What does an ideal Indian bride look like? For starters, she sits with her eyes downcast, not lifting to even peek a glance at the waiter’s tray as he passes with a delicious-smelling snack. She must also smile, but not smile too much. Talk, but only in whispers and in a way that doesn’t make her appear like she is a ‘fast’ one. She is decked in jewellery but her ultimate gehna, that defines her worth on her wedding day, is her coyness.
A dulhan is expected to play her part well and to the hilt to be considered a good woman who will keep her to-be husband happy. In India, we consider marriage to be the most sacred institution. Every girl is raised with the expectation that she will one day become a bride and move into her ‘own’ house. A patronising euphemism to mean the husband’s house.
For all the significance we give to marriage in women’s lives, one would think that society should be overjoyed when they see a bride celebrating the day she gets hitched. Instead, what do we do? We judge women who dare to have fun at their own weddings.
Why do we box women into these unwarranted stereotypes? Why can we not see a woman declaring her happiness without feeling the need to police her? Should weddings not be occasions where everyone joins the bride and groom in celebrating?
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A woman is considered too ‘forward’ if she laughs or eats or sings or dances more than social norms allow for on her wedding day. Hundreds of guests, many of whom are complete strangers to her, have their eyes glued to each movement she makes; some aunties stare harder, lying in wait to catch a slip in her dulhan decorum facade that would give them gossip fodder for days.
This reality isn’t restricted to just brides, though. Patriarchy ensures that women across marital statuses are subjected to scrutiny over their morality and decency.
We don’t like seeing women who make independent decisions. Not just a bride who chooses to dance at her own wedding, but a woman who prioritises career over marriage or a woman who dresses as she pleases, they are all chastised for not conforming to the sexist standards that determine if she is virtuous.
Why can’t we let women catch a break? Why should a bride be made to feel guilty for smiling ‘extra’ at her own big day? Or why, when she becomes a married woman, is she told that she should behave like a married woman? Does the acquisition of a new marital status come with terms and conditions that mandate women to adopt sobriety as second nature?
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Scores of women today have caught on to the double standards at Indian weddings. The hypocrisy that allows men to dance till they break a sweat with their friends at their baaraat but tells women to sit quietly in a corner with their makeup and lehenga on till her groom arrives.
Have you seen the difference in manner between a bride and a groom during the garland ceremony? For the groom and his friends, it’s all fun and games. He is lifted on people’s shoulders and strains his head back in mock reluctance, so the bride has to make an effort to garland him. (A tradition with highly sexist connotations of the sad end of bachelorhood for the man.) When it’s the bride’s turn, however, the garland goes over her head peacefully and is accepted with submission.
Catching onto these duplicities, many brides today are shedding the Meena Kumari persona for a more bindass one, celebrating their weddings in style and in full. We saw celebrities Sonam Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra in photos from their big days, looking animatedly elated. Here are some more.
And then there was this cool bride in Tamil Nadu who performed martial arts in her wedding ensemble. This one broke the bidaai rule of crying, even if tear ducts don’t cooperate, by driving her groom to her in-laws’ house. IAS officer Tapasya Parihar, meanwhile, refused the kanyadaan ritual, asserting she was not an object to be given away.’
The ideal Indian bride is a happy bride. As long as you have reason to celebrate, why bother what others say?
Views expressed are the author’s own.