Sex crimes against women have always made to the front page of the newspaper entailing an exhaustive debate about the omnipresent sexual threat on women in the various social strata. Sex crimes have soared in the past decade and the concatenation of sexual assaults against women post the December 16 Delhi gang rape case qualifies the statement. But are sex crimes the only form of violence against a woman’s dignity? What about the everyday struggle that a woman has to endure by virtue of her sex? What about the persistent negotiations and compromises she needs to succumb to in the name of maintaining peace within the family?
I want to streamline my attention to the institution of marriage which persists to oppress women. Within the patriarchal culture, marriage is postured as the ultimate destiny for women. The pursuit of education and having a career are encouraged as long as it does not impede with the prospect of marriage. In fact, if a woman does not marry within a specific age frame, concerned relatives and gossip mongering neighbours feel that it is their onus to remind the parents of the woman that they should get their daughter married! While critics may argue that women can exercise their autonomy and decide to adhere to singlehood but there is a stigma attached with single women. There is a propensity to delve into her personal traits and come to the conclusion that she must have shortcomings which has hindered her marriage. A single woman is looked upon as a social anomaly as she is a challenge to the institution of marriage.
Marriage is projected as a destination for women and everything else in her life is like the halt station. It is romanticized and fantasized to the extent that a woman starts believing that her life won’t come to a fuller circle without marriage. It is a very internalized concept that a woman is someone else’s property and the giving away of the bride by the father screams out loud that women are property transferred from one household to another. The marital symbols that a woman needs to don during the marriage rituals is a manifestation that now she is someone else’s property. It is still expected that it is women who will acclimatize to a new family and becomes an examinee to the constant test she is put to. Within the urban space, many married couples live separately away from the husband’s parents. However, that doesn’t mean that a woman is discounted from misery. If she is a house wife, she has the responsibilities of accomplishing the household chores and devoting herself to the thankless job that does not find any recognition. It is taken for granted that a woman is ‘naturally gifted’ for the domestic sphere and hence she will take care of the home while her husband works outside! Even if there is a domestic worker and a cook, the onus rests with the women to supervise them. And if the woman has a job,Â ‘double-day work’ becomes her fate. A woman who chooses to escape from the glare of the trope of her wifely duties is implicitly or explicitly reminded by one and all that she is a failure, thus injecting guilt in her; a slow poison to bring her back to the track of her womanhood.
Hence, it is not just the sexual assaults that infringes with the dignity of a woman. If we dig deeper right from the birth a girl child, the notion of femininity that she is socialized into goes on to become an onslaught to her autonomy at every juncture in her life.