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Marrying Into A Family: Why The Indian Audience Related To Meghan Markle’s Interview

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A woman gets married to her partner, leaves her independent life back home to live with her husband’s house with 50 other family members, is expected to adhere to family traditions that go back hundreds of years of monarchy, gets dragged into crude family politics by the senior bahuraani, isn’t allowed to leave the house without due permission, is bitterly talked about by her new neighbourhood, and is silenced from complaining or seeking help. As much as the British Royal family would despise this being said, they are not as different from a middle-class Indian family.

Even as the rest of the world is stirred up about the inherent racism that British society and tabloids continue to practice even today – after all, a racism that justified slavery and colonialism for hundreds of years takes time to surrender – there is one aspect to the interview that the US and Europe audience would not be able to relate to as much as the Indian audience would. And that is the plight of a married woman in a joint family.

In the West, when kids turn 18, they move out of their parents’ house and learn to live on their own. And so, once they get married, the woman is not expected to erase her pre-marriage identity and fit in a strange house to call her own – she doesn’t have to cook dishes to impress the parents, or wear saris and salwars that the new family would approve and pray to the same gods they do.

However, things change when it comes to the British Royal family. As Meghan Markle told Oprah in the interview, she left her life as an American actress to shift permanently to London to perform her duties as a member of the royal institution. As soon as the news of the two dating spread, the Brits started commenting on Meghan’s ethnicity, her history of being a divorcee and what her intentions behind marrying into the Royal family might be.

Sounds familiar to ‘choice’ marriages in India? Family dinners are held before the wedding is fixed to discuss whether the girl is trapping their seedha-saadha munda.

Once Meghan became the Princess of Sussex, tabloids started filling pages on how she was not sitting according to royal etiquettes, wearing black nail paint on occasions or had a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ when her bra was visible during an outing. In her biography that Markle submitted for the Royal family website, she mentioned her life-long commitment to social work and women empowerment. It comes as no surprise that none of her work came to limelight for her critics while talking about the new Royal member.

This is similar to how women who live in joint families are policed for their clothes and follow the family customs instead of considering her an individual with personal choices.

The story of the Princess of Sussex was the same as the story of the Princess of Wales, Diana. Like Markle, Diana faced harsh camera flashes and pen strokes of the British media. The two shared the pressure of being married to a family, fitting in and only being allowed to do what looks good for the family. Both of them suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts because of being suffocated by traditions and reputation. Markle told Oprah how when she told the Royal institution about her suicidal thoughts, she was denied help because “it wouldn’t be good for the institution.” None of the Royal family members stood up to acknowledge her debilitating health and get her help.

Harry and Meghan Markle with brother Duke William and Duchess Kate MIddleton. Credit: Getty Images

Markle’s story is indicative of the lives of married women who aren’t allowed to lead independent lives after marriage. While she had the privilege of a supportive husband who was sensitive towards mental health, the resources to seek help and separate from the family, and a support group of friends and family, most women in India do not have any of these.

According to a report by the National Crime Records Bureau, housewives accounted for the second-highest percentage (17.1%) of all suicide victims in India in 2018. Additionally, more than half of all women suicide victims that year were housewives.

Once a woman enters a new family after marriage, she is made to do all the domestic chores while being constantly mistrusted and put to the test by the whole family, often even by the husband. She is isolated from her maiden family and silenced within systemic expectations and disappointments. Especially if the woman belongs to a different caste, religion or culture, she is reminded of not being a part of them.

Markle’s interview has brought up the conversation of the impact of oppressive traditions on one’s mental health, especially women. In the name of reputation and “this is how it is,” women continue to be silenced, and even killed in some cases. The statistics of women dying by suicide must be taken up seriously by NGOs and government bodies to build a more efficient system of helpline numbers and rehabilitation centres and questions need to be raised about the cost at which we wish to keep customs alive.

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  1. Niraj Chandra

    Beautiful article. Yes,, many Indian households are like that royal family, with bahus facing the same problems

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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