....The real Khusum nu khani (damn) problem was English. I was like deaf-mute, couldn’t do shopping , talk to the milkman or go to the doctor. My husband had to take me everywhere - who spoke English. A short while after a lady from the university came to my house once a week to teach me English. Jhindi Rahe (may she live long) she taught me a lot in two years. Then I went to her house once a week for six months.... Still now I find it difficult to explain my ailments to the specialist. My Angina was not diagnosed - he said it was arthritis - that wretched language has caused me so much distress, I don’t fully understand TV programmes and still can’t read English newspaper.

This lack of full command in English has also affected the job opportunities of teachers and doctors who gained their qualifications from the Indian Sub-continent (Anwar & Ali, 1987; Ghuman, 1995).

Racial Prejudice and Discrimination

The pioneering Punjabis in the first two decades of this century met with open racial discrimination whichever country they migrated to. Their situation began to change, somewhat, soon after the Second World War when India gained independence from the British in 1947. For instance, the American laws of nationality and immigration denied them the right of citizenship and property owning and leasing until 1945. Full rights of immigration and citizenship on a par with Caucasian whites were only achieved in 1965, after which the population of South Asians in the USA increased dramatically. This is illustrated by the fact that the Punjabi population of Sacramanto valley in 1965 was only 700 but it shot to 60,000 by 1980 (Gibson, 1988: 219). In Canada, the early Sikh settlers faced discrimination in housing, employment and the right of domicile. There was a steady improvement of their situation after the 1952 Immigration Act - but full rights were not accorded until 1967 (Buchignani et al. 1985, Basran, 1993).

In Britain, there was no formal or legal discrimination against people from the Colonies and Commonwealth. They had the right to vote and indeed the first MP of Indian origin was elected in 1892 for the Finsbury Central working-class constituency. However, discrimination was rife at an informal level in all walks of life and the Asians and Blacks were the two main groups against whom it was directed. The first Race Relations Act came into force in 1971, thus officially acknowledging the prevalence of widespread racism in British society both at institutional and individual levels. As Ballard writes (1994: 2): ‘Right from the outset, non-European settlers found themselves subjected to racial exclusionism, and to this day skin-colour remains an inescapable social marker.’

A Hindu bus conductor explained (Ghuman,1994: 19):

Though I had an MA in History the only job I could get was a bus conductor. There were a lot of Asians in this work at that time (1960s) . After a few years service I applied for a vacant post of wage clerk in the transport department. I had a flat refusal. At job our white mates always used to talk negatively about us. We got overtime only if whites refused to do it. I used to get very upset - but what could you do? You are in their country uninvited. We have also to put up with racial taunts and insults from passengers at night. Several of us got assaulted.

There is a growing body of objective evidence from research investigations (Brown, 1984; CRE, 1988; Jones, 1993) which supports the personal impressions of the first generation Punjabis that racism is endemic in the institutional structures of the Law, the Police, the Civil Service, the National Health Service, Education, the Army and indeed in all areas of social and economic life.

In our view, Rex and Tomlinson (1979:207) have summarised the situation of first-generation Asian immigrants in Birmingham quite accurately, which also applies to the Punjabis:

‘The range of jobs occupied by West Indians and Asians,... in fact concentrated more in the lower reaches of the occupational system...they work longer hours for the money they earn and do more shift work...Their houses, apart from the council houses which some of them live in, are worst houses in the city which have not been demolished...their children go to primary and comprehensive schools which are largely segregated or are, at least, immigrant majority schools.’

The situation of the ethnic minorities in the UK has further deteriorated since the above research was carried out in the mid-seventies (see Brown, 1984; Jones, 1993).


The second generation of Punjabi origin, who were either born in Britain or joined their families at a young age, have different expectations, values and social attitudes compared with their parents. They have experienced two distinct cultural norms and value systems , one of the home and the other of the school and wider British society. They have been described by researchers as a ‘Half-Way Generation’ (Taylor,1976), ‘Between Two Cultures’ (Taylor & Hegarty,1985), a generation who have the ‘Best of Two Worlds’ (Ghuman,1994) and a generation who are caught up in a ‘Culture Clash’ (Wilson, 1978).

In Britain, the second generation ethnic minority young people have been hard hit by the long economic recession. Their unemployment rate is nearly double that of whites (Jones, 1993). They have to apply many more times to get interviews, even when they are better qualified than the indigenous whites (The Guardian, 13 September 1994). Many Asian young people have Anglicised their names to conceal their Asian origins (The Independent, 1 September 1992 & Nottingham Post, 2 September 1992). Despite their British citizenship they face racial discrimination and sometimes harassment even from the Police.

To cope with the ensuing tensions and anxieties, most young people have developed bicultural identities; ie. they think of themselves as British Sikhs/British Punjabis. Some have re-discovered their religious values and have anchored their identities in their ethnic culture. Shaw’s(1994) observations on the religious identity of the second generation Muslim young people is very telling indeed. The bicultural identities, however, are constructed as a functional response to their predicament- to be a Sikh at home and English at school or place of work is an effective way of dealing with the world. Ghuman (1994: 56) was informed by a successful head of department in a secondary school:

...but I am very traditionalist at heart. I can fit into both cultures. In Indian society, I behave like an Indian, here in school I behave like an English. I am bicultural.

Some young people can become alienated from both cultures as they face racial discrimination and rejection from the host society and disenchantment with their family’s rigid insistence on maintaining traditional values. Witness the recent riots of young Muslim people in Bradford. It has shaken the community leaders, who have generally kept a low profile and coped with racial discrimination and unemployment in a passive way. Parekh ( The Independent, 12 June, 1995: 15) argues that this has come about because of the complex interplay of inter-generational tensions and inner-city degeneration resulting in massive unemployment of Asian youths with many drifting into drug and crime culture. His analysis of the situation is: ‘ ...they define their cultural identity differently from their parents and stress such Western values as the equality of the sexes, greater freedom of choice in matters relating to marriage and occupation, and freedom of social dissent. The political struggle in the hands of young Asians therefore acquires a complex form, primarily against the wider society, but secondarily against their own elders.’ The second-generation, therefore, has different expectations, personal identites and values from their elders. Furthermore, there have been radical changes in the way the second-generation is organising its family life. It is more than likely that women are in full-time or part-time employment and family structure is more akin to the British norm, ie. nuclear rather than collateral. Grandparents are not at hand to look after the next generation and to pass on the cultural and religious values of the community. Also the second-generation has tended to move away from ethnic enclaves to white suburbs (Ballard, 1994). Ghuman was given an interesting account by a village grandfather from a Punjabi village whose one son lives in England (Farmer, Aged 62):

We went to see our grandchildren last year - they live in Coventry. I observed that they will become like Goras (whites) slowly....They speak English and behave like white children. My son and his wife run a store and haven’t got time to teach them Punjabi language or our culture. Our Gurudwars should do it but these are badly managed. Kids will choose their partners like them and most probably their children would lose all our traditions and way of life....They will never come back to live here. My granddaughter wrote back to me after she came to the village: ‘ I thought India was nice in most places but it is very dirty. They don’t here have rules for driving. Nobody takes any notice. Driving is very dangerous, and the police is no good.’

Another grandfather observed (Farmer, Aged 75):

My grandchildren in England can speak a little Punjabi - the girl more so than the boy. When I was there, my daughter-in-law insisted that he (the son) should greet me in Punjabi - he very reluctantly did...I can’t go (meaning legally) and live there to tell kids a bit about our religion and history. Anyway their way of life is so different that I will feel very uncomfortable - a deaf and dumb in a sweet prison really...I do miss them but this is our compulsion, I am not happy about it.

Changing Family Structure

Objective evidence on the changing pattern of Punjabi family life is very sparse. However, Stopes-Roe and Cochrane (1989, 1990) have conducted a very comprehensive inquiry into the changing values and attitudes of the second generation Asians. They found rather a mixed response to the question of living with parents: two-thirds of the young men preferred to live in a joint household, whereas only one-third of the young women wanted to do so. Young women’s reluctance to live in an extended family is owing to the Asian tradition where a new bride moves into her father-in-laws’ household. They conclude (1989: 157): ‘ But they differed more in their views on family structure; the Asian young people, while wanting elbow room , as it were, still preferred to be closely and continuously involved in the parental family unit. While British family members were often willing to help if they have to, they did not see close family living as desirable....They (the young) made it clear that they preferred , and would maintain if they could , the old spirit and structure of the family. ’ Some of the respondents in the study suggested a ‘non-residential extended family’ situation where newly married sons/daughters live in close proximity to their parents -sometimes as neighbours. Shaw (1994: 56) found this pattern of living arrangements to be common amongst the second generation Muslims in Oxford. She concludes her comments on the second generation: ‘ Most maintain close links with relatives, friends and peers, and still routinely participate in family and community events. They also take for granted the obligation to support and take care of their parents.’ Likewise, two generations of Bhattra Sikhs in Cardiff have bought houses in the immediate home neighbourhood to retain ‘extended joint households’ (Ghuman, 1980).

