“In our family, my 13 year old brother can have an opinion and a plan, but a woman clearly can’t have an opinion or decide for herself who she wants to idolize or marry!”
I held the remote in my hands as I stopped surfing and settled for a slightly decent news channel that seemed to be stating facts – at least to some extent. The TV was on mute so I was more focused on text, and glanced at my husband who was fast asleep, turned to the other side.
We’d argue more than usual these days when we were alone, the other time was spent with the children; thankfully, the kids weren’t witnesses to our disagreements. I thought he didn’t understand me well enough or even appreciate me. Maybe it was a rough patch, maybe just a part of married life where things finally fizzle out – constant disagreements until you make peace and do your own thing. I had seen it with both my siblings as well.
I turned to look at the screen again, which was being reflected on the window – it flashed with ‘Anti Conversion Law’ written in bold. I saw a young girl being pulled away by the police.
I increased the volume, just enough to not disturb the husband. The young girl kept wailing about how she loved a man but was constantly being pulled away by the police officers even as she resisted, until she was finally put into a rikshaw and sent away.
I was reminded of a memory that I had long forgotten.
I was the youngest in my family and while our father encouraged education, put us in a boarding school, it was made clear to us quite early that eventually we’d have to get married to a man of his choice and raise kids. When I came back home, the teenage zeal to achieve greatness had died somewhere, knowing that the repercussions of not following my family, would be being cut off from them. Besides, the scandal caused by my cousin had instilled enough fear in us to not venture that way.
Shweta was my father’s brother’s daughter, and for most part of my life (even though I spent most of it in a boarding school) she lived in the same house as us since it was a joint family. Unlike my sister and I who were fair and petite, she was dark and broad, and our grandmother never failed to reprimand her for that.
One night Shweta eloped with her not very wealthy Muslim boyfriend and the both of them took off to Jeddah. After months of using the biggest lawyers and pretty much the entire directory of contacts, they managed to get her deported from Jeddah for travelling on forged documents.
She did come back, but as a Muslim married woman. She was locked in a room, beaten up by her parents and taken to a remote place to be converted back to a Hindu. But 8 months later she ran away again only to come back in the court, wearing a Burqa, as Ayesha Ahmed Khan. She was disowned by the family, her photos were burnt and my sister and I were threatened with dire consequences if we failed to ‘uphold’ our family honor. The tabs and curbs put on us because of Shweta made me resent her more and more.
I entered my brother’s house with him fuming as his wife tried to calm him down while holding a glass of water in her hand. It wasn’t hard to figure out what had happened since my just-turned-adult niece wasn’t in sight.
“Who has asked for her political opinions and why must she have any, I ask! I’ve tolerated enough of her badtameezi (disrespect), she needs to learn to STAY IN HER LIMITS!” My brother screamed at the top of his lungs while palpitating, while his wife continued sweating.
“Oh dear, what did she do now?” I asked as I rushed to the both of them.
“She asked me what if she wanted to take up a different religion by choice and that she wanted to get in touch with..err..Shweta”
“She crossed ALL LIMITS today! She even called that wretched Shweta as Bua! God knows who she is idolizing! this generation has no regard for their family’s reputation!” My brother muttered as I assured him that I’d speak to her and ensure that she wasn’t trying to pull off any funny antics that could hamper our family ‘reputation’. Besides if she was idolizing someone who eloped at the middle of the night, without caring about the family, she needed some policing in the form of subtle advice giving.
“This is your house, not twitter, for you to throw your opinions here and there” I said, as I entered my niece’s room with a glass of milk. I looked around she was sitting on the chair near her study table, visibly upset. She was quite surprised to see me.
“So they called YOU to counsel ME on my political opinions? They’re not going to change so don’t even try!” she said bluntly.
“I didn’t say they had to but you are idolizing the wrong people hon,” I replied as I sat on the corner of the bed, closest to her chair.
“Oh god” she rolled her eyes, “Did they say I was idolizing Shweta Bua just cuz I wanted to get in touch with her?”
“Bua? Darling you haven’t even met her or even seen her for that matter except in a few blurry pictures maybe! Your family decided to cut off their ties with her really long ago, so there is no reason for you to touch a topic that was buried long ago!”
“Even if you bury it, you can’t deny that her courage was laudable.”
“I’d say she was foolish, she left behind her family and her inheritance to go behind some person who forced her to convert her religion,” I stated righteously.
“I mean her family didn’t really support her when she needed them, so clearly eloping was a good way, besides what has your family given to you? You realize that the only inheritance we get is a ‘good’ husband!” She said and somehow those words just echoed in my ears.
“Besides,” my niece continued, “She said in the court that she had converted to Islam by choice, her family forced her to convert back to Hinduism, because in our family, my 13 year old brother can have an opinion and a plan, but a woman clearly can’t have an opinion or decide for herself who she wants to idolize or marry!” she stated, resentfully.
It made me realize that a woman who I loathed for the unnecessary fear she instilled in my sister and me was actually putting forth an example of making our own choices.
My niece was right, Shweta was courageous, beyond what I could ever be. She stood up for herself, unlike my sister and I who weren’t given much of a choice when we were being ‘married off’. Perhaps, every incident could be seen from a different lens. This generation was indeed different.
That night I scrolled through my inbox looking for an email I had received 7 years ago, from Ayesha Khan.
Image source: a still from the webfilms Paava kadhaigal
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