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In a society like ours, women often draw their power from perpetuating patriarchy further, and the husband’s sister could well be an adversary. But some women are bucking this trend.
Ramya (name changed) lives in the United States. She visits her parents once in a year or two years during the Christmas vacation for a week. Her in-laws visit them for two to three months in a year, a privilege her parents are yet to experience.
Ramya often gives the example of her own sister-in-law Priya to her husband. Priya visits her parents regularly without any objections, while her own stay at her parents’ house is highly restricted. Any fight with the husband, and the annual visit to her parents’ house is forbidden.
Priya’s husband unlike her brother, does not control his wife’s movements. He is mild–mannered, soft-spoken and a caring husband. A quality admired by all. Yet, when her brother tries to be considerate towards his wife, she taunts him for being hen-pecked.
Priya does not care much about her in-laws. Yet, she tells her brother that his wife is not doing enough for his family.
Ramya had expected her sister-in-law to understand her. After all, she is also a daughter who knows what it is like to get married and leave your beloved parents’ home. Also, unlike her mother-in-law who may be from another generation, Priya is from this generation and should know that a husband and wife are equal partners.
Ramya’s story is not isolated. Ask most women in India and you will the image of the quintessential, evil Bollywood nanad (husband’s sister) will flash before your eyes, who spends her day and night plotting against the poor bhabhi (brother’s wife)!
In a patriarchal society like ours, women often draw their power from perpetuating patriarchy further. Traditionally, the nanad-bhabhi are women pitted against each other as adversaries.
In a family, the man’s wife may not have much power. But the nanad is second in command, after the mother-in-law! She knows the brother and mother, and the family dynamics pretty well. She may also be a married woman herself, knowing how complicated in-laws relations get. She has the power to balance the equations. What does she choose?
Most women complain that their mothers-in-law have double standards when it comes to their expectations from their daughters vs. those from their daughters-in-law.
The daughter is a pampered girl who was busy studying and working, and therefore does not have exceptional cooking skills. But the daughter-in-law is expected to transform overnight from a carefree girl to a responsible woman. Her flaws are often not forgiven, but magnified brutally. While the nanad’s husband is applauded for helping with the housework, the bahu of the house is cursed for taking the poor ‘kaam se thaka hara‘ husband’s help.
Then again, some women despite living in a joint family do not get support because the bahu’s child is considered her sole responsibility. Women are told that if they cared so much about their precious job, why did they even get married?
Some ‘liberal’ people go a step further to say that women are allowed as long as their home and kids are taken care of properly! The latter advice is particularly stupid and sexist!
What a women needs in such cases is practical help and not preachy comparisons to superwomen. Two women told us how they found support during motherhood.
But are there exceptions?
We spoke to women whose nanads chose to break the stereotypes. Here are inspiring stories of five women whose sisters-in-law have been a source of strength and support in their lives.
Shubham Singh and her sister-in-law Asha Singh
Shubham was a young and timid bride with zero experience in cooking. On the second day of her marriage, she got a rude shock when she was asked to prepare kheer for the entire family of 10-12 people, a ritual followed in her family for a new bride.
She was not prepared for this surprise quiz! But what could be done now? She was already put on spot!
Clueless, she stepped into the kitchen. But much to her relief, she saw her elder sister-in-law Asha didi already in action.
Asha had been cooking for the past two hours. The only thing Shubham was expected to do was to steer the ladle for a minute. And there, with one effortless touch to the spatula, the kheer was ready! She thanked her sister-in-law for being there for her and understanding that every woman may not necessarily know how to cook, and that is okay. No taunts! No unpleasant comments! No unnecessary drama!
Shubham’s story also highlights to us that rituals may be customized. When we are extremely rigid about rituals, we may succeed in following traditions. But we end up losing in our relationships.
Mayuri Dave and her sister-in-law Rakshaben
Mayuri was living in a joint family with her one-year old daughter when she decided to take the tough decision of studying for her Masters at UCL in London. The person who supported her the most during this time was her sister-in-law, Rakshaben.
Rakshaben not only looked after Mayuri’s child herself, but also ensured that her husband was looking after them. She would even scold him for coming home late!
Back when Mayuri’s daughter was born, Rakshaben had taken a job close to home so that she could be home at lunch time. Mayuri has always worked full-time since then. Rakshaben also took charge of family functions, and weddings. As a daughter-in-law, Mayuri did not have to worry about carrying the burden by herself. Mayuri could pursue her professional aspirations, without any guilt, but with pride.
