From an Anonymous DIL, Wife and Daughter.

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I am publishing this comment and my response to it, from ‘How Important is it for a girl to get married?’ because I agree with Ramit when he says, ” IHM This topic that has been raised by Anonymous, needs a separate post in itself so other girls can relate to it too and get a few pointers to stand up. It’s high time they need to stand up… Unbelievable that India has put men on the moon and our mother in laws even after migrating to London are still living in the 15th century! Utter crap!

Here’s the comment.

Dear IHM,

I am a 24 yr old newly wedded girl. got married 4 months ago and moved to the UK with my husband. i know this is a problem every indian DIL faces and I guess I am falling in to it too. my family is very liberal and they do not really believe in following all the customs that the entire world harps on. My inlaws on the other hand are super duper orthodox and for them every custom under the Sun is important no matter how inconvenient it is for the other person. My MIL like any son’s mother thinks that I am the luckiest girl on earth because her son decided to marry me. because her son is in the UK and he is the only one in their family to be living abroad, whereas in my family, every second person is in some part of the word other than India so to me its not a big deal at all! in fact i refused to marry this guy because he is not in India but since everyone in my family insisted that they know this guy very well and I got convinced after speaking to him a zillion times that he is genuinely good at heart.

Now my MIL has a typical characteristic trait of pointing out everything. Even if you miss a small safety pin that was supposed to be given to her or her daughter from my parents’ side, she does not waste a single moment in pointing it out and making it obvious that she is unhappy because the “custom” has been broken. Her daughter is the world to her. I am the world to my parents too but she is a little weird. During the entire wedding, she was not anywhere near us. Kept insisting my SIL stays with us all the time coz she is the daughter of the house. And made sure my SIL and her husband were served everything properly. She does not care if anyone else is not properly taken care of, but with her daughter no chance! So much that once they had their invitations ready, they sent it to my SIL first got her approval and then bothered to send it to my husband coz his approval was not necessarily important though he was the groom.

Somehow, the wedding went on very well with the help and support of a lot of family and friends. Now when I was moving to the UK, I’d left all my jewelry, silver and gifts at my parents’ place. Somehow I was not very comfortable leaving them with my inlaws coz my MIL tries to find fault with everything she sees. In some piece she will think the design is not good or she will say that we should never buy gold at a jewelry shop but make sure we get it made by a goldsmith etc etc. So since I would not be around, I did not want my mom to listen to all her nagging everytime she met my inlaws. Even though my mom asked my MIL if she wants her to get all the gifts and all and leave it here. I did not want her to ask about the gold though.

My question # 1:

Is it not my choice about what I want to do with my things? Do I have to seek my MIL’s permission for everything I do to “my” stuff? Each and every piece of that jewelry has been bought by my parents. None of it is what my inlaws gave me. The stuff they gave me is with me here. But do I have to take her permission before deciding what I want to keep with me and what I don’t? My parents will definitely not need my jewelry. They have enof of their own.

Now coming to it, she has spoken to a common friend of my family and his family recently. She has very conveniently told him that she has no idea what I have done with all the silver items (including 2 sets of thali and glass gifted by my parents) I had and all my jewelry. She tried to convey that she thinks I have given even the thalis and all to my parents and they are happily living on it. The thalis and glasses are as a matter of fact with me and with her proper knowledge coz she was pissed off when I said I want to take them with me. My whole point was I did not see any sense in keeping them safe at home when we could make proper use of it everyday over here. )

Question # 2:

Is it right on her part to speak like this about me and my parents in front of a third person? Is she not kind of insulting me and my parents?

Now the more interesting part, my SIL’s husband does not have any family of his own. His parents passed away years ago and his elder brother and all are only for the sake of being there. So all that my SIL had are at her parents’ place. So she has a valid reason to leave everything with her parents. Now for everything my MIL has one excuse that since my parents dont know all these customs, she is trying to tell them the customs.

I had no intentions of having any ill feeling towards my in laws but this is making me very very sad. I wept all of yesterday and as soon as my husband came home, he realised something is wrong with me. He managed to get me spill out everything (and i am cursing myself for it), spoke to his mom, my mom and tried to convince me that his mom is only trying to tell us the customs and all. He is otherwise very understanding. he knows how his mom has a very weird character and tells me the same thing but when it comes to this particular issue, he says it was a casual talk between my MIL and that common friend and he took the liberty to call up my parents and speak to them about it. What I dont understand is if this ‘casual talk’ was a month ago, why did that man call my parents now and speak to them? I am a new DIL and so I am not supposed to question anyone. All I am supposed to do is keep quiet and see my parents being nagged every now and then because they did not some custom about a piece of haldi or a saree that was supposed to be given.

