Can A Woman Stay Friends With Her Ex-Mother-In-Law After Divorce?

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One of the most sellable tropes that popular Hindi film and entertainment culture has cashed on for years is that of the monster-in-law. So much so that people who grew up around their mothers and grandmothers watching daily soaps on television have been hard-wired into believing that a woman and her daughter-in-law can never be friends. Because even though it was profoundly titled Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, every episode was a lesson in how far-placed the saas was from her bahu. Therefore, with that context, even the thought of a woman staying on amicable terms with her mother-in-law after divorce seems outrageous, improbable, and almost scandalous. But is it really? Or has the idiot box spoiled us too much?

The foundational idea upon which this mother-in-law versus daughter-in-law war holds ground is the woman against woman culture that, in essence, is highly misogynistic. It pegs womankind as some kind of vain freak of nature incapable of co-existing like the very tolerant mankind. In 2020, that is exactly the kind of stale stereotyping feminism and women everywhere are trying to combat. Because the sexism is glaring, limiting, and unfair. Why must a woman always measure other women’s worth per a man in the middle? Can a woman not maintain relations with her mother-in-law despite a fallout with her son? Is it really impossible for her to estimate her mother-in-law without the capacity of her former husband?

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It’s Not Impossible For A Woman To Love Her Former Mother-In-Law

Since the world is reforming, albeit at whatever snail pace, women remaining on good terms with their mothers-in-law is a phenomenon that has been known to happen. Madhuri Banerjee, author of noted novel Losing My Virginity And Other Dumb Ideas, shared a picture with her former mother-in-law writing, “Took my ex mother in law out for a hair cut n lunch. Been divorced for a decade but I’ll always love her cos she’s my biggest support.”

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These stories of change often retain a low-key status, compressed under the patriarchal system with such force that it prevents them from rippling to the surface. One of the ways this discourse reaches the mass then is through popular culture, i.e, films. And it is heartening to witness that – despite the din of harsh Kokilabens and meek Gopi vahus – some cinema is attuned enough to actually take up stigmatised subjects of divorce and friendly in-law mothers and give them a sensitive treatment.

Anubhav Sinha’s 2020 film Thappad is a prominent example. It showed Amrita (Taapsee Pannu) remain a doting daughter-in-law to Sulekha (Tanvi Azmi), disregarding the rift between herself and her husband. Despite Sulekha’s traditional apprehensions about divorce, the two were shown as women with a relationship independent of the man that tied them together. And isn’t that what should be the ideal? If two people share a special bond, why must they regard it from the standpoint of a third person?

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For a woman who moves into her husband’s house after marriage, her mother-in-law is often positioned as someone who can make or break her happy married life. But it is this very privilege (or the excess of it) that has placed mothers-in-law on a dominant pedestal from where they are expected to command their bahus like puppets.

This dated notion of these two women’s allotted seats in the Indian household is precisely what needs to be done away with. Should a woman have to enter or leave marriage with the burden of servility to anyone, including her mother-in-law? Why mustn’t a mother-in-law continue to be a source of support for her former bahu if the two share a relationship exclusive of her son?

The time is for women to lift other women up. Regardless of whether the middlemen approve of it or not.

Views expressed are the author’s own.