An email: “I am 32, Going through a very messy divorce…”

Can there be freedom without Self reliance?

No amount of Save the Girl Child slogans will change the skewed gender ratio (and all that leads to it) unless all Indian children are provided opportunities to grow into self reliant adults who are free to choose who, when and if they marry or divorce. Without self reliance, women will continue to be pressurised to save abusive marriages and Indian divorce rate. 

Sharing an email.

Hi,

I am 32, Going through a very messy divorce. I do not have any qualifications as such and I am looking forward to pursue a course that will make me financially independent. Anything from 6 months to a year that will help me get my confidence back and step into the world. what are the major avenues after such a distress where women are welcome?

Related Posts:

An email: “I cannot stay in this marriage for society anymore. But I’m so so scared of what people will say.”

Should women be given a share in residential property of the husband, including inherited and inheritable property?

When a newly married Indian woman gives up her career, what else does she give up?

Can dowry ensure happiness and security for a girl?

Can dowry be compared to inheritance?

What about girls who are not very academic? Must they be condemned to forced marriages?

“Her husband has told her she can leave if she wishes, she does not have a steady income of her own.”

My father says study but not without your FIL’s permission.”

A comment: One more thing, had I been financially independent I would have never got married.

Judging someone’s looks

Last week, I was at an Upanayanam ceremony for one of my nephews. Lots of relatives gathered, there was talk of an upcoming wedding, and an album was being passed around. Some of my aunts were sitting and looking at pictures of someone’s engagement.

“Her mouth is a bit wide,” remarked one of my aunts.

“I kept telling the boy’s mother to not rush – to keep looking for a more beautiful girl – but they ended up settling for this one,” replied another.

The person in question (on whom the rude comment was made) was sitting with another group of people in the same room. I noticed her flinching, then quickly recovering and pretending not to have heard.

It is hard to describe how I felt. On the one hand, I wasn’t surprised – I have grown up around similar conversations all my life. Passing judgment on someone’s looks is done openly, shamelessly. In many cases, the person passing judgment is very far from being an Adonis or a Cleopatra. Yet, I can never get used to this routinely blatant putting down of another person. No one else in the room felt anything was wrong with this conversation.

After the ceremony, we sat watching a TV show based on singing talent. One by one, the participants came and sang beautifully. For every participant, comments were made about someone being “too dark” or “too fat” or “having terrible teeth”.

“Wait, I thought this was a singing contest,” I said, “I didn’t realize it’s a beauty contest.”

The sarcasm was understood, laughed at, and quickly dismissed. The rude comments continued.

I’ve noticed that this particularly happens in certain situations –

  • When people get married, their looks are relentlessly dissected. A woman’s looks are dissected way more than a man’s, but at the time of marriage, many men do not escape some level of scrutiny either.
  • A daughter-in-law’s looks continue to be the subject of discussion for the first 10 years of her married life – how they should have looked more, found someone better, how the parents should have listened to better advice, why the children are darker because of her, etc, etc. After the first decade, for some reason, people move on (perhaps to make time to criticize other newly wed women?) A daughter-in-law is seen as a trophy perhaps, not as someone’s life partner, and a trophy must, above all else, shine.
  • If most people in the family are lighter skinned, the fewer people who are darker skinned suffer a lot of insults. If most people are darker skinned, this does not become much of an issue. Relative differences in skin color seem to determine the extent of the problem. God forbid if a person is born with darker skin in a relatively lighter skinned family – she becomes the subject of lifelong regrets.
  • There is intense staring in public places. Looks (of complete strangers) are once again being meticulously evaluated for reasons unknown. There is the general staring which I find harmless and dismiss it as idle curiosity.  There is a certain type of staring directed at women – especially women walking or traveling alone make prime targets for this x-ray type staring.  If the starer feels bold enough (depending on the situation), he passes rude comments on the looks of the person being stared at – both negative and “positive” comments are demeaning.

