Are you a woman in business or aspire to be? Don’t miss your complimentary invite to our flagship event #BreakingBarriers
Women’s Web is now also on Whatsapp! Get Special reads in your Inbox.
“Are you married?”
These three words framed in a question have caused more discomfort to me than even people asking me about my future plans with respect to career. I am a single woman and at the age of 26, being single is the start of the worst you can be while you live in a country like India. (Well, I know it’s pretty similar everywhere else, but Indians seemed to be too obsessed with marriage). This question is and has affected my personal as well as professional life. How? Let me try to raise few examples here for you; before that I think it’s good to have a background.
I come from an upper caste family settled since decades in Delhi; in fact my parents were also born and brought up in Delhi. Still, that didn’t create any strong open mindedness in my ancestral lineage. We all hail from a land (Haryana) where having daughters is a sin and so, giving them the best of education and letting them get married when they want to is beyond question.
Funnily enough, although my parents were initially questioned on letting their daughters have their share of freedom, they never cared that much. So, though being in Delhi, I cannot call my extended family broad minded when it comes to the age of marriage for a girl. My parents however, seem to not care that much unless someone reminds them that they need to get me married or I will cross the eligible bracket of age (duh!)
Anyhow, I have survived a lot of chances where they were trying to fix me (yes, sounds cheesy but I call it getting fixed). At 22, they planned to get me married. Even at 24 it happened and now at 26, I think I have faced the big question so many times that I almost laugh my heart out (not on the face) when I am popped this question. Traveling to various cities and villages in India or even meeting Indians abroad, I have come across this amazing fascination that we as Indians seem to carry with marriage.
Women and men of all ages have thrown this question towards me. The answer NO is often accompanied by either a sad look or another question asking me for the reasons. And I, obviously, have to provide them with the best possible answers I can to satisfy them.
At a personal level, my discussion with my parents about marriage initially started on rebel mode and soon transformed into a negotiation skills test. At every level, be it my work space or my alma mater, my friends circle or my long list of relatives, the question seems to be more important than the next elections in India.
Let’s be honest! I know I am at a much better point in life than the majority of girls in India are at any point seen. I know I am among those blessed ones who have made mistakes, most importantly have been given the space to learn from them while on the other hand, a huge chunk of Indian girls don’t get the space to move out and make a career.
And while I have my share of uncles and aunties, grandparents and other oldies trying to either question, suggest, doubt or even show a sorry face on my not being married, education seems to have not made any difference at all. I am not generalizing here, believe me, but I am just the majority of my experiences. This is what it has been. Once you are 30 in India, well, you either have some problem in you or you are one of those ‘high aspirations’ people who doesn’t think they have a need to get married because you can support yourself very well. There is nothing wrong in that.
People tell me don’t listen, ignore them, they don’t matter etc, etc., but the constant nagging definitely gets to you (once in let’s say a 100 times); after all, you are only human.
And I find this even more evident when I am in the interior lands of the country. Coming from a social work field, my interaction with the aam aadmi in India has been huge. I definitely thank my career for bringing me much closer to reality than anyone my age is, sitting in a town. And so, while people from Bihar were as obsessed with my being married at 22, people from Gujarat were sad about my not being married at 26. Well, I know there is this strong angle to this that the general trend in villages and even cities has been that women and men marry at around 21 max and 24-25 years of age respectively.
And I also know that this trend has changed over the years but what has my being married or unmarried got to do with my work? Why am I judged over this fact? Why is it that suddenly women feel bad for me when they come to know I am still single? Why is that all of a sudden everyone starts trying to get me married? I have funny memories of women from the villages trying to fix me up with x-y-z from the village. I also have a story in every state I have visited, every country I have met Indians at and while I don’t attempt to generalize Indians here but at least most of my interactions with them have made me realize that everyone seems to be obsessed with the ‘hitched or not’ debate.
People check my forehead for vermilion, my toes for any toe rings, my anklets, my bindi, and my neck for mangalsutra. Apparently if I am married, I need to have these things with me. And while, I can go on and on about how symbolic these things are considered for the sake of your clarity, we will try to do that sometime later.
