A woman was murdered for having liberal views, I was simply counselled and disciplined.
Marriages are made in heaven, but so are thunder and lightning. Mine was hit by one. No, it wasn't forced upon me, it was indeed a love marriage. I was married for three years, and dated for a year and a half before. So it's apt to say I went through both heaven and hell in that time. I was madly in love and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. Little did I know we live in a country where the bride and groom's wants’ are irrelevant. Instead, the families decide what their equation should be. I read a news report the other day about a woman being murdered for having ‘liberal views’ and earning more than her husband. It got me thinking about the women in our country. Not just the ones who are oppressed, but the ones who oppress them.
Is love enough?
When I started dating, my husband (boyfriend at the time) told me that his family had no idea we were living together. It was frowned upon in their small town, and he was worried they might not accept me if they knew. I understood, because not many middle class families would accept a live-in relationship. So when we went to visit them and I was asked, I said I live alone in a rented flat.
After we got enaged and went to visit the in-laws, I was interrogated by my sister-in-law about why I still addressed my fiance as 'Tum' and not `Aap’. Also why I called him by his first name in front of the family without adding 'Ji' to it.
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, because I didn't think she was serious! I kept searching her eyes for a hint of humour, or waited for her to start laughing and tell me it was a joke. It wasn't. It turned out she was married for almost ten years, and addressed her husband with a lot of 'respect'. (She is a software engineer with a very high paying job in one of the leading MNC’s). Standing in that balcony, little did I know that I was looking into the eyes of misogyny, as I was taught a lesson I'll never forget.
"In a marriage, it doesn't matter whether love or arranged, the husband demands respect and you have to keep this in mind from now", she told me.
"What does the wife demand?" I asked, curious to know if a wife could even demand.
"Of course the wife demands... a wife demands love!", she smiled and touched my shoulder. "I don't understand, what if he wants to be loved and I want to be respected? How does it work then?"
"You're so young and naïve right now, you'll learn all of it, slowly slowly..." she said rolling her eyes, and left.
Marriage of families
Is this Indian middle class mentality I wondered? You can go out and be independent in the day, make your living, make a fortune. But only as long as you come back home in the evening before your husband, put dinner on the table and never dream of being more successful than him. How do I know this? Simply because I was told. The fiancé had told me he wanted to get married to me because I had a voice, and I used it. He did not want to marry a girl who would be dependent on him or his family. But the husband, told me otherwise. Once his fantasy of having an uptown educated girl as his wife was fulfilled, he forgot he had to treat her like one. He understood that my career was important, and that he would ‘let’ me work as long as it kept me happy. But he would appreciate it if I was home before him. He was pro equality, but only in theory.
Trying to see the bright side?
After months of successfully pursuing a giant client, I was finally up for promotion. Husband and I decided to announce it together on the weekend we visited the inlaws, treating everybody to ice cream to celebrate the happy occasion. Unfortunately it didn't go as planned. Right after we broke the news, MIL excused herself and pulled me aside with a non-existent 'ice cream emergency'. She genuinely seemed happy about the promotion and hugged me, and for once I was glad that I did not have a MIL who sat and watched prime time kitchen politics serials. She was not a woman who spent her life in the kitchen, she worked as teacher, and then as a Principal of a reputed school. She was a dedicated wife and mother. Inspite of having a full time job, she never put her work before her family, and didn’t miss a chance to remind everyone about it. She was taught to take care of the husband, to cook and clean, good housekeeping was literally a symbol for a perfect wife! And she happened to work - bonus!
"Look beta, you work so hard in office, and finally got promoted, I am so happy for you. But what about your husband?"
"What about him?" I asked.
"Isn't he getting promoted also? Because if I remember correctly, now that you're promoted you will both be in the same position right? Same level of service?" she enquired.
"Well yes, now we have the same designation. He was a senior earlier, now that I am promoted, we're equals," I answered.
"Well, it's fine for now beta, but just take my advice. I told my daughter the same thing, because I will never differentiate between my daughter and daughter-in-law. In case an opportunity comes your way, where you have to rise higher in designation or hierarchy than your husband, or even if you get an offer of being better paid than him, I want you to decline. If you accept it, your family will be broken. Because though love may be there, male ego is always bigger".
She kissed my forehead, called me her wise child, and said I would always make the right decision. With that she left me in the kitchen to serve ice cream to everyone.
Praying for my husband’s safety and longevity
I tried discussing it with my husband but he laughed it off calling it ‘obvious’ and ‘natural’ for her to react like this. “You know how it is, this is just how it is”. No I did not know. Since none of these conversations ever happened in front of him, he’d laugh when I told him. Or worse, tell me to keep quiet and listen to their rant rather than argue with them. So to keep the family together, that’s what I did for the next two years.
The final straw was Raksha Bandhan. My boss did not approve my full day leave, and I was only allowed to be home for the duration of the rakhi tying ritual between my husband and sister-in-law. Once it was over, the men of the house left for work. But I was asked to stay home. And given a lecture on how it’s been two years, and still no grandchild. What was my excuse? Mother-in-law said it was because I wear the pants in the family.
It was then that I realised, the state of middle class bahus has not changed. It doesn't matter if I brought food to the table and paid half the home loan, I was only a machine to reproduce. My in-laws were so proud of the fact that they never discriminated between the daughter and daughter in law, and that’s how they defined equality. To me equality was not differentiating between the daughter and son.
In-laws first, always!
The same night my husband forbade me to go out with my friends. He said it was unsafe, but I knew it was insecurity. It was one of those days when I couldn’t care less what he or his family wanted and I chose to disobey. On my return I was ‘disciplined’ by him with a slap. I made sure it was the last. Although he repents it till date, I don’t think he will forget that that one slap cost him the relationship.
Today I am separated, live independently, and regret how much I compromised in the garb of marriage. My self-esteem, my peace of mind, my independence, even my voice.
But I look forward to a happier future, one where we respect all our diversities and embrace change. And about that saying `keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards’…please keep them open throughout life!
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com
By Sonia Dhawan
Photographs by Sonia Dhawan