Bhachu (1985a: 67) researched the lifestyles of the Sikhs of Punjabi origin, who migrated from East African countries from the mid-sixties onwards( hence the title of The Book Twice Migrants), and came to the conclusion that, though most of the households are nuclear, they are involved in a complex kinship network within extended families. This is an interesting example of accommodation to the mores of their chosen host country.


It appears from these studies that there is a continuity of the Punjabi/Asian family traditions, but with some modifications to take into account the imperatives of available accommodation and the growing awareness amongst the young people - especially young women - of a strong personal identity.

All the research reports on the second generation (Stopes-Roe & Cochrane, 1990; Ballard, 1994: Shaw, 1988; Nesbitt, 1993; Parekh, 1994) reveal that the vast number of marriages are still arranged and endogamous, i.e. within religion and caste, despite the wide media publicity afforded to a few cases where young men and women had defied their parents. This custom, in our view, is going to ensure the perpetuation of at least some traditions of the family, important jati (caste) rituals and, more significantly, the religion of the community.

In the next chapter, the reader is given information on the research methodology including sample selection and the use of questionnaires and semi-structured interviews. Readers who wish to follow the main discussion on child rearing can move to chapter 3.

Chapter 2: Investigating Ethnic Minorities


The second generation’s changing lifestyles, values, personal identites, expectations and their perceptions of their economic and social positions in the wider society are bound to affect the way they are rearing their children. In some ways their techniques are going to be close to their parents’ methods but in many other respects they are going to be quite different. This situation may be summarised in a phrase: continuity and change. The researchers thought it would be of great interest to find out, empirically, how far an ethnic community has changed one of the most important customs in its way of life, namely child-rearing practices, which reflect in an important way both how a community reproduces itself culturally and how it projects its hopes and fears for the future. The personal concerns, anxieties and other issues arising from such an inquiry should be of value in understanding the predicament of other ethnic minorities in western European countries, North America and elsewhere.

A major aim of this book, as discussed in the introduction, is to report the findings of two studies which compare and contrast the child-rearing practices of two generations of Punjabi parents living in England. The first research was carried out in Nottingham and Derby with a sample of 200 families during 1970 to 1972 (Dosanjh, 1976). The objectives of this inquiry were to give a detailed account of the Punjabi way of life and to compare Punjabi parents’ child rearing practices with those of the English.

The second research was carried out between February and October 1995 with a smaller group (40 ) of second-generation Punjabi parents who are no longer immigrants but permanent settlers, the majority being British citizens. They regard Britain as their home country.

Research Methodology


Dr. Dosanjh translated into Punjabi the questionnaire (relating to seven-year- olds) developed by the Newsons (1968). In view of his special knowledge of the Punjabi culture, Dr. Dosanjh added a number of questions on the social customs and religious ceremonies. For example, items relating to superstitions and myths surrounding pregnancy and the child-birth were deemed to be important for the inquiry. The questionnaire formed the basis for a semi-structured interview with the parents (see appendix 1).

There were considered to be a number of advantages in employing the interview technique over a structured questionnaire and attitude scale. In the first place, the main objective of the inquiry was not only to collect factual data but to find out, as far as possible, associated attitudes and sentiments which go with facts. Therefore, the questions were designed to trigger off the mother’s own train of thoughts and subsequently - it was hoped - she could introduce topics which interested her. Secondly, in-depth interviews have produced rich illuminating information which is not normally possible in a conventional questionnaire, and it was hoped that with Punjabi mothers this would prove to be an appropriate technique (see Newson & Newson, 1968; Maclean,1992) . Thirdly, most first generation Punjabis have had a bitter experience of endless form filling back at home and they tend to be sceptical of this exercise. It was thought that the information gained through such a technique may not be as reliable and valid as gained through personal interviews.

With the first-generation, all the interviews, except seven, were conducted with mothers in the presence of the fathers by Dr. Dosanjh in the parents’ home. Mrs. Dosanjh was also present at most of the interviews to help create an atmosphere of cordiality and family-gathering which the Punjabis tend to appreciate. However, with the second-generation, the majority ( 32 out of 40) of the interviews were again conducted at the interviewees’ homes but this time mostly without the presence of husbands. Only in a few cases were husbands present. Again Dr. Dosanjh did the bulk of the interviews, except six which were to be conducted with Muslim mothers for it was proving extremely difficult to persuade Muslim women to be interviewed by a male researcher. In the event, we were fortunate enough to get the help of a young Muslim girl who has achieved advanced level qualifications at school (‘A’ levels) and is going to study law at a University . Dr. Dosanjh explained to her the objectives of the inquiry and briefed her about conducting semi-structured interviews. She carried out a couple of interviews in the presence of Dr. Dosanjh, who was able to help her improve her interviewing skills for the subsequent interviews. She turned out to be an extremely competent and reliable interviewer.

Reliability and Validity of Interviewing

There are two main problems associated with the interview method of data collection. The first one is termed ‘social desirability response set’ - the desire to please the interviewer by the respondent. The second, interrelated problem, is that of the validity of the information collected, especially in our case where mothers were asked some questions which required them to reflect on their experiences of early child-rearing. As regards the first concern, the purpose of the interview was explained clearly to mothers. They were told that the main motive is to find out how Punjabi parents bring up children so that teachers and others concerned understand children’s needs and abilities and thereby help to fully develop their educational potential. Also, in general, questions were open-ended and mothers were encouraged to talk freely without any implicit or explicit approval or disapproval of their comments. We feel these measures helped to overcome ‘the desire to please’ response set.

As regards the validity of the data, it has to be conceded that there is a risk involved in ‘recollections’ tending to follow certain directions of distortion. A

mother is likely to present a ‘rosy picture’ of her child (see Yarrow et al., 1968). Furthermore, inaccuracies tend to be in the direction of recommendations of ‘authoritative experts’ in the field of child rearing (see Robins, 1963) - but this particular objection is not applicable to our sample as Punjabi mothers were not likely to follow the trendy theories of Dr. Spock and others!

As far as the reliability and validity of the mothers’ recollections of events is concerned, the reader’s attention is drawn to the fact that , firstly, the questions which relate to retrospective information are only a small part of the interview schedule and the data was obtained contemporaneously, but in both cases we are asking mothers to recall information, and are not observing mother’s behaviour in real settings - which, incidentally, would be extremely time-consuming. Secondly, Rutter, Tizard and Whitemore (1970: 61) argue ‘ In a quantitative analysis only large differences can be considered as due to anything other than faulty recall. Thirdly, we feel that in ‘recollections’, although exact details are likely to be forgotten, the essence tends to be remembered . In this study, our concern was more with the qualitative aspect of the data, viz, how Punjabi mothers viewed their child-care practices in retrospect and prospect. Finally, the presence of fathers in nearly all interviews also helped mothers in their recollections of past events; since fathers interrupted to pin-point certain incidents relating to bottle-feeding, toilet training and other matters relating to child-rearing. Furthermore, the use of attitude scales to assess parental child-rearing attitudes has been seriously questioned by Holden & Edwards (1989: 52). They looked critically at eighty-three attitude scales and came to the conclusion that the reliability, validity and conceptual underpinnings of such instruments is far from satisfactory. Therefore, they recommend : ‘It is advocated that PCRAs, in their current manifestation , be abandoned.’

The major drawback of the interviewing technique is that it is very time-consuming and laborious and it is not often feasible to undertake research with a large sample. The sample in the second study is comparatively small for this very reason. For the second inquiry, we have retained the core of the interview questionnaire to facilitate the comparison between the two generations. Some pruning of the items, however, was necessary to simplify the very lengthy questionnaire used in the original study and to add some items deemed relevant (bilingualism, religion and identity) to the present-day predicament of the Punjabis and other Asian groups living in Britain. The mothers were assured the complete confidentiality of the data collected and the fact that Dosanjh lives and worked in the area and knew the biraderi well, and was fully trusted, helped matters considerably.


For the first study, Punjabi parents, who had children between the ages of five to nine, were contacted through schools in the Nottingham and Derby area. From the list thus compiled, a selection was made by taking every fourth child in Derby and every third and fourth child alternatively in Nottingham to reduce the final sample to 240, with the eventual aim of interviewing 200 parents as a 20% refusal rate was anticipated. The mothers included in the sample are those who had children or a child within the age range 7- to- 9 years. With the consent of parents, a tape recorder was used in all the interview sessions. Whilst the majority of mothers conversed in Punjabi, some preferred to use Hindi or Urdu. The tapes were transcribed and subsequently translated into English by Dr. Dosanjh.

Because of the constraints imposed by time and finance, it was decided to limit our present study with the second-generation to a smaller sample of approximately fifty. We approached the local schools, as in the 70s sample, to help us make initial contacts with the neighbouring Punjabi families. But the response was not encouraging so we had to abandon this strategy and rely on our personal contacts within this Midlands (England) community to complete the project. In the event, we were able to interview only forty-five families and the data from two of these is excluded from the analysis because these mothers, by confining themselves to ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers to all questions, were considered not articulate and co-operative. The final sample therefore consists of forty families. All the mothers, except eight, were interviewed in English and with the consent of the mothers a tape recorder was used as in the 70s’ research. All the tapes were subsequently transcribed (and translated by Dosanjh where appropriate into English) for textual analysis.

