Every single day I hear my mother and grandmother crib about how my 34-year-old cousin is still unmarried! “But she is 34 now!” exclaims my mother. “Which good man will want to marry her? She will get an older man only. It’s not an age anymore to have so many expectations!” says my grandmother in an irritated voice. But Neha, an empowered woman, is stubborn, till now, with slight guilt of whether she is doing the right thing because hurting her family members was never her plan.
Marriage is an indispensable chapter of a middle-class Indian woman’s life that almost haunts her like a shadow, often becoming larger than her life. But this obsession with marriage would have played in favour of her if she were allowed to choose when and whom she wants to marry. My cousin seems to have committed two blunders of her life. First, she prioritised her dreams over marriage and second that she decided to take the control of her life and marriage in her own hands and mustered the courage to defy the social norms.
Why is there a time limit within which a woman should get married and embrace motherhood? Was it not enough already when the society imposed the burden of marriage as an unavoidable reality? Why can’t a woman want different things from her life before she is ready to get married? Why can’t marriage wait until a woman is fully prepared?
One of the major reasons behind this bias is the belief that a young woman is more fertile than a woman of older age. And since in India marriage is the only acceptable way of establishing a sexual relationship and embracing motherhood, a woman should get married at the right ‘time’. And if she doesn’t society jumps to the conclusion that it is the woman’s fault.
But just because families want their sons to marry young women, should a woman wrap up everything and get in line for groom hunting? What about her education? What about job, investments and future plans? It is a known fact that in today’s world of globalisation and increased competition, a person has to struggle harder and longer to attain stability in life. Unlike the earlier times, just passing high school or being a graduate is not always enough to get a well-paid job.
According to a report of 2019 released by Azim Premji University’s Centre for Sustainable Employment, graduate students in India are twice as likely to be unemployed as the uneducated. According to the human resource development ministry, the number of students in India pursuing higher education has increased by 800,000 in the year 2018-19 making it to a total of 37.4 million. 48 per cent of this is women students.
Also Read: Empowering women through employment
If men are allowed to study and struggle until they are financially stable to sustain a marriage then why not women? Or do we just assume that women do not need to have a career or that the man solely should carry the burden of financial duties?
Moreover, everyone should have the freedom to choose what they want in life without any conditions. A child has a choice on whether he/she wants to play with Barbie or a racing car. A voter has the choice to vote a representative or just go for NOTA. Then why can’t a 34-year-old woman choose who and when to marry? This should be the case not only because women have the freedom to choose but also because marriage that is only based on unequal compromises is bound to fail.
It is high time we normalise that a woman is an aspiring person who wants to stand on her own as much as a man. We also need to normalise women marrying at a later age when she is financially stable, informed enough to make the right choice of the groom, and most importantly, ready to embrace a new phase of life. As far as the passing time is concerned, it never stops for us. We are the ones who decide how we want to cope not the social obligations.