Saturday, March 20, 2010

Husband, Wife, Marriage, In-laws.. an unending discussion!

Bringing you a very interesting dialogue that IHM and I are having. This is in continuation to my previous post - What I understand about 'Paraya Dhan' - A response to one of IHM's blog. I am putting her responses and my replies.

You may read her blog - Paraya Dhan and her limited rights - first to get the discussion entirely.

My 1st response: By the end, I stay confused. Somehow I cant relate to so much brouhaha about so many things. I feel there is too much superficiality, complications and double standards in your writing and in the messages. I think the perspectives are too narrow and urban-ish.

IHM: Urbanish perspective? Not entirely.I think basic problems women face are the same all over India. Divorce is still a dirty word – we force girls to ‘adjust’ and live with their in laws even if they don’t want to; a large number of widows still stay unmarried; girl- children are still unwelcome, getting married and staying married (and staying a suhagan ) is still very important for a girl…

My 2nd response: Marriage as an institution is man-made and is a fault-ridden convention. The other name of marriage is adjustment, compromise and adapting to a new family. Both the boy and the girl goes through new requirements in life. If you want to be in the convention, you better be conventional. Divorce will ALWAYS be a dirty word, adjustments will ALWAYS be required, staying married will always be important for both THE MAN and the woman. Widow re-marriage is surely an issue that my dad once fought for. I didn't understand why he was not letting my masi stay close to us. I was a kid. I wondered why he got her married to someone so far away. Now I understand and I respect my ‘Deuta’.}

My 1st response: Or perhaps my perspective is narrow and Assamese.
I am born and brought up in Assam, where there is no caste system, no class consciousness, no religious sentiments (changing drastically with ISI being active and Bangladeshi immigrants). I have not seen domestic violence, dowry and dowry death, divorces and ‘nuclear families’ (the few ones I saw were unhappy). I loved my joint family upbringing. I was fed (with hands) by the aunts more than my mom ever got a chance. Games like hide & seek, community swimming in the pond, getting honey from beehives wouldn't have been possible without a joint family.

IHM: A fun filled childhood no doubt. I know male children are preferred there too. Shouldn’t all children be loved equally? Let me ask you this – why do parents all over India prefer male children?

My 2nd response: I agree with you here but I have always seen parents being happy with a boy and a girl. A pair is considered a blessing. So, I have seen parents wanting a child depending on the first child. Yes they may be a bit skewed towards a boy for their first child. But this is going to change. This thought and preference had a genesis / reason which is past due date and the fundamentals have changed now. I understand you being pissed with this status-quo, being a woman, but at the same time please agree that things are changing. No point stressing or rebelling too much about it. Its like the Indian motorist honking the daylights out of the sound ecology, even when he knows that traffic can only move that fast, or worse when he knows that the red light has just turned green. So although it is a valid point you are making, you cannot get too prejudiced and jingoist about it. And talk only of girl issues in marriage. Our (educated bloggers) discussions should be gender-neutral or gender balanced. You know we Indians are actually much better off. Have you seen movies like ‘North Country’ and ‘Mississippi Burning’? You will realise the rural US of A. We have had woman presidents and prime-ministers. How many countries can boast of that?

My 1st response: I really don't understand so much fuss. I would just want to say, why cant we just let nature take its turn.

IHM: Is it unnatural for adults to marry the ones they love and to make a house of their own?

My 2nd response: Of course it is natural. It is also natural that her elders would want her to convince them of his worthiness. They can get difficult at times, but they are your elders, your family and I am sure they will understand. However, ‘making a house of their own’ is a bit dicey and implication laden proposition, because the corollary implies that they are BREAKING AN EXISTING HOUSE of their own. It is natural that they will face a harder test from the elders. Why is this bothering you? Isn't the fallout of their want for a house of their own, natural too?

IHM: Is it unnatural for a girl to want to be wanted and loved by her biological parents as much as any other child? Or is it unnatural for a society to let all children love their parents, not just the male children or just female children?

