The pre-marriage discrimination against young women that I talked about in my last post Discrimination Against Young Girls, continues after marriage. In fact, it becomes worse. After all, the societal biases are so well ingrained that the discrimination against women is apparent even in so called advanced families.
Riya was happy to be married to Jayant just a couple of months back. She came from a reasonably wealthy Marwari family. It was an arranged marriage where, in addition to the agreement of the bride and groom, everything else was also matched. This included the financial status of both families, the horoscopes and the traditional quotient of both families.
While Jayant’s parents didn’t want to get an ultra-modern bahu, Riya’s parents portrayed her as the perfect Indian girl brought up under their total protection. Actually, her upbringing was pretty modern and she had to leave behind all her mini-skirts, spaghetti tops etc.
Before the marriage, she had asked Jayant,’ Are your parents too traditional? Won’t they allow me to wear western dresses at all? I am feeling a bit uncomfortable.’
‘Riya, you are beautiful and I can imagine that you would look great in a micro-mini or a figure hugging strapless dress. But my parents are a bit old-fashioned. They wouldn’t allow you to wear any western dresses, even jeans, at home. You can safely assume that for the first one year, you would be wearing sari all the time at home.
She was getting upset,’ Oh, that sounds suffocating. I have seen your sisters jump around in shorts and jeans. Why don’t they stop them as well.’
‘Look Riya, I didn’t invent these rules of our society. My parents have given my sisters some freedom as your parents did for you. But after marriage of my sisters, it is entire their in-laws’ call. Whatever they ask my sisters to wear, they will have to comply. If they are lucky, they may get modern in-laws, otherwise, tough luck.’
‘But that sounds like acute case of double standards. If your sisters can live in a certain way, why cann’t I,’ Riya was in for a good dose of discrimination against women post-marriage.
‘Ha ha, stop talking like a kid. Haven’t you seen these things in your family. When your brother gets married, I am sure your parents will impose different standards on his wife.’
‘So, I can safely assume that I need to dump all my favourite dresses.’
‘No no, I am not saying that. When we travel or go out, I would like you to flaunt your beauty and you can wear whatever you wish. In fact, during our honeymoon I would like to wear all your favourite dresses. We just need to be careful that we don’t click any pics in such dresses.’
Slowly, the picture was getting clear in Riya’s mind. While her prospective husband wanted her to have a super-model figure and was fine with her wearing short dresses outside, his parents wanted a ‘Gharelu Bahu’ right from a Suraj Barjatya movie. She was already feeling like an acute case of split-personality or Schizophrenia.
Older generation is clinging onto discrimination against women
Indian society is on cross-roads. While the western ways of living are more appealing to younger generation, the older generation is trying to stick to their ways. Discrimination against young women being one of the ways. While they relax the environment considerably for boys and to some extent for their own daughters, all their modern thinking goes for a toss when it comes to the brides coming from other families.
Immediately after the marriage, Sonia got a nice briefing from her mother-in-law. She called her into her bedroom and ask her to sit. The lecture started,’ Sonia, you look beautiful in your bridal wear and make-up. I want you to keep this look for as long as possible. At least for the first year of your marriage, wherever you go, people should know that you got married recently. I can imagine all my friends getting jealous as I have got the most beautiful bahu among all of them.’
‘But mummy ji…….’, Sonia could not complete the sentence. Mummyji continued,’ Now, let me brief you about our ways of living. You are also from a Bengali Brahmin family so it should not be a surprise for you. You need to wake up early, take bath and get ready before entering the kitchen. I make the morning tea for the whole family at 6.30AM. From tomorrow, it will be your responsibility.’
‘Ok, bring it on,’ Sonia knew there was no point in even trying to speak. Any logical point may also be taken as a sign of rebellion. She was anyway advised to be patient in the initial months of marriage by her mother.
‘We have the cook and maid to assist us in preparing the break-fast, lunch and dinner. But I believe that we, the ladies of the house, need to keep a tight control over food preparation. Let the servants do all the preparation but the final touch should be from us. We need to hang around in the kitchen when the food is being cooked.’
‘I get it. I need to get up at six in the morning, get decked up in bright clothes and hang around in the kitchen,’ thought Sonia.