Question # 4 :

Is that all my parents are supposed to do all the time? Keep giving things to me and my husband? They do give us a lot but is there no break to it? Do they have keep giving us gifts all their life? They have already done enof for us, is it not our turn to make sure they have everything they need and care for their wellbeing (including his parents). Is a piece of jewelry and a set of clothes the only way to show they love us and care for us?

Question #5:

My parents still dont have an account of how much they might have spent for my wedding coz his parents wanted a grand ceremony because they were not taking any dowry. I’d already told my parents that I dont mind staying single all my life but I don’t want them to pay a single penny as dowry. I am beautiful, educated, had a very very good job and I am self sufficient in all ways. There is no need for someone like me to get married by giving dowry etc. My husband also was very particular that he did not want anything as dowry. So since there was no dowry in question they wanted the event to be a grand one. My parents wanted the same thing and so they made sure everything was remarkably exotic much against my wishes coz I dont see the whole point in spending so much money on something which lasts just a day or 2. Is a simple ceremony not worth enof to get married?

I am soo disappointed now that I can’t express it in words. I wanted a family where human values are more important than customs. Thankfully, to my husband all that matters is human values and feelings but I am very disappointed by his parents coz I realised that for them customs play a higher role than human values.

I wanted to spill it all out coz I am just not able to take it anymore. I am a regular reader of ur blog and all I could think of was you when my mind went completely blank.

Please help me.

From
Anonymous DIL, Wife and Daughter.

* * *

And my response.

Anonymous DIL, Wife and Daughter I was thinking maybe this should be published as a post … it’s such a typical situation!
At 24, and when you are married, you should be left alone and not suffocated with such controls!

I am amazed women achieve so much despite such cruel and horrible circumstances. Just be brave, remember that you are absolutely justified in wanting to be free of such controls, and you are NOT WRONG in expecting your parents to be treated with respect and basic decency. Malicious gossip against a DIL’s family is not something a girl can be expected to respect. And what you do with your jewelery is upto you, even if you do sell it or give it away she can only express an opinion – no matter what our conditioning tells us, it is wrong to to try to control another adult’s life. She is also trying to control her adult, and married, son’s life.

The sons grow up and are conditioned to believe that since mothers only want what is best for them, it is fine if they also want to monitor their entire lives.

This is where Joint Family and patriarchy are so wrong.

And don’t feel guilty if common sense tells you this is wrong, just because somebody is older or is a spouse’s parent, they do not automatically become right.

Expecting your parents to keep spending is wrong; discussing them with anybody, least of all mutual contacts, is not going to build bridges. Discussing you is immature and cruel, and I think if they really care for the son’s happiness, then it is essential that his wife is shown respect… your MIL does not seem to realise that no man can be really happy if his wife is treated like this. Happy wives make happy families.

Don’t feel guilty – you are right, and tell your parents to be stronger, I always say, Strong parents have happy daughters.

Don’t give in to such controlling, keep your jewelery where ever you prefer to keep it.  And quite definitely not with your MIL. Not even if it means a lot to her (Why should it mean a lot to her?). Not even if it makes her feel you love her like your mother. Not even to please your husband. Keep it pleasant but be firm. Maybe just smile and change the topic.

You could tell your mom in law or husband that even if this is done in every next house, you do not like such indulgences in petty gossiping. Convey that you may find it difficult to show respect to  your mom in law unless she (and he also) show the same respect to your parents.

No harmony is possible unless their is justice. Bitterness and oppression can not bring peace. Be tactful, remain polite and respectful, keep your cool …. but do not accept such treatment.

I wish you (or any human) didn’t have to go through this, but since you have to …

Also ask your husband to remember you also have the same feelings, how would he like to be treated EXACTLY the same way by your parents? If parents love their children, shouldn’t they be nice to their spouse too…?

He cannot keep speaking to his mom on your behalf – she will start calling him a JKG. he just has to very clearly let her see that he will not allow his family to treat his wife shabbily, when a husband stands by his wife, nobody from his family bothers her.

Take a look at this post,

No jeans for an Indian Daughter in law.

Two more posts by Unmana you may like to read,

In-Law Advice: What Husbands Should Do

In-Law Advice: What Wives Should Do

***

Response continued,

@Anonymous DIL, Wife and Daughter, Of course human values are more important than any customs … in fact the only purpose of all customs is to bring us together and make us happy, ‘customs’ by themselves are of no other value, don’t get bogged by all these thing that you forget that these are the best years of your life, remind your husband also.