It was thought prudent to interview some white mothers (12) to provide a valuable data for comparison. In the event, twelve indigenous white mothers were interviewed to broaden the basis of the data (these interviews were conducted by P. A. S. Ghuman). These interviews were based on the same questionnaire, except that questions relating to ethnicity and bilingualism were omitted.

Religious Composition

As religion plays an important part in the lives of Punjabi people, it was deemed important to include in our samples mothers from the three main religions of the Indian sub-continent, namely, Sikhs , Hindus and Muslims. The details appear in Table 2.1.

Table 2.1 Religious Composition of the Samples

  Sikhs Hindus Muslims Total
1995s Study 20 (50%) 10 (25%) 10 (25%) 40
1970s Study 138 (69%) 37 (18.5%) 25 (12.5%) 200

There is a high proportion of Sikhs in the sample and, therefore, the reader is cautioned that the sample cannot be fully regarded as representative of the Punjabi population in Britain or in Punjab. In British studies, the Registrar General Classification of occupation is normally used to split samples into working class/manual and middle class/non-manual categories. This is not considered entirely satisfactory for the Punjabi groups as there was, and is, often a mismatch between their education, aspirations and attitudes and the jobs which they managed to secure owing to the wide-spread racial discrimination in England. In the event, the mother’s educational level was thought to be the best indicator of the Punjabi parents’ lifestyles as it has a strong bearing on the quality of mother-child interaction and family culture. The educational level of mothers is given in Table 2.2 and in Tables 2.3 and 2.4 we tabulate the manual and non-manual data on Punjabi and British mothers and fathers respectively.

Table 2.2 Educational level of mothers


Degree, ‘A’ Advanced levels and College Diplomas ( normally achieved at the age of 21)

‘O’levels, GCSE and CSE (School based qualifications normally achieved at the age of 16)

No qualifications


1970s Study

20 (10%)


145* (75.5%)


1995s Study

14 (35%)

16 (40%)

10 (25%)


1995s Study- British Sample

3 (25%)




* Included in this category are 67 mothers who did not go to school at all


Table 2.3 Social class based on mothers’ occupation (shortened version of the Registrar General’s Classification)



(1, 2& 3a)


(3b, 4 & 5)



1970s Study

10 (5 %)

60 (30 %)

130 (65%)


1995s Study

10 (25%)

19 (47.5%)

11(27.5 %)


1995 Study - British Sample

3 (25%)




Table 2.4 Social class based on fathers’ occupation (Shortened version of the Registrar General’s Classification)



(1, 2 & 3a)


(3b, 4 & 5)



1970s Study

22 (11%)

158 (79%)

20 (10 %)


1995s Study

17 (42.5%)


5 (12.5%)


1995s whites

3 (25%)

8 (67%)



The occupational make-up of the Asian population in Britain has dramatically changed since the 1970s ( see Jones, 1993; Smith, 1974 ) and the Punjabis are no exception to this generalisation as is clear from the table above. However, Punjabis of Indian origin have done better than their counterparts from Pakistan. Thus, in our present sample nearly half of the Hindu and Sikh fathers were in ‘professional, intermediate and skilled non-manual’ jobs, whereas only one Pakistani-origin Punjabi was in this category, six were doing manual work and three were unemployed. Statistical data from the Social Trends (HMSO, 1995: 20) support our observations: 57% of Indian-origin people are in non-manual occupation compared with only 34 per cent of Pakistanis.

House Ownership

All the second-generation families, except one, own their houses: nearly a third are in detached, over a half in semi-detached and the rest are in terraced houses. These figures match very closely with the national statistics and there has been little change since the 70s’ (see Social Trends: HMSO, 1995; Jones, 1993). The corresponding figures for the white mothers studied are: half of them own their houses and half of them are in council houses . The figure for ownership in this sample is lower than the national figure, which is 65 per cent.

Family Size

One of the important variables in understanding the effect of acculturation on child-rearing practices is to compare the family size of the 70s sample with that of the 90s, and to compare both with the indigenous white families. The data is presented in Table 2.5.

Table 2.5 Punjabi and English Family size - in percentages

Number of children




Punjabi Family (1995s Study)




Punjabi Family (1970s Study)




White Family (1995s Study)




White Family (1970s Study)*




* see Newsons (1970)

It is clear from the table that, in the 1970s the size of the Punjabi families was larger than those of the English. This situation has changed since then as is clear from the above table: the 95s’ sample show a decrease in family size, although it is still higher than that of the indigenous whites. Another interesting fact is that in the present Punjabi study only one-fifth are extended families, whereas in the 1970s sample nearly a quarter of the families lived in joint households - a slight decrease in the extended family set-up.

In Table 2.6 we give details of mothers’ residential status.

Table 2.6 Mothers domicile status - 1995s Study


Born in Britain

Resident over 20 years in Britain

Resident over 10 years in Britain



















16 (40%)

13 (32.5%)


It is clear from the above table that the majority of the mothers in the present group were either born or had their schooling in Britain and are therefore more familiar with the British norms, social mores and customs and practices and have a greater knowledge of English than the 1970s’ sample, where the vast majority of mothers were of recent arrival. The age description of the samples is given it Table 2.7.

Table 2.7: Mean age, range and standard deviation of the 95s’ samples

1995s’ Study



Standard deviation

Punjabi Mothers




Punjabi Fathers




White Mothers*




White Fathers




* Two of the white mothers were single-parent families

There are a number of significant features to note from the table. First, the mean age and range of the Punjabi mothers is higher than that of the whites. Second, that the present study is concerned relatively with the younger age group of mothers who might still have more children. In the sample, as a whole, there are twenty-one boys and nineteen girls. The age range of children is from 7- to 9- year old.


In sum, there are a number of differences between our two Punjabi samples. A significantly higher proportion of the second-generation are in employment, have better types of jobs, were born and / or had their full schooling in Britain and speak English fluently. Furthermore, they have fewer children and fewer live in an extended family situation. The only commonality with the 70’s mothers is that the majority in both samples own their houses and that none of them are single-parent families. The white sample in the study is comparatively younger, fewer own their houses, they have fewer children and the sample includes two single-parent families. All the above parameters have significant effects on child-rearing and we will explore these in subsequent chapters.

In the chapter that follows, the traditional child-rearing practices of the Punjabis are described in order to contextualise the discussion of our research data. The description of child-rearing in the Punjab is based both on the existing literature and upon some empirical data which was collected by P. A. S. Ghuman in April, 1995 during his 4 weeks visit to the ‘Indian’ Punjab. Ten mothers ( four from the manual class and six from the non-manual class) and 6 grandmothers were interviewed using a semi-structured interview method. The topics included in the interview related to ante- and post-natal care, children’s upbringing, medical improvements, family planning, the role of the extended family in child-care, and the changes which have taken place in the craft of motherhood. The major thrust of the interviews was to explore issues and generate discussion rather than seek answers to predetermined questions. The interviews were held in two locations: in an urban setting - Chandigarh, and in a rural village Mahalon. With the consent of the mothers, a tape recorder was used throughout. All mothers and grandmothers, save two, spoke in Punjabi. The translation of Punjabi transcriptions was by P. A. S. Ghuman.

Chapter 3

Section 1: Child Rearing Practices of Punjabis

...we should do well to remember that in terms of loving care and family support, their children may be receiving far more than our own children; our material conditions of living are so transformed that we might be living on another planet, but that does not mean that we do not have to learn much about child rearing from developing countries (Brimblecombe, 1980: 6 ).

Learning of Mother Craft

Traditionally, in Indian society, the status of the expectant mother was in sharp contrast to the new young wife. She was accorded every respect and considered to be part of the husband’s family, whereas the new bride was treated as an apprentice who had to earn her place in the new family. Kakar describes her position evocatively (1994: 79): ‘ For an Indian woman, imminent motherhood is not only the personal fulfilment of an old wish and the biological consummation of a lifelong promise, but an event in which the culture confirms her status as a renewer of the race, and extends to her a respect and consideration which were not accorded to her as a mere wife.’ According to some feminist thinkers (see Phoenix, Woollett and Lloyd, 1991: 49), there is still a resonance of this notion in the Western world : ‘For women a major reason for having children is the identity and status which motherhood is seen as providing a means by which women achieve full adult status and demonstrate their feminine identity.’

On the Indian subcontinent, expectant mothers are, or were, very rarely taught about children and how to raise them. In most cases, the first delivery was in the young mother’s parents’ home where her own mother and other elderly women looked after the infant for the first 6 to 12 months (see Kakar, 1994: 77). The young mother picked up child-rearing skills by imitating and emulating the senior women of her father’s household. Currently, this practice is fading due to the occupational mobility and an increased awareness that advice on child care can be sought from nurses and doctors. This transition, however, is not without its problems as I was told by a young mother ( Teacher; Aged 27):

We are not given any training at all - this is one big drawback in India. They get a little idea by watching their aunts and other relatives. There is no reading material available - I tell you there is nothing. There may be a little about pregnancies but no knowledge of motherhood. My mother did not tell me much. The first child is a sort of experiment only. For the second child, I was better prepared... My mother learnt from her mother, but because I was away with my husband there was no help.

