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A patriarchal belief in 'man must be breadwinner' causes such criminal behaviour, and the wife bagging a govt job was more than his 'male ego' could handle.
Trigger Warning: This deals with domestic violence and graphic description of violence against women, and may be triggering to survivors.
Early on Sunday morning, a 27 year old man from East Burdwan in West Bengal, along with a few of his friends, brought a machete home where his wife was asleep and chopped her hand off. He even hid the severed hand to ensure that the hospital cannot fix it. The reason? The wife had bagged a government job that paid more than the inflated ego of the husband could handle.
Renu Khatun, a 23 year old young woman, was a nurse at a private hospital when she got through a government job as a nurse. The husband, Sher Mohammed, runs a small grocery store that his father had established. A case of attempt to murder under IPC Section 307 has been lodged against the husband who has been absconding ever since the incident.
Renu got married in 2017 and from the very commencement of this partnership, Renu found herself subject to torture and violence but she braved through it all, pursuing a diploma in General Nursing and Midwifery from RG Kar Medical College, Kolkata. The gravity and frequency of this domestic violence aggravated after her appointment in government service, culminating into an attempt on her life by hacking off her hand.
While economic independence, among other indicators, is an important measure of women’s progress in society, if that income exceeds that of their husband’s, an alarming scenario is constructed within the household. Various studies all over the world have found that gendered breadwinner norms are very much a reality in households in every country.
Gender roles assigned to women and men demand that women do household and care work, and men assume the role of the sole breadwinner.
With the fast changing advanced capitalist society on one hand and the achievements of the feminist movement on the other, women have ventured into the marketplace. But that did not change the way society continues to define masculinity.
According to a study from 2007, only in 22% of marriages in the US, the wife had a greater income than the husband even though women occupy almost half of the job market. ‘Masculine’ men are expected to earn for their families, and when their wives exceed their income, it is seen as a direct affront to that conception of masculinity.
And reassertion of that masculinity often takes the form of infidelity or intimate partner violence. Also, divorce experts find that in households where the woman’s incomes exceed that of the man’s, the marriage is 50% more likely to end in divorce in the US.
The World Value Survey had found that 54% of their respondents in India believed that a woman earning more than their husband is bound to cause tensions in the household. As art imitates life, Bollywood films too have represented this insecurity in men that takes a deadly form in households like Renu’s.
In Abhimaan (1973), Amitabh Bachchan’s character is seen to grow increasingly jealous and insecure as his wife becomes more popular than him.
We don’t even necessarily have to turn to surveys and studies and academic journals with hard to understand text to help us gauge the fate of these women.
The answer is domestic violence. Emotional or physical. This often results in women taking up jobs that do not fully tap into the potential these women hold or worse, the complete abandonment of the economic sector, more often than not against their will.
In Shrayana Bhattacharya’s acclaimed book Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh, where she maps the trajectories of women who had to abandon their jobs because of the demands of their families, a certain respondent had shared how she “had always believed marrying a good man would mean that my husband would always support my goals. But after I was pregnant I realised that even the best men prefer if women stay home.”
In case the women succeeds in fighting off the regressive gender roles and traditions, the burden of the household work that women are expected to provide for free, makes their participation in work outside the household tenuous. As a study finds, the greater the income of the women, the less the men are likely to contribute in the household chores in an attempt to consolidate their gender role.
Further, the society prioritises men’s work over women’s. In 2020, as the pandemic wreaked havoc in the job market in India, male labour force shrank by 2% but the female labour force shrank by 13%. In times of crises, women were made to recede back into the domestic sphere since gender roles define men as the breadwinner.
As tragic as it is, the most horrifying part is that Renu’s fate is not an isolated incident in a patriarchal society like ours. Unlike what one would expect, a traditional marriage does not provide a safe place for growth. It can prove to be suffocating, repressive, and even fatally violent if you cross the boundaries gender roles dictate.
As Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh says, “a man could love you, he could be persuaded to marry you, he could be a terrific father but he won’t necessarily champion your freedom.”
Image source: YouTube / Global Insider
A postgraduate student of Political Science at Presidency University, Kolkata. Describes herself as an intersectional feminist and an avid reader when she's not busy telling people about her cats. Adores walking around and exploring read more...
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