My 2nd response: Of course it is natural for a girl to feel wanted by her biological parents. Its a crime not to let the female child not love their own parents? But the duty of the girl is also to give love and get love from her new parents. It may sound harsh but she has herself got into an existing convention called marriage. The boy is also in the same boat. He is the son to her parents. Ya it is worse for the woman because she has to stay with the husband’s parents. But that's a patrilineal tradition. And has not happened by fluke. You should understand that it is worse for the khashi and Garo MEN to stay with the girls’ parents; theirs is a matrilineal tradition. On a lighter note, the son also has a lot to go through in a joint family. Just imagine how difficult it gets to the man to have two women in his life – Mom and wife? Ha! If you are interested, let me tell you about an interesting Assamese custom. The mother of the groom does not attend the actual marriage puja. She cries and bid farewell to her son till the front door of her house. You may be thinking, what crap!!? But its true. She acknowledges and willfully bids farewell to her son to another woman – his wife. From the day of the marriage, her son is the responsibility and property of his wife. So woman favouring tradition does exist and society has acknowledged the position of the wife.

IHM: And is it unnatural that all women want to be valued even if they only have daughters/ or no children/ or no husband or no brothers? Do think about it.

My 2nd response: I thought. Like all woman want to be valued irrespective of her marital / reproductive status, all man also wants to be valued the same way. Have you noticed the way society looks at a divorced man, child-less man or an unmarried man. I know you may have noticed that about a woman. Men are also in the same boat. Society is crazy and helpful at the same time. It will eat you up if you are not among one of them. Importantly (and relevant to this discussion), there is no gender bias.

My 1st response: There are woman who do not think that household work is mundane. They love to be nurturers. They love to be provided for, to be submissive and feel sexy. And there are women who would always crib about a supposedly generated status-quo of women’s deplorable plight & jump up and down for women’s independence in terms of financial security.

IHM: There are also women who want a little more than household work. Won’t it be better if each did what they are inclined towards?

My 2nd response: I am a big support of free will. Women should be allowed to whatever they are inclined. And I don't believe that they are not allowed. There is resistance but things are changing. But the point I am repeating is that marriage requires certain adjustments from both the boy and the girl. And convention says that the girl is the nurturer. But woman do have a choice. In my hometown Duliajan, 99.9% woman are, as you call them, ‘Provided for’. But
interestingly the only MLA winning 3 consecutive assembly elections in my home constituency was a woman. See, there are choices to be made everywhere. But every choice has resistance applying both to THE MAN and the woman.

IHM: Do you really believe that the problems that are discussed on this blog are not genuine? I understand that it may not directly concern you, maybe it has never touched your life directly, but does that mean the problems do not exist?

My 2nd response: The problems that are discussed are not representative and are skewed towards woman. Problems may actually exist, that's not the point. My point is that I always rebel against skewed discussions, scenarios and logic. Skewed discussions never veer towards root causes of a problem phenomenon. Skewed discussions are more of crib sessions and finger pointing sessions. Of course culture plays an important role for a skewed scenario. For instance, a girl slapping a man on the streets would everyone have assuming that the man must have done something wrong. Similarly when I am in your blog and your forum, I feel I am in a skewed scenario with remarks and cribs without any clear analysis. I don't want to escape, and instead want to provide my two bits. So I am responding even after losing 2000 words to smoke. (My first try at this response got deleted). Consider another imaginary analogy of a 'man-blog' saying “Monogamy sucks, Polygamy is the way”. Going by my opinion that Men are intrinsically seeders (do you agree?) and there is a good chance of a rush of man-supporters to that blog. But that blog or the discussion that will ensue may not keep the general female population in mind. It would be definitely man-skewed. That's not productive for the overall society. Remember blog (pen) is mightier than the sword!

My 1st response: Today in Mumbai with increasing number of blogs (aka awareness) about women independence, I see more confused woman, more confused about their role in the society. More divorces. More under-eye circles.

IHM: The dark circles were always there, and the confusions were NOT permitted to women, so our folk lore and folk songs are full of women ( and their parents) fearing or complaining about a girl’s in laws.

My 2nd response: Folklore are also filled with remarks ridiculing marriage, ridiculing a wife’s tantrums, cracking jokes on Joru Ka Gulam etc etc. Also don't forget jokes. When I was engaged and was wearing my engagement ring, one of my seniors told me “that's not a wedding ring, that's suffe-ring. Ha! Again repeating, boys are in the same boat, IHM.

