By Prerna Grewal:
The self-assertive move of Indhuja Pillai to create a matrimonial website describing herself the way she wanted, rather than simply accepting her minimalistic, approval oriented depiction as “Tamilian, single child, 5 feet 4 inches, eggetarian, earning” in a matrimonial advertisement, not only induces positivity regarding women’s emancipation, but also provides the perfect opportunity to offer a commentary on the hasty attitude that many parents in the Indian society tend to have towards the marriage of their children, especially girls.
Speculation leads one to assume that parents are perhaps compelled by convention, perhaps by society and consequently, dictated upon by both; for convention is constituted only through the prolonged presence of society and its notions.
The ‘Indhuja like situation’ that several girls face, are all generated through the vicious wheel of compelling and complying. I call it vicious because parents, despite having their child’s best interest at heart, also compel them towards a compromise. After investing in their child’s education, they suddenly want to minimize the scope of their exposure as an independent individual, free of commitments or responsibility (towards another individual). I call it a wheel because it works not only through the dominance of compelling but also through the response of complying from the other side.
Amongst the financially weaker section, this wheel exists out of obligation and lack of education in some families. In such cases, one can perceive amalgamation of psychological, social and economic factors responsible for the existence of the wheel.
Coincidentally, while working on this story, I overheard the conversation between my mother and domestic help who was complaining about how her father-in-law’s apprehension of death made him hasten up the process of getting his grand-daughter married. Forced to discontinue the computer course that she was pursuing, she was married off to a man who lied about his job and qualifications. Today, he struggles for a job every second day while she stays at home and already has a kid, but lacks adequate resources to raise him.
One can empathize with their situation and try to generate awareness through various modes. But why does the Urban, educated class comply (except cases when they really want to) half willingly or unwillingly?
While conversing with a friend the other day, I heard the story of her senior, who, having graduated, was looking for a job within Delhi (the city of her residence) and not in any other city because her parents wanted her to stay with them for a while longer as ultimately she would get married and leave. Of course, her parents had nothing but her best interest at heart. Neither were they planning to marry her off right after she had finished her education or acquired a job. Yet, the same wheel of compelling and complying works here too; only because she complied with their demands. She applied for jobs only in Delhi, and I respect her decision as her personal choice. But my question here is – what if her potential offered her better opportunities elsewhere? When I heard the story, the first question that came to my mind was, why couldn’t her parents put forth the obverse condition for her to work wherever she wants, explore as much as she wants and get settled in Delhi after marriage? Why is it alright for the woman to go to the remotest corner of the world after marriage, yet she is forced to comply with all sorts of demands before it? Why is complete freedom granted by the paternal authority only once she is the responsibility of her husband, perceived by society as an alternate authority? I use the word responsibility against husband to highlight societal notions that pervade in our country. Otherwise a mature, educated individual is quite capable of assuming his or her responsibility.
The recent Maggi advertisement, in fact, is a complete contrast to this and showcases a girl of 21 preparing to move out of her house to an alternate dwelling within the same city. Her mother doesn’t really understand the necessity of it, yet respects her daughter’s wishes and puts up with it.
Compelling by society is not coercive. Rather it is internalised by people as “right” and as “the way things are supposed to be”. Therefore many parents don’t find it unsettling to marry off their daughter the moment she completes her education and/or gets a job. Just like parents, some girls also come to internalize these suppositions and comply. Who defines these suppositions? Who decides what is “right”?
The problem lies not just with the parents or the youngsters but with the rigid mindset that has been propagated and internalised over years. Changing times require alteration in norms and “ideals” of living. Today’s youth is extremely accommodating and the society too needs to broaden its horizon. Individuals must be allowed the freedom to conform to their notions and ideals. It is only through this freedom that they will realize what is right for them and what is not. One must allow this realization to dawn upon them through their experiences rather than making them conform to societal notions of right and wrong and its perspective of “the way things are supposed to be”.