I have reached an age in life when marriage tops the list of things that I should have before it is too late. Belonging to a generation that is aiming for gender equality, I cannot turn my deaf ears to the contradictory ideas that marriage embody. Marriage for some people is a bond of love and respect. But, for others, marriage legalises the practice of many oppressive and patriarchal beliefs. Is this not a part of reality or are we forced to ignore it? Why can’t we have a marriage that means equality and mutual love for everyone? Why should marriage signify two completely opposite ideas- equality and patriarchy? And when my parents ask me about marriage, all I want to say is “Which one are you talking about?” Read on further to know how Kanyaadan, dowry system, domestic violence and stigma of divorce are still a part of marriage and change its meaning completely.
The custom of Kanyaadan is a significant part of a Hindu marriage. It literally means giving away a daughter to the groom and his family who will now take care of all her needs (kanya: woman; daan: donation). Besides, the custom is also a religious and emotional process of breaking a woman’s connections with her parents and building a new relationship with the groom’s family as a daughter-in-law. But many people perceive Kanyaadan only as a donation of a daughter to the groom’s family. This clearly shows how the practice is backed by a regressive idea that objectifies woman as an offering or donation. The custom of Kanyaadan is so deeply ingrained in marriage rituals that it cannot be given up completely. But why can’t it signify the love of a daughter for her family rather than her objectification?
There are no enough reasons to question why the dowry system is still a part of Indian marriages. It has been abolished in 1961 and even today the next door is collecting gold, money and what not to give away in dowry. Dowry system not only measures the values of a woman in gold but also makes her a burden for families that are not economically qualified to pay huge dowries. Rather than being abolished, the amount of dowry now decides the social status of the bride’s family. Even though some families do not believe in dowry, they still give cash and kind as gifts to avoid the questions of society. But does it change the underlying fact that giving of “gifts or dowries” is significant for marriage? The increasing dowry deaths further show how the prevalence of dowry system can fail gender equality and women empowerment. Why is this reluctance in openly rejecting the dowry system even though there are laws against it? Perhaps, because in India, society, its morality and custom come before everything else. Till the time the dowry system remains a part of marriage, marriage cannot be more than a business deal between two families.
Domestic Violence But No Divorce
Domestic violence is one of the many hushed realities of marriage. For some people, marriage becomes a proof that they can dominate their wives. People with this mindset consider women as an inferior gender who is dependent and less efficient than men. And when a woman tries to raise her voice or claim her rights, they use violent means to silence her and their own insecurities. What makes it worse is when women themselves choose to ignore or remain silent against the injustice meted out to them. Why? Because it is a prominent belief that once a woman is married, she cannot get out of it with a respectable identity. The woman’s family often advise her to adjust and manage but never to seek a divorce. The stigma around a divorced woman in India is still an unavoidable reality. Few women do manage to walk out of an abusive marriage and lead a good life ahead. But, how significant is that few in changing the dominant and the opposite reality? Can this change the fact that many women suffer from domestic violence every day but cannot choose to walk out of the marriage?
I am not trying to argue against marriage as a whole. However, there is a need to address the wide difference between the perception of marriage- if it is a mutual bond of love and respect for one, then why is it compliance with patriarchy for the other? Can we not have a marriage that is without a business deal, abusive relations or dehumanisation of a woman?
Views expressed are the author’s own.