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“We hear of men abusing their wives all the time. Putting her down as being ignorant and stupid is quite common even among the educated men, even if they know the truth to be quite the opposite. They feel threatened and inadequate by such a wife particularly in the in the presence of their friends and would prefer to have decked up dumb dolls rather than have a wife who can observe and understand whatever goes on in the world around her”.
This was an observation made by a friend and I was not sure as to whether I should agree with her or not. My own life was quite different and the encouragement I got from my husband to improve my qualifications could not be denied or ignored. But there were others in my circle who required their husband’s help to fill up income tax return forms or to apply for schemes that offered tax benefits. I often wondered why they chose not to try and do these things themselves.
We have friends from another local college who would not be able to tell us whether they had received the increased DA allowance as promised by the government or not. They plead ignorance when asked if a particular circular from the university had reached their college saying that it was their husband that took care of their salary accounts and that their pass books had not been updated for months so they would not know if the increased DA had been paid to them or not. We sometimes checked with them to make sure whether such notifications had been issued but had not reached our college for whatever reason and I really feel annoyed and unable to take such answers to my queries.
I sometimes wonder if it actually suits these women to remain ignorant. It has been three years since I started collecting tax return forms from friends to submit them in the IT office some 2 kilometers from our college. I heard that they earlier gave it to a peon who charged them Rs.100/- per form saying that the queue was long and that he had to take leave from work submit them. It took me less than thirty minutes, even on the last day, although forms had to be submitted in alphabetical order in three different counters. There was no separate queue for women but the employees were quick and did their job pretty efficiently. I did not mind doing it since the IT office is on my way home but I did feel pained that not one of my friends offered to give me company.
If educated women want to act helpless do we have the right to blame our men folk for not according our job and career the importance that it deserves? It does not matter if you are a home- maker or a career woman; it is important to carry yourself with dignity and make sure that your job cannot be brushed off as unimportant. Unless a woman learns to respect her work – even if it is just an honorary service – no one else will.
Having said this I want to mention the case of a relative of mine. Let me call her Veena. She was a bubbly teenaged girl when I first met her some 25 years back. She was a college student and had come over to my sister in law’s place during her vacations. I admired her for the manner in which she made herself useful. She entertained my sister in law’s kids then aged 6 and 2, helped her out with house work and was very pleasant to me although it was the first time she met me. Neither talkative nor withdrawn, she was the kind of person anyone would like to have for company.
As luck would have it Veena had a failed marriage that ended in a divorce. Her husband was having an affair with a colleague and all that her parents could do was to ask her to be patient and wait for God to bring about a change in the heart of her cheating husband. They asked her to fast on certain days and pray to different gods at different times of the year in the hope that he would return to her. Even when she had no option but to divorce him after the other woman moved in to their house, her family did not offer her food and board. Parents were not willing to support her out of fear that their son and daughter in law may not like it. Veena took up a job in Bangalore and stayed in a working women’s hostel making herself available to her family when they needed help. However, her own brothers and sister would consider her presence inauspicious during family functions and her mother would not protest.
She got married to a kind hearted man, two years younger to her, but his family refused to accept or bless the alliance. Finally when she felt that she had been at the receiving end for long enough she withdrew herself from her family. She stopped attending family functions. The couple moved to a smaller town in Karnataka where he does some consultancy work for an American firm and she spends her time teaching yoga and meditation to school children.
Her husband visits his parents once a month, takes them to the doctor, stocks up their kitchen and gives them money for their upkeep. He refuses to take her along since they never ask for her. They have decided against having children. He respects her for the person she happens to be and she finds solace in the love and affection he bestows on her. They do not complain or crib and would rather forget their painful past. She still feels responsible for her parents and says that the only time when she would want to go to them would be when their health failed and they need someone to look after them.
I do agree that I am quoting two extreme examples. The former group of working women got support where they did not need it but Veena was shunned by her own family using social pressure as an excuse. I do not for a moment believe that her parents did not love her but being orthodox they perhaps believed that it was against the prevailing custom to support the daughter and antagonize their son. They could not bring themselves to stand up for their daughter when she needed them the most. But I feel glad that she could at least gain the love and respect of the man she married. Were it not for him her story may have been different.
Now I come back to the point I started with. Is being assertive a positive or negative quality? According to the friend I quoted in the beginning, men feel threatened by such a woman. So many of our educated young women would prefer to play a subordinate role in the family even if only to pamper the misplaced ego of their spouses. But Veena’s story gives an entirely different picture. She is neither dominating nor submissive. She is just the cool and balanced person that she always was. But, to my mind, she commands more respect than many others with notable careers and a six digit income per annum.
The Hip Grandma lives in a small industrial town called Jamshedpur and despite all its
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