I fear sometimes elders use customs to show they know more or know better … I feel bad for them, maybe they feel you know more in some other ways so at least here they can show some superiority .

Newer customs will be brought in by newer generation … we  will  change with times, so will the customs.
You will be fine, be brave … hugs, God bless, IHM

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Teenage Pregnancies – not our culture…

Link received by email.

“There were 71 pregnancies per 1,000 U.S. girls aged 15-19. In 2006, 7 percent of all teenage girls got pregnant…”

Teen pregnancies are often quoted as an example of the degeneration of the US or the Western culture. Are teen pregnancies unheard of India?

I don’t think so. The difference is that most teen mothers in India have no choice or control over their pregnancy or their bodies. A lot of them are undernourished and are under pressure to give birth to male children.

“According to official figures, over 68% girls in the state (Rajasthan) are married by the age of 18.”  (And the Rajasthan government wants to register child marriages, making it tougher for the couple to get out of these marriages. They should be helping them make informed choices!).

A college friend’s mother once told us how she slept through her marriage ceremony, she was too young to stay awake. But she was not from Rajasthan, she was from Tamil Nadu.

My new maid says her 17 year old daughter in law has grown up to be taller than her son, they had not expected this when they married them in their mid-teens, but it doesn’t bother them, there are many such couples in their village, near Lucknow, in UP.

Another 25 year old domestic helper in Pune had three kids, 9, 7 and 5. She said was born the year Ms Gandhi died in 1984, so how old was she when her first child was born?

I have blogged about another domestic helper, married at 12, to a 20 year old unemployed man (Maharashtra). She supports three kids and an alcoholic, sick but violent husband. She asks her mother now, if she and sisters were really so much trouble that the mother had to get rid of them so cruelly.

Yet another one in Punjab was married as a kid to a much older, abusive man but she escaped, came back home and refused to go back.(I blogged about her, here)

Each of these women are unhappily married. They were pregnant in their teens. They live with verbal and physical abuse. Many of them are working more than they should, each of them is underweight (none more than 40 kgs) and most of them are earning.

Compare this to teenage pregnancies in the US. The girls are not necessarily married. They are unlikely to be forced to get married.

They can choose to have the baby or abort the baby – their health will be a huge consideration here, and a priority.

Despite the disapproval, they need not kill themselves to save their families’ honour.

They can continue to meet new men, maybe marry, maybe work, maybe live on their own, maybe live with their parents.

Their culture doesn’t like teenage pregnancies either, but it doesn’t abandon or ostracise one of the two responsible for these pregnancies.

So why do we think, are the teenage pregnancies in the west bad, and teenage pregnancies in our country fine?

Is this because these teen mothers are married? Does that really benefit the mother or the child? Perhaps the mother  has a father’s name to give to the child? (Can’t think how else it could be better for the mother or the child since they seem to have very little emotional or financial support). I would say the mother’s name is (and should be, specially in such cases) enough for the child. Mahabharat supports this. E.g.Kaunteya/ Kunti-Putra. Where ever the law doesn’t support the mothers, it should. Neena Gupta and Sushmita Sen are both single mothers and doing fine.

Secondly even if we ignore that most Indian teenage mothers are undernourished and miserable, what kind of life are these married (with parental approval) teenage mothers likely to give to their children? They have little  say in the children’s lives. I would say Juno made a much better and far more confident teenage mother.

And most importantly it’s the mother’s body and her choice. In India she has no rights over it. Just like she has no rights over anything else in her life. Or even a right to her own life.  How can a culture claim to respect women and mothers when it forces them to abandon helpless babies in garbage heaps simply because they are not married to the father!

Or else they can always take their own lives to prove their respect for a culture that doesn’t respect or value them.

Edited to add:

Link to this post was shared by ‘The Wall Street Journal’ here.

Link shared here, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/marie-staunton/mothers-day-a-30yearold-g_b_1353850.html

Can dowry ensure happiness and security for a girl?

Wealthy parents of an educated daughter thought they could ‘buy’ her respect in her marital home.

The boy’s family complained about the gifts at the engagement. They spoke of better ‘offers’ for the boy. The girl’s parents, fearing a broken engagement, agreed to pay more. The tantrums and complaints continued. They continued to comply. How strong and secure did such compliance make the daughter feel?

