An email : I married him with complete knowledge of him staying in a joint family.

Sharing an anonymous email.

Dear IHM,

6 months later here I am writing another letter to you seeking views on how to handle the situation.

Since the last time, things have slightly changed, I moved from the family business to a corporate which is going good for me. The profile suited my requirements, the pay matched up to my expectations and it ensures that I stay out of home for 10 hours everyday at peace.

Meanwhile my in laws have not changed, their habits and mannerisms remain the same and the constant discomfort of staying in someone else’s house as per their terms disgusts me. Now, my first sister in law and her family are shifting to the same city(possibly to the same house as well).The level of interference will increase exponentially. My second sister in law is also coming over for 6 months from the US.

Now, these things are normal for my in-laws, they impose all kinds of responsibilities on my husband and he is bound to do everything possible for his family.

Lately, when we discussed that it will be very difficult to stay with so many people and so much of interference, he agreed to move out of the house and tried to discuss the same with his parents. They started to lecture on how families are supposed to operate with the son taking all responsibilities, in fact my FIL also mentioned how guys need to earn and their wives need to manage household work.

The same does not apply to their daughters though and they are clearly hypocrites of the highest order. His sisters and relatives have also mentioned that it is his responsibility to take care of the family and hence, he must do everything possible.

Now, my husband feels that moving out of the house is not possible and I have no option but to live in that house forever.

Ours was a love marriage and we still love each other, so I cant think of a separation yet. I married him with complete knowledge of him staying in a joint family. I do not know what to do. It is so difficult to hurt him yet I have no option but to scream at him every single day.
The fact that I will never have a home to myself, never get to have complete privacy with my husband haunts me.

Please should I do?

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A Woman Who Doesn’t Have to Fit In

A Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

Khoobsoorat – Movie Review

(Warning – Spoilers, lots of them)

When my niece recommended I watch this film, I was skeptical. It sounded like a predictable Bollywood romance, replete with beautiful sets, fine costumes and jewelry, one dimensional characters with very little subtlety, and situations that are too easily resolved, usually through the use of lectures and bit of melodrama.

It turned out to be some of the above. But despite these predictable traits, the movie surprised me.

The Protagonist

What I liked about the film is of course the protagonist Mili (Sonam Kapoor). Or rather, I came to like her. Cautiously. Gradually.

Mili is silly, irritating, and clumsy. She puts up her feet on the dashboard, drinks from the wine bottle, and eats messy food with her hands. She takes selfies of herself everywhere. I thought, “And THIS is what they call ‘spontaneous/bubbly’?” I rolled my eyes.

But over the course of the film, Mili emerges as a woman who likes herself and is not excessively concerned whether others approve of her or not.

She is very good at what she does (physiotherapy) and she does it unconventionally and with lots of heart thrown in.

Mili has had 3 breakups so far (shown funnily in a little flashback) and even though she’s just had it with men for a while, she hasn’t had it with life. In fact, she’s enjoying life more than usual, with the complications of a relationship removed.

Mili dares to dream. She isn’t overly awed by Prince Vikram’s wealth or class. At first she’s attracted to him, and then she begins to like him when she sees his human side. As she finds herself becoming closer to him, her only worry is that he is engaged. Never once does she feel he is “unreachable”. It’s as if she’s always seen him as an equal, as another human being. She conveys an easy, natural sense of self-worth here.

Supporting Characters

Another pleasant surprise – there are two other strong female characters in the film – the Maharani, Vikram’s mother, played by Rathna Pathak, and Manju (played by Kirron Kher), Mili’s kick-ass, Punjabi mom. Both characters were portrayed reasonably well. Power does not make the Maharani evil and being middle class does not make Mili’s mom servile.

The Maharani, although strict and rule bound, never raises her voice or gets abusive as befitting her classy background. Her bossiness is restrained, her dismissals aloof, her rebuttals are often polite, and her language is impeccably clean. And there are layers to her. You can understand that she needs to be authoritarian in order to run such a large estate, several businesses, and keep an army of staff running smoothly. You also sense she is protective of the wheelchair-bound Maharaja. She will not let anyone cross the wall he has built around himself. She fears that it could be devastating to him. Gradually, their previous relationship is revealed. How they played polo and tennis together. How the Maharani had love and friendship and playfulness from her husband before one tragic incident brought their lives to a screeching halt. Theirs was (and is) an equal marriage, a rarity among older (or even younger?) Bollywood characters.

As a foil to the Maharani’s character is Manju, Mili’s mom – loud, bull dozer like, and calls a spade a spade. You can tell where Mili gets her guts and a bit of craziness from. Manju often advises her daughter to “go get “em” if she needs to and to “not take any crap from the guy’s family”. That really made me laugh with happiness!:)

And now, coming to the male lead – Prince Vikram played by Fawad Khan. The actor is smoky handsome and sexy (I can see why my niece was so hooked on this movie now:). When I say sexy, I don’t just mean his physical attributes. I think people who are good looking in an empty sort of way are seldom sexy. He has what attractive men and women have – an air of mystery, a certain aloofness, quiet confidence that doesn’t require loudness or aggression, a reluctance to easily reveal himself and yet he does so in vulnerable moments. And when he does reveal himself here and there unintentionally, you like what you see.

When Mili accuses him of not joining the party with the servants because he has to maintain his distance/status, he replies, “Yeah …. something like that.” He doesn’t deny that the class gap exists and he doesn’t have all the answers. And then adds, “or perhaps, they (servants) would prefer it that way (him not joining their fun).”

He is puzzled by Mili’s craziness. He is befuddled by her impulsiveness. He is wary of her inclination to say things without a filter. He is jolted by her tendency to act on whim, without the slightest though to consequences.

