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The Indian Bahu: No Identity Without Her Husband, No Life Support Guarantee Without Her Son

Posted: September 29, 2017

The subtle sexism that is implied in our everyday words makes sure that our girls remain suppressed, even in families who think they are liberal.

Hamare chand jaise bete ki zindgi me taara ban ke chamko…” croons the genial diamond bedecked, smartly turned out grandmom-in-law while blessing the newest ‘bahu’ gleaming coyly in her 5 kg gold jewellery and 30 kg zardozi lehnga in a typical Indian TV soap.

Oh hell, how can anyone be so sugar sweet and yet be so annoying! Is she blessing the grand daughter-in-law or her own grandson? The grandson is the moon around whom the entire life of the grand DIL should revolve!

Sada suhagan raho, doodho nahao pooto phalo, bhagwan tumhe chand jaisa beta de

All married women would surely have received such blessings from family elders but have you ever noticed that all these blessings, all aashirwads are male-centric? While showering their blessing on a woman, her husband or son is the actual focus of all the good wishes from our family elders. The daughter-in-law may be equally highly qualified, a professional in her own right and earning as much as if not more than their son but no, without her husband she doesn’t have any identity, without a son she doesn’t have life support guarantee.

And this sexism begins right at the birth of the girl. The moment a girl child is born, everyone’s faces hit the floor gloomily. Then gradually the parents are consoled with a condescending ‘koi baat nahi, Laxmi aayi hai ghar me’. If the girl is followed by a male child then she is honored like a brave warrior who has brought the prize catch of the ‘ghar ka chirag‘ to the family. But god forbid, if another girl is born then the first born girl is termed ‘apshaguni’ or a bad omen and heaps of sympathy are piled upon the parents…’do-do ladkiya paida ho gayi, ab kya karenge bechare? (oh they have been burdened with two daughters, how will they manage now?)’

Some of the morons spew more gyan, ‘ek ladki ki shadi karna hi itna mushkil hai, jiski do-do ladkiya ho us bechare baap ki to zindagi hi aadhi ho jati hai! (It is so difficult to find a good alliance for one daughter, the stress of getting two daughters married reduces the life span of the unfortunate father by half)’. And mind you, such gyan is dispensed by not only the illiterates but the so-called highly educated folks from ‘decent’ families too.

I still remember how people feted our parents when my elder sister and I were married within a year’s time without much hassles. They congratulated our parents, ‘aap ne to pichchle janam me moti daan kiye honge jo aap ki dono ladkiyo ki shadi pahli baar me hi ho gayi vo bhi itne achche parivaro me!’ Loosely translated to English it means that my parents must have donated pearls or done some pious deeds in their previous birth that both their daughters had got married in such good families, that too without having to be ‘shown’ to many ‘boys’. Beautiful/fair complexioned/educated/homely/working girl from a good family?

More recently I was advised by some family elders to go for a Ganga Snan in Haridwar after the marriage of my daughter. What the heck! Is my highly qualified daughter who is working as a senior software engineer for one of the world’s best tech companies a burden on me that I need to go for a de-stressing and rejuvenating Ganga Snan after her marriage? Some of the guests and even family elders had in fact refused to accept the wedding gifts and sweets saying that there is no tradition of distributing sweets and giving gifts at the time of girls’ marriage. They accepted the gifts, rather grudgingly, only when I insisted upon them but on hindsight I feel that I shouldn’t have. I should have taken back the gifts since I was offending their sensibilities and forcing them to defy the ancient culture and tradition of our great country… how very mean of me really!

On a serious note, most men and women would retort with disdain that they are not old-fashioned people and they do not differentiate between their daughters/DIL and sons but they don’t even realize how subtly they pass on the sexism through their words, through their actions, through even their blessings to the females of their family.

What’s your experience of sexism and gender inequality, overt and covert, in your families?

Published here earlier.

Image source: screen grab from the movie Hum Aapke Hain Kaun

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2 Comments


  1. Tina Sequeira

    Hi Seema! This is a brilliant article from you. So powerful too…We need more mothers like you and I´m so glad that women are now questioning the ´not-so-great´ aspects of tradition. One of my all time favourite articles from you. Keep writing! Love and Cheers!

    • Seema Taneja

      Thank you so much, Tina. These stereotypes annoy me no end as they would others but the problem is that we have hardly any courage to defy them. Let’s keep talking, writing and spreading strength to stand up against such sexism in our words and actions. More power to us. Love and hugs!

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