It's 2022… the world seems to have moved forward in so many ways but a young lady's intensely personal decision to omit the kanyadaan ceremony from her wedding still makes news headlines. And yes, even in today’s day and age, this personal choice feels like a seismic shift of the tectonic patriarchal plates of our society.
Some of us rejoiced at the agency exercised by the young lady who had already broken several barriers, seen and unseen, to become a civil servant. But did we also pause and ponder why these battles are left only to women to fight? Why don’t we as a society, also join this battle to fight the deeply seated prejudices and biases?
Take for instance the otherness of daughters. That daughters are birds of passage, that once they are married they no longer belong to us, that the home and the family that nurtured them is no longer theirs, that girls once married should adjust and never return.
This is perhaps best summed up in this line from a popular song from a movie which released but a few years ago- बेटियां जो ब्याही जाये मुड़ती नहीं हैं-... It haunts me. It is something we women in India ..no perhaps across South Asia have imbibed deep into our psyche. In fact, it has somehow got imprinted into our DNA. A secret gene which travels across generations...unmutated. She may be a Kashmiri lass or one born in a Tamil Nadu village but this is a cross we all bear....
Women face derision, ridicule, neglect and abuse but they do not turn back because they have been told for centuries that they can’t turn back. It’s their omerta. They face physical violence or die a little each day battered by mental and emotional abuse but they don’t turn back. Instead they wipe their tears and miraculously smile for turning back is not a road they travel upon.
They raise kids and nurture families. They live wrapped in shrouds of silence and deceive everyone around... the new family, the old family, those with whom they are bound by blood and those that they have borne and even themselves but they never turn back.
They spend their youth in terrible loneliness listening to the oh so slow corrosive shattering of their dreams, they live through middle age finding refuge in a multitude of roles and endless expectations drowning that inner voice of lament and regret but they never turn back.
They become old. They become wise. They become the anchors of the worlds they have created…. houses they have molded into homes. They create new bonds and never forget the old ones but they never turn back.
Women and marriage: Do we have it in us to break this cycle?
Can we rewire ourselves to let our ">daughters know that they always have a home to which they can return in case things go wrong? Do we have the gumption to lead a daughter-in-law to safety instead of silencing her into accepting abuse and abandonment as a way of life?
Can we pause and ponder that we are both perpetrators and victims of this misplaced notion that our girls don't turn back..? Can we instead tell our girls to go with our blessings for it is the way of the world that girls do go away, but leave a door ajar for them to turn back... for a wounded bird can hope to fly again but a trapped bird can never ever dream of flying again.
The views expressed are the author's own.