Gender of the Child

In Punjabi families, boys are generally preferred to girls to the extent that in some families women who have girls are made to feel inadequate, but the situation is changing somewhat. A grandmother (Aged, 60) from a farming background informed me:

On having a baby boy or girl - I do not think there is any difference to me, personally. It depends on your thinking. I celebrated the birth of my grand- daughter by distribution of Barfi (high quality Indian sweet) whereas on the arrival of my grandson it was only Ladoos (ordinary sweet). But our society approves of boys, but to me it doesn’t make any difference.

Another grandmother ( Retired Professor; Aged, 63) was somewhat guarded in her response:

This custom has not changed much. Even now the wish of most parents is that a boy should be born. (Reasons ?) There is a widespread belief that a boy will look after us in old age. Our society is very macho and male dominated. Only a man is considered to be good for many jobs. But people now don’t mind having mixed families.

The notion that a son would look after his parents is very much part of the Punjabi and Indian psyche. Kakar writes (1979: 450): ‘...given the infant mortality rate which used to range above 20 per cent, a surviving child (especially a son) was accorded the most deferential care by his mother and the family, for he would become the parents’ source of economic support in later life and through his participation in the ritual of death and mourning, their guarantee of religious merit and righteous passage into the next life.’

There are some parents, however, who would also like to have a daughter in the family. A mother of two boys wistfully remarked (Clerk; Aged, 42):

People undergo ‘sex-test’ to abort girls. They must have a boy. Very few can accept all girls in a family. We know of a couple who had 6 girls because they were trying for a boy....Now, in our case I think, to my mind, I want a girl in my family. But I had very difficult pregnancies and faced many problems. Maybe we should have tried another time.

There is some statistical evidence (Booth & Verma, 1992: 1155) to show how Hindu and Sikh parents in the Punjab differentially treat the young children for medical care. They conclude: ‘ The magnitude of restricted access to hospital care for girls as shown by our data is impressive; the M/F ratio of 4.13 suggests that about three out four girls (75%) who are ill enough to require hospitalisation are denied this essential medical care simply because of their sex.’ According to the authors, this accords with the social and cultural mores of Punjabi society in which it is the sons who inherit family land and are responsible for looking after the elderly parents whereas the daughters have to be married off with dowries.

Regrettably, in some parts of India, these traditions have such a stranglehold over peoples’ minds that they go to great lengths - mainly for economic reasons - to avoid having girls (foetus abortion) and baby girls are killed by a variety of cruel methods, which include poisoning, starving to death and suffocating. Goledenberg writes in The Observer ( 22 October, 1995: 21):

For Amarvati, who thinks she is 38 although she looks much older, the arrival of a second unwanted daughter meant the end of her marriage. Her husband, a woodcutter, balked at the expense of raising a daughter and left her. ‘My husband would not have left if it had been a boy,’ she said. ‘I had to kill it there was no alternative. God made a plan for us to suffer, but we killed the baby and escaped.

This quote crystallises some of the dilemmas which the poor in the third-world countries face and also shows their ontological outlook - which may be termed as a fatalistic attitude to life.

Family planning

The middle-class mothers interviewed in Mahalon village and Chandigarh have only two children each, with the exception of two mothers who had three. However, two Chumari (untouchables) mothers had four and they were in their mid-thirties. It seems to me that most middle-class Punjabis, in India at any rate, are extremely keen on family planning. We were informed by a grandmother from a farming background ( Housewife; Aged 58):

All our people (middle-class Jats) now believe in having two kids - it was OK in the old times. But it can be difficult with, say, one boy and a girl. Suppose the only son decides to live away or go abroad, then there is no one left with you because the girl is going to her in-laws as is our custom. You really need two sons for this reason - also a tragedy might strike. I know now-a-days it is expensive to bring them up and educate them. Look at us, we are on our own - we feel quite sad and dejected at times - because our son is in service and lives in a city. In old age it will be a real problem for him and us.... As regards the Ad-dharmis (untouchables), still they have four or five. They think it is their investment for old age. The village nurse gives them advice on birth control, but they reject it and are cynical of small families. Their attitude is: ‘our children are not going to ‘divide’ our land - they are born to work and earn money, and so be it.’

Ghuman interviewed a doctor (Aged, 32) on a variety of issues ranging from birth-control to the health-care of young children. The doctor gave a thoughtful reply:

Family planning with the poor strata has failed - there is so much deception and corruption. Some official are supposed to bring forward men who can be sterilised because they had 2 or 3 children. But it is all in papers - nothing gets done in reality...Doctors don’t go to the villages to attend to the patients. There is a lot of malnutrition and poor hygiene amongst the poor. Then there is scabies and water borne diseases. TB and malaria are widespread.... The future is bleak unless population is controlled - the public medical facilities are stretched to the limit.

Pre-Natal Care and Child Birth

The facilities in India and Pakistan have improved since Independence in 1947, but are still paltry compared with western countries. In the village where we did our interviewing, a nurse is working full-time and the services of a doctor are shared between several villages. As a consequence of improved care, the infant mortality rate has declined and people are more aware of hygiene matters relating to delivery and child-care. A farmer’s wife gave a potted history (Aged; 56):
We have a nurse in the village for deliveries - also Dais (traditional mid- wife) work along with them. Dais have to attend a course as well. In the old times we used to have Muslim dais - they were very knowledgeable. And then lower-jati women (untouchables) learnt the skills from the old-hands or did a short course, but they were not fully qualified. Sometimes they did not know whether a baby in the womb is all right or not. Whenever there was a problem people would have to go to a nearby town hospital. Now the situation has much changed. After birth babies are given a course of injections - some after few weeks, others after three months, and so on.

Medical facilities in cities, both public and private, are much superior to those found in villages. The upper-middle classes enjoy the more up-to-date provisions. The wife of an Army officer commented ( Aged, 29):
I was having a very good care - actually I had some problems which they did not understand, so I suffered a lot. But for my first child I was in a private clinic and the second was in an army hospital. I had regular check-ups and advice.

Likewise a grandmother recounted (Retired Professor; Aged 63);

Before my time the deliveries were at home with little care for hygiene and other matters. The first delivery was usually at a girl’s parents’ home- because daughters could talk freely to their mothers. Even now some deliveries for the first child are in this way....But now educated girls are not shy and can freely explain and discuss things, so it doesn’t matter... Both my kids were born in a hospital. I had medical check ups - first weekly and then monthly...She was a very good doctor. I stayed in hospital for 10 days after my delivery. Old-fashioned notions were discarded: I could sit and lie under the fan, have cold drinks and ‘cold fruit’( Some foods are considered to be ‘cold’ and others ‘hot’; for instance, almond and ginger and certain lentils are hot, and fruit and rice are cold see Bhopal, 1986).

Another grandmother explained some of the old traditions (Farmer’s wife; Aged, 65):

In our times babies were delivered at home - the first one being in girl’s parents’ home. Dhais were midwives. Then nobody knew about hospitals - because girls had fresh food, plenty of milk, yoghurt and fresh vegetables. They were active, walked a lot and were healthy. So you don’t need doctors. When girls were pregnant they were not allowed to go out during the last month of pregnancy - in case of a fall and subsequent abortion. After the delivery, the mother was not supposed to do any household chores for a month and quarter. Then we have to perform a simple ceremony: a Jhir (water-carrier) took boiled wheat , which was blessed by a priest, to the farm-well and there it was distributed....The mother, in the meantime, was given a special food supplement called Dhabra, which was made of ghee, flour, dried-grapes, ginger, aniseed, raisins and almonds. The idea was to build up mothers’ lost strength - you know woman is literally physically shaken by the birth . If it was a boy, there were great rejoicing and presents were given both to the mother and the baby boy - gold jewellery, dress and bed-clothes and kitchen-wares were the common gifts. Men threw extravagant drinking parties and these went on for a month or so.


Traditionally, babies were breast-fed and mostly on demand. This was one of the reasons why young mothers were encouraged to drink a lot of milk and a special food supplement was also prepared. Solid foods were started around the age of six months - a piece of chappati, yoghurt, boiled rice and lentils were the common offerings. The whole thing was taken very lightly; grandmothers did feed babies and sometimes even suckled them. A grandmother explained (Farmer’s wife; Aged, 50);

In our times breast-feeding was the natural thing to do. We have heard of some cases where a mother could not feed her baby because milk won’t come. In this case another mother from the kin-group suckled the infant until he could take cow’s milk. In rare cases, well-off people gave powder milk - Cow and Gate - I think. Babies were fed whenever they cried for milk - day or night.

It is difficult to specify a precise date, but we think somewhere in the seventies it became fashionable amongst the upper-middle classes to feed the baby by a bottle using powdered milk. Its advantages were perceived to lie in the convenience with which babies could be fed by Ayahs or a mother substitute. A young mother explained ( Army officer’s wife; Aged, 28):

I breast-fed my first child only for four months - I was never told the benefits of doing so - after that it was convenient to use a bottle. Also, I used to get very little milk. My boy suffers from asthma and generally remains unwell. Now I feel guilty - I should have persevered for a longer period. With the second baby, I fed her for two- and- a- half years. She is very intelligent and has hardly fallen ill. I learnt from my mistakes.