Questions that come to mind –

  • In a country that is defined by racial diversity, you’d think we would be used to a wide range of skin tones and facial features by now. Also, racial mixture in our country has happened to the point of complete lack of clear delineation. Most people look mixed race. So, why this obsession with skin color and race based features?
  • Let’s say we accept that someone happens to have these regressive attitudes. Still, how has it become acceptable to communicate in such a rude, insulting fashion?  Where is the social filter?
  • Why do people at the receiving end of such remarks not protest? Why do they meekly accept these remarks as if they did something wrong?
  • Can we stop the staring? It’s rude and makes people uncomfortable and makes public spaces uncomfortable. If you are a woman and walking or traveling alone, you will get the worst of it. I tried saying an unsmiling ‘hello’ or ‘can I help you’ to ward off staring and it did work many times. Maybe if more and more people object to it, it will reduce.
  • Is there hope for change with regard to these attitudes regarding skin color and rigid definitions of beauty? When will we start accepting that it takes many diverse faces, body types, and skin tones to make up the world? When we learn to embrace diversity?

When will we learn to look a little beyond the surface? Because if we tried, we might notice someone’s genuine smile, someone’s warmth, the mischief in someone’s eyes, or the iron will in someone’s purposeful stride.  We might notice someone’s natural grace or someone’s thirst for freedom or their intrinsic kindness.  It is all there – in their faces, in their bodies – in their fleeting expressions, in their evanescent gestures – those qualities that uniquely define them – if we care to look a little beyond the surface.

Related Posts:

“I am perfectly alright with being ‘unattractive’ to a majority of boys – love is not some job interview where you try tailor yourself to someone’s needs.”

How would life be different if you never had to give a thought to how you looked?

What makes a woman look beautiful?

Does beauty really lie in the eyes of the beholder?

Dating and STDs – what would your readers’ opinion be?

Hi IHM!

I would like to ask a question of your readers, particularly the male ones: what would your opinion be if a woman you were interested in, either for a relationship or for marriage, told you she has a STI (i.e herpes I, Herpes II, Hepatitis C or HPV) or has health effects resulting from a past STI (chlamydia, syphilis or gonorrhea)?

My situation is this:

I’m a happily divorced woman in her 30s, who is fortunate to not have the pressure to marry again, settle down, etc. I say I’m happily divorced as the marriage was not happy.

I’m interested in dating, and have run into the following problem.

I’m finding out that HSV I and II are extremely common where I live. The bad side is that: a) HSV I and II can be very easy to pass on, AND b) there is NO CURE.

Now, the good side (if it can be called that) is that, for many people, HSV I and II are asymptomatic, so they don’t even know they have it (again, this makes transmission very easy due to no symptoms). Thus, ‘nothing’ is the outcome for many people. The worst case is that Herpes causes blisters on the mouth (if acquired by kissing) and fever in some people.

Besides this, it’s related to chicken pox and shingles, as it’s caused by the same core virus. And yet….

Due to the fact that this is *sexually transmitted*, the stigma around STIs in particular, and HSV in particular, is high. And that’s just the general population. I have two other things to contend with, as below.

My concern is that I live with my family and don’t want them to be embarrassed by me if I were to acquire these infections specifically. I am more liberal in outlook than they are, even though their outlook has expanded a lot since my divorce. They are religious and middle-ground in their values. HSV is either really obvious (if the blisters are around the mouth), or painful (if the blisters are at the other popular site – the genitals (sorry everyone)). Thus, I’m really concerned that if I acquired it, basically, they would come to know.

Further, I don’t know what the reaction of Indian men, or men who have an Indian background would be if I were to acquire a STD *DESPITE* being careful in the whole dating and intimacy area. I’ve avoided Indian men so far, as they are either very conservative and not interested in dating, or are just sleazy. It seems the middle ground is pretty slim and hard to find.

To add to all this, I’ve lived outside India for a long time, and have interacted (as in spoken with) with men who are not Indian. Dating and intimacy is pretty much part of social interaction in the West (well, it’s based on a person’s preferences, wants, needs, etc etc). These then raise more questions in my mind: Is it wrong for me to be doing things the ‘Western way’ and meeting for outings, dinner, etc? Or even going further? Should I risk family disapproval if something should happen to me? Should I risk never having a relationship with an Indian man if I happen to find one who seems compatible with me?

This is something that has played on my mind for a long time, and I’d like to ask your readers about the same.

Thank you.

Related Posts:

If pre-marital sex if here to stay, then so are HPVs and other STDs.

Who is afraid of awareness about menstruation, and open letters to all Gynaecologists?