But when he watches his mother’s reaction to Mili’s wackiness, he is secretly amused. All of his emotions were subtly conveyed – a raised eyebrow, a shrug, a warning look, a little hesitation, a tensing of the shoulders, a bit of subtle sarcasm, or some delicate rephrasing of an otherwise crass situation.

There is great chemistry between the two characters. In both the kissing/hugging scenes, they are BOTH drawn to each other, the feeling is mutual, and Mili as the woman is a willing partner, and once she is also the initiator.

Vikram finds himself reluctantly but helplessly drawn to Mili, despite his rational understanding of the volcano he’s walking into. Mili, on the other hand, true to her character, courts fire, and gives no thought to the consequences.

Humor

There are several funny moments – some everyday situations, some contrived. When Mili asks people from the royal family to join her skype call with mom, her mother puts on a sweet smile, but once they leave, blasts Mili for doing this to her when “she’s cutting onions and sweating in the kitchen”.

When the kidnappers tell Mili they’re just getting started with their ransom “business” and she’s their first victim, Mili who is now high on something, says, “I get it. I remember being excited too – when I got my first client.”

Mili’s breakups are funny – one is with a clueless guy who has found his soul mate in another clueless girl. Another guy is just someone who couldn’t handle Mili’s feet on his dashboard anymore.

And Vikram’s use of “hum” (we) to refer to himself are greeted by irreverent Mili (and her mom) with a “Who the heck is We?? Hello?? I see only one person here!”

I chuckled when the Maharani (upon being confronted in the middle of the night by Manju) says with lovely poise, “I’m sorry but I need my 8 hours of sleep. Can we discuss these “interesting” theories of yours in the morning?”

Room for Improvement

I thought they could’ve balanced out Mili’s character a bit – she doesn’t ALWAYS have to be smiling or ALWAYS have to drop things – we get it – she’s a fun gal and a tad clumsy. But when Vikram tells her they cannot share a future because they are so different, Mili hardens and softens at the same time. She looks at him both angrily and sadly and says, “I agree.” This is where her character looks more complete, more multi-dimensional. I wish there were a few more of these contemplative moments for Mili.

The confrontation between the moms was unnecessary and Manju’s pettiness and arguing to the bitter end dragged down the last part of the movie a bit.

I also thought the Maharaja’s situation was resolved a bit too simplistically. While I appreciate Mili’s determination to do her job as a therapist and her efforts to bring fun back into his life because she believes it will help him recover, I wish she never explicitly TOLD him he is stuck at the time of the accident, and needs to start living again. I wish she had trusted his capacity for self-direction. And I wish he had taken that first step forward himself, with her support.

The Ending

Loved the ending though! It is the royal family that learns to relax and adapt to Mili’s crazy ways rather than Mili changing herself to fit into the clan’s honored traditions. This is not shown explicitly but implied through the Maharani’s humorous acceptance of Mili and the last credits song.

The movie is based on an older film of the same name starring Rekha. And it does have shades of the Sound of Music. I’m not sure if it passes the Bechdel test but overall, I confess I enjoyed this movie. Charming characters, three strong women, one dashing prince, a hauntingly beautiful palace, and lots of heart make this a warm, pleasant ride. Did you like it? Let me know what you think!

The Men in Our Lives

A Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

Lately, we seem to be discussing a lot of situations regarding dil-mil issues.  In India, I’ve commonly heard this advice being given to dils: “C’mon, cut your mil some slack.  Wait until you become one.  Then you will feel the same way.  Understand her insecurities.  How would YOU feel when your son gets married and moves away?”

But these are not dil-mil issues.  At the root, these are husband-wife issues.  The mil is not a monster (am not referring to exceptions here).  Some mils are good people and some are not.  They are human, like everyone else, and come in many shades of goodness/badness. The average Indian mil is not inherently evil.  Rather, the husband is being an escapist and is reaping a double advantage here.

The previous generation mil is not evil, she is feeling insecure because

– she’s never been given an education (in many cases) or even if she’s educated, hasn’t been given an opportunity to pursue a career or interest, or even if she does have a career or an interest, doesn’t have true autonomy in her life (all financial and other major decisions were made by her husband)
–  in most cases, she’s never had hobbies, interests, or passions, these were seen as an inconvenience to the family who would rather be served hand and foot and adults in the household would rather be babies than do their own laundry
– she’s never had any friends or time to herself to go for a walk, read, see a movie, or just chill
she was never allowed the right to her own feelings, she MUST always feel a certain way (loving and giving to the family and completely selfless), she is not allowed to feel irritable, impulsive, angry, or disappointed at the way she gets treated by her own husband and in-laws.  (imagine how unhealthy this is for the mind and how it begins to distort someone’s thinking) She must always serve with a smile.  She couldn’t do anything on a whim. She couldn’t even visit her own parents without permission.
– she was not allowed opinions of her own.  If she disagreed on what should be done about a piece of property or how the money should be invested, she was seen as controlling.
– she did not receive much love or affection from her husband (this is downright cruel to any human being).  Whatever little warmth she received was very much conditional. If she did an outstanding job of cooking for 20+ guests, he would be nice to her in a pleased sort of way (without her realization, she got “trained” to “earn” love in a very specific way – through cooking and cleaning mostly, and giving up on her ‘self’).

(At this point, if you are a dil, you must be thinking, ‘So what?  Just because I was abused doesn’t mean I will go and abuse someone else.’  And yes, there are always exceptions.  Some mils who themselves suffered constrained lives could be happy for their dil’s opportunities, freedom, and happiness.  But, I’m not referring to exceptions here.  In many cases, the mils feel like they’ve finally been given a little bit of control – what they don’t understand is that to be genuinely happy, what we humans need is control over our OWN life, not SOMEONE ELSE’s).

