During the 90s, when conservative small towns in India were yet to open up to the concept of gender equality, my father raised two daughters.
I spent my childhood living with my parents, younger sister and grandparents in a conservative town right in the centre of our country. Our house was like a liberal island, beyond which lay a society extremely adherent to old customs and dictates. It was when I would step off this island, that I would realise how different our upbringing was from that of the girls around us.
Two daughters and zero sons
Most of my friends from small cities, haven’t seen their fathers right in the eye
Despite having kids of their own, they would dare not be in the same room as their dads, for more than a few seconds. There is always a feeling of awkwardness and discomfort, whenever these fathers and daughters have to interact. The deep-seated patriarchy in central India is not just omnipresent, it is invasive. It questions and loathes those who challenge it.
I must have been around twelve when I overheard a conversation between my grandfather and a patient of his, who blatantly asked him whether he felt sad that my dad didn’t have a son to carry on the tradition of having a doctor in our family since past four generations.
Complete strangers and social acquaintances have made me feel inferior about my gender outside my home on so many occasions. Elderly women and men would lament our parents' “pitiful” fate. It amuses many people that my parents were “content” with two daughters and they have said it to my face.
Not many things have changed since then. When my daughter was born in my hometown in 2014, the woman who worked at my father’s clinic refused to accept sweets we offered to her. “Beti hone ki mithai kya khani,” was her response to all our enthusiasm of being blessed with a daughter.
But my father never thought any less of us just because we were girls. For us, Baba isn’t someone we must fear or never dare to cross paths with
He is someone who lets us express our opinion. Who engages with me in discussions on everything from politics to the current pathetic state of medical field in our country. He never scolded us for raising our voices, but for not saying what we wanted.
Now whenever I visit that small town of ours, I realise how difficult it must have been for him to not have a son. The constant social scrutiny may have toned down in the past two decades. But it was not a great social influence on a teenaged girl to be pitied on for not having a brother. A big part of me still resents that town. But the resent is far lesser than that of those girls who had to compromise in every aspect of life due to their gender. From schooling, to buying clothes or doing household chores, me and my sister never had to make any compromises like many other girls.
Is my Baba a liberal man? Is he a feminist? Both yes and no.
He still disapproves if we wear shorts or sleeveless clothes. But he has always encouraged us to be independent
He considers that I now “belong” with my matrimonial house. But he still asks for my advice when he needs to purchase a new phone. He has never ridiculed my opinion just because I am a woman. Baba is not conservative, but he is traditional. And I am sure many urban and small town women will identify with what I am writing. For most of us, our fathers mark the transition phase between today’s feminist husbands and yesterday’s strict conservative forefathers.
They are unwilling to let go of the patriarchal values they have inherited. But they want to stand by and support their daughters as well. The fight to raise two daughters and zero sons was more with the society, than his own thinking. Gladly for us, it was his strong will and indifference to what people would say, which kept social influence at bay from our household. Baba successfully managed to raise two feminist daughters in a small town, while most fail to raise a feminist son in urban settings.
Picture Credit: Arleen Weise-Unsplash
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.