Daughters don’t need ‘permission’ to care for parents, says Pranay Manjari, an upcoming feminist filmmaker.
Gender based discrimination and double standards in India come as no surprise. Patriarchal norms are so ‘normal’ that we rarely question them. Pranay Manjari, an architect by training, and a determined and bold young woman, refuses to accept this cycle of oppression and raises her voice for all the women who silently suffer in the name of ‘tradition’.
Manjari’s recent short film, ‘She is married; not dead’ explores how an Indian woman no longer remains a ‘daughter’, once she becomes a ‘daughter-in-law’. The film portrays how women across class, caste, region, or religion face the issue of being unable to support one’s parents after marriage.
Why do women need permission to visit their parents after marriage? Why can’t daughters support their parents the same way sons do? After all, she is just married, not dead, right?
I spoke to Pranay Manjari about what drove her to make this film, in fact, to learn filmmaking in order to discuss this issue.
Why did you choose to explore this particular issue, of married daughters not being able to visit and support their parents?
Growing up, I had always seen the differences between how men and women were treated. Ever since I was a kid, I used to see the women in my house having to take permission to visit their parents after marriage.
It’s not like my mother and aunties were tortured but they had no space to be the way they wanted to be, to do what they wanted on their own. This has always impacted me, and I realised this is not the way I wish to live my life.
I worked hard and focused on my studies so that I could be independent. After I got married, my parents also had to do the same thing, to negotiate with my in-laws for me to visit them. This ritual to ‘take permission’ has always been there; it may not be exactly what my mother and grandmother went through, but it was still there.
Even though for ten years I have lived away from home by myself for work, whenever I had to travel from my house to my in-law’s house, someone would always accompany me because I was the ‘bahu’ of the house. This conditioning made me believe that this is how things are supposed to be, that if I don’t comply people will question my character, question my parents’ character.
When my mother passed away in 2017, things changed. I wanted to have my father with me but I realised that people will not accept the fact that he would be staying with me despite my having two brothers. My husband was supportive and nobody said no to me directly, but it was not ‘home’ for my father. That was the time I realised I must do something.
I have two nieces, and whenever I look at them, I wonder if they will also have to go through this. They are my inspiration; I don’t want them to go through the same thing I did.
Where do you think such problems stem from?
We don’t know for sure where these problems actually come from, but I have seen generations in my family follow these rituals, it has become normal. And people don’t question it because it has become normalized. In fact, there are a lot of women who don’t like it when I question these things.
I feel the root cause of gender discrimination comes from people considering women as ‘paraya dhan’. As soon as a girl is born, parents start preparing for her dowry, they consider her as a burden. If a girl is ‘paraya dhan’ (another family’s wealth) for her parents and also ‘paraya’ for her in-laws’, then who am I? I am accepted completely in neither of the families. In a way, my existence is always a question mark.
Girls these days do have the independence to go out, work and earn, but can they provide for their parents in the same way? No. They can only do so if their husbands are supportive.
Was it difficult to speak up against this issue publicly?
My intention with the movie was not to portray my husband or in-laws as villains, neither was my intention to showcase my personal story. I just wanted to highlight a societal problem.
It is definitely difficult to talk about such topics. Luckily, we have a group called ‘She Creates Change’, an initiative of the Change.org Foundation. Here I came across women who are bold, women who are changemakers. They agreed to feature in the movie but they too had their hesitations and we had to negotiate. One of the women in the film did not wish to do it but her daughter pushed her towards it, and she could do it only because her daughter and son supported her.
I haven’t shown the movie to my family members as well. Only my brother knows since he came across it on social media, but they don’t ask me about it. I was a little hesitant as to how my friends and family would react.
What do you think we can do to work towards this issue, and bring about change?
Change begins at home. For example, I know my father doesn’t love my sisters-in-law the same way he loves me, which is the case in most families. But I have told my sisters-in-law that if anything were to happen, I would be at their side and not my brothers’. My mother too was a loving mother-in-law to them. Like I said, change begins at home.
Even the Supreme Court said that legally, daughters are entitled equally to the property. The senior citizens act also says that both children (daughter and son) have to take care of their parents. I feel legally, it is done.
What was the best and the most challenging part of your filmmaking journey?
The most challenging part was when people broke down while filming; it made me feel guilty that I was putting them in a situation where they had to relive those experiences. I am grateful that they still chose to share their stories.
The best part was the one-month solo trip I had. I started from Bangalore, to Mumbai, to Delhi, to Varanasi and so many other places. It is something I will always remember. It helped me know myself, I got to experience different cultures.
There was also one comment that really touched me. One woman from Kolkata said that in 1993 she experienced this bias, that she couldn’t help parents and when she read my petition, she exclaimed at the fact that this bias still exists and she said that she was proud of the work I was doing. This really touched me. Women from across regions and religions could relate to my film.
A lot of people who watched my movie referred to the film as ‘I am married, not dead’ even though the name of the film is ‘She is married, not dead’ – this shows me that people really connected with the film.
Pranay Manjari has indeed done an incredible job at her short film project. The film has received immense love across social media channels. I personally felt that the film very boldly captures the subtle ways in which patriarchy functions. After speaking to Pranay Manjari, I was inspired by her passion and courage. I hope many, many more women find the courage to raise their voices and break the cycle of oppression within our families.
Top image is a still from the movie and the inset image credits Pranay Manjari
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Anjika is a student at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, pursuing honours in English
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