The fashion of using a bottle with cow’s or buffalo’s milk became popular with a lot of working mothers even in lower socio-economic groups, but doctors and nurses have been stressing the value of mother’s milk because of a widespread occurrence of gastro-enteritis. A doctor explained (Aged, 32):

...Mothers prepared milk often in unhygienic conditions- flies, water not fully boiled, bottles and nipples not cleaned properly, etc. - so we have a big education/ awareness programme to tell mothers that breast milk is the best for babies. You know there was a bit of snobbery attached to bottle-feeding - it was thought to be modern and high class. I think mothers are going back to breast-feeding now.


Help with Child Care

The joint family system provided an excellent framework to support young mothers in child care. In a lot of cases, the grandmother became a surrogate mother to the first-born. But this joint family system of the middle classes is breaking down because of wider occupational choices and geographical mobility (see Sharma, 1990). A farmer analysed the situation (Aged, 62):

Joint family is finished here as well. There are two reasons for this: all young people of our class are educated and they want independence - want to do their own thing; second there is this awareness that they want to be sole in charge of what they earn and how they spend. I don’t see any joint household save one in our village. But they fight all the time - why haven’t you done this? So and so had drunk more milk? The situation my be different in remote villages. We have been exposed to TV - as you know there is a cable system as well, and almost all houses have electricity and there are several households with telephones and cars. A lot of people are abroad....This has brought in individualism and even selfishness - the old values are fast disappearing. Before children obeyed their parents. Now they make their own choices: what subjects they want to study at school and which line of occupation they want to pursue.

The changing pattern of family structure has been described by many scholars (Sinha, 1984; Gupta, 1978; Ramanujam, 1972 ). Sinha (1984: 9) argues that village people are increasingly moving away from their traditional family and caste occupations to seek jobs in the burgeoning industries in urban areas. As a consequence, families are rejecting some of the old-established values and attitudes. He concludes by suggesting that the traditional extended family is in a transitional phase and, therefore, has serious implications for the care of young children.

Regrettably, there is virtually no research material on this topic in the two universities Ghuman visited (Guru Nank Dev at Amritsar and The Punjab at Chandigarh) in the Punjab. A single M. Phil. thesis (Singh, 1992: 3) at Chandigarh dealt with the topic of child rearing in a peripheral way. The writer found that working mothers are facing considerable difficulties in finding child-care facilities and he notes the changing position of working women: ‘ A woman exercises considerable power in the family matters and most of the important decisions in the family are made in consultation with her.’ Another research on child rearing was published by Sharma (1981) - some seventeen years after the fieldwork was carried out by another scholar. In our view, this study is out-of-date owing to the very many social and economic changes which have taken place.

As the extended family network is fragmenting, the strain of rearing children is becoming more acute. A woman clerical worker (Aged, 42) was very candid:

I was alone in Chandigarh. It was difficult for my in-laws to come from Roper (a town 25 miles away) to help. Anyway, my mother-in-law was not happy because she wanted us to live with them. She was very angry with me - she thought I have led her son astray. So I had no co-operation from her. With my first child I was very tense. I had a full-time job and a new baby. I used to get very tired after work and then there was this problem of feeding . Because I was tense, my milk dried up. Then I have to leave my son in a crèche... Now, my boys are not close to me because I did not spend that much time with them. I wonder whether working full-time was worth it - but we needed the money.

The conflict between the new bride and her mother-in-law has been the subject of numerous folk-tales, ballads and popular jokes. Kakar (1994: 74), in his seminal work on Indian childhood and motherhood, describes the situation of the new wife succinctly: ‘... a bride comes into her husband’s family with a tremendous burden of anxiety and nostalgia, with a sense of antagonism towards her mother-in-law who has, after all, usurped the place of her own sorely missed and needed mother... For it must be noted once again that the new bride constitutes a very real threat to the unity of the extended family. ...The nature of the danger she personifies can perhaps best be suggested by such questions as: Will the young wife cause her husband to neglect his duties as a son? As a brother? A nephew? An uncle?’ There is still a resonance of such attitudes towards the new wife by the in-laws although, increasingly, middle-class couples tend to live away from their parents.

A grandmother, who is living in an extended family, analysed it as follows ( Aged, 54):

My kids were born at home - there was no problem then. Nowadays, ladies are weak and delicate so they want to go to hospital to have a caesarean birth. Also medical profession has been commercialised and sometimes they compel you.... Both my children were almost brought up by my mother. In the same way I help my daughter-in-law. Young wives - even when they are not working - don’t know much about feeding, massaging and bathing babies. They also get tense and anxious when something goes wrong...the thing is young people want freedom and independence and want to live on their own, but then they can’t cope.

A mother belonging to the Harijan caste (untouchable) had the full support of her mother-in-law (Housewife; Aged, 35):

My husband is away in Dubai. I have four kids and I can only cope with the help of my husband’s mother. She helped me with children when they were babies in every way. Even now one of them sleeps with her...She is more than part of the family; she is the very mudd (foundation) of the family.

In lower Jati and in working classes, the traditional pattern of family organisation tends to persist. Therefore, the child-care practices of these groups have not been affected to the same extent as that of mobile middle-class and high-caste families.

Toilet Training

Traditionally, the toilet training of children was handled very lightly indeed (Luschinsky, 1962; Ghuman, 1975). A new baby was usually wrapped in a Potra (a square piece of home-spun cotton), which was changed as the occasion demanded. A mother would start holding her baby (at around the age of 6 months) over her feet, and this was the beginning of the toilet training (see Kurtz,1992). This would continue until the baby could ask to go, usually around the age of two-and-a -half years. Grandmothers usually helped the young mother and so did the dai. The latter also acted as a midwife and trained the young mother in massaging, bathing and toilet training the baby for anything up to nine months. Babies around the age of one year would go in a bigger nappy called langot, which lasted till the baby was dry. A grandmother informed (Housewife, Aged; 55):

Nowadays you can buy nappies and potties from a bazaar. Before women used to make them at home - anyway these were not available then. Babies are usually dry by the age of one-and-a-half or two. They start telling you that they want to do Shee. But you have to train them, otherwise they mess up their langot. I say to my daughter-in-law: take it easy, babies will come along in their own time. I had no problems with mine.

A young mother gave the following account ( Teacher; Aged, 28):

Most of the Indian children don’t take very long to be toilet trained. Here we have diapers and all - but people don’t think it is a very good habit. So from six months on we try. My first child was not so soon as my second - she was more independent and intelligent My children were dry after one-and- a- half year. My mother-in-law helped me a lot.

Overall, Punjabi mothers are very caring of their young infants - even to the point of indulgence. Kakar, an acknowledged authority on Indian childhood, writes (1979: 449): ‘ ...which lead to the conclusion that certain tentative generalisations on childhood in traditional India , in the sense of describing a dominant mode in a variable range, are indeed possible...An Indian mother is inclined towards a total indulgence of her infant’s wishes and demands, whether these be related to feeding , cleaning, sleeping or being kept company. Moreover, she tends to extend this kind of mothering well beyond the time when the ‘infant’ is ready for independent functioning in many areas.’ It appears to us, albeit from a small sample and personal observations, that this way of ‘mothering’ children is changing in the middle-classes due to structural, demographic and occupational changes taking place in the family (see Sharma,1990).

Religious Dimension

The influence of religion on child-care practices has been very strong in the traditional family set-up. The notion of a child’s nature was derived from religious texts as is his/her name and rites of passage into childhood (Bhaddan ceremony). For instance, according to Kakar (1979: 448), the Hindu views on child nature have been shaped by the sacred texts of Ramayana and Mahabharata and The Laws of Manu . One of the interpretations is that the child is idealised in the holy texts as a creature without desires and aversions and thus nearer to God. And ‘ that begetting of a son is one of man’s highest duties and the only way he can discharge the debit he owes to his ancestors.’ A grandmother gave a vivid account to illustrate the influence of religion (Housewife; Age, 55):

Child’s name is chosen from within the religious texts - Gita for the Hindus and GranthSahib for the Sikhs - we had it from the GranthShib. Then at the age of about 1 month he is taken to a Mandir or Gurudwara for prayers. Our babies are given holy water from the Ganges. Incidentally I am from a Sikh family and my husband is a Brahmin - so we tend to follow rituals of both religions. We also had a Havan (a ceremony in which wood is burnt and Mantras recited by a Brahmin after the birth of a son) - this was done after the 13th day after the birth of my grandson...Our boy had to go for Muddan ceremony (clean shaving of first hair) in Panchcool. Bhai Sahib (husband’s elder brother) joined us from England. Also we had a religious thanks-giving ceremony organised at home when my son was born...Then there is the ceremony of Chaunka-Chadhana; this is to do with pavatar hona (purification) of the new mother. After fortydays the new mother cooks for the family and prayer are said for her and the child’s safety, and from then on she carries on with her domestic duties.

