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?