09 June 2014

Women - are they truly independent today?

It is heartening to see that nowadays rape victims are getting sympathy and action due to them for a long time. Journalists and media are giving due coverage to these incidents thereby accelerating the justice process for these victims. The victims and their families themselves are no longer fearful, or at the very least, less fearful of coming out in the open. The recent episode of 'Satyamev Jayate' by Aamir Khan was quite an eye-opener on this issue.

Though there is some respite, the atrocities still continue all over India and even in the world. Perhaps it was always so, but reading about the gory details of the inhumanities suffered by these victims sure sends a shiver down my spine. One wonders what causes an individual to be so cruel and inhuman to another. What does he get from it other than a transient feeling of power over another.

I used to get this same feeling on watching old movies where a daughter-in-law gets abused (verbally and physically) by her in-laws. We used to hear about dowry deaths, incineration etc. of brides at the hands of her husband or in-laws. Also, the apathy shown by the bride's own family to her plight and the urging by her parents to 'stick it out' used to fill me with rage and frustration. In some cases, the bride herself decided to 'stick it out' without informing her family of the truth of her situation. The utter and unnecessary waste of a happy, carefree life for the sake of 'society' and 'duty & responsibility' used to depress my soul. It still does....

Cut to the current day, the situation of the bride has not changed that much. Though a lot of couples are situated far away from their families due to work and both spouses working etc., the expectation from the daughter-in-law has not changed that much. It has just assumed a more civilized veneer. The daughter-in-law is now not only expected to be good-looking, excellent cook and mother, but also a career woman who helps out the hubby with providing for the family, socially active by throwing parties or planning vacations/outings at exotic locations. Though she need not wear a ghoonghat or a sari, the lack of a bindi, sindoor or mangalsutra is still frowned upon. The elders have taken to annual vacations, club 60s or shuttling between the homes of their various children so that the support system that used to be available to couples in running household or babysitting is almost non-existent.

I see women multi-tasking in this unforgiving rat race to keep up and collapsing in the process. Some are fortunate enough that their husbands are very supportive and hands-on. Others have to compromise on some or the other aspects - viz. career or kids or social life. Amidst all this, they are still judged by people on whether they are "sarva gun sampanna", "sushil", "obedient", "bahu material" etc. Even though mothers-in-law are wearing track pants and frequenting salons these days, their attitude remains archaic toward the daughter-in-law. Expectation is that she should adjust, give up on her wishes and sacrifice for others, heed the advice of her elders though she herself is far more qualified and experienced in her career to take a decision independently. The expectation is a legacy from her own in-laws.

All this judgmental behavior is taking a toll on the emotional and physical health of women. Yet the (elder) members of their family do not realize that. They feel that not cooking a 5-course meal with variety everyday is a major failing. They feel that working and all is fine, but kids should be getting 100% attention of the mother and meals should be served at the exact times to everyone irrespective of how tired she is. There is no giving; only taking. The judgmental comments leaves scars which never get healed, only concealed by makeup. No wonder, a sizeable population of today's generation of young women does not wish to get married.

Though we have imbibed a lot of the western culture in terms of food, fashion and gadgets, corporates, malls etc. the family fabric refuses to adapt to the Western way of life. By that I do not mean ignoring your elders completely, but meeting them on a regular basis and having a healthy communication. A lot of families have turned nuclear due to this. There will always be debates between pros and cons of nuclear and joint families. Being a child of a nuclear family myself, I naturally tend toward it. However, I can see the advantages of a joint family too especially once the children arrive. But wherever there are people, there are bound to be conflicts, envy, one-upmanship which can be emotionally draining. And in today's hectic life, who needs that extra stress?

To come back to the cruelty and inhumanity part that I started with. Why resort to judgmental comments on a newly married girl/woman who has probably been working for a few years before marriage and has her own independent viewpoint on life? Life has a way of evening things out and what she lacks in "bahu material" today may more than make up for in being a "wife or mother material". She is a human being with her own outlook and opinions. Just as you respect them in your neighbors or colleagues, why not respect hers? Why scar the soul of the woman who is going to give birth and raise the next generation of your family tree? When will this mindset change happen in India?

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