Right now, the point that I am desperately trying to understand is the “being judged based on marital status” debate. If I am single, how dare I know so much about contraceptives? If I am single, how can I talk about a sex life? If I am single, don’t have a child, how can I talk about family planning? If I am not married, how can I roam around freely away from my house in some random village in Bihar? Well, answers come down to me being judged on my character and my work being affected. And honestly, while initially it was a struggle, I developed ways and mechanisms, stories and anecdotes, fake enough but very realistic (with my bindi and anklets) for women to realize I have two kids and I very well know about why family planning and the use of a condom is crucial.
As a young (am just 26) woman working in the social sector trying to facilitate behavior change, one of my biggest challenges has been till date my marital status. And the irony is that it does not just exist among the ‘not so forward’ people in the country – the educated ones judge me too on my not getting married.
Indians need to appreciate change. We are hypocrites in not accepting that change is important and we need to stop judging people all the time. Do it behind the back (which is stupid to me as well, but let’s accept it we all do it) but making a woman feel uncomfortable doesn’t excite me any which way, I don’t know how it solves any of their lack of excitement in their personal lives. (Hah, as if their lives are too perfect!)
Well, here is what I want to say to the many Indians who can’t stop finding faults in me because I am not married: Get a Life! Cheers to Personal Choices! I respect those who decide to marry young, I respect those who don’t! Its my life and its nobody’s right to comment.
Pic credit: Pankaj (Used under a Creative Commons license)
A Development Communication & Social Work professional working in the field of gender, health and technology
Super post, Suchi!
You hit the nail right on its head!
In India, society wants a girl to study, get married, have a kid within a year of marriage and by the time she is 30, she should be married with 2 kids and should be a homemaker who sacrifices her career for her family..
Its really great that you are pursuing your dreams..all the best to you!:)
What a post! Though I am not in a social work field and I haven’t ever interacted with the village folks from Bihar or Haryana or any state, but I have faced enough of the ‘hitched or not’ questions and subsequent discomfort from the urban folk in Delhi and Mumbai. Indians seriously need to get over their obsession with marriage!
Aah. I remember my days of being nagged and told to make a career choice keeping in mind the family life. I got married in February this year, but unfortunately things didn’t work out and heading for divorce.
I wonder what kind of comments or askance looks or character aspersions will be cast on me, given that I am preparing for civil services and will have to interact with people a lot and come across the questions that you have faced, almost daily. 🙂
When that happens may be I will just go through this again or contact you for tips. 🙂
Best of Luck for IAS
I am a teacher which is considered a “Perfect Job” for raising a family. And yet I got divorced because my in-laws could not take the fact that I was not submissive and “donating” my salary at the end of month for their frivolous persuits.
I have a friend who is a PhD from IIT , holds a hectic corporate job and yet has a happy married life.
There is no perfect job for a woman in this world. And as long as woman themselves try adjusting their ways keeping in mind parochial needs and aspirations, there will be no change.
We, the new generation woman have to fight social injustices.
I think what matters in a domestic life – career balance is the compatibility between partners and family support. In most of the cases extreme expectations from woman like donating their salaries for frivolous expenditure at home, create dissatisfaction. I remember when one of my professors at Jamia (B Ed) started working, her in laws demanded that there should be a joint account for her salary with her husband. It took a hard time to explain that a salary account is separate so that a woman may be empowered to use her money according to her wishes n understanding.
This is all it boils down to… cognitive disempowerment, psychological disempowerment, social disempowerment, educational disempowerment.. And everything is related to the role a woman is supposed to play in society, as dutiful daughters, sisters, wives, mothers… Where is the self identity of woman per se when she is defined in terms of her male relations??
Megha, its hard to decide what troubles people around more. our being single or even at times being married and not doing what is ‘accepted norm’.
The Fact is that there are still a lot of barriers that need to be broken around before people start accepting independent and opinionated women, Women who make choices and not bend their back for what others decide for them. And as the proportion of such women is increasing, I hope things change soon. Its us who have to imbibe these values in our children to bring that change.
