It was while discussing ways to thwart my parent’s plans of getting me married that one of my friend said, “Doesn’t saying yes to marriage equate saying yes to patriarchy? I mean how different are the two?” The more we delved into the question, the more we found the two similar. But it would be wrong not to contextualise the problem. Let us talk about marriage in South Asia in general and India in particular. The marriages in our society are deeply rooted in patriarchy and gender inequality. It begins with the socialization of children. While growing up, I was introduced to the concepts of ‘paraya dhan’, ‘mehman’, etc. I remember, even while indulging in some mischief as a child, one of the things that saved me from the wrath of my parents was the idea that she is a guest, a ‘mehman’, hence she should be allowed to do things. How demeaning is it to a person who is made to feel that she is a guest at her own home, that this is not her real home, that she belongs somewhere else.
It won’t be wrong to say that a woman in Indian society is homeless due to the patriarchal structure of the institution of marriage. The practise of ‘giving away of bride’ or bidai has become such an inherent part of our marriages that even the harbingers of liberalism and women empowerment fail to question it. Bollywood too has its share of naturalizing and concretizing these practices. Out of all the marriages you have attended, have you ever come across a marriage where the bridegroom is given away? Where the bridegroom is shedding tears with babul ki duayen leta ja playing in the background? The very idea of giving away of a person is regressive and needs to be done away with. Marriage should be about two individuals choosing to live together, they are not an object or a property to be given away. Similarly another practice that has become a norm in our society is making a woman to live with her in laws. Now this does not necessarily has to be a negative thing provided the woman too has the agency in deciding where and with whom she lives with. If both the partners in a marriage share a good understanding, then they can choose to live with those parents of the partner who are more in need of help, irrespective of the gender of the partners. But in a society like ours, even if it is the woman’s parents who are more aged, and require care, it is the woman who is expected to leave her house and live either with her in laws or separately with her husband. Sharing the space with wife’s family in a patriarchal society is perceived as a threat to the masculinity of the husband.
It makes me wonder, if by agreeing to marriage am I forcing myself to live a life of inequality. A mere look into the matrimonial advertisements are enough to give us an insight into the kind of society we are living in, thus substantiating my concerns. A woman is subjected to and judged on all kinds of impossible parameters, whereas on the other hand it is enough for a man to be earning and be a ‘man’. That very title relieves him from all other kinds of expectations. Not only that, once married, she is expected to look like a married woman, the society expects and in some cases forces her to wear certain kinds of clothes and accessories which according to them bode well for a married woman. But again, no such obligations for a married man. He can continue to look like before. Thus a woman is stripped off of her individuality. All those things that are important and constitute the identity of a person, right from the way of dressing to surname is changed.
Also, the institution of marriage has been romanticized to the point where it is depicted as the ultimate goal of life. ‘Marriage completes an individual’, is the rationale given to those who are leading a happy single life. How scary and unhealthy is the concept. By this derivation, those who choose not to marry will never be able to lead a healthy, complete life which is quite a ridiculous notion. The decision to marry or not to should be of an individual. In the end it should be an individual who has the agency over his/her life and not the society.
Although marriage as an institution does not necessarily have to comply with patriarchal norms, it certainly has become a tool at the hand of the patriarchal society we live in. It is these regressive norms that are propagated in the name of culture to further the domination of one particular gender over the other. Marriage if seen as the decision to live together as equal partners between two individuals is a beautiful alliance, one where both share an understanding to love and respect each other without clinging to the backward, regressive practices. If a marriage takes into account the differences between two people, endorses their distinct ways of living without the unnecessary intervention of the society, then that’s a marriage that would not scare this generation away.
[Faiza Nasir has completed her Masters in Political Science from University of Hyderabad. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The article was published by countercurrents.org.]
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