IHM: Today women are in a position to be able to do something about the confusions. And I agree it may disturb those who were comfortable with the old system, but should that mean we do not look for alternatives?

My 2nd response: I don't believe that anybody stopped women from getting confused. Marriage is also about giving shoulders to each other to get confused (and cry!). And we are successfully getting confused all the time. Why do you say, confusions were not permitted to women? Also I don't know if your blog or the comments are doing anything about solving the confusions. Its not analysing the issue keeping the husband in the picture. If you read one of the comments in my blog when I published my 1st response in my blog, shubhra says very aptly “Confusion arises when people/women confuse traditional views for being 'sexist'. Women being the nurturers of the family should not be considered/termed as 'Dependants'. No one would like to be associated with this word. Traditionally women have been perceived as biological production plants in certain societies and have been inhumanly treated..Probably that is the reason for such angst in the modern woman... They have been taught how their breed has been tortured for years and the only way to change this is to become financially dependant. I would plead all the women to treat this as a phenomenon practiced in few societies and not generalise this as a traditional norm. Domestic violence should not be acceptable to anyone, including women..But at the same time every woman should have an insight into who she is and what she wants from the society and from herself..Only then will she realise whether she wants to be a nurturer or a provider...or both(if she can balance the act) Once she accepts who she is, she will not feel the need to prove herself by going out of the way to fit into the modern society." Very well said, Shubhra. Thanks.

IHM: No divorces may or may not mean happy marriages. A lot of couples stay together even when they are unhappy – and that does not mean the marriage is successful, it simply means they are afraid of society’s reaction to a separation. Living together only because they have no choice is always a good idea?

My 2nd response: You are absolutely right. ‘No divorce’ is a farce. However, I again repeat, the man is also afraid of society’s reaction. Why do you forget that? Marriage is difficult and people do stay married for fear, for kids etc. It is a gender neutral phenomenon.

My 1st response: The reason is we are not letting each one be. Our support systems are breaking. We don't know our neighbours. We don't play hide and seek anymore!!

IHM: About Support Systems. Widows were often returned to their parents’ home and their children were discriminated against by whoever supported them – brothers or in laws. Today we realise that even if one needs support, one need not be dependent – today a widow can earn and ensure that her children and she, both have respect. Isn’t this a better system? Here I feel even the brothers can’t really be blamed – it was a forced responsibility. I feel a society where all adults can take basic care of themselves is a healthier society.

My 2nd response: I believe in re-marrying the widow and supporting her from all sides. But ya there are cases of her being sent away and blamed for the husband's death. I have not seen it myself though. With education, woman will start getting independent financially and you are right all adults taking care of themselves is a healthier society. Sau taka! But again, its more like social in-consistencies created by the strong and mighty. The similar analogy is the Brahmin-Non Brahmin issue. For centuries, Brahmins never allowed the non-brahmins to go to pathsaala. They always wanted the non-brahmins to be illiterate so that they don't understand their mantras that they recite (one of the reasons). Let me tell another interesting thing about ‘Brahmin mantra’. Did you know that on the marriage fire (don't know what it is called) the pandit actually marries the girl to himself and then hands her over to the husband. If you
decipher the sanskrit mantra you would see that he is the one who is marrying the girl first. He is a Brahmin and has a first right (of refusal!) over all of us. Another thing about Mantra that I read was, when one gives pind by the funeral pyre to his parents, the panditji through mantra says that the son actually is the cause of his father’s death and he has to wash his sins by giving dakshinas – a cow, a goat etc etc… Today things have changed and will continue changing.

My 1st response: I have seen both worlds. I have seen my joint family. And I have seen khashi and Garo families where the youngest daughter gets the property of the mother and the boys go to the girls’ house. I see how they beautifully manage.

IHM: They should be treated like all other adult family members- like equal members, taking part in all decision making, and their opinion should have the same value as other members.

My 2nd response: I completely agree. It will change with education and awareness. It will also change the way a mother in law (also a woman!) is overpowering and has an uneven say.