Kaveri Sahay Prasad and her sister-in-law Sujata Sinha
Kaveri was a new mom busy with her 10-month old baby. Her sister-in-law, Sujata didi, elder to her husband by around 20 years, was expected to visit her with her daughters around the time of Chaitra Navratra.
Sujata didi and her daughters were pleasant company and Kaveri was looking forward to her visit. But she was concerned about managing the child, housework, and yet making her sister-in-law’s stay fun and comfortable. She was completely immersed in work, when to her absolute horror her household help decided to go on leave for 10 days!
On the second day of her visit, Sujata didi realized that the maid was not around, and that Kaveri was doing everything by herself. She said to Kaveri:
“Everybody will wash their own dishes. Whether it is a plate, or a kadahi! We will cook together also. You just take care of the baby. We will manage all the housework.”
Sujata stayed true to her words and practiced what she had said. She broke that barrier of age, formal relationship, and the undue expectation of being a superwoman which Kaveri had set for herself. Kaveri had a great time with the extended family, once the focus was on long chats, relaxed afternoon and fun times, and not on the chulha, chauka and bartan!
Tanvi Sinha and her sister-in-law Shweta Chandra
Tanu was a happy fourth-grader. Her elder sister, who was in eleventh grade made friends with a new girl, Shweta.
Tanu was at that age where she loved to follow her elder sister around like a puppy. It was cool for her to have an elder sister, popular in school. Her sister was at that age, where it was annoying to hang out with a much younger sibling! But Shweta always cared about this little girl. She would tell her friend to go to the primary school building to check on how Tanu was doing.
20 years later, Tanu was married to Shweta’s brother! Shweta didi was now her sister-in-law!
On one weekend, Tanu, along with some family members including Shweta didi had gone to check out a resort for a family wedding. Most of the property was renovated, except for an old, non-operational building which looked archaic. Tanu was drawn to the building. and went to the back-side of it. She had been gone barely a couple of minutes when her family realized she was nowhere to be seen, and her parents panicked.
Oblivious to their concern, Tanu was trying to imagine how the place would have been like once upon a time, almost daydreaming. Her thoughts were interrupted when she saw Shweta di running towards the back of the building, breathless and harrowed, searching for her.
Tanu won’t ever forget the look on her face. Our expressions give us away. Raw concern for someone who is precious to you, who has been out of sight for barely a minute, not a kid but an adult!
People say no matter how much you know someone, the in-law status changes the equation. There are expectations, and disappointments. But that day, Tanu knew that some things never change. The didi who had now become her sister-in-law would always look out for her. She would never let her get lost.
Shubhangi Tambwekar and her sister-in-law Sandhya Renukamba
Shubhangi met her husband, Sanjay during her college days. She was a medical student, and her husband an engineering student. Shubhangi would ask Sanjay to get her final MBBS practice papers, and he would in turn procure them for her from a certain cousin of his called Sandhya. Despite being junior to Shubhangi, Sandhya seemed quite resourceful, and managed to get the papers from other medical colleges too!
Eventually, Shubhangi and Sanjay got married. Shubhangi finally got a chance to meet the helpful Sandhya at her wedding reception.
Few years later, Shubhangi and Sandhya were both settled in Bangalore with their families. Luckily for them, their husbands were from same engineering school and got on famously. Sandhya and Shubhangi also had the common interest of reading, which bonded them along with regular visits for festivals and family gatherings.
In 2014, life threw the worst tragedy upon Shubhangi. She lost her daughter in a road accident. Her daughter was much loved by Sandhya’s family. Being an avid reader herself, Sandhya loved to share her wide collection of books with Shubhangi’s daughter.
Shubhangi would not have been able to survive this cruel blow, had Sandhya not been on her side. She became her rock. Shubhangi does not have a sister. But Sandhya is all she could have hoped for in a sister and so much more.
In grief, we come to realize who our true friends are. Shubhangi now believes that it is not the blood ties that matter. It is pure love that holds two people together. The love which she received in the form of her sister-in-law.
So ladies, Aurat aurat ki dushman nahi hoti hai. Patriarchy aurat ki dushman hoti hai! (A woman is not another woman’s worst enemy. Patriarchy is!)
Next time you complain about your mother-in-law and sister-in-law, please remember that you may be one to someone, even if it is extended family. How thoughtful are you towards the woman who has married your brother?
You could be her friend, confidante, and her support in the new family. Let’s strengthen this circle of sisterhood. Let’s make each other’s life easier, instead of being judgmental! Cheers to setting a new trend!
Image source: Instagram
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