Most Hindu families have a little holy shrine in their homes. Here they worship their favourite Murtis (the most common ones being statues of Hanuman, the goddess Lakshami and Ganesh) and impart religious consciousness to their growing children in the privacy of their own homes. We were informed by a Hindu grandmother (Aged, 58);

Children learn our religion by copying us praying daily to our deities. We have statues of Lord Rama, Sita and Hanuman. In Arti (evening prayer with candle lights) children join in as they do in the morning prayers. Special prayers are said before starting a new year at school. The blessings of our Murtis are sought before the examinations.

Children are not excluded from any religious events. They come with us to the mandir. They listen to the Bhajans. Before Dussehra (an important Hindu festival) the story of Ramanaya is enacted and a procession is taken out. Then there are Diwali and Navratari celebrations. All the year round there are holy festivals and children are part of the whole thing...our religion is not in books but in our lives and that is the way children learn it - by living it with us. They learn food rituals and its ‘purity’ - whether it is Sacha (pure and truthful) or Jutha (impure and defiled) by watching us prepare food and how we serve it. Fasting is another important part of our religion, especially for girls and women... and many many other things.

Some Sikh families also have their holy book (Guru Granth Sahib) in their homes and this is used for invoking blessings for special occasions and for saying daily prayers. Normally there is a family service once a week; otherwise individuals read their daily prayers from this holy book. A Sikh mother explained (Housewife, Aged, 35):

We have Guru Granth Sahib in our house. I don’t perform a daily service but read it on Sangrands (the first day of every new month) and on festive occasions. My children are with me when I am reading the holy book...I also read Guru Sakhis( narrating the good deeds of the Sikh gurus) to them. Children go to Gurudwara with me - they are not excluded.

For the Punjabis and for other Asians their religions are part and parcel of their daily lives and are closely woven into the life-cycle rituals (rites of passage). They think it is important for growing children to be full participants in all aspects of their lives so that they can internalise both the rituals and quintessence of religious piety and spirituality.

Rewards and Punishment

Punjabi parents are often very indulgent towards their children until the age of about three. Very few would contemplate punishing a child in any way before this age, let alone by physical punishment. A crying infant will be instantly picked up by a mother or another female relative. However, the situation changes quite dramatically when the next baby arrives. Gentle smacking is used by some parents to discipline their toddlers. Generally, the tendency of Punjabi parents is to spoil the babies at the expense of the toddlers, especially when they happen to be boys. A young mother explained (Teacher; Aged; 28):

My son used to cry a lot when he was a baby - I thought he was naughty. But now I know he was asthmatic and wanted to be comforted. I did not use to hit him (meaning smack) but now he is older (8 years), I hit him sometimes - not my daughter (5- year-old), she is very sensible...Well, first four years I would scold them: like told them I will lock you in the store or bathroom. That was the maximum. They did throw tantrum - I would ignore it. Sometimes when they annoy me now, I give them one chupaer (slap). (Has there been a change in this?) In my case, I can’t remember my parents hitting me even once. They were patient - both mother and father. They let us do every thing. We were good children except that my brother was more temperamental and they gave in to him. He is suffering on that account - very self-centred.

However a grandmother gave a very different account ( Farmer’s wife; Aged 65):

Chaddoo ji (leave it), I used to smack them a lot - you know that. A child of three years upwards must be chastised, otherwise they become very naughty...My grandson (6 years) was not going to school this morning. He said: ‘leave me, I will go myself’. He played a trick on me - he sneaked off home. I gave him two. That brought him to his senses. If I had not given him those slaps, he would have tried it again. You know your uncle’s grandson, he used to cry and yell before going to school: ‘Oh, grandfather save me they are beating me’. Grandfather used to take pity on him, and would say ‘Leave him today, he will go tomorrow’. For the boy, tomorrow never came; and he is now illiterate. Times have changed, though. Children in my times were easier to deal with: sometimes we would give in, other times we Pitai (coax) them. But now parents give in a lot which I don’t like. Our children were happy playing with khudo ( ball made out of rags), now my grandchildren have broken six bicycles - what can you do? In my times, children have to wait until they were 15 to have a bike.

There is an old saying in Punjabi which recommends: A farmer’s son and a scythe need regular chastisement - the more the better ( which may remind the reader of: Spare the rod and spoil the child). The older generation tended to believe in this type of folk-wisdom and therefore a boy was treated quite severely in village families. Kakar describes it succinctly (1979: 451); ‘ - anywhere from the fourth or fifth year onwards, and for the male child especially, involves a virtual reversal of everything that is expected of him. The most striking feature of this change is the contrast between an earlier, more or less unchecked benevolent indulgence and the new inflexible standards of absolute obedience and conformity to familial and social standards.’ Likewise, Segal (1991: 235) notes that infants are generally over-indulged but young children are reared in an authoritarian atmosphere.

Independence Training

It is a well-established custom in Punjab that young infants, and even toddlers, sleep with their mothers or a mother-substitute. Indeed, very few mothers would contemplate putting a new-born baby in a separate cot in her room, let alone in a different room. As discussed earlier, babies are indulged to the point of being spoilt. A grandmother mockingly remarked: ‘ We are not like the Goras (whites)who after feeding the baby leave her in the upstairs bedroom -cry or no cry... In my family, if a baby is slightly ill the whole family is awake to comfort and support the young mother. A completely different Tarika (way of doing things).’

In our judgement, there is no conscious attempt made to train the children to be independent as is understood in Britain and America. If anything, children from the age 4 or 5 years onwards are encouraged to be obedient (Akhe Laggo) and to honour the elders (izzat karo). The popular notion of a good child is, and was, firmly tied to the notion of being a Kahne Kar (do as you are told) child. In our view, Segal (1991: 232) describes the expectations of Indian parents quite accurately: ‘ Children are docile and obedient. Their role is to bring honour to their families by exhibiting good behaviour, high achievement, and contributing to the well-being of the family....Children are dependent emotionally and often socially on their parents throughout the parents’ lives.’

Fathers’ Participation

This modern European practice is still a matter of mirth and hilarity amongst even the middle-class Punjabis. The working mothers don’t expect to get much help from their husbands . They seem to get help from baby-sitters and/or have to make other ad hoc arrangements with their neighbours. Sometimes, a grandmother or a close relative might come to live with the couple during the first few months of a baby’s birth. A mother, whose husband was a non-commissioned officer in the Indian army, described her experience (Housewife; Aged 43):

Yes, my husband would get up during the night and comfort them. He was good on that, otherwise no. ..the problem was there was only a ten months difference between my first two. It was a very harrowing time.

A grandmother from a farming background explained ( Aged; 65):

In my time I coped on my own, with no help from my relatives. I would ask my neighbours to keep an eye on my kids when I went out to the fields...Men don’t help in this country - only abroad. Not in my house, anyway. Men have to get up early in the mornings to go to the fields, how can they help? It is difficult if you are a farmer; maybe if you are in service they might lend a hand. In our country, it is considered to be a woman’s job.

Traditionally, Punjabi fathers did not play any significant role in the upbringing of their babies until they grew up to the school-going age. But a recent study (Sharma, 1990), with an upper-middle income group, reports that some fathers are beginning to participate in the early infant-care practices such as bathing, feeding and changing nappies. Sharma concludes (1990 : 75): ‘ In general all fathers actively played with their infants and conveyed a sense of being wholesomely involved in their care.’

Then and Now

Of course, our observations are based on a small group of mothers and grandmothers from two locations. We are well aware of the pitfalls of making sweeping generalisations on child-care issues which are applicable to all Punjabis or for that matter to all Asian communities. However, as pointed out earlier in the text, this is a qualitative study and seeks to gain insights into the changing nature of the child-care skills of Punjabi mothers both in Britain and Punjab and, hopefully, this should shed some light on the changing child care practices of other ethnic groups from the Indian sub-continent and elsewhere. From our interviews we gathered that, firstly, there has been a great improvement in pre-natal and post-natal care of mothers, especially in the middle-classes. Secondly, families are more aware of the hygiene matters associated with child-birth and the importance of having their babies inoculated against various diseases. Thirdly, there is more affluence in the middle-class homes and therefore they can afford modern facilities ranging from household conveniences, such as a refrigerator, a gas cooker and a TV, to children’s nappies, potties and toys. This prosperity has no doubt been bought at a price. Most middle-class families are now becoming nuclear and mothers are working full-time to help family finances (see Sharma, 1990). The warmth , love and care which was taken for granted in the extended family is often absent. Apart from the few upper-class families, people cannot afford to have an Ayaha (nanny), and there is no such vocational occupation as registered child-minders to help look after the young babies. Lastly, as regards toilet training, encouraging independence, making children curious and making conscious efforts to lay the foundations of intellectual development, the situation has not changed significantly . Traditional values still prevail in these domains in all castes and classes. In sum, then, the physical care has changed dramatically along with the changes in the structure of middle-class families and the attendant problems which this brings, but very little has changed in the way children’s attitudes and values are shaped - they are still rooted in the traditions and mores of Punjabi culture.

Sharma (1990: 76) concludes the results of her investigation on Punjabi child-rearing in these words ‘on the whole there were more similarities than differences between the kind of care given by the mothers now and the care given by the grandmothers a generation ago to their infants.’ The major difference was found to be in the ‘place’ of deliveries: all the grandmothers in the study had their babies at home whilst only 6 % of the younger mothers did so. On the other hand, the practices which were commonly employed both by young mothers and grandmothers were: massaging, bathing, dressing and sleeping with babies.

