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Marriage is the ultimate goal for women of our society – their sexual orientation, or willingness to marry, still doesn’t matter in many cases, as these stories show.
My spunky daughter was having a fun banter with one of my relatives when she was told that she will be missed in the future. “Why? Where am I going? I am here only!” She was perplexed.
“Oh! You will get married and become a member of someone else’s home”, was the answer she received.
It took me a few moments to register that this was a conversation with a 3-year-old, who also happens to be my child. I stormed into the discussion and managed to steer it into a different direction soon enough. The relative probably got the hint and didn’t bring up this topic with my daughter ever again. Thank God for small mercies!
This ‘relative’ is omnipresent in our society. Ours is a country where marriage is considered as the ultimate goal of life. Everyone wants everyone else to get hitched.
We aren’t ‘settled’ till we get married. Marriage is a sacred, beautiful institution – only till there is no coercion involved. Unfortunately, because of the deeply ingrained mindsets and societal norms, marriage has become more of a ‘have to’ rather than a ‘wish to’ act, all the more so for women.
Emotional blackmail, intimidation, torture – there are several tactics employed by families to force an unwilling adult into marriage. All this without realising the damage this can cause to multiple lives.
I spoke to four brave, strong women who were forced into marriages for varied reasons. Each of their stories gives us a great deal of food for thought.
Anusha Agrawal is a 34 year old fashion designer who resides in Kolkata. She belongs to a traditional and staunchly patriarchal family. Marriage was set up as an inevitable goal for her, ever since she can remember.
“I was 19 years old when talk of my marriage began, not just in my immediate or extended family but also in my neighbourhood. Every person was given the responsibility of keeping a look out for the right groom for me.
I wasn’t interested because I wanted to focus on my education. However, when I tried to have a heart-to-heart with my parents, I was chided. I still remember my father’s furious face. And I think my mother somewhere understood, but she was too meek to speak up in front of my father,” she recalls.
Anusha eventually gave in because at that stage in life, she did not have the courage to fight her father. She tied the nuptial knot amidst pomp and show, and while the world around her was rejoicing, a part of her died a silent death.
“After marriage, I slipped into the role of an ideal wife and daughter-in-law. Two years later, I became a mother and life became busier than ever before. I did not even get time to pause as I kept running around the house for all the family members right from the crack of dawn. However, slowly I began to have panic attacks and anxiety issues. I struggled to handle it all alone but when I could not take it anymore, I spoke to a friend who rushed me to a professional therapist.”
This was the turning point in Anusha’s life. She realised that she needed to take charge soon enough and that is when her journey towards becoming one of Kolkata’s well-known fashion designers began.
No one in her family, including her husband, supported her. But this time, she fought for her dreams and made a mark for herself with sheer hard work and determination.
Today, Anusha is in a much better space mentally and emotionally. She does wish she could go back in time and change just one day in her life – the day she got married!
A feisty and warm woman, Ravee Singh is a 50 year old home-maker based in Chandigarh, who dedicated her entire life to her family. In her own words, she is the backbone of her home and has been working tirelessly to give her best to all the roles that she plays.
Her children are grown up and independent now, hence she now enjoys the quiet time with her husband in their cozy apartment.
“I was married at the age of 17 and did not even know who I was getting married to! What I wanted was to enjoy life and not yet let go of my freedom. However, I knew there was no point in trying to oppose the wishes of my parents and other relatives. So, I just kept mum and went with the flow, as did many other girls in my family and around.
Luckily, my husband turned out to be a nice man. During the initial days after the marriage, I had limited conversations with him. I performed all my duties but was not blissful the way a newly wedded bride was expected to be”, she says frankly.
With time, Ravee developed a strong bond of friendship with her husband. Things got better for her once they shifted out from the joint family into a nuclear setup. She claims to be a wild child at heart and feels she was not meant for marriage. Though she is happy living with her husband, she believes she could be someone else in the present day had she not been forcibly pushed into wedlock.
