My friend Meenakshi was elated when she met her future sister-in-law when she came along with her brother to 'see her'. She had agreed to meet her prospective groom, whom her parents had approved. Meenakshi told me she had found a friend in her who would be sister-in-law (SIL), and I was happy for her. She said her SIL is just one year older than her and is a working woman with similar tastes in food, sarees and outlook on life. Hence, Meenakshi thought if the sister was like this, her brother and her family would also have similar views. So, she agreed to this proposal happily, even though there was a vast difference in how the two families led their lives.
Once married, though Meenakshi was 'allowed' to work, the only condition she had put forward before marriage, she was soon bogged down with expectations in her new home. She had to get up early, prepare tea and breakfast (even though there was a household help) for everyone, and then leave for work. Once she returned in the evening, she had to change and again enter the kitchen, prepare dinner for the family, and clear the table and kitchen before retiring to her room.
You Raised An Independent Beti Now Welcome A Bahu Like Her
Within a month, she realised there was a double standard. While her mother-in-law (MIL) expected Meenakshi to do everything and then go to work, her SIL was exempted from any of these chores. Unlike my friend, her SIL was allowed to wear what she wanted and came home only after completing her task at the office. At home, she was not expected to do anything as 'she'll do these chores anyway once she's married'. Her SIL was free to spend her salary the way she wanted, while Meenakshi had to 'ask her husband' to spend her own money. For that's what bahus and wives from 'good families' do. She also had to contribute to household expenses regularly, while her SIL was not expected to do the same.
Finally, Meenakshi told me her SIL had found someone she wanted to marry and asked for her help to break the news to the family and even make them accept the boy. After significant opposition, she was finally married. Once married, her SIL would turn up at their place every other day in the name of visiting her parents. Meenakshi's MIL encouraged this, involving her in every decision in the house, even when choosing the colour of cushion covers. And Meenakshi had to agree to all such decisions. The height was when Meenakshi, a good worker, was given a senior position at her office, which involved extra working hours. Her MIL was the first to say that she should decline the offer as her first and foremost responsibility is her home. On the other hand, no such restriction was ever put on her SIL before or after marriage. Her MIL supported her SIL in whatever decision she took in her life.
What was surprising was that her SIL knowing everything, didn't oppose her mother or support Meenakshi. To top it all, her husband too never took her side. He told her how she could think of taking a promotion when they would soon be planning to have a baby. What then?
Seeing my friend's position, I wonder why women who support their daughters to be independent and take their own decisions try to clip the wings of their daughters-in-law. Doesn't she also have the same ambitions and aspirations? How do they forget that their daughters and daughters-in-law are of the same generations and have been given the same upbringing to be confident young women of today?
I'll tell you why, because it serves the patriarchal set-up of our Indian families, where women are responsible for doing household chores as it's beneath the dignity of the men in the family to participate. Women can work, but it has to be over and above the household chores. And the older women and matriarchs of the family happily play along, enforcing these patriarchal rules without realising they are instruments through which patriarchy operates.
When will women realise that there will be no change until we give freedom to our future generations to change the oppressive patriarchal set-up, which is misogynistic in nature? We will continue to be instruments in the hands of this set-up. And as they say, change begins at home, so women think about it.
The views expressed are the author's own.