Why Do Indian Families Have Different Standards For Their Beti And Bahu?

beti and bahu, women hold family together
I have a friend who was recently married, she told me her married sister-in-law who lived in the same city would come visit her parents whenever she felt like and partake in family discussions and decisions. But my friend, whose parents also lived in the same city, could not go visit them without her husband’s and mother-in-law’s permission. When asked, she was told that married daughters should not visit her maika too much, or else how will she adjust in her sasural? Now that she’s married her first priority is her marital home. She wondered, why are there different standards for the daughter of the house and bahu? I think everyone will identify with my friend as it’s the same story in each Indian household. Beti and bahu are always treated differently.

There are different scenarios where daughters-in-law will be treated differently from the daughters by their in-laws.

Being perfect cooks

No matter if the daughter does not know how to prepare even tea but bahu has to be perfect in cooking up dishes for the family. The expectation is that bahu should have learnt to cook properly before stepping into her marital home. Even if it is her first time, she should cook as if she has mastered the art.

On the other hand, in-laws are very defensive about their daughter’s cooking skills. She is too young. She can learn later. While cooking is a life skill that everyone should know, irrespective of their gender, why are expectations so different for a beti and bahu in a house? Why this selective empowerment?

Bahu should be the first to rise in the morning

I had a colleague who would get up early in the morning each day, take her bath (because bahus don’t enter the kitchen without it), prepare tea and breakfast for everyone even before the house help arrived, when she did arrive – my colleague had to give instructions for the day and then leave for office. She had to do this even when her mother-in-law and sister-in-law were at home all day.

So, why are daughter-in-laws asked to get up early everyday and do all the chores by themselves, even if they have a full time job? Meanwhile the daughter whether married or unmarried has all the freedom to get up whenever she feels like in her parents’ house.

Beta and bahu should not spend alone time

Many in-laws still have a problem if their bahu and some spend some alone time with each other. This makes the mother-in-law, jealous it seems. She feels like someone is taking her son away from her.

On the other hand, the same woman would go on to praise her damaad, if he takes out her daughter for a date, buys her a present and spends time with her. She will brag about having the “perfect damaad”, but when her son does the same, she will accuse him of being partial towards his wife and not paying attention towards her.

Daughter-in-law should plan on having a child soon after wedding

Even if the son and his wife don’t get to spend time together, in-laws start urging them to have a child soon after the wedding. A bahu is also expected to put her career on hold for the sake of motherhood. Then there’s also the subtle or outspoken desire to deliver a male heir to the family.

On the other hand, all support is given to the daughter of the house if she delays getting pregnant or is undergoing infertility treatment. So a beti’s decision to delay pregnancy is a choice, but a bahu’s decision to the same is her selfishness.

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Bahu should attend every family function

A bahu should be nicely dressed and should look beautiful at all family functions, otherwise how will her mother-in-law flaunt her in front of relatives. Even if she is suffering from any kind of illness, there is no exemption to this dictate- she must look presentable as she represent the family and their status.

However, the same in-laws will allow their daughter to skip a family function if she says that she has exams at college or an important presentation at work, or if she is simply not feeling up to the task.

Bahus will never be appreciated

No matter what a daughter-in-law does for her family, her saas-sasur will always have some criticism to offer and will never appreciate her. On the other hand if the daughter will be treated like a star for helping out with basic chores at home.

Daughters are definitely different from daughters-in-law

A daughter is “different” (or alag type ki ladki hai) so she has all the freedom to wear what she wants, come and go as and when she wants, can choose a career of her choice, choose not to marry, can go on vacations with friends, eat what she wants and even have privacy. But none of this applies to a bahu, you see she cannot be “different”, she should be stereotypical. All parents want their daughter to be “hat ke” but no ones wants such a bahu. How is that not discrimination?

The thing is, Indian families love to project themselves as progressive and yet retain their core orthodox values, thus is born the discrimination between beti and bahu. But a family can’t be progressive if its drive to empower women is selective and dependent of lineage- favouring their own blood. There is just one word to describe such families- hypocritical.

Views expressed are the author’s own.