Her parents conveyed:

# Her parents were helpless. The groom’s parents were all powerful.

# There was no life after a broken engagement.

# A girl must get married. A girl must get married by a certain age. And then she must stay married.

These parents didn’t see what was so obvious. There was every indication that this family was more interested in dowry than in their daughter. The girl went through four years of hell, had a child and tolerated an extra marital affair. Now the husband wants a divorce and she is fighting him in court. She fears the stigma of divorce would affect their daughter’s future.

Her parents’ fears laid the foundation for this hell. Meeting dowry demands reveals a desperation to see a daughter get married and stay married. This can and did make the groom’s family feel they could ‘dictate terms’.

Another beautiful, intelligent and educated girl’s parents seem to feel they could not afford a not-abusive groom.  She was married, with all their savings as dowry, to a man without a regular job. Again there were indications of greed and verbal abuse after the engagement, but the parents ignored them all. She is raised to believe she is better off than many girls who are married to worse guys.

Her parents are proud of their conservative ‘values’ (sanskar) which forbade this daughter from interacting with men lest someone outside their community ‘ruins her life’. Her mostly unemployed husband finds fault with everything she does and calls her a ‘fool’. He thinks he has a right to control what she wears, when she wakes up, if and what jobs she picks up, what Television serials she watches and when and how often she meets her family.

Waiting till they found a suitable boy who did not demand a dowry, or self reliance for the girl were not seen as options here.

Another girl was married with a good dowry to a man who needed money to get his sisters married. The girl did not fit the standard Indian idea of beauty. Her parents wanted to see her ‘settled’ and thought it wouldn’t be possible without a dowry. The boy’s family thought he sacrificed his happiness for his sisters. The boy resented the girl and although he needed the dowry she brought, he felt exploited by her wealthier parents (but not by his own parents).

Since the girl’s personality, her wit and intelligence were not taken into account in these ‘negotiations’, what happiness could that dowry find her in this union?

Sometimes the groom’s family magnanimously agrees to accept a girl with just a rupee (as a token, in lieu of dowry). But this would mean the dowry is a boy’s right and a marriage without dowry is a favour to the girl. What does such a marriage or such a ‘favour’ do to a bride’s confidence? Isn’t there a chance that she might be expected to be grateful?

I know of one father who refused to honour a bad custom by giving even that rupee as token. The daughter felt pride not shame or gratitude for marrying  without a dowry. She was raised to believe she deserved happiness, success and all good things in life and must strive for them. The couple live happily today.

When a girl’s family gives dowry they are clearly saying that the groom is doing their daughter a favour. They also start a vicious cycle of demand and compliance, and leave themselves open to extortion – subtle or direct. Possibly former air hostess Neha Chhikara’s parents made this mistake when they gave 15 lakhs and then again 10 lakhs in cash to their son in law. The 23 year old took her own life on the first of January.[Link]

I agree with Editor, Techgoss, “Someone should start a campaign telling women that if their hubby/hubby’s family wants dowry they are walking into such life threatening situations.”

It is a myth that dowry is unavoidable. The fact is those girls who put their foot down find themselves in happier situations. A confident girl who knows she is worthy of being loved for herself would not see dowry as an option. In the end the world (and her spouse and his family) sees a girl the way she see herself.

A girl who is treated like a burden at home is more likely to accept abuse by her in laws or watch her parents fulfil dowry demands. [Read more here.]

Indyeah tweeted me the link to this inspiring article about girls who dared to throw out greedy families demanding dowry at the last moment.

This howlarious video I found on Alankrita’s blog also talks about ‘totally insufficient dowry’.

If someone dislocated your jaw…

If someone dislocated your jaw in one of the many violent beatings they gave you, how would you like to try to live with them and win their love?

23 year old Neha committed suicide on January 1st. Her family alleged that her in laws “used to beat her up...” [Link] “Once she was beaten so badly by Dalal  (her husband)  that her jaw got dislocated and she also lost her job as air hostess,” Atul Ahlawat, Neha’s cousin, alleged.” After losing her job as an Air Hostess, she found a job on the Cruise liner where her husband was working. [Details in the video below.] Allegedly he continued to beat her here and one day she just couldn’t bear it any more and killed herself.

I am trying to understand what kind of compulsions could make any parents let their child go back to a spouse who allegedly dislocated her jaw. What did they say to her when they asked her to go back? Would they have said the same thing if the child being beaten was a male child?

Why was it so difficult to let this financially self reliant adult walk out of what they allege was an abusive and violent marriage? I have blogged about this in ‘When a daughter refuses to go back’. I can never understand why we don’t trust our daughters when they say they are unhappy… why would we rather they died than walked out?

Here’s the translation of what the mother has to say. I know other Indian mothers who would have said exactly the same thing. My response in red.