My 1st response: In Mumbai (perhaps in all metros), I have seen woman going to their parent’s home when she is about 6-7 months pregnant. That completely leaves me NUMB. My parents and the parents that I have grown up with would have taken that to insult. If the daughter in law feels more comfortable in her parent’s house after marriage, and not in the husband’s house, it is a curse for the in-laws. Believe you me, I have always met wives who are happier delivering in their husband’s home, therefore.

IHM: I think a woman should be able to choose who she feels more comfortable with – a girl who can go to her parents house whenever she likes is definitely happier than a girl who will fear that her show of love or trust for her parents might be taken as an insult by her in laws. Such things should not become a matter of honor or insult, this is the reason why women feel oppressed in Joint families.

My 2nd response: I agree. I don't debate free will. But I have observed that in-laws do take extra care so that she actually feel comfortable, esp. when there is a social obligation. See in the cases that I have seen, both the son’s mom and the daughter’s parents have given farewell to them and they have themselves for everything and the boy’s parents in most case. So the girl never thinks that she has the option that she can go to her parents. so she does not feel oppressed at all. A person in the desert may not feel the need for an AC, when he does not know about the existence of AC. Its like only when we buy an AC, that we cant sleep without an AC. See I am not referring to giving support back to parents, financial or otherwise. Both parents should be taken care of. They are our elders. Period.

My 1st response: Last week, one incident shook me up. One of my team members came to me and requested me for a leave of 1/2 days. She said her sister has got chicken pox and so her mother has to go and take care of her. And obviously since she had a baby, she cant come to office. Now the question that puzzled me was ‘where is her sister’s husband, parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts…’
I (we) take ‘paraya dhan’ very seriously. If somebody can trust their dhan to us and call their own blood as our dhan, we will better take care of her and make her the cynosure of our eyes.

IHM: An adult citizen’s welfare cannot be left to her family’s good intentions. When adults live together, there can be disagreements and there can be ego clashes, an adult should be able – if she so chooses, to live in her own house with her spouse, without being made to feel guilty.

My 2nd response: Good intentions are all that we have to trust and make our future. If we cant leave anything to good intentions, then most of the concepts in this world will collapse. As I said, living in her own house implies NOT LIVING in her husband's house. So it is natural to face resistence. Please note that her husband's house is her house now. She may not feel it in the first few years of her marriage, but she will be the overpowering SasuMa one day thumping her rights in every little detail. So its perhaps a bit of a trade off for the woman in the first few years. On a lighter note, I hate wearing ties but who is forcing me to work in a bank. Me myself. Fact is I forced myself hard to get into a bank because it pays. I never dreamt of the salary that I get in reality today. But the fallout is that in a bank, you have to be in a bloody formal dress. So I believe that for any problem or discomfort, we should first think why we got into the problem situation. Are we making a trade off? Then suddenly you may find relief.

IHM: The biggest problem with ‘paraya dhan’ is the girl belongs nowhere, the parents raise her to fit into another family, and the other family makes her their honor, pride and responsibility. Take a look at what girls all over India go through as kids because they are ‘paraya dhan’. What about their childhood?

My 2nd response: I dont agree that the girl belongs nowhere. In fact it is the dream & destiny of girls to marry INTO a good, wealthy, generous, loving family all over India. Also, today’s bahu is the SasuMa tomorrow. She is the bloody owner of the house and has all the keys for a good 20 years of her mature life. A man can never become as powerful as the SasuMa. Even otherwise, as a wife, you tell me who decides the colour of the house, the sofa set, the window curtains, the drawing room, the drawing room table where the husband cant put his leg, the colour of the shirts that the husband wears, the ganjees and underwears of the husband, … today, tell me who decides the nursery school, who decides the auto rickshaw taking the kids to school…and so much more that the wife does.


  1. nice post, i guess these "modern" women are not so modern after all.

    anyways, do check out a new post of mine in case you get time!!

  2. Just to let you know, I've done a post in response to your recent comments.Thought it was fair to let you know :)

  3. Hi starry,

    well written for sure. democratic for sure. responded (for sure).


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