When a woman gets married in India, it is expected of her to be prepared to care for her family and their needs. The family here doesn’t imply just her husband and children, but her in-laws as well. The husband’s parents, siblings, any unwed aunt, sister, etc, are also your responsibility. You must care for them equally. Why? As a married woman, that is one of your prime duties, or so we are conditioned to believe. But what if a woman doesn’t want to live with her in-laws, ever? Does that make her selfish? Must she be shamed and belittled for putting herself first? Must she be goaded into adjusting relentlessly, even at the cost of her well-being?
- Women who do not want to live with their in-laws after marriage are projected as selfish. Why is that so?
- While we are raising progressive daughters, how many households want liberal bahus?
- Does every daughter-in-law get the support and love in her matrimonial household that she deserves?
What if a woman doesn’t want to live with her in-laws, ever? Does that make her selfish? Must she be shamed and belittled for putting herself first? Must she be goaded into adjusting relentlessly, even at the cost of her well-being?
Our patriarchal society still labels women as primary caregivers in a family. Wife, mother, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law; relationship profiles change, but the duties remain somewhat the same. She is expected to adjust according to the norms of her matrimonial household, and put the needs of those in her house over her own. However, these norms do not take into account the mindset of most modern Indian women and men.
Today, India is raising its daughters to be educated and financially independent, which are key components to being self-sufficient. Thus more and more women are marrying out of the desire for companionship, and not looking for someone to take care of them financially. Marriage still remains a give and take relationship, but what both the parties bring to the table, and seek from the person sitting opposite to them has changed. Earlier, it was easy. A man would bring bread to the table and wanted his wife to care for his family and vice versa. But the dynamics are much more complicated. Women, no longer being financially dependent on their husbands, expect them to pitch in for household chores. They expect to be treated as equals in the relationship, in every aspect. Men too are rapidly adapting to these changes. However, once you start living with your family after getting married, the tussle between old values and new virtues begins. While women hold their ground, men often back out, due to deep-seated patriarchal conditioning, a sense of duty to please their parents. That’s the reason why, as many women may have observed, men tend to behave differently when around their parents or family.
I am not putting out women as victims and the husband’s parents as evil straight out of an eighties Bollywood movie. I live with my own in-laws, who are very supportive. In fact, my mother-in-law is the reason why I can hold on to a full-time job. But how many women can say the same about the situation at home? Aren’t a majority of working married women still expected to do household chores as well? While Indian parents are raising liberal daughters, are they welcoming liberal bahus?
It is not enough to raise feminist daughters if we still expect women to shed that cloak of progressiveness at the altar of marriage and turn into demure submissive wives.
Another issue in play here is that of authority. No longer are girls conditioned to “adjust” according to social norms. However, not many households are open to the idea of having a daughter-in-law who speaks her mind, does as she thinks is right. I agree, that when you live with a family, decisions are meant to be taken together, and adjustments are inevitable. But must the burden of adjustments always fall on the women in a household? While children should take care of their ageing parents, should the responsibility of elderly care falls only on the daughters-in-law? Do all Indian households treat their daughters-in-law with dignity, care and love that they deserve? Is it unfair for a woman stuck in such a situation to not want to live with her in-laws?
A lot of women see such problem unfold in homes around them, and perhaps it makes more sense to them to live separately, to avoid unnecessary confrontations on a daily basis, which could cost them their mental peace and turn their marriages sour. But our society isn’t kind to such women. They are called selfish and home-breakers, who turn sons against their parents, and set a bad example for other girls. Any couple turning their back on their ageing parents isn’t just said to be irresponsible but is also called immoral. But instead of shaming or forcing women into compromising, it is time for society to examine its patriarchal structure instead. Every household needs to ask itself, why does the bahu want to live separately?
Picture Credit: indiiatcnews.com
The views expressed are the author’s own.