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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
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