The Curious Case Of Bahus Having To Maintain Distance From Their Husband’s Male Relatives

Indian bahus have far too many rules imposed on them - including 'staying away' from their husband's male relatives. Ever wondered why?

Indian bahus have far too many rules imposed on them – including ‘staying away’ from their husband’s male relatives. Ever wondered why?

Why must Indian bahus maintain distance from their husbands’ male relatives?

This is yet another perplexing question in the lives of almost every Indian bahu. The characters, in this case, are usually the grooms’ fathers and male siblings. In addition to this, you have uncles from both sides of the families, brothers-in-law and the sisters’ husbands, of course.

For the bahus both old and new, these gentlemen are ‘out of bounds’ and ‘inaccessible.’ Now, what does this imply? One, in ultra-orthodox families bahus must don the ghunghat (cover their heads) all the time. Two, social interactions between the two sexes is to be exceedingly formal and as minimal as possible.

Ideally, bahus should be seen and not heard. Customary greetings largely remain confined to a perfunctory namaste or touching of the feet wherever applicable. In return as a token of blessing, the men are allowed to touch the women only on the head. Nothing beyond.

Did you wonder why any of this was done?

In earlier times some Bengali families went a step further. Which touching the feet, the bahus were actually not allowed to touch the feet of these elder relatives. Instead, the had to bow to the foreground where the men stood. How utterly absurd! Thus, obviously, shaking hands or even a semblance of a hug are an absolute no-no!

At this point, one needs to ponder a few points about these social norms. What is the rationale behind them? Self-proclaimed moral guardians would say that these measures were incorporated to maintain and preserve the chastity and dignity of the women in the families.

Aha! Does this mean that the men in these households are sex-starved maniacs? That the moment they see a woman not related to them by blood but by law, they’d unleash the sexual fury on them? (While this does happen very often, it is always the woman who is blamed, instead of the man.)

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Secondly, if men can hug and kiss their daughters and sisters on their foreheads without any sexual intent, why can’t they hug their female relatives? (With consent and absolutely no sexual intent, of course!)

Where does this block arise from?

So where does this mental block arise from? Does society believe that women are so sexually volatile that a consensual hug by any relative will arouse them? Have we really not heard of an affectionate but completely sexless and consensual hug?

However, there is one major discount that is nothing short of good news for the bahu brigade. While it brings with it its own set of barriers on women, they are ‘allowed’ to foster informal and amicable ties with their husband’s younger brother.

According to ancient scriptures, the husband’s younger brother is like a son or a brother to the woman and thus needs to be treated with due care and affection. But a paradox crops up here too – while women do have the license do be friendly with their younger brothers-in-law, can the family guarantee that the man won’t get carried away?

Really, think about it and how weird is it

And if that were to happen, guess who will take the blame? The woman of course! A lot of these rules, I believe, were made to ‘keep the women of the family under control.’ Because whoever heard of teaching men about consent and the word ‘no’?

Nonetheless, the whole business is incredibly bizarre and utterly preposterous! It often makes me wonder why in India – the place that birthed Kama Sutra – must these Draconian laws govern interpersonal relationships?

Think about it practically and realistically. People definitely have their own set of morals. Let’s stop putting these barriers on women in 2021!

Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Hum Saath Saath Hain

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Am a trained and experienced features writer with 25 plus years of experience .My favourite subjects are women's issues, food travel, art,culture ,literature et all.Am a true feminist at heart. An iconoclast read more...

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