– So, the previous gen mil began to look to her son as the “man” in her life.  At least the son is more openly affectionate – even if he is being a big baby and wants his shirts ironed and his meals cooked just so (nothing wrong with affection between mother and son, but in many Indian families, it takes on unhealthy nuances).
– Now when the son gets married she loses this little piece of warmth that sustained her and made all the trouble worth it.  Imagine giving up everything – your feelings, opinions, dreams, basic rights.  There’s only one last straw you are hanging on to – your children, or more precisely your son that society allows you (even approves of) to hang on to and get unhealthily attached to.
– The daughter-in-law comes into this complicated, messed up situation, rightly expects her husband to value her, but realizes she has to contend with someone else (mil) who is entirely unhappy about her happiness.
– Dil immediately starts seeing the mil as the ‘enemy’.

But there are 2 men lurking in the shadows that are responsible for this commonly unfortunate situation.
– One is the f-i-l who never treated his wife (the m-i-l) as an adult, as an equal, as a person with a right to her own feelings, opinions, desires, and dreams.  As someone who needed love and affection and emotional support from him.  As someone who needed him to share household and parenting duties.  As someone who could have achieved her full potential (as a writer/artist/teacher/banker/engineer/entrepreneur/blogger/chef/etc) if he had supported her education, her growth, and her talents. (Even in the older generation, I’ve seen a few exceptions of loving couples and in these cases, invariably, the mil is a better person, more reasonable, generous, loving to her dil)

– The second male lurking in the shadows that is responsible for all the drama is the husband (the m-i-l’s son).  He has never been an adult.  He doesn’t like picking up after himself.  His mom has done it for him all his life.  Now, he expects his wife to take over mom’s role.  If the wife complains she is working a full time job like him and can’t baby him, he pouts and conveniently let’s his mom take up this issue with dil.

– I’m not implying that all men are evil.  Some are genuinely good men, but deeply conditioned and trapped in guilt.   For many sons, it’s psychological – they are good men, genuinely trying to break out of this Oedipus complex type of situation and trying hard to have a healthy, guilt-free relationship with their wives.  But it’s hard and they’re struggling. Any attempt they make at bonding with their wives is accompanied by labels that imply that they are lesser men and tremendous guilt.  Move out of parental home? You are deserting parents! Guilt!  Buying a car for your wife and yourself?  You are splurging while parents are suffering!  Guilt!  Taking a vacation? Putting off having kids?  Visiting wife’s parents?  Guilt, guilt, guilt!

– And then there are sons for whom it’s convenient to not acknowledge that they have a role to play in this conflict.  It’s convenient to not take responsibility.  It’s convenient to dismiss the whole thing as a “women’s problem”.  They’re simply being selfish. They shift the blame on to the women (“women are women’s worst enemies”) and reap the benefits of being fought over for attention, and being served, while also being amused at the “silliness/pettiness” of women and allow themselves to feel superior.

– Regardless of whether the men are good (struggling to break out of conditioning) or selfish (and acting in ways that are convenient to them), ultimately they MUST hold themselves responsible and the wives MUST HOLD THEIR HUSBANDS RESPONSIBLE – for both husband and wife to be happy.

– What Indian women REALLY need to do is change the expectations they have for their husbands, rather than seeing their mils as enemies.

And now the answer to the question that is commonly asked of women of my generation: “What will YOU do when you become a mil?  When YOUR son gets married and moves away?  Will you not feel sad and insecure?”

The answer would be a ‘NO’ from most women who HAVE been given an education, and the opportunity to pursue a career, who were allowed to have control over their own lives and destinies.  The answer would be ‘no’ from any woman who’s been loved and treated as an equal by her husband.   Such women can love their sons but also be happy for their sons when they find love (and not feel insecure).  In fact, they would WANT that for their sons.  So, yes, it IS possible to both love your children AND set them free.

In fact I’m seeing this all around me – with my sister who is 10 years older to me and has married kids, with friends in their 50s who’s children are beginning to meet and date people. The mothers are no longer jealous or insecure.  They have a life.  They have interests.  They have friends.  They have a more fun, enriching relationship with their own husbands.  The cycle IS breaking.  We are the in-between generation.  We ARE breaking the cycle.

Yes, women need to be assertive   – but Indian men need to change as well.  That change won’t happen unless we expect it or demand it.  If we keep blaming the mils, there is no incentive for the husbands to change.  Secondary relationships can sometimes be draining on the primary relationship.  It is up to the 2 people in the primary relationship to prioritize their relationship.  For that to happen,  we Indian women need to start having higher expectations for the men in our lives.

I want to know how readers view this stance – that the responsibility for making a relationship work belongs to the 2 people involved and cannot be assigned to extraneous people or factors. Specifically I want to understand the challenges –

  • Do you and your husband consider your relationship the primary one (please know that this does not mean we stop loving our parents or our children, it just means that it begins with US – the biggest decisions will be made by US – our life and it’s direction will be defined by US)
  • Do you make all major decisions that concern each other by yourselves (and together) or do parents play a role?
  • Do you feel the need to constantly explain your choices?
  • Have you tried to assert yourself , and create your own space?
  • What is getting in the way of asserting yourself?
  • Do you live in your own space or with the husband’s parents? Do you think this arrangement is working? If not, why not? What would you like to do about it?
  • Have you tried to set boundaries, and if so, how?
  • What is the one thing you would like your husband to do? Are there more things? (here I’m talking about significant human needs like emotional support, a sense of belonging, avenues for fun. I’m not referring to how he loads the dishwasherJ)
  • Finally, and most importantly, was your husband able to overcome his Indian culture conditioning (guilt, unhealthy attachment, etc.) and does he now have a happy, guilt-free fulfilling life with you? If so, how did he get from A to B?
  • And readers who are not married, please feel free to express your views based on what you see in your own families – siblings/cousins/aunts/uncles or among friends.