Looking for a good gynaecologist in Mumbai…

“This is how we all do it. We find a corner in the house, where the others can’t see, and then dry them.”

A good divorce lawyer in Hyderabad?

Hi IHM,
Can you ask on your blog if anyone knows a good divorce lawyer in Hyderabad? Counselors also, but mainly a good divorce lawyer.
Thanks,

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Marriage counselling: “You are working, it does not mean you can talk this way.”

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Family court matters taken away from Justice Bhakthavatsala

“My suspicions were correct. He contacted me yesterday and asked me to get back together!”

In search of a support group.

Sharing an email.

Dear IHM,
I have been reading your blog for over five years now.The threads discussed on the blog have helped me gain a better perspective of the society we live in and this change in thought has helped me make some important decisions in life. Now I have a friend whose family is finding it difficult to come to terms with a family member’s homosexuality. I writing to you with a request to share this with your readers and help us find a support group in the Delhi NCR area for parents of LGBT individuals. My friend and I both think that talking to parents with similar experiences could help her parents through this situation.

A concerned friend

Going to the terrace

It was 11PM and I had stepped out to put some things in the common corridor. I got a sense of deja vu and all those memories came flooding back.This innocuous act of stepping out of the house in the middle of the night to go to a corridor/balcony/terrace, I take for granted now and do without thinking twice is often not allowed in India for women.

I have always loved sitting on the terrace and watching the night sky. I remembered people (neighbours etc) telling me on so many occasions to step back into the house because it was considered inappropriate. It used to irritate me that I was not allowed to enjoy something I loved in my own house because people could see me on my terrace. Despite this, I have spent countless hours on my terrace but it reminded me of so many women who do not have that opportunity because their families didn’t let them. A young unmarried girl sitting alone in her own balcony/terrace is threatening to so many people. The only reasons any female would sit alone on her terrace/balcony would be –

  1. She is meeting her lover clandestinely
  2. She wants to attract attention, so she deserves to be harassed

The whole logic is retarded. We have built so many useless rules around women to control their behaviour in every tiny situation. Most of them do not make a difference in anybody’s lives but everybody takes it upon them to enforce these dumb ‘rules’.

Over time, my memory of these restrictions has dulled as I haven’t faced them in years, some even when I was in India though I knew people who did. Other examples of minute freedom not given to women include –

    1. Wearing a proper night dress without petticoat underneath and a dupatta over it
    2. Going braless at home
    3. Going out anytime of the day or night
    4. Cooking or not cooking
    5. Wearing whatever clothes they feel like
    6. Not wearing jewellery
    7. Doing certain things/touching certain things on periods
    8. Staying home alone

These examples may seem trivial when compared to major issues like lack of healthcare, education, child marriage but they are equally important because we deprive women of leading wholesome free lives by controlling them for irrelevant things and chip away at their life quality.

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TO CALL A SPADE A S****

Romanticizing innocence ignorance, chastity and related taboos for women.

It’s Your Fault

Does it hurt the first time you have sex?

Post by Boiling

My research on this topic started when K got engaged. She shared that she was scared of getting intimate and having sex with a guy she had not interacted with much. “How the hell is one supposed to do that with a guy we have known only for a few weeks?”,   she asked. I did not have much knowledge in that area so I could not offer much advice. On top of that, I had the same fears and doubts as her and was not sure how I would work out in the whole arranged marriage thing. All I knew was that it hurt the first time and because it is such a taboo topic nobody talked about it much.

  • K confided in another friend who was married: J. J said that her husband waited a week to have sex and one day when they were finally about to have it, she started crying due to sheer nervousness and he got angry. She felt sex the first time was quite painful and slightly painful for her husband as well. She empathized with women who were raped after that because if consensual sex was so painful, rape would be even more painful. J also mentioned another of their friends whose husband forced her every time into having sex.
  • I asked another married lady and she told me they had sex on the first night. All her relatives gave her only one piece of advice: “Do whatever your husband wants you to do.”  She said sex per se was not painful but she could not walk properly for a couple of days after because her legs hurt a lot.
  • Another lady told me that she felt off colour the next day and she walked a bit differently and her relatives were smirking because it showed what happened on the first night.
  • I searched online and a lady had similar fears as K. Many ladies told her it would be painful the first few times but “after pain comes pleasure ;)
  • Other sources like books and movies seemed to indicate the same thing – that sex was painful for women the first few times at least. Take for example,  ‘Fast times at Ridgemont High (1982)’. There is a scene where two girls are talking and one of them said it kinda hurt her and the other girl tells her it will get better with time. The girl just seems to be a passive participant in sex and doing it because everybody seems to be doing it.

