I was travelling in my usual ladies’ compartment in the Mumbai local train. Two middle-aged working women were sitting beside me. I had only three more stations to wait for, so, out of curiosity, I started listening to their conversation. They were talking about a common friend, whom they hadn’t been in contact with for a long time.
One of them asked, “What are her kids doing now, do you have any idea?”
The other lady answered, “I heard the elder son has gone abroad, and the younger son is working in a software company.”
I thought they belong to a well educated and earned family.
The second woman continued, “The younger one had gone to Dubai for two years and now he has returned. Her daughter got married a year ago.”
I waited for more, but no other information seeped out about the daughter; they shifted to a completely different topic.
The train announced the next station, and I had to get up. But I started thinking; how is it possible that two economically independent ‘working women’ (who can do research on the complete history-geography of another woman, and who can present this complete research in the form of gossip) lack data about another woman’s daughter, apart from the fact that she is married? Does this imply that ‘getting married’ is the highest possible goal that a girl can achieve?
While shuffling through channels on TV, recently, I came across a patriotism-driven Sunny Deol movie, “The Hero: Love Story of a Spy”. One scene showed the conversation between Deol (a Military officer), and a Kashmiri resident, about his daughter Reshma’s (Preity Zinta) desire for education and their inability to pay the tuition fee. The officer, since he is a generous hero, gives him the fee for six months and asks him to enroll her in the school. I was happy to see this, and thought it was a good messag, like ‘Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao’. But then the scene that followed showed the father being skeptical, and the hero saying, “Dekhiye aap ki achchi beti hai, padh likh jayegi to achcha ladka mil jayega (You have a nice daughter. If she is educated she’ll get a nice groom).”
Basically, according to a film from mainstream Bollywood, a girl’s education is a façade, ultimately aimed towards marrying her to a good boy (?). Actually, according to the ‘Young Achiever’s Matrimony’ (which is actually ‘Arya Vysya Elite Matrimony’), for girls, even education is not a criteria to get married if they are beautiful (!). We often see posts which have collages of girls in different uniforms in different fields—medical, military, science and technology, the corporate sector, to name a few. That portrays a very ideal society, of empowered women. We can’t disagree that the number of women employed in every field has been rising, but it’s a very deceptive illusion.
The number of female professors is high, but the number of female heads, Vice Chancellors or senior scientists is low. There is a huge difference in the number of female doctors with bachelor’s degree, and those who are specialists with qualifications like MD/MS, or above. We hear a lot of complaints about the discrepancy in the income of female and male actors. For how many years are we going to talk about the same female CEOs like Chanda Kocchar and Indra Nooyi? It’s clear that very few are actually at a significant or ruling position.
Those few, again, are mostly from an already well established, well-educated family. The girls from other, less privileged communities/castes don’t always have a favorable environment in which they can do what they like, because there are no/less boys having equivalent qualification/professional temperament. It’s a harsh reality that those who try to fight this have to be prepared to live a life full of enormous mental and even physical torture. An unmarried man at a higher position is looked at like a saint, whereas an unmarried woman with the same status would always be the topic of gossip, and no parents want such a life for their daughters.
Even in urban areas, so many girls pursuing higher education are forced to marry before they even complete their degrees. So a girl capable of being a CA is forced to work at a minor position in a bank, and cook for her in-laws. Her parents don’t think that if she waits for a year to prepare for the exam and cracks it, her standard of life would be much better than what it is now. They don’t imagine such a future because their imagination is shrunk by the patriarchal mindset, often gifted by a widely accepted interpretation of religion.
The objectives of a Hindu marriage have been to bear offspring (preferably a male who will be the successor and who’s duty is it to cremate his parents) and to be able to perform religious rites and sacrifices (which a man can perform only along with his wife). The achievement of all these objectives is dependent upon the wife. A woman is supposed to be under the authority of a man for her entire life (father till youth, then husband, and then a son in her old age). Those who don’t follow this are bound to pay for their sins in their next life by taking birth in lower ‘yoni‘, or lower caste.
The few girls whose parents are a bit supportive or slightly more progressive are always told that whatever education or hobbies girls wants to pursue, they must do so while they are still in their parent’s home; because after marriage there is no guarantee that they’ll get a chance to do it. The institution of marriage and the façade of the forced and obligatory ‘joy of motherhood’ forces women to ‘adjust’ their careers and eventually the entire schedule of life is according to what her in-laws and childcare-needs demand. This also affects a working woman heavily when her children have their exams (mostly boards), where if she doesn’t take leave, her motherhood is questioned. Marriage and so-called family values make a woman’s resumé look not-so-professional in our rising capitalistic environment. The private corporate organisations, or even off-beat career options are thus usually rejected by a girl’s family because they don’t provide necessary leaves, facilities, or security. Even now, the most secure jobs for women are considered to be the ones in banks or in academic fields (teaching).
So we really need to think rationally about the need to update the ‘genre’ of religion and its social relevance; but in the era of decline, even as the Supreme Court rules that all women are allowed to enter Sabarimala, only time has the answer.