Marriage seems to be the be all and end all in a girl/woman’s life, in India. She must learn to cook, sew, wash and clean. In most houses, a daughter-in- law is nothing more than a housemaid. Nikita says that as a child she was not afraid of ghosts but she was afraid of getting married. The daughter-in- law, despite several adversaries and hurdles, is expected to behave as the society wants her to, almost a doormat. The author, in the weekly column, questions the existing mores and asks for a greater understanding of the woman in her in-laws’ place, exclusively in Different Truths.
“In a country where more than 65 per cent of the population is under the age of 35, most girls and women are still defined by one major life event — marriage. Culturally, Indian women are under the greatest pressure to get married at a young age.
“Marriage comes with pressures of its own. Aside from additional housework and child-rearing responsibilities, many Indian women also find themselves juggling the tensions and demands of a large extended family, or looking after family elders.” Ms. Roy wrote in The International Herald Tribune.
Is marriage the only institution which defines a woman?
Will Indian women ever have the freedom not to marry?
As a little girl, I often told my Mom that I’ll never get married. What I understood as a child about marriage was becoming someone who cooks, cleans and washes all the day, all the time. I thought only my mother was married, not my father because I never saw him do any of those things.
My cousins who were a year or two younger or elder to me knew how to cook all kinds of curries, they could even paint, sew clothes, wash dishes and apply makeup. My relatives often accused my Maa of not teaching her daughters household chores. My mother always ignored what they had to say. She would never let us enter the kitchen or perform any household chores. She always asked us to play or study.
I did not knew how to make tea when I graduated from college. I was not sure even how a gas burner is turned on. My batch mates at college said things like, “The one who can make round roti is loved by her mother in law.” That was the last time I sat with them in the canteen.
Maa never let us do anything that would make us feel any less privileged than our brother. Our relatives passed on comments like, “She thinks a prince would ask for her daughter’s hand in marriage” but my Maa made us live like them.
I saw her work all day. There were no washing machines, dish washers and microwaves those days. We did not had housemaids to clean the house either. She completed all the household chores without any help from anyone of us. Surprisingly she always smiled and never complained about anything to my father.
Despite knowing that Maa would never force me to do any household chore, I knew that this could be my future too. I would be reduced to a housemaid responsible for all chores one day.
I was not scared of ghosts, I was scared of getting married as a child.
This is the kind of prejudice we are passing on to next generations that cleaning dishes and washing clothes is a woman’s responsibility.
I have heard people say:
1. “Chi chi…ladke se bartan saaaf karayoge ab” (Now you’ll make a boy wash dishes. How shameful!)
2. “Sharam nahi aati pati se kaam karwate hue?” (Are you not ashamed of making your husband do the household chores?)
3. “Biwi ka ghulam hai, chai bna k pilata hai” (A slave of his wife, he makes tea for her)
This kind of belief system is deep rooted in Indian households.
The modern Indian woman is more educated and well-travelled and well-read than the women perhaps 50 years ago. You were probably expecting a submissive Indian woman, who has no other interest than to stay at home and cook and clean for you. Well, she’s busy building her own career. A woman’s career in India goes topsy-turvy once she’s married.
I was having dinner at a friend’s place when a bowl of rice spilled from my hands. As I stepped down to clean up, he stopped me and called his wife to clean the mess and told me, “Patni kis kaam ayegi fir” (What’s the use of having a wife, if not this.)
This is the everyday life of 80 per cent of married woman in India. Most of them would never talk about it for the fear of being judged but it is very much happening in almost every Indian household.
The outrageously idiotic reasons why newlyweds are physically, mentally, financially and psychologically abused are:
The Outsider Tag
I have heard thousands of stories of how the husband and his family talk secretly in a room, while the daughter-in- law is busy completing chores. She is not involved in majority of the family discussions. This behavior is extremely toxic and unfair for a new member in the family.
The lack of acceptance and complete ignorance of a daughter-in- law’s feelings and emotions plays a huge role in drifting her apart.
Insecurity in the Minds of Parents
Indian parents are overtly possessive about their children, which gets darker and darker as the son gets married. One of the most common lines MILs are heard saying is that woman took away my son. Marriage to Indian in-laws possibly only means carrying forward the family’s legacy.
No doubt, they expect a child within the first year of the marriage and pressure to bear one keeps on multiplying with every passing year. If the intention is only to have a grandchild, their son could have adopted one, there was not any need to bring a woman into the family.
“Round Roti” Stereotype
It is absolutely mandatory for a woman to know the art of making round, soft chapattis to have a happy married life. All women ‘have to be great cooks’. There is not much choice. We do not even find it weird when a boy’s parents meet the girl for the first time and asks her about her culinary skills and not academic achievements. Most women end up becoming the object of ridicule resulting in guilt and shame, if they do not know how to cook.
Parents of the Daughter-in- law Syndrome
A Girl is given a two-month window to adjust into the new family and understand all rules and regulations of the house without any guidance. On the other hand, the groom has to visit the girl’s family once in a blue moon and is served the most lavish dinner and often treated better than their own son. If the groom starts getting along with the parents of the girl, there is a huge problem. Most of the in-laws would not appreciate if their sons begin to love and care for the girl’s family.
Double Standards of the Society
If a man wishes to spend a night with his friends drinking and partying, it’s perfectly okay but for a daughter-in- law to do the same is seen as vulgarity. Majority of married women have to apply sindoor (vermilion), wear bangles and always carry a dupatta around bosom whereas a man can still roam around in his shorts. The daughter-in- law could be having a high profile job in the corporate sector but she would not be excused for coming home late.
It is nearly impossible to fit in the box of ‘perfect daughter-in- law’ because women are just humans not god.
Husbands face their own challenges trying to balance between their wives and mothers. They probably think, “My Mom is a grown woman, who makes her own decisions. I can’t help how she feels about my wife or how she chooses to treat her.” This is a huge issue, which needs to be addressed. Guys, you must love your wife enough to stand up for your marriage. It is never okay for anyone to insult or mistreat your life partner, even if it is your own mother.
Any time your parents or relatives speak negatively about your wife or expresses disdain for your marriage, you have to be a man. No, you cannot control what they say or do, but you have the power to tell them to stop. Your wife should not feel like she has to compete with your mother for your love, respect, and adoration.
“When we marry, our first allegiance belongs to god, then our spouse, then our children (if we have them), and then our parents,” says Genesis 2:24. When we marry, our relationship with our parents has to change.
Women should be given the option of marriage. Finding a man should not be the “purpose of girl’s life”. Indian parents should support their daughters and their career choices, instead of saving for their dowry, invest in their studies.
Empower your daughter. Only then will you be able to accept an emancipated daughter-in- law.
The change must begin now!
Pix from Net.
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