Day 23 : How Our Society Keeps Women in Line

A distant cousin of mine left her marital home a couple of years back and hasn’t been back since, and naturally has been providing a fair amount of grist to the gossip mills of the log in the society. Said cousin, along with her one and a half year old son, is living with her parents, who live in the same city as my parents, which means I am at all times fairly abreast of  the latest developments in her case and who-said-what-to-whom.

This cousin has a long list of complaints against her husband and in-laws. These include:

1. Having to cook huge meals all through the day, particularly when the in-laws came visiting from another town, which they did often. They also stayed for at least a couple of months on each visit.

2. No freedom to dress comfortably in the presence of the in-laws– being expected to wear a sari in front of them at all times.

3. Husband kept silent when her parents were unfairly criticised by the in-laws time and again, and was not amused when she took to objecting to their allegations.

4. Medical care when needed was not available easily. She was encouraged to have homeopathy medicines which the in-laws themselves prescribed and which she thought were no good at all.

5. Leaving the house alone was frowned upon.

Now I am not particularly fond of this girl but I admire her for her courage in walking out instead of putting up and being miserable. I also love it that instead of appearing to be wallowing in self-pity or sorrow, she looks perfectly happy and content. Her parents are in general very conservative and chauvinistic and I have never been very fond of them either but by wholeheartedly supporting their daughter in her decision, they have earned my sincere respect.

Sadly, I must be the only person in the community who thinks this way. Everybody else has only unkind words to say about the girl’s uppity and ‘non-adjusting’ nature. Her parents also draw much flak for not prevailing upon her to get back with her husband.

These below are some of the things people have to say:

1. Why did she have to leave? It was not as if she was being abused! It was nothing that couldn’t be resolved by communication.

2. What’s wrong with cooking for in-laws?  I did that all my life. Was I a fool ?

3. Why don’t her parents counsel her and attempt a reconciliation? They are encouraging her unreasonable behaviour by making no effort to normalize things. (much to my chagrin, even my mother is inclined to think so)

4. She is being naive, she has no idea how tough it will be for her to bring up a son all alone.  Does she think her silly computer job will take care of all her needs?

5. Just let her brother get married. His wife will teach her a lesson then.

6. Her father may not say much but he is worrying himself sick. There’s no greater grief than a daughter who refuses to stay with her husband–and look at her! Laughing and enjoying life like this !

Actually, it is not really surprising that this girl should not get the society’s sympathy.

Some of these people are parents of married daughters, and they tremble to think of what would happen if their own daughter were to return to them like this after all the money they spent on her marriage.

Some are parents of married sons, and they are aghast that girls should have a problem cooking for and respectfully living with in-laws. What if their own suitably meek DIL takes cue from such girls and leaves them in a lurch?

Some of course are parents of both married sons and daughters and that surely compounds their horror. If you look closely, everyone of these people has a stake in maintaining the status quo in the society. They look at such girls as a bad influence on other women and bad news for all of them in general.

Some younger women are also amongst those criticising her–their motivations are slightly different. To them, this only looks like a good opportunity to tom-tom their own various sacrifices, which, poor things, they never received much credit for.

And so this collective critical chorus goes on–sending warning signals to all other young women in the society. Look how hostile we are to those who do not conform. Look how we can make life hell for them (now, if only this girl weren’t so thick-skinned!). You better stay in line, okay?

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14 Responses to Day 23 : How Our Society Keeps Women in Line

  1. This is an increasingly common story, cutting across all regions and communities in India.

    Three nieces of mine are in the same position. They have left their husbands, and taken the baby with them and are living with their parents and have been ignoring the tongue wagging from relatives all around. While one is trying to divorce her husband (who is contesting it) there is no talk of divorce as yet in the other two cases. Nothing is decided about who will back off. The parents of both (boy and girl) are despairing the situation and hoping a patch up will take place after some time.