“My daughter tried her best. (At best the beatings would become less frequent. The fear and mental abuse will stay. At best physical pain, indignity, embarrassment, humiliation and the lies to cover the bruises will become a part of her life.)

She did not want us to face any kind of unhappiness. (What about her unhappiness? Could she say the same thing for her parents?)

Neha was being tortured mentally. Physically too. (Why didn’t she have the confidence to walk out and save her life? Did she have no faith in her parents’ love and support?)

She told me this many times but I kept explaining to her that it will all be alright after a while. (It never gets ‘alright’, the threat of violence is always there and there is always a risk of injury and death)

The last time when she gave me the phone to speak to Ankit (the son in law) Ankit did not speak to me. And I heard Neha’s pained cry… like someone had hit her or something… then the phone was disconnected.” (This is a violent crime happening, and just because the criminal is a son in law does not make it okay. The parents should rush to the daughter’s side and if she has been brought up with any self worth and if she  trusts them, she will come back with them.)

I also feel violent men sense that the wife’s family would consider an odd dislocated jaw or broken bone their right as husbands. Nothing can be more encouraging for any criminal.

Dowry and Domestic Violence (DV) might lead to death by beatings or by suicide. Counselling and campaigns should be aimed at not just the victims but also the victim’s parents who see Domestic Violence as a domestic matter not a serious crime.

Can Dowry be compared to Inheritance?

My father’s sister describes wistfully, a silver Lemon Set her mother gave her when she got married. She  resents  that her mother in law passed the Lemon Set (along with other things) to her husband’s sister in her dowry. This silver Lemon Set had originally been a part of my mother’s dowry.

I ask my mother if she didn’t mind her things being taken away like this, but she says this was very common. A girl’s dowry traditionally belongs to her husband’s family.

There is a custom in some places where the trousseau is critically examined by the in laws and the girls in the new family pick whatever they like from the new bride’s possessions.

This sort of thing does not happen with inheritance. The inheritance belongs to the inheritors, legally and socially.

One hears of comparisons between Inheritance and Dowry.

I feel the biggest difference is one empowers while the other puts the lives of 50% of the population at risk. Right from the moment they are found to be females.

Unlike a Will, the dowry is wealth given away while the parents are still alive, whether or not they can afford it. This makes girl children unwelcome.

Inheritance on the other hand, can be used by the parents to ensure a comfortable old age. It gives them something to bargain with. They have a choice in when, how and to whom they part with it. This empowers them.

A friend once argued that since the girls get their husband’s property, it is balanced. What happens when a girl doesn’t marry? What if she is divorced or widowed? An unmarried, divorced or widowed woman maybe seen as an outsider in her parental home.

Girls who inherit are in a much better position socially. They are not considered a liability. They have the same rights and responsibilities as the male children. (Legally it is mandatory for all children to take care of their parents even now.)

Do you think dowry, jewellery and other gifts on festivals are a fair compensation for disinheriting or disowning a family member?

If it’s mine it can’t be wrong?

Sometimes I receive comments that insist that Culture, Customs, Religion & Rituals and Traditions cannot be wrong. They say there is a reason (often not obvious to an average follower) for each one of these  and if I find something unreasonable I can always ignore it.

But do I want to ignore my own Culture, Customs, Religion& Rituals and Traditions? I don’t think so. They are a part of me.

And if I do ignore them, someone else might not. This other person might not even realize that what’s hurting them can be questioned. Should we just sit and watch them suffer?

One option is to blindly accept, and even defend all wrongs. Deny there is any harm in them.

Like the custom of calling daughters ‘paraya dhan’, or tradition of widows wearing dull colours or the ritual of kuan poojan only when a son is born (in Haryana). Do we realise the serious repurcussions these have on our society and our daily lives? And anybody who says these are optional is not aware of what actually happens. 😦

The other option is to face that we aren’t perfect. Do we think our parents are perfect? And when we don’t, do we love them less? Then why this aversion to any mention of Culture, Customs, Religion & Rituals and Traditions as anything but perfect?

One reason could be a fear that ‘others’ might see our imperfections. But in this age of information, do we really believe that what we do not discuss, cannot be seen? Why not let ‘others’ see how open we are to discussion and reform, and maybe set a good example?

I received a very long comment (3000 words plus) that defended a large number of ills we blindly follow in the name of Culture, Customs, Religion& Rituals and Traditions, I hope to discuss these in forthcoming posts, but first I wanted to know, if it’s mine can it still be wrong? And if it’s mine and ancient can’t it still be wrong?

Or anything mine and ancient must be rationalized and proven perfect?