By Archeeta Pujari:
Congratulations! You’ve just turned 18! You’re an adult now! An exciting journey of exploration and responsibility lies ahead of you…You can now legally participate in the democratic process of your country, you can drive on the road if you want to, you can get married and start a family, you can be charged and tried as an adult if you commit a crime.
But never mind all that! Those things don’t concern you now! You’re off to college, in another city! Your first venture into the big, wide world! Think of all things you’ll learn and all the new friends you’ll make! You can hardly wait!
You get to college and it’s as eye-opening as you expected…but not necessarily in the ways that you hoped. You live in the girls’ hostel, with the other female students, and curfew is at 8 pm; if you need access to the college library or computer labs after this time…well…too bad. They are still open, but only for the benefit of male students. You can only leave the campus with a letter from your parent, or the ‘local guardian’ stipulated by your parent. A bit like the notes you needed if you had to leave school early when you were little. If you choose to stay out past the allotted 8pm curfew, you are told ominously by the authorities “if anything happens, don’t come running to us for help”. Parent’s notes and curfews? But you’re an adult! You’ve gone out before! You trust yourself to judge situations and make sensible decisions! It’s for your own safety, they say. If we cannot ensure your absolute safety, you’re parents wouldn’t have allowed you to come here and study!
Since the city is unsafe, and there’s no changing that, the only way to guarantee your safety is to ensure you never go out! Your autonomy is a small price to pay in exchange for an excellent education, surely? Well, your parents are still supporting you financially at this point, so I suppose it’s only fair that you live by the college rules. But what about the boys you ask? Why do they get to live their lives as young adults rather than boarding school students? Well, intone the sages again- boys and girls are different, are they not! Very well, very well.
Congratulations! You’ve finished college with flying colours! And what a talented young woman you’ve become. Dancing, photography, so many diverse hobbies! And what’s more, you’ve landed that dream job with a well-known company. But before you start, the company needs to conduct a thorough background check, to ensure your criminal record is clean and all the claims you have made on your CV are true. As an adult, you are responsible for your own actions, and serious charges can be taken against you if it is found you have been fraudulent. Many weeks pass, and all your peers have been cleared to start work. The outcome of your background check still hasn’t arrived. Worried, you call up the agency to which the task has been outsourced. They say a problem has arisen, you have forgotten to provide your husband’s details, without them, the background checks cannot proceed. But you have no husband! You’re a fresh graduate, embarking on your career for the first time.
Well, they cry, you must provide your father’s details instead – his name, occupation, employment, education and address history, everything about him! But why? Why should your father’s privacy unnecessarily be invaded? Why should his background affect your future employment? What about your mother, does her background not matter in this weird system of parental transitivity? There is no reason, they retort, it’s just the rule, everyone must follow the rule.
The background check ultimately comes through, much to the inconvenience of your parents, their neighbours and colleagues. You begin working in this city far away from home. You live as a paying guest with 16 other girls in a private hostel, not that different from the college hostel you thought you left behind. The landlord is helpful but intolerant. Once again, there is a curfew, albeit a ‘generous’ 11pm one. If you are stuck late at work, it takes much pleading and grovelling before he unceremoniously lets you in. And there are absolutely no male visitors, at any time, in anticipation of the inevitable ‘hanky-panky’ that is bound to occur in such a situation. But you are a young working adult in a big city! What if you want to go have a drink with some friends at a bar? What if you do, in fact, wish to consentingly engage in the said ‘hanky-panky’? You are legally old enough to both drink late and night and have sex if you choose to, and equally, face the consequences, if they arise. Who are all these people to impose upon your freedom? Nevertheless, the hostel is comfortable and convenient and cheap. Is it really worth antagonising the landlord? You stay on.
One day, you sign up for a salsa class. You enjoyed dancing as a girl, and it sounds like a bit of harmless fun, some light exercise and laughter with friends. It’s time for your first class, you dress in loose, comfortable clothes and two of your male friends come to meet you at the hostel so you can travel together. You stand near the street to catch an auto. A policeman walks up to you and confronts your friends for ‘travelling with a woman of clearly suspicious character’. Shocked, you try to argue that you live right here, in a good neighbourhood, in a respectable girl’s hostel. The policeman is infuriated by your impunity; he goes to the landlord of the hostel and threatens to close the hostel down as the rooms are clearly being rented to ‘unsavoury characters’ (unless, of course, a generous ‘payment’ is made, in which case, all can be forgotten). That night, when you come home, you find that the landlord has found your parent’s number in your emergency contacts records and phoned the poor bewildered souls to tell them of your transgression, much like a teacher apprehending a naughty child. And your crime? Maybe salsa dancing with boys isn’t a decent pass-time for a respectable girl…you should avoid engaging in activities that threaten your tenancy and cause your parents more stress.
A few years pass, many of your friends get married and move away. You are settled in your job and earn a comfortable salary. Congratulations! You’ve got that promotion you were looking for! You can finally afford to rent your own flat, get away from this bizarre, supervised life among stranger’s you’ve lived with so far. But when you approach letting agents to look for properties, they sneer in your face! A single woman looking for an apartment? Clearly a person of questionable character! No landlord would rent a flat to you! And sure enough, you are turned down again and again and again. Why aren’t you married? Why are you not living with your parents? It doesn’t matter, you implore, look at my employment verification letter, look at my tenancy records from past landlords! To no avail. In the end, you return to that same hostel that you despise, with its 11 o’ clock curfew and no visitors rule.
Congratulations! Today is your wedding day! You are married now. You’ve packed your bags and left your job to move to the city your husband lives in. Suddenly, all the problems you have faced till now have dissipated – together with your husband, you can go out when you please, rent a flat, take that dance class you wanted to! You have finally been given the society’s permission to lead your life as a married woman! You have safety, security, almost a warranty stamp in the form of your husband. Anything goes wrong; he can take responsibility for you. You are now, finally, a legitimate member of society.
It’s paradoxical, this culture we live in. On one hand, we burden our children with the obligations of adults: child labour, forced marriage, trafficking, infanticide, paedophilia and abuse, on the other hand, we forcefully infantilise adult women, making their every action, their very identity, accountable to their parents or their husband.
It must be a hypocritical society when the best choice it can afford to its women is between child marriage, or existing forever as an unmarried child.
Note: This is a fictional compilation of true experiences of various people