 

Another email. When an Indian daughter-in-law has no brothers.

Nobody wants to acknowledge the real issue because the majority would rather live with skewed gender ratio than give up unfair benefits that Patriarchy gives them if they manage to have male children.

This 260 word email sums up Female Feticide in India.

“The purpose of writing this email is to share with you some thoughts that were triggered off after a conversation with a friend.
My friend is the younger daughter of her parents. Her father passed away 3 yrs ago. Her mother lives on her own in the same city where her older sister lives. My friend lives in another city with her husband and child. Her MIL stays with them.
Recently when my friend’s mother visited her, the MIL said,
In our community parents of DIL’s don’t visit their daughters often. Even if they do, they dont stay for long”.
This hurt the mother a lot and she left the same day. My friend was very upset too.
Later the mother in law said she did not mean to hurt the mother but was only sharing tradition in their community. Now my friend’s mother refuses to visit them.
After the conversation, I thought why is it that the husband’s mother can come and stay with the family without any hesitation or questions being asked? It is her right  to stay with them, no questions asked or clarifications sought.
Why is it when the wife’s mother visits, she is made to feel bad? Why? It is her right to stay on her own and denied a chance to even stay with her daughter……Is this right at all?

Why is there so much bias? And to think this is happening in 2011 and that too a woman (who herself is a mother of a daughter) offends another woman.

When will this stop?”

Legally all Indian children, sons or daughters, are required to take care of their parents.
[Link.More links in the comments]

But traditionally a son’s parents were given exclusive rights over his spouse’s care- giving, time and attention. Senior citizens who did not have any sons had to manage on their own. So sons became an asset and daughters became a liability.

I feel, only when the girl children become assets (and not liabilities) for their families, will their concerns be taken seriously by their families, law makers and the society.

So what is the only, and very obvious way to make sure that Indian parents stop wanting to kill or neglect their girl children and their happiness?

So are the men offended?

Believe it or not, there are many who think the Star Plus anthem is great because the woman is being allowed to work, to have a girl-child, fly kites, jog, wear track pants, dance, blow kisses at her husband from her terrace; her husband finds her worthy of his attentions, her in laws don’t object to this, (because) her mother in law is not abusive, and her family cares to celebrate her birthday.  What more can a woman ask for?

And in return of all these privileges (which the rest of the family always had anyway) all she has to do is be a never tiring, ever smiling, uncomplaining super woman.

GB explains why it’s okay for a woman to not be perfect and still expect to be loved.

I’m really tired of seeing women who don’t get tired. Or pissed. On some days, I just wake up feeling pissed. I make carping statements, I invite fights, I act like my hair is on fire. In short, I make life difficult for people around me.

But I also believe that I’m effing worth the trouble.

I don’t need to be an angel to be wanted or loved. Because the people around me are not angels either. And I put up with their drama because I care about them. So why in god’s name do I have to keep smiling … in order to be the perfect woman? (Click to read the entire post.)

Preeti Shenoy wants to know,

“Why is she so happy that she has to wake up before everyone else while that lazy lump of her husband sleeps blissfully and then she also has to give him his towel in the shower between cooking her children’s lunches!” (More on Buzz)

Amrita of IndieQuill wonders,

What’s the kid going to grow up thinking – “My mom works and cooks and cleans and dances and sings and is nice to all the birdies in the sky. My dad… um… he drinks tea and goes to work.” Way to be a hero to your kid….


Seriously, it’s men who should be offended.

I wonder what the men think.

____________________________________

To read my interview with ‘Spark’ click here.

Let us not for a minute forget that we women still walk across minefields…

Starry sent me a link to this article from ‘The Hindu’ warning women against treating their legal rights and equality (that they have been so magnanimously granted) as their rights. (Author : Lakshmi Visweswaran)

My response in red.

Having struggled hard to obtain legal means to break free from male dominance and depravity, are we women today at the point of endangering those very means?

It’s not ‘we women‘ against ‘them men‘. Patriarchy is the problem, not ‘Male dominance and depravity‘. Although Patriarchy appears to empower men, it actually allows a few men and women to control the lives of most others.

I myself am a strong believer in the equality of men and women and the right of every woman to lead a life of respect and self-dignity.

Why just women? Everybody, including men and children deserve ‘to lead a life of respect and dignity‘.

Yet, we cannot forget that we live in what is even today a male-dominated society.

The so called ‘Male Dominated’ society does not create happy male members either.  Patriarchy allows a few to control the personal lives of many, for their personal gain, and generally with excuses like ‘family honor’ or ‘has always been done this way’. Patriarchy does not respect individual rights or happiness of those it does not empower, which is why it has failed to protect basic human rights of baby girls, female fetuses, girl children, senior citizens without male children, victims of sexual abuse and rape, victims of domestic violence, widows and single women etc.

Women have had to struggle and fight male egoism at every step to get even a few benefits like the above legal provisions on our statute.

The society struggles against set norms that have become a habit (customs). Those who benefit from the biases are resisting the changes. E.g. Khap Panchyat and those who get caregivers through the Joint Family System.  It’s much more than ‘male egoism’.

The bill seeking 33 per cent reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies was passed in the Rajya Sabha this year, after almost 14 years of its introduction, and it is anybody’s guess when it will be implemented.

A lot of men support the bill, if only to bring their female relatives (along with their male relatives) into politics… (my views…)

A shield

The modern Indian woman with her new-found economic, social and political independence is no doubt kicking to break free from the fetters of subjugation and subordination which have haunted her since time immemorial.

