Women, when they marry, are greeted by their in-laws as ‘griha lakshmi’, the home goddess, or the wealth at home. Sounds great. Except for one small problem. The home measures a thousand square feet, except if you are in Bombay, where half of that is considered luxurious.
What about the big, bad world outside? What about what lies beyond the ‘char diwaari’, the four walls of the house? Are women goddesses there too? The answer in a word, or rather, two words, is ‘absolutely not’.
Unless one belongs to the minority of about a hundred women in the city of Bombay who are educated, work and married to enlightened men, or who are single, one is far from being a goddess. Okay, so a hundred might be an exaggeration. Perhaps a hundred and ten. So the ratio of goddess to incompetent slave is a thousand square feet to the rest of this earth. That is what the Indian woman is.
My friend is on the wrong side of forty, has lived in Bombay all her life, belongs to a middle class family, has an engineer for a husband and another for a son. She learnt to withdraw money from the bank just a year ago, and still can’t use an ATM. Her husband has decided that travelling alone for her is not a good idea, so that she has to wait for him or her son to escort her on various trips, whether long or short.
Perhaps she’s an aberration. We are not like that, mostly. No, mostly we have our own ATM card. With one proviso. The card is an add-on to the husband’s account, and each withdrawal is monitored by him. So much for monthly groceries, so much for other household expenses, so much for the school fees, and so much for ‘pocket money’, that generous gesture that all loving husbands extend towards their spouses as reward for work well done. How many of us carefully stash aside the small gifts of cash that we receive on our birthdays and other occasions and then use it for a minor shopping binge? How many of us proudly declare that ‘we have spent our own money’?
‘Oh, that’s for the housewives,’ sneer proud working women. ‘We have our own bank accounts and our own salaries.’
A doctor friend, brilliant both as a doctor and mother of two, yields humbly to her husband when it comes to making investments, even though in the past he has come a cropper in a couple of shady deals. She has as much right over their savings as he, yet he has full jurisdiction over investing or losing it, while she has none at all. She doesn’t see the anomaly of submitting to another person’s economic decisions in the home sphere while striding confidently through the world of sickness.
Men find no difficulty in unleashing economic hegemony over their female partners. The irony is that in most cases neither party looks upon it as thus. The men think of themselves as protective and chivalrous, working hard to bring home the bacon. Women, too, buy into this narrative quite easily. They are saved the hassle of thinking for themselves and taking responsible decisions. After all, with great power comes great responsibility, as Spiderman learnt very early in his career. But how can the march to equality be complete without economic and social empowerment? How can a woman, who is shielded from the daunting public transport system of Delhi, take her sick child to the hospital in a hurry, or even know which emergency number to call and how to arrange for cash quickly?
The good thing is that the younger generation is no longer convinced of the benefits of a one-sided economic arrangement. They are happy with their autonomy and unwilling to trade it for the submission that marriage still entails. Until both men and women become sensitive to the benefits of such autonomy, it is difficult to see a truly equal society in India.
Pic credit: Aunty Cookie (used under a Creative Commons license)
Beyond Pink writes on women's stories in urban India. They could be real or
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