Of the plethoric identities women are expected to assume in India, I’ve always found the ‘Ghar ki Lakshmi’ title to be the most amusing. Why? Because irony always amuses, no matter how grim. When this lovely title is assigned to a daughter, sometimes even as she is only a minute or two old into the world, it seems to signal the importance she takes up in the household that is oh-so-prosperous to have her.
However, as she ages, from a girl to a woman, she realises it’s all just a big prank. Because the notions of prosperity, health, wealth, and happiness she is expected to bring to the home oftentimes come at her own expense.
Many single women in India, a majority I would argue, still live dependent on their parents, shifting their dependence onto the husband after marriage.
Not because they always want to, but because as women, they aren’t given the means to do otherwise, as a result of which they have no choice but to feed off another person’s finances. But this Diwali, let’s shake things up. Let’s drive the Lakshmi title us daughters have so generously been handed to fulfilment. Not in the divine devi way – which is all just sexist philosophy and virtue signalling – but through something more tangible. Because being labelled the incarnation of one of the most important goddesses is no ordinary honour. Since we've been endowed with it, why not seize it into something more relevant?
Why Aren't Daughters Raised For Financial Independence?
Lakshmi, as one of the Tridevi goddesses that form the female holy trinity in Hinduism, is said to signify good fortune. Always decked in gold with a wizen old owl by her, she is the picture of economic wealth personified. She gains renewed importance every year around Dhanteras and Diwali when everyone – right from those losing hands at annual card parties they have themselves wilfully attended, to the billionaire reclining on his diamond-encrusted chair - beckons her to shower some cha-ching into their folded hands.
It's an interesting phenomenon to witness people praying to a goddess for money one day and denying their daughters the right to work or manage their own finances the next. These are still realities in India since the idea of earning independently is still inaccessible to many women. How many daughters are raised with the motivation, the training to fend for themselves as sons are? Are daughters pushed towards the goal of getting a job, making money because they might have a family to support in the future?
No, they’re usually pushed towards the direction of the kitchen because that would be the extent of Lakshmi's support in her future 'ghar.' Chai and roti (that too for everyone else, before herself).
Are Women In Control Of Their Finances?
I'm not big on religion at all, though I do allow myself some indulgence in the treats of all Indian festivals. To that end, as also the scope of my financial agency, my parents have always given me complete liberty. But I'm aware I only form a minuscule fraction of the minority that has access to this luxury. Though I do live with my parents under the same roof, my earnings and spendings aren't regulated by them, as long as I'm transacting through my own income. But even in my privileged position, I know of tens of other girlfriends who can't say they enjoy a similar status. For many of those who earn, their bank accounts are joint to their parents', who are clandestinely or brazenly holding the reins.
A 22-year-old friend of mine has, on countless occasions, told me how in her joint family, the patriarch - her paternal grandfather - is in control of the household finances. Her mother, a woman well into her 40s, is a teacher with a steady income, and yet, is required to deposit her earnings to her father-in-law on a monthly basis. For household and personal expenses, she is given - no, "granted" - what is the equivalent of "pocket money" when she asks for it.
Pocket money for a supposed 'Ghar ki Lakshmi,' can you imagine? And all this, conspiring in one of the poshest, most urbane areas of South Delhi. I can only imagine the plight of women elsewhere, in less privileged areas.
How To Be A Smart Ghar Ki Lakshmi
Women have begun axing down the glass ceiling in the business, labour, corporate, and other working sectors, to come into their own and rise up at par with men. But even now that they're earning, how much are women really in control of their finances? And since finances can directly or indirectly be linked to joy and good health - as Lakshmi ji and her wise, old owl thus ascertain - do women have agency over their own happiness? Can they ensure financial security for themselves, in the off-chance that things go haywire?
Granted we're being given the status of a goddess who wouldn't actually be plagued by mortal moh-maaya as this. But the thing is, we women are real, alive, and in the flesh. And if we are being symbolised as supreme beings with unimaginable power, then we'd like to define the terms and conditions ourselves - not the ones that patriarchy has set down for us.
So this Diwali, by all means, aspires to be a 'Ghar ki Lakshmi.' But not one devoted to ensuring the health and happiness of everyone else at the cost of her own. Earn, for the welfare of your family as well as for yourself, but be judicious about financial risks and securities. Make your prosperity a priority. Be a goddess if you please. But a smart one. Remember, the powers you need are already invested in you, for you are, above everything, a woman.
Views expressed are the author's own.
Suggested reading: Women And Money: How Can The Two Be Better Friends?