Many Indian women have no idea that they are as equal as anybody else, they  believe abuse is a part of a woman’s life. Some other Indian women  have every opportunity to grow and they knows their rights. Many other Indian women are ‘allowed education’ but warned against ‘forgetting their limits’ or thinking they are ‘too equal’ – it’s possible that this Indian woman gives the impression that she is ‘kicking to break free from the fetters…’. Her inevitable though slow successes seems to worry those who fear change.

In this uphill task, she has to learn to use the law as a shield to protect herself and not as a weapon to attack. A handful of women are forgetting that any relationship, whether marital or otherwise, is not about who has the upper hand but about who complements the other and how.

Most of the Indian society has always been about ‘upper hand‘ and ‘control’. A handful of women today are able to see they need not accept that as a rule.

Unfortunately today, aggressiveness has somehow become synonymous with “assertiveness” so much so that there are women who do not hesitate to file an FIR with the police or knock on the doors of the courts at the drop of a hat.

Most women do not knock of the doors of the court even when they have every reason to. Their families and the societies warns them against being seen as aggressive.

A heated discussion or disagreement, a refusal by the husband to allow his wife to wear western clothes or go out with friends, some chiding by the in-laws could all easily be labelled as cruelty by some women and, with enough stoking by unscrupulous advocates, this snowballs into a legal battle which leaves nothing but a bitter taste and an empty purse.

Until recently, a refusal to allow his wife to wear western clothes/meet her friends  was seen as a husband’s and his family’s right. If husbands and their families do not accept that they can’t control an equal citizen’s life, even if she happens to be the lowest in the Patriarchal hierarchy, perhaps they need some counseling along with/before police custody.

Still a minority

No doubt, such women still form a minority, yet no one can overlook the harm they may inadvertently be causing to a large number of Indian women, who genuinely need the law to help them find a way out of their miserable and pathetic situations; also, many a time it is an escape route from what has become to them a living hell.

A law being misused is not a reason for depriving victims of a legal recourse. This is a much needed law. A society that still thinks a wife should not mind if her husband does not allow her to wear Western clothes or to meet her friends, needs such laws even more urgently.

With more and more cases of abuse of women-centric legal provisions, the day may not be far off when the same men who conceded our reasonable demands start re-thinking.

It’s not men verses women. Nobody needed to ‘concede’ “our” demands. Law-making is not about magnanimity. If a wrong was being done, if unfair advantage was being taken, it was time to put an end to it. The society will take time to accept women as decision makers in their own lives. The law – unlike unwritten customs, can be reviewed, challenged or made stronger through legal processes. As of now social norms seem to undo a lot of good that laws begin to do.

With the joint family concept having become a thing of the past and with family ties getting weaker by the day, the need is for the establishment of several more counselling centres in colleges, offices, hospitals and even in courts.

The slow end of Joint Family is the beginning of the end of Patriarchy. It is a much needed change. The end of Joint Family will also be the beginning of respect for  female children – the unwanted liability, the paraya dhan in the Joint Family. It might also bring relief to the parents and families of girl children – they may find they can hope to see their children living with respect, self confidence, dignity, equality, love and safety.

These must be manned by trained professionals who have in-depth knowledge of human psychology and behavioural patterns. People, especially youngsters, must be encouraged to seek the help of such centres.

People of all ages might need counseling.  The damage that the Joint Family system or Patriarchy has done to the society will be more difficult for the older generation to understand, because this is the only way of life that they might have seen.

In fact, all family disputes should be taken up only after it has been certified by a counsellor that the case is beyond counselling.

No ‘certified counsellors’ should be allowed to become the middle men between a citizen and their right to justice. There is also a risk of the counselors being bribed.

Parents, family members and close friends can mediate and help the couple identify their actual problems and assist them in solving their issues amicably.

This is exactly what was being done for centuries. Girls were being sent back to adjust and many die adjusting even today. The law was made to protect women from such families and in laws. Patriarchy does not value it’s female members and through centuries the counselling they received has amounted to asking them to ‘Please adjust‘.

Advocates also have a major role, for they can make women see the futility of their case and advise them accordingly, instead of stoking the embers into inferno.

Why should advocates make women think they have no hope? Why should it be  assumed that what women are complaining against is not important? Taking a woman’s case seriously is not ‘stoking embers into inferno’ – it is making sure that she is not made into an inferno.

Compromises

Lastly, women themselves have the power to make or break their future.

Unfortunately they don’t. When they try to help themselves they are warned against the ‘unknown devils’ and lawyers who might stoke the embers of their unreasonable demands into infernos – the only way to be taken seriously is to agree to sacrifice their happiness.

The modern Indian woman should not forget that every form of relationship calls for some give and take.

Indian women are taught that the ‘give is for daughter in law’ (only future, no options, sacrifice, serve, adjust, honor etc), and the ‘take is for the husbands and their families’ (dowry, ladke wale, can divorce and remarry etc).

Small compromises or adjustments need not be misunderstood as signs of suppression.

Examples of small compromises? Eating when everyone has eaten? Taking permission to work, having children and taking decisions for these children, meeting friends, wearing salwar kameez or jeans, walking without covering one’s head…?

No woman should ever suffer cruelty or harassment of any form silently.

But having to take permission to work, study, dress comfortably, save or earn, meet friends & birth family  – is not harassment.

Yet, before rushing to court, let her ponder over and see if it is indeed her rights that have been trampled upon or it is just her ego that has taken a beating.

Being ‘disallowed’ from working, having female children, meeting friends, wearing jeans, eating with the family, spending what they earn, visiting their parents etc should be seen as a trampling of ego?

And being beaten (only if they didn’t ask for it) should be seen as a trampling of rights?

Women have traditionally been discouraged from having anything that might pass off as ego.

