“A wonderful day to spend among women in leadership” said Rashmi Karthik an attendee of Women #BreakingBarriers Bangalore. Breaking Barriers is now coming to Pune, Panjim, Kolkata, Coimbatore, Chennai. Register now to attend!
Indians worship female goddesses, but Indian women are denied an equal place in society. Do read this story of of 3 friends, and see how we can change that.
India as a country has a diverse past.
Our history is full of mythological stories of Maa Durga. Of the times when strong women ruled and were a part of decision making. We sing hymns like “Jai Ambe Gauri…”. We admire the sculptures and carvings at Khajurao and Ellora. Mention India and the West comes up with Gandhi, Chicken Tikka, SRK or a smirk to mean the Kamasutra. We were a nation that embraced it’s sexuality when others shied away. That’s one side of the coin.
The other side is – Our history of full of invasions by the Mughals, Alexander, the stories of how invading kings took women as a lot from lands won. We sing songs like “Mary 100 taka Teri hai” . We look away when eve teasing happens, so scared to intervene. Our daily papers carry reports of domestic violence. We are a country where marital rape isn’t a crime! Mention India and the West comes up with “Oh! The condition of women there is pathetic. No equal rights.”
The question that arises is how can both these realities be true? As a kid my sister used to tell me a story of two sisters – Sukhi (the happy one) and Dukhi (the unhappy one). Why would someone name their daughter Dukhi is beyond me.
But now let me tell you how both these realities I spoke about above are true through these sisters.
Let’s assume they are friends for my ease of juxtaposition. Sukhi is born in a family where her father believed in the first reality. He is a religious man who regularly prays to the ultimate divine Feminine. Naturally, he also believes in education for his daughter. So she gets good grades and Sukhi is a happy girl just like her name. Her mother believes in raising a well rounded daughter who would have high demand in the marriage market. The values she inculcates in Sukhi is cleaning the home, washing utensils, cooking for the family. That’s okay because Sukhi is only helping her mother.
The problem is Sukhi has a brother Sukhram who is not expected to do all this because just the presence of facial hair ensures his market value in the marriage market. Both Sukhram and Sukhi go to the same college. And Sukhi scores better than Sukhram. But who cares? Now Sukhi turns 21 and a suitable alliance is sort. Sukhi’s father is a well to do man so he promises the groom all the modern amenities in dowry with lots of gold of course. From his perspective, he is ensuring the wellbeing of his daughter. His daughter will live in comfort. Will she really? We will come to that later.
Sukhi is proud that she is taking everything with her so she will be valued. Sukhi’s groom boasts to his friends that he is getting such a rich, educated, beautiful bride. The wedding is attended by Dukhi and her family too. Everyone is praising the efforts.
Fast forward a few years, Sukhi is still doing a job because it’s difficult to survive on single income in India. She wakes up at 4, cleans home, cooks for the family, reaches office, comes home, cooks dinner and yeah also explores her sexuality at night. Full day for her. But she doesn’t complain because that’s what she saw her mother do. Isn’t that what every woman does?
Her husband is an expert at reading the newspaper and watching re-runs of cricket matches. Life is cool. Lately she found she is pregnant so now she is losing hair, she lives in constant guilt of not contributing to the household work as she is throwing up often and genuinely weak. Her mother in law feels her daughter in law is acting up. She feels she gave birth to five kids without any problems. The problem is she suffers from amnesia; she has forgotten the times when she suffered the same fate through her own mother in law and sadly the cycle continues. What will happen to Sukhi now? What’s the solution?
Dukhi on the other hand attended Sukhi’s marriage. Her father says we will also make sure Dukhi is married same way. An alliance is fixed. Unfortunately Dukhi’s groom is a friend of Sukhis husband. So he expects the same opulence. The bank however refused the loan. So Dukhi’s father promised certain things within 6 months of marriage. After six months, he promised in an year. He didn’t have to give anything after a year because by then Dukhi committed suicide tired of her in laws torture as she felt that was the easiest way out!
Let’s get back to Sukhi. When her input in the family decreased, the fights increased. All the gifts her father brought for her comfort didn’t help. And she lived a compromised life resigning to her fate.
Now let’s come to what everyone of them could have done differently? For that let’s talk about one of their other friend Rukhi.
Her father was an atheist who didn’t go to temples. Who believed in education. Rukhi and her brother went to the same college. Rukhis mother took care of the home with equal help from Rukhis father. The siblings were brought up as equals where both contributed equally in the household chores.
When Rukhi was to be married, she did so with her own money and her groom’s, refusing financial aid from either of their parents. As a wife and daughter in law, Rukhi learned to assert her rights because she believed in them. She was brought up as an equal and so she knew how to stand up for herself with full support from her parents which sadly both of her friends never learnt.
It was only when Sukhi saw Rukhi’s life did she realize what she lacked. When she complained to her mother, Sukhi’s mother said she had to be married as walking out wasn’t an option. That’s how she lived, so what’s wrong? If only Sukhi had realised that her act is a butterfly effect affecting Dukhi’s fate. If only her groom had the balls to reject dowry, if he had that self respect.
I remember a wedding I attended, where out of societal pressure the brides family sent an LED TV an hour before the baraat was to start from home. And the groom lost all his cool. His father told him that we will handle the issue later but he stormed out of the house saying “what will my friends say? That I refused to go to the marriage without the TV?” The TV was promptly sent back and only then the groom agreed.
Society will only improve when grooms develop this kind of hatred for dowry.
When educated girls like Sukhi realise there’s no pride in carrying a truck load of dowry. That their education is a waste if their attitude hasn’t changed a bit.
When mothers raise their daughters as equals.
When fathers realise that dowry isn’t an assurance of their daughters’ well being.
When brothers like Sukhram educate their parents about the changing times and bring about the change.
When irrespective of upbringing girls like Dukhi develop the confidence to stand up for themselves.
When girls like Rukhi take it upon themselves to develop the said confidence in girls like Dukhi without being boastful.
Only when this happens will the real respect for women come. The great divide of treating some women as Goddesses and at the same time treating women in daily lives as slaves will vanish. Only then will young women stop learning the wrong lessons and start treating their mothers in law like mothers.
Everyone is at fault and it’s everyone’s responsibility to bring the balance back. One step at a time. Here’s hoping every Sukhi, Dukhi & Rukhi, and their families take a hint from the story and mend their ways.
Image source: Indian woman by Shutterstock.
Author, Blogger, Mother, Daughter, Wife & Mechanical Engineer
Get our weekly mailer and never miss out on the best reads by and about women!