Basically, every source I turned to told me that first time sex was painful and this made me dread it so much. I was scared of having sex because I was afraid that my vulva would hurt real bad. When I had sex for the first time, I closed my eyes in anticipation of the pain that would follow and laughed loudly when I did not feel a bloody thing. I waited for my legs to start hurting or see if I walked differently and I did not feel or see any changes. Life went on as normal. Not being a virgin did not seem like a big deal at all.

Everybody said it was painful because saying it was fun the first time would make them seem like loose characters. Another common thread I noticed was lack of arousal and adequate lubrication for the female. People just rushed into it even when they were tired after the wedding with expectant relatives giggling and asking questions indirectly the next day. Also, in most cases, no contraception was used on the first night.

I did not get why everybody made such a fuss about how painful it was or maybe I did. This was just a way to control women, their bodies and their sexuality. Sex is not painful the first time, if the woman is aroused and properly lubricated.

P.S: I hope this helps someone who was searching for answers like me. 

Readers, did it hurt the first time you had sex?

Related Posts:

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“…if this thing comes out my husband will think my wife is after all not that ‘pure’ or is not that ‘untouched flower’”

Question about Sexuality in Indian Arranged Marriages

Girls morally bound not to have sex before marriage, says fast track court judge

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Learning To Say No

‘No’ is the most powerful word in the English language. Due to social conditioning, many women and some men have difficulty saying this simple word.  That’s because our brain has been trained to operate in pathways that tend to avoid the word ‘no’. It can be intensely stressful to ignore a well reinforced pathway and forge a new one.  Saying ‘no’ to the things we don’t want (for people who tend to have difficulty with it) is a habit that must be worked at consistently, until it becomes second nature.
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I was not born assertive.  But I was always curious about how the world works.  And that includes me, who I am, and how I respond to various situations.  As my self awareness grew, so did my ability to say ‘no’ to things I did not like.  If we do not know who we are, it’s hard to assess what we want.  Knowing what we want can help us turn down the offers we don’t want.
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However, self awareness takes us only so far.  The ‘yes’ response is so primeval that we may say it even when we don’t want to and are aware of what we dislike.  Saying ‘yes’ to things we dislike or are uncomfortable with can build a lot of stress – in some cases, this can even lead to severe anxiety or other psychological illnesses.  It is therefore crucial to understand the subtleties surrounding this ‘yes’ inducing behavior and keep those in mind to counter it.  On my road to becoming increasingly assertive, I’ve tried to observe myself and understand what makes me say ‘yes’ when I don’t want to.  Based on these observations, I’ve tried to come up with certain strategies that would help me counter this illogical urge to say an unwilling ‘yes’.  I hope you find these strategies useful.
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Know your rights
In many Eastern cultures, a sense of entitlement and the need for conformity can create relationships driven by control.  Unsolicited advice (with intentions ranging from well meaning to downright evil) is given in the name of caring for the other person. Resistance is often greeted with a range of negative emotions.  In all cultures (including Western), there is at least some degree of societal pressure to do things that someone else sees as appropriate.
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Know that other people cannot tell you what to wear (except for reasonable professional requirements in a workplace ), what to eat, how to schedule your day (when to wake up, shower, etc).  As an adult, you get to decide when to go out, who should or need not accompany you, where to go, and whom you’d like to hang out with, and how you get to spend the money you earn.  You alone have the right and responsibility for ensuring your well being, safety, and financial upkeep.
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Many of us know these rights but conditioning keeps kicking in – so reminding ourselves of our rights is a good idea.
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Recognize signs of boundary crossing
If the in-laws or neighbors are giving unsolicited advice, it is easy to recognize that a boundary is being crossed.  It is much harder to recognize this when it happens between spouses or partners.  There is so much common territory and lots of room for error.
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A spouse can make positive, relevant suggestions regarding children, finances, or house work because those are all joint responsibilities.  It is best for a spouse to stay away from advice regarding choice of friends or activities (unless these are directly impacting his or her rights in some way).