For, let us not for a minute forget that we women still walk across a minefield and if we do not tread carefully, there is every chance of the mines blowing up not just our lives but also the future of women.

The only minefields women need to fear are the minefields of old habits and social conditioning. And the way to avoid these mine fields is by boldly  knocking at the court’s doors if they in their own judgment (which is as good as any other adult family or community member) feel they are unhappy.There are some who fear that empowerment of women might mean a change in the system and those who comfortable with an old system (Known Devil Syndrome) assume any change can only be bad.

Eleven questions the family elders ask women in unhappy marriages.

And answers by Anonymous Confused Wife.

1) So what’s new here? It’s an age old issue.

Once upon a time that’s exactly what people said about child-marriage or widow burning.

This is important to me because it’s an issue to ME. NOW.

It’s an age-old issue and yet the only solutions anyone can come up with are “slog it out” or “leave, he’ll never change” or “Please adjust”. Doesn’t that say something about how great a job we’ve done by pushing all such issues under the rug?

2) The husband seems to be a nice chap in every other respect. Only his being a “mama’s boy” seems to be the irritant.

That’s not the same as saying he doesn’t drink tea instead of coffee. “Every other respect” gets affected by his being a mama’s boy.

[IHM: A ‘mama’s boy‘ may be defined as a husband who expects his wife to see him and his family as her world, but who does not think she should expect to be his first priority. He might also expects her to be an obedient and dutiful ‘elder-caregiver’ to his parents but again he may not feel the need to reciprocate.]

3) He risks being called “Joru ka ghulaam” or ‘Mama’s boy’. Neither is pleasant to hear.

I’d like to believe it IS possible for a grown adult to just be HIMSELF without being either a Joru ka Ghulam or a mama’s boy.

[Indian women continue to be seen as Paraya dhan‘ (property of their in laws) and Indian sons as providers of elder care through their wives. The system has resulted in a male child’s parents expecting special privileges.]

4) We have heard only the wife’s version. We have not had an opportunity to hear the husband’s version and that of the mother-in-law.

If this were a court of law, you would have.

It saddens me that a woman is not taken seriously when she says she’s miserable enough in a relationship that she’s willing to be single again, willing to go through a breakup and a divorce, willing to face social stigma and whatever other consequences, because she does not see herself being happy with him.

It saddens me that unless I choose to sacrifice my happiness, my commitment to my marriage is questioned.

My expression of my experience in this marriage are taken as an attack against which my husband and In-Laws need to present their defense. And what then, will someone rule that I can’t leave? That I have to stay here and remain unhappy?

[And yet it is not uncommon for the in-laws to complain to her parents about a daughter in law’s incompetence, disobedience or lack of respect. One doesn’t generally hear demands for her version. This could be because in the past the wives were much younger than the husbands and were treated like their wards.]

5)  If the husband or mother-in-law reads this, we would hear a version of the entire story as viewed from the other side.

Of course they’ll have their own take on the situation. Of course they have every right to be vocal about it. And of course it won’t be identical to mine. That doesn’t discount the fact that my experience so far makes me unhappy and hopeless enough to make me want to leave.

Is my happiness not necessary for their happiness? Is it fair to expect me to ensure their good at the cost of my own happiness?

6) I am sure a joint counseling session moderated by a respected family elder, or a professional counselor in which the mother-in-law, son and wife thrash out all issues, would ease tensions.

IHM: Family elders tend to ask all the same FAQs that have been asked here. Age does not automatically mean better ability to be unbiased.

The Counselors, the Lawyers, the parents,  and the Police are the products of the same society. Bias is a way of life in a Patriarchal society. Hearing different points of views is fine but an individual must trust her own judgment in the end.

6-b) Did you notice that the father-in-law never figures in issues like this? What is it about women ? (Aurat hee aurat ki dushman? A woman is a woman’s worst enemy?)

To an extent it’s BECAUSE the F-I-L wasn’t a prominent figure in his wife’s or his child’s life that the onus of fulfilling his wife’s emotional needs falls on his son.

7) You do not have enough valid reasons to walk out of this marriage. You have been more fortunate than most Indian women whose problems are far worse than yours.

Yes, a lot of Indian women have it worse. To me this doesn’t justify any of their behavior either.
Also, a lot of PEOPLE – including Indian men – do have it better. I know *I* had it much better before I got married. So regardless of whether or not others think I have “enough valid reasons” I do believe I have a right to my happiness.

8 ) Your ONLY grievance seems to be that your husband is a “Mama’s boy”. But this term is frequently abused and misused. It’s sometimes relative. What is “mama’s boy” to some might be seen as “filial respect and regard from an ideal son” to others.

At no point have I mentioned that his respect or regard for his parents bothers me. His OBEDIENCE to them and their wishes, however unreasonable, however unfair to me, definitely does.

We don’t see parents of married daughters having similar expectations of ‘filial respect’ from them because daughters in India are expected to put their spouse and their marriage before their own parents. How can a marriage be truly happy if one partner is being reminded that the other must not be his priority (but she must still see him as her priority)?

9) Cheerfully put up with 10 days of possible tension and live the other 355 days happily. Remember that these 10 days cause tension to the Mother-in-law too! Married life is not always a bed of roses. You have been married for only two years. More serious problems are yet to come. Children, their upbringing, health problems as one grows old, career ups downs etc are all yet to be experienced.

If only! In those 10 days, I am constantly insulted and deprived of basic rights. My family is insulted and called names. It’s not like I can turn off a switch on the 11th day and be happy for the next 355. And what about the days I lose because of the weekly phone calls?

I’m CERTAIN I didn’t have that many unhappy days a year when I was single. And if more serious problems are on their way, I’d rather not stick around until then.

