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For years now, the MIL has been cast as a villain in her DIL’s life. Well, a recent research’s findings prove that MILs do control their DIL’s happiness!
‘Mother-in-law’ or ‘Mummyji’ has been quite a towering figure in women’s lives especially in the Indian context. If you Google the key-words, ‘Indian mother-in-law’ you will see articles like- ‘8 steps to surviving an Indian mother-in-law’ to ‘10 things not to say in front of your Indian mother-in-law.’
On the surface we may find this amusing. The mother-in-law and daughter-in-law equation (though convoluted) can be swept under the carpet as it is deemed part and parcel of our social fabric. But, if we dig deep, we may be surprised that it is more than that.
A mother-in-law often plays a very crucial role in the Indian milieu. In India, a woman after her marriage, becomes a part of her husband’s family and in most cases she stays with them under the same roof. She gets a new home, but in turn also comes under the scrutiny of the family matriarch. There are several forces that come into play and the relationship between the daughter-in-law and her mother-in-law often end up determining her position and future happiness.
One may wonder, how can your relationship with your husband’s mother affect you so much? Is the loathed image of mother-in-law merely an outstretched phenomenon and too much is made out of it? Or there is some truth to it?
This factor has some far reaching outcomes as recently the Indian mother-in-law became the subject of a research conducted by researchers from Boston and Delhi.
The research was targeted primarily at rural women of the Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh, an extremely conservative northern state of India. The women sampled were married women, who fell in the age bracket of 18-30 years. These women were asked questions so to understand the influence of their mother-in-law in their lives.
The results of this research were surprising and it could be said as a fact now that the ‘mother-in-law factor’ is not merely a myth. These women were living under the shadow of the matriarchs and had limited freedom. They had negligible social connections and they had no power to take major decisions in their lives like fertility and birth control. It was shocking to see that out of the women sampled, only 14% were permitted to go to a health centre alone and only 12% were allowed to visit friends and relatives on their own within the village. Indeed it is mind boggling to see such facts and figures in the twenty first century.
The result of this research makes realise that even in the urban India, there is a tussle for autonomy when it comes to married women. Mothers-in-law are still a much dreaded figure. There is a constant clash between the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-la. This primarily springs from the former wanting to have an upper-hand in the running of the house.
There are several elements that give rise to this age old rivalry. The Indian patriarchal society is the root cause of this stifled relationship. In India women are conditioned to live in a certain manner and dos and don’ts are laid down for daughters-in-law.
The love for their sons (which often hinges towards obsession) leads to daughters-in-law often walking a tight rope. Author Veena Venugopal in her book, ‘The Mother-in-Law: The Other Woman In Your Marriage’ writes, “Indian mothers do have an obsessive love for their sons. The whole notion of preference for the boy child feeds into this obsession.”
But, times are slowly and steadily changing. Educated women today have a voice and an agency. The older generation is also warming up to the notion that it is not okay to merely ‘adjust.’ Everyone has the right to live a happy and fulfilling life. We can only hope that with time both daughter-in-law and mother-in-law realise that the best way is to just ‘live and let live.’
Picture credits: Still from TV series Diya Aur Baati Hum
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