Also, having said that, judgmental behavior of such people won’t ever change. The only reason I brought out this view of mine, or lets say dilemma was because I was irritated. I am troubled yes when I am making a career and people judge me on my being not married. Instead of looking at my forehead, look at my brain! 🙂
Best of luck Richa for ur IAS Dig! I know its tough for a woman to survive if she is single and tougher if she has gone through a bad marriage. The important point is to be happy and not care about what others say or feel. Having said that I know how tough it is to ignore every single person around you. I am glad you are doing that for yourself. I know how the fact that you are independent is looked at with weird eyes by everyone, even professional circle. The thing I try to do is just be myself. I am glad am not alone, there are many around who are doing the same! One of whom, is you!:)
Suchi.. thanks for the support. 🙂 I am grateful that my parents and entire extended family is supportive. Lucky that way. Had it been some other family may be I would have been yoked to the marital life alone. 🙂 I must say that it was mental incompatibility that makes the two of us believe that we will not live happily together and it is better to let go of a baseless marriage right now rather than squabbling for a life time.
Rest, I will learn to brave the faces and comments that I meet. At least will try to. 🙂
That’s a great post! Can so totally related to every single thing you have mentioned!
An excellent article Suchi!!
I think almost every single woman in India has faced similar comments and questions like those in this article.
Most Indians , specially the woman are a bunch of unproductive , gossiping, I-like-to-mind-someone else’s-business-rather than-my own types. While China has 75% of its female population working, India has just 25% working woman. A majority of the rest are busy watching saas-bahu serials or gossiping and generally making the lives of others hell.
I am awestuck by your courage, tenacity and patience in taking the fight to the interior of India which is a minefield of regressiveness. You are bringing change in your own practical way. Woman like you are no less pioneers than Madam Curie who dispelled notions about female inferiority in Science and hence heralded a whole new world.
Ha. If you think it’s annoying at 26 wait until, like me, you hit 40 and are still single!
It gets worse and exponentially at that! People don’t seem to get it: yes, I really haven’t met the right guy yet. No, I’m not being too choosy, I just didn’t want to get married for the sake of being married, I want to wait to meet the right person to dive into matrimony.
New jobs, meeting new people, socialising in general can be traumatic because inevitably the dreaded question gets popped: are you married? Then follow the supplementary questions: how old are you? Then follows the predictable shocked-to-the-core look. Then, depending on the degree of their love for me, follows a lecture on menopause & why it’s imperative that I should be married and procreating soon etc.,
It’s a hard life. Hang in there, girl.
I totally agree with you as I am 33 and single and things are getting bad… I also don’t want to get married just for the heck of it.
Thanks Sasha for the heads-up! I know how the questions, the eyes and the irritations would increase with time, making it difficult day by day. But as I say, I need to and all of those who want to make that choice for themselves need to take a stand sometime, so that they don’t marry for the heck of but because they felt it was right! Marrying under social pressures can never be a good motivation to take such a decision that affects one’s lifetime.
You know what, its not that Men get it easy either.I too am faced with questions about marriage despite my young age and it does get on ones nerves.
Since there is hardly any male writing in this blog, it would be awesome to be the first one and see those wide eyes of other guys who read this up.
Now, every girl is born independent and absolutely should live by her choices. So Suchi, Sasha, Megha, all the very best in your life, its not an easy ride, but thats when it gets a lil more exciting ;)Marriage as a social institution is not perfect, and its we who needs to change the system to suit everyones tastes and needs Now you know what the law also seems to be in your favour, you can be single mom’s if you really want to, sadly I don’t get that previlege of raising a junior !! .
Luckily, education broadened my mind, and today I seek to be in a relation that am really comfortable in and not into marrying a girl and screwing her life as well…
I am 46 years old and kind of belong to the earlier generation, I suppose. But, I am proud that this generation of women has such refreshing points of view.
I was fortunate to belong to a family which let me take my important decisions-which career to follow, when and whom to marry, when to have a child (some nagging there!),how many kids to have, working after motherhood (I DID) and so on. I was/am a far more satisfied and happier person, because I could do what I wanted, SO…..
I absolutely agree with the views in the post. It is important to make your choice regarding how you live your life and stick to them firmly, regardless of what the people around you are saying.
I am now waiting to do the same for the next gen females of my own family.
in india women r still treated as possessions!n her value is judged by her marital status…sad though..independent women who concentrate on careers r looked upon as aliens..u r just 26,imagine wat 30+women gotta listen to!
I’m a mother of 2, a homemaker and I’m loving it. My mother an educated working woman and a mother of two despised both her job and the family she had to create. My hope is that with better education and support from parents both young men and women will be free to make their own choices.