10) Walking out of this marriage is no guarantee that you will find happiness in some other marriage or in remaining single. Instead of “Mama’s boy” you may end up with something far worse.

Yes, there’s that risk. I might choose it over guaranteed unhappiness.

11)  I am not convinced that you have a winnable case.

So I lose and my “punishment” is staying in a marriage that makes me unhappy? Out of curiosity, why do you not consider being a divorcee a “worthy” punishment for me?

An email from an anonymous Confused Wife.

Hi IHM-

I recently discovered your blog and cannot thank you enough for talking about the things you do. I know it’s your blog and not exactly an advice column in a newspaper, but I cannot think of anyone more qualified to offer me some advice on my situation. Please feel free to post about this if you so desire; I’d love input from others who are/have been in a similar situation:

I fell in love with and decided to marry a guy. Our families had no problems with the match. Neither of us is/was living in India, so we didn’t get to know each-other’s parents well before the wedding. Hindsight’s always 20/20, but had I known them better I would have happily called off the wedding. Happily remained single for the rest of my life even….it’s not as bad as everyone makes it out to be, and I know I had a ball! It was definitely easier than having such a tough choice on my hands.

They are extremely traditional and two-faced and interfering AND passive-aggressive. And really, really proud to be the ladke-waale. No daughters in this house either, and maybe that explains some of it. The husband and I both moved out for college and have never lived with our respective parents since then. We’re both extremely independent and open-minded people. Except I’m a rebel and he seems to have a mortal fear or confrontation where his parents are concerned (and only then which makes life so much harder for me)!

Now regardless of how his parents behave with me, I’ve decided that since I don’t stay with them and never will, I’ll learn to live with it. Love is blind and all that. I know I can live without my husband, but don’t want to. I know there’s plenty of other fish out there, but I’m not interested, at least for now. I live continents apart from them and will only see them at most for 10 days in a year. I’ll put up with their crap for those 10 days not in the name of sacrifice, but because I cannot let them make me give him up. Just like I cannot let them make me give up anything else I have or like. They would like nothing better than to be able to say to their son – “See? We knew she wasn’t the kind to love you and stay with you forever. Parents hi hote hain jo kabhi bachchon ka saath nahin chhodhte..

So that’s the piece I’m OKAY with. And if that was all there was to it, I wouldn’t be writing this email. Here is what I’m not okay with – my husband is a certified mama’s boy. I never saw that side of him until we went to India for our wedding and saw him around his mom. When she’s not around, he’s as liberal, open-minded, independent, and rational as I’ve ever seen a man be. But somehow she has total control of his spine which turns into dough when his hands make contact with her feet. If he *thinks* about something, he reaches a fair and logical conclusion. But when she’s around, it’s as if he can’t think for himself and blindly agrees to everything she says. She knows it and likes it, and as she’s told me, is mighty proud of it too. And THAT is her biggest weapon. That is what she derives her power from. That is what she uses to cause arguments between us for the silliest of things (that he later apologizes for, but still that’s so much unpleasantness). That is how she gets away with insulting me when he’s not around and later telling him it meant something completely different and she only said it out of love. The husband says I should just not visit them at all; simply stay with my parents the entire time I’m in India. If I’m still around by the time we have kids, I’ll remember to jump with joy when he eats his words but even otherwise I feel we’re only evading the problem that way, not solving it.

I know what she’s doing and know how to undo it. I have to wait for some time to pass so he’s out of her force-field and then I have to reason with him. I can make out from my husband’s mood after his phone conversations with his parents, what she must have talked to him about. It affects the peace in our relationship and I have to explain things to him like a child and make him see reason. And then, everything is okay. All this makes me a little less in love, and him a little less attractive to me. How can I be attracted to a guy who gets manipulated over and over AND OVER again by the same woman, all because he owes her some infinite imaginary debt for raising him?!!

On bad days I feel like there’s no cure for being a mama’s boy, and really how many times will I do this? How many hours of my life will I spend just undoing things that she has all the time in the world to do over and over again? She’s never worked, has servants to do all the housework, has no hobbies, no friends, and all the time to sit and plot. I don’t. She doesn’t have a great relationship with her husband (both of them are really into morality and “sacrifice” and not so much into love). Why should my husband be the surrogate husband (aka mama’s boy) for her benefit? And should I even be concerned about this or should I call it quits and leave them all to their miserable existence? There’s my love and passion and relentlessness of one side, and about 30 years of history on the other with liberal helpings of guilt that was fed to him with every meal.

A lot of times I try to talk to my husband about it but he brings up how she’s “sacrificed” so much for him and gets really defensive. She knows when to pull out the waterworks and he feels guilty for making his mom cry.

I’m not really a manipulative person like her and could never be. So the only way I can do this is by COMMUNICATING. Tall order since passive-aggressiveness sort of runs in the family. The husband acknowledges it for himself and has been working on his communication skills. Has come a long way too, to his credit.

On good days I wonder if there’s a fix for this that’s just not occurring to me. Because the REST OF THE TIME we’re great together and I really enjoy his company. We connect very well, share a lot of the same interests, and are curious enough to try at least once the ones that we don’t share. We get along great with each other’s friends, have big dreams and ambitions for the rest of our lives together, but every time we talk about the future I wonder, “Will I really last until then?” Already I feel so exhausted with all the WORK this marriage has become.

It dampens the joy I get out of being with him. It completely killed any joy I could have derived out of getting married to him on our wedding day (uff the drama)! And I have a feeling it’ll continue to do so and every happiness will be tarnished just that little bit. Every problem will get amplified just that little bit to make me wonder if my marriage is worth it.