“I wanted more years of living a carefree life. And wanted to see the world and fall in love with love. I think I missed out on many precious life experiences because of getting married when I was not ready for it.
But, I do not want to repeat the folly of the elders in my family. I do not blame them, as they did what the society deemed right then. At the same time, I have decided that my children will not be pressurised in any way for marriage”, she declares proudly.
Ravee’s account made me realise that coercion is not always aggressive or spelt out. Sometimes, it is subtle or a given. We submit ourselves before the fight because we know the consequences. But, the feeling of being compelled unfairly remains for life.
Nivita Seth is a talented, 28-year-old and a successful entrepreneur from Hyderabad. This is what the world sees! Inside, she is broken, tormented and grappling with multiple issues, all because of her sexual orientation.
She feels like she is being punished simply for what she is. Says Nivita, “I discovered my sexuality in my teens and it was honestly quite scary for me due to lack of awareness on homosexuality. I thought I was ‘abnormal’ and withdrew into a shell. I stopped socialising and shifted all my focus on studies and career. This made my parents delighted as I was performing well and they always encouraged me to life live the way I wanted to.
Then, one day I became friends with a wonderful man who understood and supported me. He made me recognise that I am not abnormal or weird. And motivated me to come out of the closet and talk to my parents.
With a lot of hope, I shared everything with them. Suddenly, my parents did not want me to live life my way anymore. Within two months, they got me married to a family friend to ‘restore’ my sexual orientation. Tears, pleas, screams – nothing worked! They were undeterred and I was kept locked inside my room till the wedding happened.”
Nivita’s harrowing and painful account made me shudder. She has been raped multiple times by her husband who is aware of her sexuality. She tried initiating a divorce more than once but every time she retreats because of her mother who threatens suicide if she ever takes that step. All this has led to severe mental health issues for which Nivita is undergoing treatment.
“Working in this state is extremely hard, but I am trying my best because I need to be financially independent. Fortunately, I have a wonderful team that runs my business efficiently. This business was set up before my marriage and has been a saviour for me, else I think I would have ended my life and you wouldn’t have been talking to me today.
I wish my parents would have at least not forced me to marry. I know it is not easy for our society to accept homosexuality even after the scrapping of Section 377. But, forcing someone into a marriage is like ruining a life forever. This has a cascading effect and ultimately, affects many around,” adds Nivita.
If I tell you to cut off the wings of a bird to stop it from flying, just so that it can remain at the same level as us, how would you feel about it? Sounds bizarre and selfish, doesn’t it? That is exactly what happened to 32 year old Mihika Tuli from Delhi. She was meant to take an exciting flight along her dreams when was chosen for a coveted fellowship programme.
She holds a doctoral degree and her family was of the opinion that she was ‘overqualified’ to find any suitable groom. The moment they felt that she was becoming unstoppable, they began to post matrimonial ads everywhere in spite of her making it clear that marriage was not on her cards.
“My mother cried everyday to convince me. She was worried because in our community, it was not easy to find men who could match my qualifications. But, I did not care and asked her to turn a deaf ear to naysayers. However, Mom persisted and I had to relent because I was tired of the daily battles at home.
I had had enough and thought if taking the marital vows would put an end to it, so be it. When my parents finally found a right match for me as per their standards, they asked me get a simple job for myself which would pay me lesser than my to-be-husband. They did not want his ego to be hurt and I was asked to dumb down to fit in to my so-called new family. The family did not demand dowry and this was a major plus point which went in their favour to get into the good books of my parents.”
Today, Mihika regrets her decision and urges all the women to never let go of their dreams. When I asked her if she is happy in her marriage otherwise, she responded gloomily,
“How many are truly happy in their marriage in our country, I wonder. We don’t fight. We don’t go out on dates either. We talk when necessary. He fulfils his responsibilities and I fulfil mine. It is peaceful outside but inside there is a storm which I do not know how to lull. Maybe, my daughter will bring me that peace some day”, she reflects.
Picture credits: Pexels
Names of the women have been changed to protect their identities and privacy
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