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Indian society defines a man’s family as his parents, brothers, sisters, sisters in law, children, uncles, aunts, and the wife who ‘comes in from outside’. But a man who is nice to his wife’s parents is a joru ka ghulam.
Men are shamed for being good to their wives and in-laws. Women are shamed for being not so good to their husband and in-laws. And of course, the bar for being measuring ‘good’ here is very different for both.
How will the inequality ever end when the bar, the yardstick rather the field itself is wrong in the first place?
I grew up in my Nana Nani’s (maternal grandparents’) house.
Of course, I did not call it that. For me, it was just my home. It was only later that I learnt that my parents had temporarily moved to that house from my paternal grandparents’ house to support Nana Nani because my Nana had become ill.
When I was three, my Nana passed away. We continued to live in that house for few more years, with my Nani. My Dadi (paternal grandmother) stayed with us on and off. My aunts and uncles from either side of my parents visited us for days on holidays and we all enjoyed together. I considered all this quite usual. My father and mother worked as a team and were flexible in taking care of each other’s families as and when needed.
I did not realize then how lucky I was to have been brought up in a family that did not distinguish between ‘wife’s parents’ and ‘husband’s parents’.
The first shock to my sensibilities came when I was about six. We were watching some Bollywood movie. There was a self-righteous character being played by Govinda who said to the rich, spoilt brat, heroine, ‘Kya tum mujhe ghar jamai banana chahti ho?’ (Are you trying to make me a ghar jamai?) This was followed by laughter. The hero’s friends also agreed that this was highly shameful and unthinkable.
I was very little. I genuinely believed the hero must be right. What I did not understand was, what was so wrong in being a ghar jamai?
Me: Who is a ghar gamai?
Society: A ghar jamai is essentially a man who lives with his wife’s parents.
Me: Okay. So what?
Society: It is wrong because he was supposed to take the daughter away, not join her! He is probably not financially strong enough to take care of his wife and he needs his in-laws to take care of him! He is incapable! Is he not adult enough? This should be shameful for his wife too! He is a burden on his parents in-law!
Me: Fine… So, then what is the opposite of a ghar gamai? A woman who lives with her husband’s parents? A ghar bahu?
Same society: Nah! That is just a regular, good old bahu. There is no special term to shame her. In fact, we love her!
Me: Why does she have to stay with her parents-in-law? Can’t she manage her own house? Is she that incapable? Is she not adult enough? This should be shameful for her husband too! She must be a burden on her parents-in-law!
Same society: You talk too much, you angry feminist. Go and burn your bra!
Moral of the imaginary conversation: A man who lives with his parents-in-law is shamed. A woman who lives with her parents-in-law is praised!
A joru ka ghulam, just like the ghar jamai is a character who has kept the careers of comic actors going in Bollywood and TV serials. What is ‘funny’ about him? That he listens to his wife!
Whenever I think of this character, I think of Kader Khan. So many times, he played the ‘blind’ husband, whose wife would be played by a vamp like Bindu, a dominating woman who would cause atrocities on the family. But the husband would never utter a word. He would be forever obedient. Towards the end of the movie, he would have attained enlightenment. He would realize what a ‘sin’ it was to listen to his wife, and he would finally ‘become a man’.
Do we know of any movies or families where the wife listens to the husband all the time? Can you think of any? What is she called? Pati ki ghulam? Nah! She is our regular, good old wife, or patni!
A good man is a man who takes care of his family. Who is this family according to Indian definition of family? His parents, sisters and brothers.
Now, most men I know are good men. Once they get married, they want to take care of their wife, her parents, her brothers, sisters too. But here is what happens.
Society shames men for being nice to their wife and in-laws. They are ridiculed. They are told they are being ‘too nice’ and are taken advantage of. Being nice to his wife and in-laws means he is neglecting his own family, the one he owes his permanent loyalties and allegiance to.
He must make a choice.
The problem is, Indian society has a beautiful definition of family including the husband’s parents, sisters, brothers, chacha, bua, mausi, dadi, neighbor, dog. The only person who is an outsider and excluded in this definition is his wife! She does not find her place merely by lawfully wedding a man. She still needs to earn her place by lifelong efforts!
I am not blaming men for this. Men are not mean, evil people who want to destroy their wife’s happiness. Most women would agree, that in the early days of marriage, a man is caring and romantic towards his wife, and attentive towards her wishes. He also enjoys time with her family. Why wouldn’t he? They treat him like a king!
But once things get tough with his wife, which is bound to happen, with every fight he is slowly but meticulously brainwashed into believing that it is his ‘good’ness that is the problem here. Had he been ‘man enough’ in the first place, his wife and her family would not have treated him this way. Remember Kader Khan movies and enlightenment towards the end!
On the other hand, the wife has different benchmarks to meet. Her tolerance for her in-laws’ co-existence is not sufficient. The invasion of her space, independence and privacy is not sufficient. She is expected to transform who she was into what they want her to be and win everybody’s hearts. If she doesn’t, she is reminded that she is not a good daughter-in-law and consequently not a good wife. Most men also believe that ‘Achchi bahu nahi ban payi, to achhi patni kaise ban sakti hai’? (If she can’t become a good DIL, how will she be a good wife?)
What about being an achhi beti? Come on! Why do you think a woman has so many dimensions? She has one, sole aim! Being a good wife and daughter-in-law.
What about being an achcha pati or damaad? Come on! Why do you think a man has so many dimensions? He has one sole aim! Being a good son!
And the inequality continues….
In fact, a woman who is too attached to her parents is shamed! She is called a helpless, irresponsible, useless, good for nothing, ‘bachhi’ (child) who is incapable of adjusting to her new family! But do we have any words for the ‘bachcha’ (man child) and this bachche ke mummy papa who need not just their adult son but his a’dult wife to continuously stay with them and meet their needs? Why the double standards?
If we don’t want a ghar jamai let us not have a ghar bahu either. Let us start shaming all the women who stay with their in-laws. Why cant they run their own household? Are they not grown up enough? And if we care so much about ‘family values’ then please extend this support to the men who stay with their wife’s families also.
If we don’t want a joru ka ghulam, then let us not look for pati ki ghulams either. Supporting the wife does not make anyone a ghulam in the first place! Let us get our thoughts right first. The nomenclature will follow!
Gender inequality damages all. And men are as much a victim as they are a perpetrator. Men can be loving, caring partners. They can be nurturing, gentle fathers. They can be good. They are good! But it is the society that has dictated the terms of how good they should be, and towards who. The same goodness earns them a title of Shravan Kumar when the obedience is devoted towards their own parents, and the title Ghulam if God forbid they listen to their wife.
We all have that one envied friend whose husband is the forever romantic, devoted, loving husband. Her husband fulfills all her wishes like the character in the movie, ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’. Neelam’s husband, the damaad, Mahesh Thakur was portrayed as a very loving husband. He was not shamed, but his love for his wife was shown as a special characteristic, something out of the way.
The heroes of the movie, Mohnish Behel and Salman Khan were also good to their wives. But first and foremost, they were good sons. Mohnish Behel left home with his pregnant wife at his mother’s demand. Salman Khan decided not to marry his fiancé, Sonali Bendre so that his Bhaiya and Bhabhi could be called back home!
These Shravan Kumars were good men because they gave first and foremost preference to their mothers and fathers, and just the right amount of love and care to their wives, not too much, and second to their parents. Men like Mahesh Thakur who offer more than the right amount of love to their wives are shown as exceptional at the best, if not humiliated and ridiculed.
I rest my case.
Image source: a still from the film Hum Saath Saath Hain
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I like to write about the problems that have plagued the Indian society. I feel
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