Holme (1984: 117) summarises some of the differences between the Indian and the English way of bringing up infants: ‘ A child in India is hardly ever alone. Babies are carried around by their mothers, and it is a common sight to see a girl, even as young as six, with a younger brother....Children play with other children much more than they do with objects....A regular bed-time is virtually unknown. They tend to play or sit listening to the older members of the family until they drop off to sleep, the younger ones probably in their mother’s lap....Children learn to respect their parents because they see them showing respect to their parents...’ However, we think this is more likely to be a description of the ‘working-class’ (lower socio-economic) rather than the middle-class families; but nevertheless it is an English perspective and should be of interest to the reader.

Another English researcher (Davenport, 1983: 133), who studied the play of Sikh children in Birmingham, England, also notes a contrasting pattern of child care with that of the English. She writes: ‘ Children sleep when they need to during the day rather than go to bed to suit their parents’ convenience. If, during some late family celebration they fall asleep, they are made comfortable where they are rather than whisked out of the way...Baby sitting is virtually unheard of ; children are taken everywhere. They are allowed to stay late, to eat with adults, to listen to their conversation, but join in very respectfully. These children are having a wealth of experience of a special kind: they are learning by observing - a method perhaps undervalued by white Western society.’ These are some interesting insights which are similar to the one described above by Holme (1984). However, the data for this study was collected sometime in the 1980s; therefore we feel her description is more relevant to the first-generation Punjabi Sikhs.

Kakar (1994: 210) summarises the nature of children as revealed and found in the sacred texts of the Hindus and their Bhakti (devotional) movement: ‘...the evidence from textual sources is overwhelming that the child in Indian tradition is ideologically considered a valuable and welcome human being to whom the adults are expected to afford their fullest protection , affection and indulgence.’ He argues that the differences between the Indian and the European thinking on children’s nature can be discerned from the idioms that are commonly used to describe the process of child rearing: Indian parents say ‘Palna Posna’, which implies protecting and nurturing - going with the child’s nature, whereas the European use words such as’ rearing and bringing up’ - evidence of a conscious attempt to shape and influence children’s behaviour. The major flaw in the Indian psyche, according to Kakar (1994), is its complete omission of any consideration of baby girls.

Chapter 3, Section 2: Some Findings From the Seventies Research on Pregnancy and Infant-Care

The findings reported in this section are based on the data collected in 1970-74 as discussed in Chapter 1( pages, 20-23 ). These findings should serve as a backdrop to the results and discussion of the issues addressed in the present inquiry.


There used to be a belief in Punjabi villages that an expectant mother should not go outside her house after the eighth month of pregnancy but that has changed both in Punjab and England. The other custom was that of Reetan, observed by a few khatri jati (sub-castes) such as Chopras and Khoslas . During the eighth month of pregnancy, the women in the neighbourhood would visit the expectant mother to wish her well. The mother-to-be, in turn, would go to her neighbours to top-up their clay lamps with mustard oil. This ritual is a symbolic act of giving ‘light’ and was intended to please the neighbours who would, hopefully, reciprocate by blessing the mother to have a healthy baby. After the ceremony, the expectant mother stayed at home until her delivery.

There were various rituals observed after the birth of a child. The nature of these rituals, however, depended on the religion of the family. Muslims observe the custom of Azan - the father or grandfather or any other man from the family recites, in the right ear of the new-born baby, a holy prayer from the Koran. The first line is Allahu Akbar (Allah is the greatest) and the last one is LA ilah illa ‘Illah’ ( There is no God but Allah). We were informed by a Muslim housewife ( left school at 17 with matriculation):

Azan was said in her ear. The idea was that the first words she heard or went into her ear should be those of Allah. Azan should be said as soon as possible after birth.

All the Muslims in the sample claimed to have performed the ceremony irrespective of the country in which their baby was born or whether the baby was born in a hospital or at home. And, more importantly, the prayer was whispered irrespective of the sex of the new-born.

The ceremony of Gurthi or Gothli is popular amongst some Punjabis. The new-born is bathed and made presentable and his/her lips are touched with a piece of cotton which is soaked in honey or sugared-water. This ceremony is usually performed by a close woman relative and is a ‘women-only’ event. The person chosen to perform this ritual should have a good sense of humour, high intelligence and an even temperament as these attributes are supposed to be passed on to the baby. Nearly a third of the Punjabi babies - both boys and girls - were given Gurthi: however, a higher proportion of children born abroad (85%) had gone through this ceremony compared with children born in Britain (7%).

A Muslim housewife explained ( Literate in Urdu):

Gurthi was given by my grandfather. His habits were very good and he was a religious man. We thought that Allah will make this child like my grandfather, both in character and personality.




Purification Ceremony

This consists of taking ceremonial baths on certain days ( 3rd, 5th 11th, 21st, and 40th days) after the delivery. Also the mother is supposed to have bed-rest ranging from 3 days to 40 days (and to stay indoors), depending on the state of her health. This period is called Shilla .Over a quarter (27.5%) of the mothers conformed to one or more of the ceremonies of staying in bed, taking ceremonial baths and staying indoors for a specified number of days. There was no social class difference in the observance of ceremonies, but more mothers ( 66%) with children born abroad observed the rituals than those with children born in Britain (9%)

A Muslim housewife (left school at 11) described her experience:

I got out of the bed on the 5th day. But I did not go out of the house for the first forty days or one- and -a quarter month. I took the ceremonial baths on the 5th, 20th, 30th days and one-and -a quarter month. These baths were compulsory. I could take baths on other days, but these were a must.

Some Sikhs have a slightly different custom to other Punjabis in that a priest is invited to offer prayers and bless the family, usually 11 days after a baby’s birth. After this period, the mother’s rest period comes to an end and she is ‘purified’ (suchi) to resume her household duties. Muslim women are not allowed to say prayers for forty days (i.e. during the Shilla) after the birth of a child .

Naming the Child

Traditionally, the religion of the family played an important part in naming the new-born child. Names were chosen with the help of religious books: Guru Granth Sahib for the Sikhs, the Koran for the Muslims and Gita or other Hindu holy books for the Hindus. Increasingly , however, Punjabi parents are ignoring this convention and choosing names with the help of their relatives and friends. Only 10% of the Sikh families in our sample choose a name with the help of Guru Granth Sahib. Currently, Sikhs living in Britain and North America are prone to omit Sikh middle names (Singh for boys and Kaur for girls), and are even Anglicising Punjabi names (see Ghuman,1994; The Independent, 17 April, 1993). Thus Daljit Singh Gill is more likely to be David Gill and Surrinder Kaur Sandhu, Sue Sandhu!

This custom of recording a child’s place, date and exact time of birth was considered important in Hindu and Sikh families. This was the task of a village Brahmin and was chronicled in a Janam Patra or birth certificate. This semi-holy document was subsequently used by Pandas (astrologists) to prepare an astrological chart which would predict the child’s future including his/her marriage, occupation and place of residence and many other matters. A Hindu housewife (left college at eighteen) showed her faith in Janam Patras:

We got Ram’s Janam Patra prepared when he was about three or four years. At the time of marriage we do attach importance to them, especially if a person is born under the zodiac sign of Mars. If he marries somebody whose zodiac sign is different, then one of them will soon die. At the time of arranging marriage we use these charts to ensure compatibility between partners. In these charts the future is predicted.

In the sample of the study, only one-fifth of parents had a Janam Patra prepared for their child. Significantly, more middle class (40%) than working class (17%), and more parents whose children were born overseas than in Britain, engaged in this practice. This custom, however, is on its way out since a birth certificate is issued to all parents in Britain and the services of a Brahmin and a Panda and are not easily available to carry on this tradition.

Hair-Cutting Ceremonies

Hindu and Muslim parents have this ceremony performed as part of their religion - Sikhs, of course, are not allowed to cut their children’s hair. The timing and details of this ritual are quite different for the two communities. The Muslims call it Akika. According to this holy dictate, the new-born child’s head should be shaved seven days after his/her birth and money or other offerings in kind be made to the poor.

But the Muslim parents in the study gave the name Akika to the ceremony of offering goat’s meat as a thanks-giving ceremony rather than to the hair-cutting ceremony which, according to them, can be performed at any time in one’s life.

An illiterate Muslim housewife told us the significance of Akika:

I liked her original hair very much, it looked so nice and she was a very beautiful child. So I didn’t get her hair cut. Whenever I took her outside she suffered from fever and sometimes she would become very ill. When she was about two-years-old I had to get her cut, but I didn’t want to. Her daddy used to me : ‘You don’t get her hair cut that’s why she becomes ill and is full of fear. I had to agree and her hair was cut. You see, whenever she became ill I suspected that perhaps this happened because I haven’t performed the ceremony and I hadn’t given anything away in the name of Allah.

The Hindu ceremony is called Mundun /Mandan or Bhaddan - normally it is boys who are eligible for this ceremony and it is usually carried out when the boy is two-years-old. A Hindu housewife explained ( Education; middle school):
We did have Bhaddan. We booked a hall and invited people to Bhaddan party. A Brahmin was specially invited for the ceremonial puja. He did havan and recited relevant mantras. A barber was brought in to close-shave the hair of my son.