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A good way to recognize right from wrong is to ask what the impact of the actions of one are on the other.  If there is no impact, then there should be no criticism/suggestions for improvement.  My husband’s tendency to while away his free time following a certain baseball team (incomprehensible to me) is really none of my business.  If he does that when it’s his turn to cook, then it impacts me, and I have the right to bring it up.  My tendency to be OCD about house cleaning is none of his business unless my extreme cleaning has a cost to the family’s well being.
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Recognize coercive speech
When you finally muster the courage to say ‘no’, it can be greeted with resistance.  You will be told things that are meant to change your mind. Coercive speech looks like this –
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“I thought you were better than this.”
“You always ……”
“You never ……”
“My mom would’ve done this for me.”
“I’m not sure I can love you the same way if you do this.”
“Where in the world did you get this crazy idea??”
“Is this your crazy side talking.”
“Did your friend give you this advice?”
“Do you want to end up like him?”
“You are beginning to turn into your dad.”
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Recognize coercive behavior
Your ‘no’ can be greeted with coercive behavior.  Coercive behavior is harder to recognize than words because it is less concrete and attacks our vulnerabilities (someone social is more easily weakened by being shut down, by being refused conversation).  Coercive behavior can look like this
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– not talking, sulking
– not eating
– giving disappointed looks or mean looks
– avoiding interaction
– appearing sad, depressed
– banging doors, put objects down with force
– long periods of silence with deep sighs
– making indirect negative/mocking remarks about you while talking to someone else
– doing things that annoy you, being petty, getting back at you, making simple things harder.
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Buy time
If you are struggling to say ‘no’, buy some time with responses like –
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“Let me think about that and get back to you.”
“I have to go now, let’s talk about this later.”
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Giving yourself space and time to understand what you might me getting yourself into can be helpful.  You can mull over things, understand the consequences of giving in to pressure, reaffirm your dislike or discomfort with the offer, and come back with a much more confident ‘no’. A confident ‘no’ is important because a weak ‘no’ is just an uncomfortable ‘yes’ waiting to happen.
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Turn it back on them
Some well meaning people give advice when they think that the whole world thinks like them – therefore what they like, others must like, what works for them must work for others.  In such cases you can turn the advice back to them –
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Consider this suggestion: “You should wake up early.  You can get a great, non-stressful start to the day that way.”
You could respond, “Are you an early riser?”
And if they respond yes and rave about this habit of theirs, you could say “Good for you!  I’m glad you’ve found a way to get in your exercise!”
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To: “You should dress up more, you look so pretty with jewelry!”
You could respond: “Do you like jewelry? What kind do you like to wear?”
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Of course, the straightforward way is to simply say things like –
“I will wake up when I want to.  What’s your problem?”
Or “I don’t like wearing jewelry”
Or “I feel pretty being myself”
Or “I don’t care if you think I’m pretty or not.”
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But it may not be so simple for some people.  Dismissing unassertive behavior as “getting what they deserve” is unhelpful.  Human behavior can’t be easily explained.  We don’t always do what’s logical – that is what’s good and healthy for us.
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Therefore the above suggestions (turning it back on the person giving advice, etc.) are for people who struggle with making such assertive statements – or for people who live in such a strong culture of hierarchy or conformity that a ‘no’ to advice invites a distinctly negative reaction.
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State the problem
If you stay away from the ‘no’ word for fear of hurting someone’s feelings, you can spotlight your own discomfort, thus taking the focus away from “criticizing” them
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“I don’t like being told what to wear. I prefer deciding for myself.”
“I feel uncomfortable being asked to go to this party.”
“I don’t enjoy being forced to make a decision on this.”
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No matter how you say it, learning to say ‘no’ is one of the most important things we can teach our kids.  And as for us adults, it can be extremely liberating.
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If you’ve always been assertive, good for you!  If you are working on it, what do you do and what has worked for you?  If you struggle with it more than the average person, what could be getting in the way?  Please share your thoughts and experiences.
Related Posts:

“I just don’t understand how girls like me (independent, modern) then agree to get married and live with someone and his family.”

