Most Indian women will make for expert tightrope walkers because that's what our daily lives feel like- walking on a thin rope, with the ditch of failed expectations on one side and unending social stigma on another. The chances of us falling down on either side are very high and let us face it, it happens more than we would want to, with heartbreaking results. One seemingly wrong decision and you will directly be into a forced arranged marriage. This life-altering decision is Indian parents' answer to log kya kahenge, and to prevent any more chances of social backlash for not tightening reins on the life of a grown-up daughter.
Indian families do not need many reasons to strong-arm their daughters into checking out rishtas. It could be anything from her phone buzzing late into the night to any relative catching her hanging out with a boy. Or being snapped having a drink with friends. Or falling for a guy who turned out to be lousy.
Decision-making is a privilege in Indian households which comes with huge accountability, especially for young women. If women are lucky enough they can get a similar education as their brothers, can wear jeans and even say yes to a job far away from home. But at the end of the day, the manual on how to be a good daughter and later a daughter-in-law is always intertwined with her individuality. One mis-step during your days in college or living away from home, and just like that, it is over. "Come home, we want you to meet this guy."
We need to address the fact that often, decisions of women are deemed to be wrong even if they aren't, simply because of society's lofty moral code for them.
Why does a girl have to fight for everything that boys got inherently? Why do daughters have to take every step with 10 times the precautions? Why are some actions seen in different lights for different genders? How come we are still not able to unlearn regressive values that are centuries old and thus hold little practical value in the day and age that we live in? Why is a forced marriage seen as a solution to falling on hard times for young women? Sons can make mistakes, or make an error in judgement, only to be told to see this as life experience, but for women it means you have crossed a line beyond which your parents can't afford to let you exercise free will.
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Forcing Daughters To Marry: Liberty Comes At A High Cost
An acquaintance of mine, who belongs to one of the most patriarchal states of the country, was forced into a marriage. Her felony? She was "caught" talking to a boy on the phone. That is not even a mistake, come to think of it, but from her family's point of view, it was a crime. Her family kept a tab on her for a few days and on one fine day a courtroom was set up, but without giving the defendant a chance to even present her side. Any possibility of attaining higher education, or pursuing a career just vanished into thin air and all it took was one conversation that was overheard by a family member.
The tussle between living modern lives and retaining old values means that families pretend to have a liberal outlook towards women's rights but only on heavy terms and conditions. However, conditional liberty is also policing of women's will, that has been disguised to simply add more accountability to women's consciousness. It holds women responsible, for losing out on their freedom by "misusing" it.
No one knows when this sham will stop. What women can do is to challenge such hypocrisy at home and demand fair treatment. However, the road to liberty that doesn't come with terms and conditions is long and winding.
Views expressed are the author’s own.
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