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There are certain social nails constantly being hammered into the coffin of an ideal DIL. But what if you challenge these norms as I did?
One evening, I was sitting with my neighbour with an evening cuppa while discussing feminism and the importance of showing our girls the right path. It was right then, when here father-in-law entered the house, he was back early and my neighbour left her cup as it was to be on her toes taking care of her evening tasks. Why? Because chatting and having tea with friends when your FIL comes home is not good, ‘accha nai lagta na!’ Really?
Have you ever wondered how we are influenced by these social nails and how challenging them makes you unacceptable? All of us give in to such norms every now and then and generations keep following them because ‘acha nai lagta hai!’
Before you think this is going to be another sad, venting sob story, let me tell you it is not! It is all about taking these nails of social norms and hammering them into the coffin of the ‘ideal DIL.’ (Kyuki yeh mujhe accha nai lagta hai!)
Let me tell you a little story.
The young and fresh love of the 20s, college sweethearts who have a love marriage without any familial objections. Everyone is happy, there is no drama, at all. Sounds dreamy and fun, doesn’t it? But wait!
You have to be at the seashore to see how high the tides are really going to go! Or you have to climb up the highest mountains to realise how high up you feel when you look down at a valley. Maybe this is what we call life experience?
So here goes mine. I got married into a ‘traditional family from UP’ (read: almost orthodox!) That was way more than I thought I could commit to for the real-life experience. I ended up going headlong on this one.
My introduction, simply put would be ‘life-loving artsy Punjabi. And if that isn’t enough, add to it, a single girl child, strong will, outspoken, independent, decisive. Basically, not the Ideal DIL (IDIL) candidate.
But hey, I said to myself, I love my husband and will be there for his family. I will be loving, caring, respectful and understanding. This would be my family too, my FIL and MIL will be the same as my parents and all the others will be the same as having siblings I never had! Great start, right?
Need to cook for the family and this has to be only done while wearing a saree. You need to dress from your head to your toes like a new Hindu bride. And cook, but wait, I never did that. I only have emergency survival skills! Enter – the elder DIL (my sister-in-law), she helps me and I am saved.
‘But I don’t need help,’ I want to say. ‘Nahi aata. Can I make a sandwich, instead?’ And I did. ‘Oops!’
Will I learn to be a great cook who can prepare all the meals keeping in mind everyone’s choices in the blink of an eye? The bigger question is, do I want to? Well, no.
The first family wedding
No DIL in this house wears salwar-kameez when attending weddings or parties. But I am a doctor with my own practice, I barely have time to get ready. The hours it takes me to get ready is one reason but I just don’t want to wear a saree. I am more comfortable in a salwar kameez. ‘What’s the problem with that?’ I wonder.
I am covered from head to toe, for sure! And I don’t think I am inappropriately dressed. Wait, am I? Enters DIL no. 1, she is pregnant and still wears a saree and obeys the laws of the in-laws. She keeps complaining to me about all these things but keeps doing the ‘right thing’ (the accha nai lagta hammer works for her).
And I went ahead and wore the salwar kameez. Am I ready to dress only after I get approval? No, I don’t think so!
Challenging the roots
The social norm has been set – DIL’s don’t talk back and should have no opinions. My MIL and FIL are sitting together discussing how ‘girls dress inappropriately these days, how it is the girl’s responsibility to ensure that she isn’t a victim of rape.’ DIL no. 1 and I are sitting and listening.
We are supposed to stay quiet and not say a word. Well, forget talking about consent, talking about such issues in from of men in the family makes you an ‘unsanskaari bahu’ (Yes, you read that right. You can’t even talk about it in front of the younger ones)
But well, I did. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut! Will I learn to keep quiet on issues that the society and world need to acknowledge? No! Absolutely not!
Visiting my parents and meeting them without permission from my in-laws (the norm here is that one can’t just ‘inform,’ we need approval. It is important.)
The elder DIL’s parents call her in-laws and seek permission to meet their own daughter. Her brothers come to pick her up and also drop her back. The date and time for this pickup and dropoff will be decided by her in-laws and the amount of time away needs to be ‘approved of’ by them too.
I never ask them for this ‘permission’ to see my own parents. It is a pretty rational theory, it is my house, they are my parents and I don’t think anyone gets the authority to grant permission to meet my family. I believe, I am married, not arrested. The best part is that my husband also stays with me every time I’ve gone and stayed with my in-laws.
Elder DIL’s parents call her in-laws to take permission to see their “own daughter”. Her brothers come to pick her and also come to drop her back. The date and time this pickup and dropoff can happen decided by her in-laws and the time- away has to be “allowed” by the in-laws.
We just go there when we feel like it. Will I ask permission the next time for the rest of my life? No!
It is my birthday
Parties and birthdays and friends, ‘are you crazy?’ Married women don’t have friends, let alone male friends. Party at night, even with your husband and friends is an act of madness. One should be a responsible DIL. And that entails making dinner, doing household chores and heading straight to bed. Nothing like eating out or having fun!
And to that, they say, ‘You birthday? Is it special? If it is to you, please make halwa (on your own) for everyone?
So, on my birthday, I threw a big party! What a crazy night that was!
Will I be more submissive and forget my friends now that I am married? No!
First child in the family
Remember how the elder DIL was pregnant? The whole family kept giving her blessing so she would be the mom to a boy and continue on the path to being the IDIL. Unfortunately, she couldn’t live up to her IDIL status and was blessed with a beautiful girl.
And guess what, now she has to listen to utter nonsense all the time! ‘It is her fault,’ but is it? Almost everyone is thankless for the blessing that arrived – a perfectly healthy baby. They are already praying for a boy the next time.
And me being me, I became protective of both the mother and child, guarding the girl child. She obviously needs to be welcomed and celebrated!
If I have a male child, will I stop defending females and their rights? Would I not see the beauty they bring in the world? No!
With all these questions and nos, the many nails were hammered and the IDIL was completely nailed int. And now in front of the family stands a rebel, a challenger, an influencer and hopefully a gamechanger. Someone who is committed to not give in to the IDIL expectations. Oh, and how can I miss this, the mother of a single girl child (but that’s a story for another time).
All this being said, for me, my in-laws and husband are truly awesome. And guess what, I am still a part of the family and haven’t yet been kicked out of the clan. It took a bit of doing things, but they finally accepted me for who I am and accepted me with love and respect.
It is not submission or killing yourself to be someone else or meeting the expectations of being an IDIL. This is all about being yourself, standing out, challenging the unacceptable norms and changing with time.
My takeaway is simple, ‘acceptance comes from within’ and with that comes the belief of individuals and our ways of life. Accept yourself, be aware of and aligned with your preferences.
I truly believe that your in-laws are your parents, they will accept the rebel child in you. And once they have accepted you, they will always have your back and will support you, no matter what. The society will also accept you and all the changes you bring with you. And these will become a part of the family norms as you move forward.
Ps. I am still a daughter, a wife, a mother, a DIL but mostly, I am still me!
Picture credits: Still from Marathi TV series Mazhya Navryachi Bayko
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