    All the nieces are accomplished and talented and financially independent and two had arranged marriages while the third chose her own mate after dating him on line first and then getting her parents involved. So this is not an “arranged marriage” problem. It can happen with choice marriages too.

    I feel this is happening because in these modern times when women are economically independent before and after marriage, enough discussion is not being held and and clear agreements are not being entered into BEFORE the marriage. The time has come today, for parents of boys to give up assuming that their son’s home after his marriage is their home too and that they have a right to live with the son and expect the daughter in law to serve them. Girls should tell the boy and his parents up front before marriage that she wants a home of her own and while the boys parents and the girls parents are welcome on short visits, they should not expect a second home for themselves and neither should they dictate household rules when they come visiting. Of course, the couple must similarly respect the elders wishes in their houses when they go visiting them.

    If this is understood and agreed upon right at the beginning, a lot of marriages can be prevented from breaking up. No boy should get married if he is not able to live in a house of his own.
    It is sad when a marriage breaks up not due to incompatibility between the couple but due to other family members living with them and getting involved in their lives.

    Times have changed. Some people have not changed.


    • Fem says:


      I agree with you that people aren’t very clear before the marriage, but this is not a modern phenomenon. Since ages, there have been people who hid the dark side of their son’s and daughter’s characters to get them married off. The only reason why a ‘problem’ did not happen was because there was no divorce system, and women were not empowered to work and take care of themselves.

      Even today, I know that people tend to hide their sexual past, their medical problems, and their bad habits from potential suitors. Women are told by parents not to tell a prospective husband that she wants to have her own home. ‘You can demand one after the marriage is done.’ This is because there is such a premium based on marriage that parents don’t even care if this kind of behaviour would spoil the husband-wife relationship. After all, their daughter is married. What more do they want?

      I always respect everyone and when I visit, I offer to help and am generally polite. I do not demand special food, or drink in houses where it is not the custom. At the same time, I will never agree to changing my dressing style or wearing jewellery in the name of ‘respect’ for elders. That would be a complete invasion of my privacy. Would I demand that elders wear shorts and skirts when they visit me? If not, the opposite should not be expected either. I realise you probably do not mean this, but very often in India, this sort of stuff passes for ‘respect to elders’.

    • Gvji, in this case, the boy apparently hinted that they should have a divorce if she was really adamant not to come back. The girl says she is not going to divorce him so easily, she will make him pay for her lost years. I don’t at all agree with her here, though, because I do feel it would be best for both of them to be done with the divorce and move on.

      Yes, some people have not changed at all.

  2. simplegirl says:

    oh absolutely..toe the line or be ready to be ridiculed…

  3. Bingo says:

    I loved this post. Big thumbs up to the girl.
    //Some younger women are also amongst those criticising her–their motivations are slightly different. To them, this only looks like a good opportunity to tom-tom their own various sacrifices, which, poor things, they never received much credit for.// – I came across this. For my dressing, for calling husband by name, for not wearing saree, for travelling alone and even for some silly reasons which I cannot reveal. I always wear a fake smile in front of them and crib about it later to BD 😦

  4. Ashwathy says:

    Most often in such situations, it is the people around who have a problem with the scenario… not the people undergoing the circumstances 😐

    • The thing is, the people undergoing the problem see it as a personal issue, while the people around them see it in a ‘broader’ sense as an issue which affects the well-being of the society as a whole. So they all rush to take steps to minimize the damage to the society 😐

  5. Fem says:

    Such easy answers to those questions!

    1. She was being abused. End of story.

    2. Yes, you are a fool.

    3. Because the parents are those creatures, so rare in India – Sensible parents

    4. STFU.

    5. I’m sure his wife will have better things to do in life.

    6. Yes, there is a greater grief – ‘log’ like you who interfere in everyone’s business!

  6. Mystic says:

    Hats off to your cousin for refusing to be treated like this. Although its very annoying to hear people run down what is perfectly self respectable behaviour I would use every conversation to dialogue about how strong this young woman is. With some luck people will eventually realize that this is the better of two evils.

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