Sometimes this ritual is also performed in the case of girls as it is thought to protect them from the evils of black magic. An illiterate Brahmin housewife told us of her own daughter:

She was Jethi (the first-born), so we took her to the Goddess’ Mandir - Chint purni and had her hair shaven there and threw it into a river. Then we had no fear that somebody could get her hair locks and harm her by using it in an evil eye or black magic rituals.

Lohri Celebration and Akhand Patth

Hindu and Sikh Punjabis celebrate the birth of a son by distributing Gur and Shakkar (raw-sugar), maize and other farm produce to adolescent boys and girls on the festive day of Lohri. Also Lohri is an occasion for throwing ‘men-only’ parties where a lot of liqueur is drunk. Over a quarter of the sample said they have celebrated Lohri in Punjab even when a son was born in Britain.

Akhand Patth is a Sikh thanks-giving/ blessing-seeking service which is performed on important occasions such as: the birth of a son; upon starting a new business; before a wedding ceremony; and before travelling abroad for the first time. The family members holding the Akhand Patth are obliged to listen to the non-stop reciting of the Adi Granth (holy book) and to give a Langar (free meal) to the assembled Sangat (congregation) and give either money or things in kind to the Gurudwara for the use of Sangat. However, only 14% of the Sikh families in the sample had held an Akhand Patth - another example of the discontinuation of religious ceremonies.


The old superstitions surrounding the birth of a baby are dying out now in the Punjab. But, in our first inquiry, 14 % of the mothers who had children in Britain believed that a child born during Katak month (i.e., Scorpio; October-November) is likely to be affected, and that a special ritual by Pandas or Brahmins is to be performed to get rid of this curse. One of the suggested rituals is that water be stored in an earthen pitcher for about a month prior to the expected Katak birth, and the mother and her new-born baby should take a purification bath with the kept water, and then the curse would be neutralised.. (But some mothers thought that such a birth can be sign of good luck! ). Other mothers (26%) had a belief in Nazar Lagana (evil eye): which includes, among other things, bringing about a misfortune on the object of one’s praise - tempting providence. Therefore, some Punjabi mothers (15 %) believed in taking actions to offset the ill-effects of the curse. A Sikh housewife explained (left school at eleven):

I believe in the evil eye and as a precaution I take a little coal dust and put it behind the ear of the child....I remember on one occasion when she (daughter) became victim of the evil eye. She was a very healthy baby. Someone had said: ‘How beautiful she is’, and she became ill. She had boils and other ailments and it took a long time to get rid of these.

An illiterate Muslim mother gave another example:

He was victim of the evil eye on several occasions. Whenever I gave him bath and put nice clothes on him, he felt unwell. This happened many times in Pakistan, but not in this country. Whenever it happened I touched the child with chillies and threw them into the fire, and sometimes I took a little sand or dust from underneath the feet of the child and threw that in the fire.



Teething Troubles

A special ritual is performed when a baby cuts her/his first teeth. Some Punjabi mothers believe that a baby’s teeth will form like those of the person who performs the special ritual. The ceremony consists in throwing chewed coconut on the baby’s face by a person (other than her mother) with good teeth. It is essentially a social occasion for women folk to assert their solidarity and to give mothers recognition and moral support. At the first sign of teeth-cutting, a person with healthy teeth is chosen to throw a piece of masticated coconut on the baby’s face. The rest of the coconut is given to the women present at the ceremony and sometimes it is distributed in the neighbourhood. About two-fifths (38%) of the mothers performed this ceremony. A Sikh factory worker (left school at fourteen) explained:

I did perform this ceremony in the case of my eldest son, but not with others. Now things have changed. Nobody practices it in towns or large villages. It is only in remote small villages that people still engage in such ceremonies....My eldest son was about seven to eight months old when his grandmother, who knew a lot about these things, threw masticated coconut on his face.

A slightly higher proportion of mothers of children born in Britain (39%) than of mothers of children born abroad (34 %) carried out this ritual. There was a social class difference as well, more working-class mothers observing the custom compared with middle-class.

There is a superstition attached to teeth-cutting as well. If a baby is likely to cut his/her upper teeth first, that is a sign of bad omen - serious harm may come to the maternal relations. A special ritual must be performed to counteract the ill-effects of this premonition. Traditionally, to perform the ceremony the procedure is that one person from both the maternal and paternal sides of the family goes beyond the boundary of his/her village where they meet at an arranged place. The person from the assembled maternal side pours mustard oil into a bronze container and is supposed to look at the reflection of the face of the baby therein, who has accompanied the paternal relation, but who has been hidden from the maternal relative. The two adults must not converse but perform the ritual in complete silence. The bronze utensil, along with the oil, is given to a Dukk (a person of lowest jati) who accepts alms. We were given a graphic account by an illiterate Sikh mother:

If a child cuts upper teeth first this is ‘bad’ for all the relations on the maternal side. One has to inform the mother’s relations and not to take the child to them, as they must not see the baby’s face until the special ceremony has been performed....Narinder’s paternal grandmother cut her upper teeth first when she was a baby. By chance her mother’s brother’s wife saw the teeth. That woman died within a few days. Shortly after her husband died - the whole family were destroyed. Although we know that whatever happens is God’s will, but when the necessary ceremony is performed, then there is a satisfaction in our hearts and there is no cause for doubt or fear.

My husband’s sister’s baby daughter was in Bradford. She cut her

upper-teeth first, and we went to M1( Motorway - Freeway to London) to do the ceremony. The meeting was arranged by phone...though I don’t believe in it, we had to do it to satisfy the maternal relatives.

A higher percentage of working-class (28%) as opposed to middle-class (5%) mothers carried out the ceremony. Likewise a significantly higher proportion of mothers who had their children in their country of origin ( 45%) performed the ritual compared with mothers who had their babies in this country (16%). But this superstition is on its way out amongst Punjabi mothers both in the Punjab and England.

There is another superstition, which applies only to a Jethi (first-born) child, particularly a boy, who has to be protected on the festive occasion of Diwali (the festival of lights). It is thought an evil-doer may clip the child’s hair and use it to perform a black magic ritual which might result in a serious injury to the child. However, only a few mothers believed in this superstition, as we were informed by a Sikh mother (left school at seventeen with matriculation):

I have heard that some people get Jetha child’s hair cut so that an evil person may not use a clipping of his/her hair, but I don’t believe in these superstitions. However, I didn’t allow my first-born child to go out on the Diwali nights. My reason was different; because people play with fireworks and the child can easily get badly hurt by fire-crackers...the evil eye or the black magic didn’t come into it.

Ghuman (1975) interviewed thirty-two mothers, in summer 1974, to find out their views on child-care practices. They were absolutely delighted with the medical facilities available in England. He noted (1975: 65) : ‘ In particular, they thought that children have such a favoured and healthy babyhood here, with all the necessary things readily available, easy access to doctor and nurse and remedies and with their mothers having so much time to look after them as a result of having household appliances, unlike the Punjab where, after the baby is few months old , the mother is fully occupied with very time-consuming cooking.’ Other findings of interest included: All the babies were bottle-fed; three-quarters had no grandparents to help - a significant difference from the Punjabi situation, and nearly a third of the fathers took baby for a walk - another significant change in the fathers’ participation.

Of the similarities with the old traditions, it was found that : 89 per cent of the families lived in an extended family situation; 74 per cent of the mothers had no plan to toilet-train their babies; 74 per cent had no fixed hours for bed-time or for sleeping; 81 per cent actively discouraged their children to be independent; and none of the mothers believed in smacking a child under two - in fact they were horrified that a question of this nature was even being asked. What emerged from the small-scale study was that the Punjabi parents were adopting some of the modern conveniences of the facilities available without substantially changing their traditionally-held views on independence and educational training, nor their conventions regarding smacking and toilet training habits.


Pregnancy and child-birth evolved in most societies in an attempt to safeguard mothers’ health and to protect the new-born from a variety of illnesses and physical dangers ( Levine et al. 1992 ; Rice, 1988; Kakar, 1994). From the mothers’ responses to our interview questions and their detailed comments, it is evident that some of the traditional ways of bringing up children were already undergoing change by the Seventies. This was particularly the case in the use of the myths and superstitions surrounding childbirth and the subsequent initiation ceremonies. Most of the mothers were happy not only to avail themselves of modern-day facilities to take the drudgery out of housework but also to eliminate some of the boring and routine aspects of baby care by using nappies, gripewater, baby-creams and other useful toiletries. Furthermore, we noticed that the child-birth rituals and ceremonies were mostly performed under the influence of an elderly grandmother or an aunt who had made a special trip from India or Pakistan for this purpose. But as the ties of kinship and the pull of ‘home-country’ begin to fade with the passage of time, the traditional rituals are fast disappearing . Not least, the mothers’ exposure to the modern ante-and post-natal medical care services alleviates mothers’ worries and anxieties about the safety and the well-being of the baby.

In the next chapter, we look at a variety of child-rearing matters by comparing and contrasting the response patterns of the 95s sample those of the 1970s’.



Child-Rearing of Punjabis