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As a modern Bangalore woman who chose to marry a man from Jharkhand, I was thrown off the deep end when faced with regressive traditions like the ghoonghat. #NotMyLoveJihad
In a society that puts honour above the wishes of its women, it is no surprise that having a relationship outside of one’s community, caste, religion, or even sexuality other than cis-het relationships is frowned upon. Such couples can at the least face trouble from families, and at the other extreme face serious consequences like honour killing.
Women’s Web presents #NotMyLove Jihad which shows the choices and nuances in such relationships, countering the toxic narrative of Love Jihad, where couples are hounded for their choices in love: a series of personal stories from such women, who want to declare: #NotMyLoveJihad. You can send in yours too, at firstname.lastname@example.org. These will be published under your name or anonymously, if you so wish.
I love my husband to the moon and back, really. He is the calmest person I’ve known, and takes on my nasty moods only to soothe me. I am that Bangalore girl who found love in a guy from Bokaro (in Jharkhand).
There was strong resistence from my family; approval from them was a year long struggle, as it obviously involved a very traditional father who wanted his daughter to marry a South Indian brahmin boy. But I finally succeeded in convincing them that I would be just fine with my husband by my side, and my father was happy to see me marrying the love of my life.
It was a unanimous decision to hold the wedding in Bokaro Steel City, following the traditions of my Jharkhandi groom.
When I entered their household, after my night long wedding ceremony, I thought the big hurdle was over. But, little did I know about the other traditions that I would find foreign and difficult to handle. The main things that I as a South Indian brahmin girl was unaware of and quite unwilling to follow – were the importance of a ghoonghat, touching the feet of my husband’s nieces and nephews, gifting the husband’s sisters’ gold and sarees without any limits, and many more.
I had already been prepped by my husband that I may have to have ghoonghat on my head as a new ‘bahu’ and I thought it would be fun to have my saree pallu cover my head like those ladies in the hindi soap operas.
Later to my surpise I realised that I needed to have the ghoonghat up whenever any men elder to my husband were in my vicinity! My husband too was unaware of this ‘niyam’. The reason is, he is more of a lost soul when it comes to traditions, and I thank my God for that!
Coming from an urban household in Bangalore, I am proud that no women were ever asked to acknowledge the presence of men by covering their heads with a duppatta or their saree pallu. I remembered that even my grandmother just used to do a “Namaste” when my grandfather’s colleagues or friends visited our house. She would gracefully greet them and not run away at the sight of a man. I, as a newly wedded daughter in law, did not fuss about these rules though, and against my will I too started to have ghoonghat.
Gradually, as my husband’s relatives started pouring in, my sister in law’s voice became more authoritative. She started shouting at me when the damn ghoonghat slid back over my head even slightly! When an elder cousin of my husband came to visit, my sister in law stared into my eyes with a frown until I pulled over the saree pallu and make a ghoonghat. “Theek se pallu lijiye! (Take the pally properly!)” she screamed at me. It was at this point I felt extremely vulnerable and inferior.
This tradition was nothing but sexist to me! “What happened to my individuality?” I wondered. “Was I not one of those feminists who believed that, I need not be afraid of any male member of society?”
Very soon, I gathered my guts and told my father in law, that having a ghoonght when I talk to him makes me feel like an outsider and not as his daughter. At this, he told me, ”You don’t have to take that ghoonghat in front of me, beta. But, if Santosh’s elder brothers come, please don’t forget that ghoonghat,” he requested. I agreed immediately as my father in law was not demanding things out of me as opposed to my sister in law.
This tradition has now sunk in me and I stopped feeling that it demeans my strenght. So, I conditionally follow this tradition to feel one among them.
When I first entered my husband’s home, I voluntarily touched the feet of my in-laws, sisters in law and other people elder to me. Again, it was my sister in law, who asked, “Aap ne Mukesh ke pair nahi chuye? (Didn’t you touch Mukesh’s feet?)” Mukesh is my husband’s nephew, and almost a decade younger to me. I was confused. I thought she was joking, and I smiled at her. She immediately frowned. “Hasn’t your mom thought you these values?” she yelled. It infuriated me, and I just walked out of the scene and headed to my room.
My sister in law understood that I am not the “typical bahu” that she would have searched for her brother. Fortunately, she understood that I was unaware of any such tradition, and since then she doesn’t ask me to touch her son’s feet.
I had earned sufficient gold for my wedding and this tempted my other sister in law this time. My husband has five sisters!
“Bhabhi!” she screamed. “I need a gold chain as a gift, you married my brother, so you should gift us something,” she demanded. For my first Dussera after the wedding, I gave each of them a 10-gram gold chain. Once I gave away those tiffany boxes containing the gold chains, almost immediately the second sister in law said, ”Bhabhi, naye kapde bhool gaye kya! (Did you forget the new clothes?)”
Oh no, I thought to myself. After giving away around 1.5 Lac of gold, I am supposed to shop for the sisters, and their husbands and children as well? I gave the clothes too. But, also announced that the gifting will end with this, and that I could not afford more in the coming years. There was silence after my announcement. I took that silence as an acknowledgement, and stopped with further gifting.
If these (unreasonable to me) traditions are a dark cloud in my marriage, the silver lining is that I chose to rise above these norms. A little rebelious and a little submissive, is my trick to make peace with my new family. Fortunately, my husband was not hung up about any of these, and I was able to negotiate and talk it out with my in laws about the various aspects of this new culture I had been thrown into.
Header image is a still from the movie Dor.