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About the writers:
Mithila Seshadrikumar is from Denver, US and works as a Project Coordinator in an MNC. A tennis afficianado and pro-equal rights for all, she tweets at @prattlingprat and @babblingbrat.
Hamsini Ravi is a masters student pursuing Development Studies at Brighton, UK. She likes looking at everyday happenings, whether it is a Bollywood movie or an incident with her domestic help, through a feminist lens.
While it is hard to take a show that once had a debate on moustaches seriously, Neeya Naana, has a way to numb you to a point where your feminist sensibilities lie low when you watch the show, and you start watching it only for comic relief. A tamil talk show that has a pretty huge following that comes every Sunday on Star Vijay, there have been moments of ridiculousness in some episodes that have even scaled tamil serial-levels. Still, it is mind boggling in terms of the viewership and TRP it attracts. It is also scary to get up close to a cross section of some of the opinions, and how the show normalises sexism. If we were to ever sample the society based on this show, women would have a lot to fear.
This piece might appear pretty charged and opinionated as we wrote it straight after watching the episode televised in February on ‘correct age for marriage’. Given a choice, we’d have more than one set of quotes in that phrase, but we shall let that go, for saner grammar and easy reading.
We assume that they must be speaking of heterosexual marriages given India’s same-sex marriage laws or the lack of it. But if that is the case, there was a total of 4 women representing our gender including the 1 expert commentator who was a lawyer. We’re not sure if the 3 participants were strategically placed, like mannequins (they barely contributed to the discussion given that they were representing half the population) to avoid such articles, but we are onto them.
So, as is usual in this show, one group strongly advocated ‘early’ marriage, meaning about 22 for girls, and 26 for boys (both figures are approximate), and the other group spoke in favour of ‘late marriages’ (We assume it to be anything above said range). Though opposing in sentiments, one subject matter that was repeatedly brought up for discussion was sexuality and the importance of child bearing. Needless to say, it left us irate and may have been the driving force behind our need to write this piece.
There was also the constant harping on traditional gender roles. Very few speakers were willing to acknowledge changing societal dynamics- even while supposedly looking at ‘changing roles of men and women’, they seemed to have fixed notions of what men and women were supposed to do, ie, men bring bread to the table; women butter the bread, and so on.
The focus of the debate from both sides was hence about when the man would be emotionally and monetarily ready for marriage. They completely sidelined the woman’s need for achievement at the workplace. They didn’t even consider what a woman would expect out of a marriage. So the impression was, if the man is ready for marriage, that was all was required. The woman’s role was to be the supporting being that gives the man the courage to move forward in his career and help run the household.
For a prudish culture like ours, there was no lack of comments pertaining to ‘satiation of lust’ as being an important factor for early marriage. This brings to the forefront, a rather myopic concept of human sexuality. Once again, the woman’s sexuality is ignored and the focus of the point was to satiate the primal desires of the male so that he can focus on building a life. They surmise that this is of consequence because he would otherwise be distracted from furthering himself in terms of personal commitments as well as career. We presume the woman would be reduced to playing a supporting role again.
The side for early marriages suggested that an inexperienced woman or man was less likely to stray in a marriage. They suggested that early marriages could reduce ‘infidelity’ rates thereby once again misrepresenting sexuality, and marginalizing the woman to the role of a fertile vessel that would make the ancient Greeks proud.
While, the focus on fertility and baby making has deeper roots in Indian society, and our conceptions of family and kinship, television programmes like this could strive towards making people understand that marriage is not ONLY about babies. It is an institution by itself, with or without offsprings, and somehow in India, this never gets talked about, except when discussing divorce (of course). The fact that a debate that seemed solely dedicated to the topic of ‘marriage’ spoke little beyond offspring and baby making and child rearing was disappointing to say the least. Marriage was presented as a social obligation to be completed at a certain age instead of the persisting lifelong understanding between two individuals.
One of the things that shook us was the ‘ideal age’ discussion. An expert social commentator (male) suggested that the ideal age for a woman to marry was between 22 – 24 years. A simple calculation puts it at either a girl with a Bachelors and Masters degree or a Bachelors degree with 2 years of work experience. In other words, she barely tastes the compulsions of single adult life before she is uprooted from her family to be with another. Not a single participant spoke about education or career goals with respect to women. We are sure that they would have reacted negatively to a woman continuing education after marriage. After all they want a child quickly before she exceeds her child bearing age.
Except for one person (on the late marriage side) there was no mention of individual aspirations and goals. While in India, individual ambitions are often cast off for the familial/ larger good, one would think these would be accounted for in this debate, especially when so many speakers spoke about ‘kids today’, ‘today’s times’ and ‘today’s prices’!
Given the archaic perspectives put forward and the clinical manner of discussion, one would conclude that women have much to fear in terms of equality in a marriage. The hope is that the show is not reflective of everyday society but it would be denial to presume otherwise. In the meantime, it is shocking that the show did not regulate its overt sexism displayed for the world to see. While we are not fans of censorship for the sake of political correctness, as we stand at the precipice of social change and gender equality, a throw back in time would be undoing several decades of the women’s movement.
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