Next morning, she followed the instructions. The mom-in-law was happy as many of her friends’ daughters-in-law had revolted against such orders. Sonia asked,’ Sanjoy is still sleeping. Should I wake him up.’
‘No no, he gets too tired working in the family business. Let him sleep. He will get up around eight o’clock,’ Mummy ji talked lovingly about her child.
Sonia again drowned in her thoughts,’ This means that I am resting the whole day in the house. I need to start looking for work soon either outside or in the family business. Worst comes to worst, I will need to push Sanjoy to live separately.’
It seemed that this event called marriage had turned her life upside down. She was supposed to be traditionally dressed all the time, manage the kitchen, be respectful to everyone else in the house. Even the youngters in the new family deserved more respect than her. Since she had got a fairly modern upbringing at her parents’ home, it was not possible for her to adjust to this glorified prison.
Ashish and Madhu had liked each other during their MBA course and had been courting for more than a year. They came from different castes and hence their parents didn’t agree for the marriage. After a lot of deliberation, they took the hard call and got married in a court.
Madhu was elated that she would get to set up a new home and live on her own terms. Coming from a traditional South Indian family, she had heard horror stories of her friends getting married into joint families. Ashish was a North Indian guy and had lived in a hostel for last six years. Both of them had joined their new jobs recently. Ashish joined a reputed bank while Madhu joined a consumer products company. They had finalized a cute one-bedroom apartment and got it ready for settling in.
Six months of married life had started taking a toll on Madhu. She woke up Ashish at 6.30 in the morning,’ Hey, get up. It’s time for the morning tea. Why don’t you make the morning tea today?’
‘What are you talking? When I was at home, my mother always gave me the tea in the bed. My limbs just don’t move till I get the tea.’
‘How were you managing in the hostel then?’
‘Oh, I used to drag myself to the canteen and grab a cup of tea before collapsing again. So, drop this laziness and get me the tea.’
Madhu decided that it was time for a serious talk even if it meant missing the work. She told Ashish,’ I have been extra nice for last six months thinking that you will take the cue and start helping me with the household work. I make the morning tea, prepare our break-fast and pack our lunches. In the evening, I try to rush back home as early as possible and prepare the dinner.’
‘So what, you are not doing social work. You are doing this for your own family. My mother always did this and much more,’ Ashish rubbed his eyes.
‘Stop giving me examples of your mother. She is history. I am equally educated, working full time and as tired as you are. When do I start getting help from you?’
‘There’s no way that I can help in any household work. My parents never let me do anything at all. My mother trained my sister well but she always insisted on taking care of me. If you want we can hire a full-time servant or maid to help you out,’ Ashish offered.
‘That is where the problem is. Your parents have not trained you for any work. Just studies and an MBA cannot see you through this life. There are just two of us and I don’t want to lose our privacy with a servant or maid hanging on our head all the time. Why don’t you start learning these things with me and slowly we can shoulder the work together.’
‘Forget it. I have far more important work to take care of. I don’t want to invest time in these useless chores. What’s the use of earning well and living in India if we cannot hire maids to do our work?’
You see, it is actually an attitude problem. The boys’ attitude is so spoilt due to the way they are brought up in our society that they don’t even want to learn anything related to household work. This attitude continues after marriage and results in discrimination against girls.
Unless the new age parents truly start treating their boys and girls equally, the societal traits will keep getting passed down the generations. The change is going to be too slow and frustrating.
As more and more girls get better education and upbringing, they are going to refuse to accept blanket commands. The tip for young boys would be to understand this and treat their spouse more equally not only in their mind but in all their actions. Discrimination against women must end.
Previous blog on Is Discrimination against Young Girls Real in India?
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A seeker and explorer in the quest for lasting happiness, health and well-being. An MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur and a Mechanical Engineer from IIT Delhi. Has been a senior banker with large global banks like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and ANZ Bank. Working in these demanding global institutions with a gruelling schedule and plenty of business travel. Was fortunate to realise the importance of health and wellbeing early on. Learnt and practiced many wellbeing tools and techniques to focus on his own well-being while balancing the demands of a high-profile career and a lovely family.