Fighting For Women’s Responsibilities

Posted: August 26, 2011

Even as we Indian women fight for our rights, can we also fight for our responsibilities as daughters?

The fight for women’s rights (in the Indian context) probably gained momentum some time around the 1970s and it has been around in various forms since then, with some of the key issues being property rights, freedom from harassment and violence, education and equal treatment at home and work. While that’s a good fight that needs to be fought, what about the fight for women’s responsibilities?

A friend recently told me a story about one of her friends, let’s call her Archana. Archana’s story is a not uncommon one today. She is a well-educated urban woman and the daughter of a single mother, who brought her up with great difficulty. 2 years ago, she chose to marry a man she fell in love with; someone she met through common friends.

Since the time she got married, it is clear that Archana’s mother can expect no support from her – not financially, and not in any other sense. For instance, if her mother is unwell, it is very clear to her that she can come down to help her only if circumstances at her new home permit. The needs of the in-laws must come first. The husband makes it clear that he would not be comfortable with their money being used to help her mother – although his parents can certainly depend on him.  At the time of her wedding, she was working at a well-paid job, but a child followed rather quickly, and she has chosen to take a career break for a few years. Which means she has no income of her own at this point in time. Her mother feels insecure, but she is resigned to it – after all, once a girl is married, you can’t expect much, can you, she thinks.

What astonishes me is that this is not a typical old-style arranged marriage where the ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ just ‘saw’ each other and nodded assent. This is a case where two people have extensively interacted with each other before deciding to marry. Given how difficult her mother’s life was, and her even now precarious financial situation, how is that Archana did not discuss with her spouse-to-be the responsibilities of each partner towards their parents? And as I mentioned, this is certainly not the only such story I have heard of, where educated women, on getting married, completely shrug off their responsibilities to their parents.  The excuses one hears are, ‘My husband will object’, ‘My husband is a sweet guy, but the in-laws are traditional’ or even – ‘After all, my brother is around to take care of them’.

Grrr, is all I can say. I’m sorry, but I have little sympathy when women with every advantage – who have been given the privilege of education, who have earned their own money, who have had the freedom to choose their man – cannot stand up to outdated norms like these. Worse, are some using them to conveniently abdicate responsibilities?

We want laws to protect our rights and make things work for us, we want society to change its outdated attitudes to girls, but what about the hard work of negotiating change at home? I’ve never been a fan of the Indian attitude towards caring for parents – not because I think the elderly should be abandoned, but because this caring is one-sided. It’s only men who get the privilege (and responsibility) of caring for their parents.

By all means, let’s fight for the rights and privileges that men can take for granted. But, let’s also fight for those responsibilities!

Founder & Chief Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas and

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  1. It is a wonderful article and a very very true call. We girls, who have fought hard for our rights must now shoulder our responsibilities too.

  2. Is it any surprise that Archana chose not to discuss her responsibilities with her future husband? Who wants responsibilities anyway? Aparna, this is a very common story and we have girls who want costly gifts from retired fathers each time they visit their maternal homes and also ask for a part of the settlement amount that he might have got on retiring from service.

    However, the fault lies with parents too. They almost always refer to daughters as alien property given to them for safe keep and the girl grows up believing that she has no responsibility towards her parents. If parents treat girls at par with their boys with regards to education and career opportunities then why spend huge amounts at the time of their weddings. Would they give an equal amount of jewelry and silverware to their daughter in law?

    Society’s attitude has to change before anything else.

  3. Nice & a quiet relevant article in Indian Patriarchal setup. I agree to many points.. Want to add something more. Many of us support such things when we play a part of DIL. But when the same situation comes with our own parent’s house with our SIL, we feel uncomfortable with her helping her parents in any way. Hence before expecting anybody to change their mindset, firstly we ourselves need to change. ‘Fight for Women’s equality in every aspect of life’ has to go a long way, we firstly need to start implementing it at our own home. Though we face hell lot of problems/ clashes/ tensions with our family members, but still we need to be determined for this..

  4. Thanks all for your comments. I do agree that we ought to start with ourselves – and parents – with treating their girls just as they treat their boys. Indian parents swing between the pendulum of my-boy-owes-me-everything to my-girl-is-someone-else’s-daughter-after-marriage. I think both extremes can be avoided.

  5. Another aspect is how to convince parents to take “help” from a married daughter? In the present set-up, any gesture to help financially hurts the parents’ self-respect!! Again, how is one to refuse gifts? How do I argue with — “We are giving this with love. It gives us happiness. It’s not as if you asked for anything”?

  6. The last paragraph of your post says it all! If we want all the rights, we will also need to carry the responsibilities that come with those rights. From personal experience, and from examples in my immediate social circle, I have noticed that these things CAN change if we women only demanded that they change. Sometimes it might be tough – like it might be easier for a woman who earns to say that she will send money to her parents to help them out. But there ARE men out there who would help their inlaws out even if the wife isn’t bringing in any money. Hats off to them! I still remember the first (and only) fight I had with my husband on this matter. He learnt that day that I will do anything for my parents that my brother does or is supposed to do. He never needed any convincing or reminders after that. It is up to us to demand our responsibilities along with our rights.

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