Very well written! Marriage at a so-called acceptable age is still considered essential in our society. It is unfortunate that you have to face such challenges in your line of work.
Loved the article..and exactly true that people in India are obsessed with marriage then in other areas…and this is there for men and women…. I am 30 and goes through these irritation…this is not only from relatives but from your family members also as they are concerned for your future….Infact at times was made feel bad to not get married by so many things….
There has to be a magnificent shift in the mentality of all…to be open minded and being receptive….i believe in the policy of Live and Let Live and wish everyone could think the same.
I agree with u totally. until mentality shifts, change won’t happen
I can understand what you feel Suchi. Do remember that such ‘questions’ never stop. Once you get married ‘they’ will ask when you plan to have a child. Then the question will be about having one more. If you don’t have a son, ‘they’ will advise you to ‘try’ again… So this is endless. Stay true to your heart and life goals, stay healthy and become financially and emotionally secure.
Having said this, it is important that girls get married at a certain age but NOT because society says so.
I know Archana. Questions are never ending. 🙁
Suchi, something happens in life for reasons.New generation girls are made to understand like jehadis in kashmir.politicians: BJP supporter will always support BJP. Kejriwal supporters will always support kejriwal.They will not follow hindu culture and customs.
What if a girl gets married to a guy and before marriage she promises that she doesn’t have past affairs.But after marraige the girls is found to be false.Whats if the girl is rich and gets married to poor boy or a orphan and then she leaves her giving reasons that she has her career is more important.
“If I am single, how dare I know so much about contraceptives? If I am single, how can I talk about a sex life? If I am single, don’t have a child, how can I talk about family planning? If I am not married, how can I roam around freely away from my house in some random village in Bihar? Well, answers come down to me being judged on my character and my work being affected.” This is so true. It is sickening when people(read friends/colleagues) judge based on such things.
Loved the write up. This constant badgering on “When are you getting married?” issue sometimes gets on our nerve, no matter how well and calmly we try to deal with it. I sometime just smile and answer “Tomorrow.”. If they get the sarcasm they stop or my answer will be the same till they stop posing that question 😉
Great write up. Btb i can only think of the following reasons for their queries to u….1.) ‘How dare u escape the trap when the others have fallen into it?’ A hidden jealousy can be seen here.
2.) If you are not married then what can they talk about? They cannot talk about ur work, ur contribution to society, or the hurdles u may come across in it, etc. Because they can only talk about kids’ education pressure, husbands, in-laws and the problems of family life.
If people like you start taking such path, then who will increase India’s population and bring in male heirs. High time u start think of such things too…please!
Well, jokes aside. Take their comments in your stride and keep smiling. One day they will become tired and will start boasting your achievements to other people, as if it is their own achievement. Ur pet project is ur baby. Cherish and nourish it with heart’s content. Go on your path with focus. Frankly speaking there are women who lead happy marital lives. Also there are both men and women who are unmarried and happy.Getting married or not, should be an individual’s decision and not considered as a social obligation. If considered so, then the essence is lost.
All the Best to you and God bless.
You can just say that you are not just ordinary Indian woman. Indians are so much bothered about marriage because Indian society is built on family values. What you ask for is not change, its destruction of our value system. I respect you for your singlehood status, but destruction of value system can’t be welcomed.
Completely agree. In the name of aaj kee naaree , these women are disturbing the indian values and culture.These women are strong , too strong , independent.Why the hell should they marry and then go for divorce.The result they are spoiling the future generations of India.I would say please make your career , go for living relationship and then if u have wish and if this choice suits u, go ahead for the marriage.Come on, u all are strong , U all can do it.
And these women are becoming dangerous to the society.And by following these principles , they become too selfish,arrogant , independent,strong.We are slowly moving towards westernization.Slowly we are losing ethics, morals, culture.May God give them true direction.
The Indian Women’s ‘Locker Room Talk’ Can Be Heard From Women At Weddings
Let A Woman Stay The Daughter Of Her Parents, Always!
I Was A 30 Year Old Virgin, Unmarried, And Here Is What I Did About My Secret Sexual Fantasies
The Curious Case Of If, When And Why Anjali Should Get Married
Get our weekly mailer and never miss out on the best reads by and about women!