I’ve never dealt with anything like the freak-show that is his family. And his mom is just.not.ready. to give him up to some random woman he fell in love with. She’ll keep reminding him of all that she’s done for him, and expecting me to be grateful/beholden to her for it all. It’s probably never occurred to her that had she raised her son to *not* be who he is (to the extent that he is her doing), it’s not like I’d have still married him. It’s not like I was given away in child-marriage. I don’t owe her anything for raising him, least of all my freedom and independence. I believe everything you do for your kids should be out of love, not sacrifice and definitely not out of a desire to use it as a potential trump card in every situation where you want to put down your D-I-L.

Should I stay with this guy or should I not? There’s nobody else whose babies I’d rather make and yet I wonder, what if they’re boys and what if they grow up to be mama’s boys as well? I’ve read enough about it to know it’s a vicious cycle, and don’t want to be guilty of inflicting more mama’s boys on unsuspecting women.

I’m not asking you to make a decision for me; I’m asking for guidance and advice. You seem to understand people and their motivations really well. I know I haven’t given details on what exactly they’ve done or how they’ve behaved with me, but it’s been two years since the wedding and I still have nightmares about it. We don’t even celebrate our wedding anniversary because of all the unpleasant memories.

Thanks so much for listening,
-Confused Wife

___________________________________________

Related posts:

From an anonymous dil, wife and daughter.

To an anonymous daughter in law.

The invisible family member in the saas-bahu post.

Loving husbands who devote their days and nights to maintain peace in the family.

Anju wonders if this man fits into the label of a ‘Maa Ka Ladla’ or  a ‘Joru Ka Gulam’. ‘Few days back I visited a patient and I was amused at the way the patient was being pampered alternatively by the wife and the mother. It was like who will take more care of the man.’

Anju feels for this man, ‘how tiresome it must be for him to pamper both the egos, to make both of them feel important and let both feel that he cannot do without either of them’

***

I wonder if women face this problem.

Are women able to take better care of  themselves on their own? We know they don’t. They need as much care as everybody else does.

So why don’t women have their mothers (or fathers) and their spouse competing to take care of them? He is supposed to be ‘Budhape ka sahara‘ of one and ‘Pati Parmeshwar‘ of the other.

What makes two family members almost fight to take care of this adult, male member? Is it because they each feel they must win a closeness to him? Are they insecure? If yes, then what makes them so insecure? Does this insecurity benefit the man in some way? (I don’t think so.)

Has tradition taught women that their lives must revolve around their husbands/husband’s family? Is the rest of the population given the same values?

Has the same tradition made mothers feel that while some of their children learn to take care of themselves (female children), some of them (male children) need to mothered all their lives?

Married daughters are encouraged to develop a healthy relationship with their husbands, but married sons in India are expected to ‘balance‘, which includes things like making sure their wives are respectful, subservient, obedient to their family etc.

Do I sympathize with this man? I feel I sympathize with the situation and with the families involved.

Indian mothers still look for and ‘bring’ obedient and pliant daughters in law for themselves when they arrange marriages for their sons. Often compatibility and companionship between the couple are not considered as important, as the wife being obedient and respectful to the in laws. Sons who feel this is unfair are labeled Joru Ka Gulaam.

Traditionally the society is fine with sons spending most of their time with their friends, but traditionally the same sons are not encouraged to see their wives as their best friends. Some sons have no real relationship with their wives for many years (often never). The mother remains the friend and companion (or male friends do). This would still be fine, if the daughter in law also had the option of maintaining a relationship with her own parents and old friends – this generally does not happen. She must make her husband and in laws her world, but she must accept that she is not their world.

Double standards don’t make for happy families or a just and fair society.

Lucky to be treated with respect?

An elderly friend once said her only prayer for her daughter was, “God grant her good luck (naseeb)”. She said she had seen women who were beautiful being treated cruelly, she had seen rich girls with huge dowries being treated like ‘maid servants’, she had seen highly educated girls being treated like they had no minds of their own – and she had seen ‘average looking, ordinary girls’ living like princesses.

Some girls are lucky, they wear what they like, their husbands love them, their in laws respect them, they visit their parents whenever they like…

I didn’t agree. If it depended on luck then we were left helpless. I thought one could expect to be treated with respect from those one treated with respect. Wasn’t it supposed to be mutual?

Now I feel it isn’t luck but self confidence that ensures respect. Legal rights and being born in a Democratic country helps  tremendously.

And then today I read this,

‘In laws insistence on the daughter in law wearing a sari does not amount to cruelty, says Bombay High Court’.[Link]

And what about being beaten if she does not wear a sari – does that amount to cruelty? [Click to read]

I don’t know how many Indian women would actually go to court for their right to be treated like intelligent adults. Any mention of such rights would be seen as unreasonable – even radical. Most women accept this (and more) as their destiny while their ‘luckier’ friends and neighbors, and other family members go on living their lives without having to take permission for every little personal decision. Sometimes  there are two sisters in one family – one leads a ‘lucky’ life. One doesn’t. We accept that as their destiny.

This friend doted upon her daughter and she grew up into a confident adult. When she was 22 she confided in me.  She was going to marry a class mate her parents didn’t yet approve of. They eventually did approve and now her mother blesses the son in-law for all the good luck he brought her. She doesn’t realise the good luck was given to her  daughter when they gave her the confidence that made her say, ‘They don’t approve of him YET, but I know they would eventually. They know I won’t want to marry him unless  I was sure he was really so right for me 🙂 “.  She didn’t want me to speak on her behalf – she needed no go-betweens. She knew she could speak to her parents about anything.

Hundreds of adults like this young couple in Kanpur who committed suicide by jumping in front of a speeding train probably did not have the ‘luck’ she had. Maybe they feared that their decision as two adults would not be respected, even though no matter what the  Khap Panchayats say, the law was on their side.

Related posts: The symbolism of a saree at Careless Chronicles.