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“Are you married?”
These three words framed in a question have caused more discomfort to me than even people asking me about my future plans with respect to career. I am a single woman and at the age of 26, being single is the start of the worst you can be while you live in a country like India. (Well, I know it’s pretty similar everywhere else, but Indians seemed to be too obsessed with marriage). This question is and has affected my personal as well as professional life. How? Let me try to raise few examples here for you; before that I think it’s good to have a background.
I come from an upper caste family settled since decades in Delhi; in fact my parents were also born and brought up in Delhi. Still, that didn’t create any strong open mindedness in my ancestral lineage. We all hail from a land (Haryana) where having daughters is a sin and so, giving them the best of education and letting them get married when they want to is beyond question.
Funnily enough, although my parents were initially questioned on letting their daughters have their share of freedom, they never cared that much. So, though being in Delhi, I cannot call my extended family broad minded when it comes to the age of marriage for a girl. My parents however, seem to not care that much unless someone reminds them that they need to get me married or I will cross the eligible bracket of age (duh!)
Anyhow, I have survived a lot of chances where they were trying to fix me (yes, sounds cheesy but I call it getting fixed). At 22, they planned to get me married. Even at 24 it happened and now at 26, I think I have faced the big question so many times that I almost laugh my heart out (not on the face) when I am popped this question. Traveling to various cities and villages in India or even meeting Indians abroad, I have come across this amazing fascination that we as Indians seem to carry with marriage.
Women and men of all ages have thrown this question towards me. The answer NO is often accompanied by either a sad look or another question asking me for the reasons. And I, obviously, have to provide them with the best possible answers I can to satisfy them.
At a personal level, my discussion with my parents about marriage initially started on rebel mode and soon transformed into a negotiation skills test. At every level, be it my work space or my alma mater, my friends circle or my long list of relatives, the question seems to be more important than the next elections in India.
Let’s be honest! I know I am at a much better point in life than the majority of girls in India are at any point seen. I know I am among those blessed ones who have made mistakes, most importantly have been given the space to learn from them while on the other hand, a huge chunk of Indian girls don’t get the space to move out and make a career.
And while I have my share of uncles and aunties, grandparents and other oldies trying to either question, suggest, doubt or even show a sorry face on my not being married, education seems to have not made any difference at all. I am not generalizing here, believe me, but I am just the majority of my experiences. This is what it has been. Once you are 30 in India, well, you either have some problem in you or you are one of those ‘high aspirations’ people who doesn’t think they have a need to get married because you can support yourself very well. There is nothing wrong in that.
People tell me don’t listen, ignore them, they don’t matter etc, etc., but the constant nagging definitely gets to you (once in let’s say a 100 times); after all, you are only human.
And I find this even more evident when I am in the interior lands of the country. Coming from a social work field, my interaction with the aam aadmi in India has been huge. I definitely thank my career for bringing me much closer to reality than anyone my age is, sitting in a town. And so, while people from Bihar were as obsessed with my being married at 22, people from Gujarat were sad about my not being married at 26. Well, I know there is this strong angle to this that the general trend in villages and even cities has been that women and men marry at around 21 max and 24-25 years of age respectively.
And I also know that this trend has changed over the years but what has my being married or unmarried got to do with my work? Why am I judged over this fact? Why is it that suddenly women feel bad for me when they come to know I am still single? Why is that all of a sudden everyone starts trying to get me married? I have funny memories of women from the villages trying to fix me up with x-y-z from the village. I also have a story in every state I have visited, every country I have met Indians at and while I don’t attempt to generalize Indians here but at least most of my interactions with them have made me realize that everyone seems to be obsessed with the ‘hitched or not’ debate.
People check my forehead for vermilion, my toes for any toe rings, my anklets, my bindi, and my neck for mangalsutra. Apparently if I am married, I need to have these things with me. And while, I can go on and on about how symbolic these things are considered for the sake of your clarity, we will try to do that sometime later.
Right now, the point that I am desperately trying to understand is the “being judged based on marital status” debate. If I am single, how dare I know so much about contraceptives? If I am single, how can I talk about a sex life? If I am single, don’t have a child, how can I talk about family planning? If I am not married, how can I roam around freely away from my house in some random village in Bihar? Well, answers come down to me being judged on my character and my work being affected. And honestly, while initially it was a struggle, I developed ways and mechanisms, stories and anecdotes, fake enough but very realistic (with my bindi and anklets) for women to realize I have two kids and I very well know about why family planning and the use of a condom is crucial.
As a young (am just 26) woman working in the social sector trying to facilitate behavior change, one of my biggest challenges has been till date my marital status. And the irony is that it does not just exist among the ‘not so forward’ people in the country – the educated ones judge me too on my not getting married.
Indians need to appreciate change. We are hypocrites in not accepting that change is important and we need to stop judging people all the time. Do it behind the back (which is stupid to me as well, but let’s accept it we all do it) but making a woman feel uncomfortable doesn’t excite me any which way, I don’t know how it solves any of their lack of excitement in their personal lives. (Hah, as if their lives are too perfect!)
Well, here is what I want to say to the many Indians who can’t stop finding faults in me because I am not married: Get a Life! Cheers to Personal Choices! I respect those who decide to marry young, I respect those who don’t! Its my life and its nobody’s right to comment.
Pic credit: Pankaj (Used under a Creative Commons license)