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Every daughter, no matter how old, yearns to come home to her parents' place - ‘Home’ to us is where we were brought up with great care till marriage served us an eviction notice.
Every year Dugga comes home with her children and stays with her parents for ten days. These ten days are filled with fun and festivity. On the tenth day, everyone gathers to feed her sweets and bids her a teary-eyed adieu. ‘Dugga’ is no one but our Goddess Durga whose annual trip to Earth is scheduled in Autumn. She might be a Goddess to all. But to us, she is the next-door girl who returns home to stay with her parents.
When I was a child, I would cry on the day of Dashami (immersion) and ask Ma, “Why can’t she come again?” My mother would always smile back.
I mouthed the same dialogue as a 23-year-old, who was home for Durga Puja. This time, my mother graced me with a reply. “Durga is fortunate to come home at least once. But many have never been home after marriage.”
I was aghast! “Why can’t a married woman visit her parents?”
“Well, it has always been a rule that once married, the girl becomes ‘porogotro’ (belongs to another family by marriage). She has to develop ties with the new household. Frequent visits to her biological family will mar the new relationship that she has forged.”
In January 2005, I got married. As the days to Durga Puja drew nearer, everyone assumed that I would be spending Pujo with my parents-in-law. That was the norm. I reached out to my parents. They advised, “Now that you are married, you need to know your in-laws better. Spend this year with them. Next time, you can be with us.”
But the next Pujo, the expectations remained the same. To be a good daughter-in-law I have to spend Pujo with my husband and his parents. It was time for diplomacy. By virtue of marriage, I have been blessed with two sets of parents and I have to be dutiful to both. ‘Two days with the parents-in-law and two days with my parents.” I declared. The decision was not accepted well. My parents did not want any complications. In the end, to keep everyone happy, I booked a trip and went away with my husband.
It was then that I realised every daughter, no matter how old they are, yearns to come home during Puja. ‘Home’ to us is that abode where we were brought up with great care till marriage served us an eviction notice. How difficult it is for women to relinquish everything, join a new household, and accept their husbands’ parents as their own!
It was in 2013 that my path crossed with a young couple settled in a small town in Odisha. It was just before Pujo and I was packing for the trip to Kolkata when the woman came and sat next to me.
“Didi, are you going to sasural?”
I nodded. “Going home.”
“A woman’s home is her parents-in-law’s place.” She said.
I informed her that I have my own house in Kolkata which belongs to me and my husband while my parents-in-law and parents live elsewhere.
She sat there, stunned!
The young woman had been married for four years and had never visited her parents. The instructions were clear. The ties with her parents were over. The marital house was her new abode and the husband’s parents were her only set of parents. In the last four years, her parents had visited her twice. A bride’s parents are not supposed to visit frequently. Her mother sends sweets and other delicacies to a woman who commutes from her hometown. “My mother writes to me every day.”
The pain and sorrow on her face was evident. Her voice dropped to a whisper as she shared a secret. “I am trying hard to get pregnant.”
“Why the hurry?” I asked her.
“It’s customary to send a woman to her parent’s place in the advanced stages of pregnancy.”
It was my turn to be stunned to silence.
In such cases, out of desperation, they feel that getting pregnant is the only solution. Having a baby changes the entire equation. But who will tell them that it serves to complicate it further?
It has always been customary to pack off pregnant women to their parental homes in the advanced stages of pregnancy. Isn’t that what the women want? Finally, an opportunity to go home and live with her parents. But have you ever given a thought to why this is a custom?
The women remain at their parents-in-law’s place as long as they can work. As the pregnancy advances, she needs rest and greater care. A liability, she is sent off.
Child delivery in earlier times was a challenging process. Lack of proper medical care contributed to the high rates of mortality amongst expectant mothers. The ceremony of ‘shaadh’ or the wish fulfilment ceremony was held for them. The ceremony fulfilled all the desires of an expectant mother in case she didn’t survive the child-delivery ordeal. Expensive saris, jewellery and good food. All that a woman desires. Why would the husband’s side bear this?
The responsibility of delivery also rested with the parents. If something went wrong, the husband’s side would never be blamed. The charges of midwife/doctor and delivery costs were also borne by the parents. Why will the husband’s side bear it? Once the baby was born, the mother and the baby would remain at her parent’s place till the parents-in-law deemed it suitable to bring her back. In the case of a boy child, there was an urgency to bring back the duo. But a girl child would mean a bleak future for the new mother. Usually, it was closer to the date of the rice-eating ceremony that the mother and her baby were taken back to her marital home. Imagine such a long stay for a daughter which was otherwise impossible.
That was 2013 and it’s 2023 today! The situation hasn’t changed much. Many women are pining to go home. They need special permission from their husband to visit home. Even if they are permitted, they have a stipulated period which is non-negotiable. Just like Durga, many of these women come home alone. Their husbands do not join them.
The image of a good daughter-in-law is equally important. Also, to prevent unnecessary complications in relationships, staying with parents-in-law during Durga Puja becomes a farce. Alas! No weightage is given to the woman’s preferences.
Ironically, the arrival of Durga every year is a stark reminder of the regressive customs our society is saddled with. No matter how much we have moved on, such unfair norms and practices exist holding women in a tight grip, thus creating a society which is based on inequalities.
Image source: YouTube
Sreemati Sen holds a Masters in Social Work from Visva Bharati, Shantiniketan. She is a Development Professional, specialised in Psychiatric care of Differently Abled Children. That hasn’t stopped her from exploring other fields. Years read more...
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