What makes modern and self reliant Indian women agree to live in Patriarchal Joint Families?

Frequently even when women are aware that they may be required to change the way they dress, eat, sleep, pray (or don’t), socialise (and with who), work, earn, spend, express their feelings and opinions?

1. Maybe, sometimes, there is this hope that this would not be the case and that there would be some freedom ‘allowed’? 

2. Maybe because the idea of sacrificing their identity and freedom for ‘love’ is romanticised? Although the spouse is not permitted to view marriage the same way. 

3. But the main reason, I think, is the idea that Getting Married (by a certain age) and Staying Married (and bearing male children) is an Indian woman’s biggest goal in life. 

Sharing an email from Please help me understand.

Why are ‘Modern Indian’ women still  choosing patrilocality?

I am a regular reader of IHM and I have read a lot of articles on patriarchy and related topics. Patriarchy is neither beneficial to men or women in the long run. I think to follow patriarchy in this day and age is completely impractical and illogical.

I also understand a lot of women who come from extremely conservative families are taught to be dependent and brainwashed in such a way that they can’t even think about having a choice of not living with the groom’s parents after marriage.

I have a few cousins back in India (I was raised outside India), whose main goals in life were to finish their studies, help mum with the household chores till they turn 23, find a suitable groom in a year or two, get married and have a baby a year or two after marriage. These cousins of mine came from small towns and they were never encouraged by their parents nor given the choice of thinking for themselves. Some came from disturbed families and so did not have the energy to fight back or think about themselves over and above their families.

On the other hand I grew up in a completely different culture, which was very Indian but also very metropolitan. We all came from well to do families and were encouraged to pursue our careers and live our lives on our terms. I then moved further west and saw even more liberation among women. However I am saddened by the fact that highly educated and modern Indian girls still chose and are happy to marry and live with the groom’s family.

I am completely flabbergasted by this idea of being modern and traditional at the same time. It just doesn’t seem to fit into my head. There is just no logic to it. It’s like saying, we have incorporated the rights to vote for women but we will still continue the Purdah system just because a few people can’t see properly and they fall and get hurt but the rest are still fine and get good purdah’s to cover their heads and its tradition so let’s continue with it….

I just don’t understand how a girl like me (independent, modern, educated, self sufficient) who has all the choice in the world to not marry a guy who asks her to live with his parents because there are plenty of fish in the sea, then agree to get married and live with someone and his family.

Is it about getting an easier life and not working hard enough for him and her to build it from scratch?
Is it about blindly following traditions?

Is it about not understanding that two related couples living under the same roof is going to lead to clashes and unhappiness and a lot of unnecessary sacrifices to be made? If women are suffering so much, more so then men, why are women still agreeing to it?

Please help me understand…..

An email – “Divorce by Mutual Consent: How to protect my child’s interests?”

Sharing an email, please help with advice and information. 

Dear IHM,

After almost eleven years of a passive abusive relationship, I have finally decided to go ahead and seek judicial separation, however I am concerned about my 7 years old daughter’s future considering I have nobody on my side of the family. I have no siblings and my mother is 70.

I am highly qualified but not working due to mental health issues (depression) and some medical issues.

My husband is apparently in a relationship with someone but he has never admitted and I have no evidence to prove it. How can evidence be collected for adultery?

What all conditions must be put in a mutual settlement agreement for the safety of my little girls’ future? Her father owns no immovable property, only monetary savings etc.

He is in a private sector job which he is about to quit (seems to avoid paying alimony/maintenance.)

What should I do?

Related Posts:

An email from an anonymous Indian Liberated Wife.

Response and a Question from the Anonymous Indian Liberated Wife

Should women be given a share in residential property of the husband, including inherited and inheritable property?

Three reasons why women deserve a share in inherited property

The ugly truth about Indian divorce: Why the new cabinet law is important  

Divorce on the rise in India, but archaic laws leave women cast aside

Division of Property after divorce

For Indian Women [and children], Divorce Is a Raw Deal

Should couples’ assets be treated as joint property?

Society benefits immensely from childbearing, childrearing, and caregiving work that currently goes unpaid.

Cabinet clears bill: Equal rights in Marital property, Easier divorce.

The traditional arrangement is equal in distributing the responsibilities?

Indian women and their Easy Wealth.