Women in Punjab are warned, “Dheeyaan dee maa rani, bhudhaapey bharey paani”, meaning, ‘a mother who has girl children lives like a queen when the girls are young, but in her old age she has to fetch water from the well’.
This sums up our attitude towards girl children in India.
How does a mother who has daughters live like a queen?
Many Indian parents believe that their little girls must prepare for the hardships that await them in their marital home. Illogical as it sounds, this is taken very seriously. I remember my mother arguing against this. She asked a well meaning ( ;) ) aunt if she should also train her daughters to live without running water and electricity, because who knew what hardships future held for them.
Ever heard of self fulfilling prophecies? Daughters are literally conditioned to accept a life with endless ‘hardships’ and to live without complaining or fighting back. Neha Chhikara was one such daughter.
So depending on the parents’ whims, girl-children are trained to perfection in the art of washing clothes, running errands, doing the dishes, cleaning, cooking, (many girls are cooking for an entire family at ten) and taking care of younger siblings. This makes life easier for the mother, and so she is said to live like a queen. Hence, ‘Dheeyaan dee maa rani’.
This also means that often girls are either not sent to school or they must make sure they finish the chores at home first.
If the mother has no sons she must accept her fate – no sons, no support in old age. She must do everything her daughters were doing till they got married – including, if required fetch water from the well, hence, “Budhaape bharey pani”.
When my dad was admitted in ICU a visitor noticed us walking over to the hospital cafeteria for sandwiches, and asked, “You have a daughter, she should have cooked and packed something from home!” She did not think I should have cooked. No other family member was expected to have cooked either. And definitely no male member need have worried about our meals.
We have a very clear hierarchy in matters of house hold chores. And we have convenient logic to justify employing young daughters in endless, thankless, physically exhausting and time consuming house hold chores. When we talk of tough competition in academics we are not considering how much tougher it must be for girls who have this added responsibility. Why not everybody pitch-in and do their fair share? This post, on NGI, speaks about the same attitude.
An elderly relative recalls how their five brothers held ‘parantha eating contests‘, while the sisters, (who obviously could only eat when others had finished eating) sweated in the sweltering hot summer kitchen. If the sisters protested, it became a means to annoy and tease them. Mothers looked on indulgently, proud of how well the boys ate.
One hears things like, “You may become an engineer or doctor or a big-shot at work, but every woman has to cook and clean…” so the parents train them from childhood.
Once I went to study with a friend, we were in the middle of some discussion when her younger brother reached home, threw his cricket bat on the carpet and demanded ‘nimboo-paani’. She immediately dropped the books and went into the kitchen. I asked her if her brother couldn’t make nimboo-paani (he seemed fine) for himself. She looked uncomfortable. Her mother had once slapped her because a boy, a class mate, came to drop her home after an extra class in school. Later she had got another slap when she asked what she did wrong.
The same mother now calls her to complain about how the spoiled son is indifferent to her. She was a ‘queen’ when this scholar of a daughter was young, but now she has to ‘budhape bharey paani’ because her daughter in law was not raised to prepare for hardships and has moved to her own house.
I find it difficult to believe that mothers who make their daughters learn house hold chores as a favour, mean well. If it was an unselfish gesture won’t they extend the same favour to the sons? Why raise some family members like life-long princes and others like ‘paraya dhan’?
Edited to add on 25th – Monika wrote about her experience as a daughter of a three ‘dheeyan dee maa’ here.