My cousin Ashish is getting married. A love marriage to his non-Punjabi colleague . Both Ashish and Manisha are MBA grads. Working for MNCs in Delhi. Manisha’s family is very well-educated and progressive. Her Dad is no more and she and her Mom live in Delhi. Her married brother lives in Bangalore. Since Ashish is flat-sharing with a bunch of bachelors right now, chances are he’ll move in with Manisha and her Mom after the marriage. Manisha while a sweet-tempered girl, is no shrinking violet. Which means that if you ask her a question, you’ll get an answer. Which is good I think. However with the crowd back home, this is getting her the “badi tez hai” (clever – in a bad way) reviews. Imagine, a girl who actually says more than “Haanji” ! Plus people are sniggering over the fact that Ashish is all set to turn into a ghar-jamai, and move his suitcases into his mom-in-law’s house.
So reports my sis-in-law and she’s sniggering too. I don’t see the problem with his moving to wherever he chooses. All this ghar-jamai taunting because it’s his wife’s parents ? What if it had been Ashish’s mom instead of Manisha’s ? Then, it’d have been expected of Manisha (as a good bahu) to go live with her mom-in-law ! That’s what I tell my SIL. But she thinks it’s tradition. But don’t we want tradition to change ? And he’s not technically a ghar-jamai, I tell her – he’s not going to be sponging off them or anything. Yes, yes, I am told – but it’s all in good fun. Good fun ? I think not. I think it’s “fun” which causes a whole lot of bad damage. Not to Ashish or Manisha – they couldn’t care less. But to all of us who participate in this good fun, and take our cues on behavior and acceptability from this.
This “good fun” is subversive. Because what are we saying really when we snigger at Ashish ? That he’s a loser because he’s “listening” to his in-laws ? Why is a guy who thinks of his in-laws a loser, while a woman who does the same “a good bahu” ? We are essentially sending out a message that her parents have lower social strata than his, or however you choose to put it – they aren’t as important, their opinion don’t matter etc. And why ? Because they are HER parents, not his. Implied SON VALUE. Implied lesser value of daughter.
Further discussion with my SIL brought about a solution from her. After the marriage, Manisha’s Mom must leave Manisha with her new husband, and go live with her son in Bangalore. I didn’t see why. Because he’s the son, see ? I still don’t get it. Why, when Manisha is fully capable of supporting her Mom, should she go to her son ? Why must we not look upon daughters as being able ?
I am labeled a radical by family, and my Mom no less, when I bring up this implied value of women we project when we speak so carelessly and in so much “fun”. Do I want my daughter to listen to talk which implies lower esteem/respect just because of gender ? What are the young people learning when they hear us talk like this ? “Don’t cry like a girl” – how many times have you heard it ? Why are girls “supposed” to cry ?
As I was growing up, I would be harangued by the Mom and Aunties for not knowing how to cook, do laundry etc. – what would my in-laws say ? Is a woman’s self-worth all in her prospective in-laws praise ? As I question my Mom many years later, she says that that was in jest. Dangerous jest. I had my Dad to even out the score, but what of those girls perpetually steeped in such jests ?
This is the root cause of most social malaises plaguing women today. This carelessly worded, disempowering jest. This “good fun”. When we imply, however slightly, however jokingly, that women are lesser, by birth or gender, that they are weak just because of who they are , and who they are born as, we spread beliefs. This “fun” and it’s underlying value system, and the mind-set that girls and things relating to them are weaker, not worth opinion or care, gives rise to dowry, infanticide, foeticide, bride-burning, eve-teasing, domestic violence.
If a woman is lesser than a man, how can her sexuality be greater ? Tease her, molest her on the streets, for she must walk with downcast eyes (or else she must be uppity or a whore). A woman is born to serve, her parents, her in-laws, her children. Not servile enough ? Beat her. A woman is lesser – she must be married, we honor her family by marrying her. She must bring dowry, her parents, because they are her parents, must kow-tow to our demands. Not enough dowry ? Burn her. Then marry again, because they will be countless other families willing to sacrifice their burdensome daughters on the altar of tradition. When a daughter is born, moan. For she brings with her the burden of dowry. We will not educate her because what will she do with her education ? She cannot be our support in old-age because she will be married and not ours anymore, and tradition says to not depend on our daughters. So when a daughter is born, strangle her.
Once while having a talk with my Mom and Masi, we bemoaned the unchanging mindset of society. However when I pointed out to them that we were part of the problem they were horrified. I get the same reaction from other family. Everyone else but us causes the problem. It is apparently impossible to get into our thick heads, that just because we treat our daughters, daughters-in-laws, sisters and mothers right, we don’t do them any favors. We don’t exalt ourselves by treating women equally. We don’t achieve saint-hood just because our daughter-in-law has the freedom to express an opinion, or work (although it seems like it if you listen to people). We just make ourselves human.
It just amazes me that we know how we talk, we know how we think, yet when the aunty-next-door (in these oh-so-posh-flats-on-the-Bombay-seaside) verbally abuses her daughter-in-law, we wonder what kind of people these are. Really ? They are our kind of people.
Horrors – but no, the problem does not start with us. For after all, we only jest.