Can love exist without respect? This is a question that I always find myself pondering upon. I come from a place where love was found in abundance. Whether it’s my own family, my friend circle, or neighborhood, there was no dearth of well-wishers. I never had to face any discrimination based on my gender or so I thought. For a long time, I thought gender inequality exists only in the quantity of food served, quality of upbringing, and the amount of love served. But now that I look back, I realize it lies in the smallest things-
- When you are not allowed to learn climbing a tree or to ride a bicycle because if you are hurt and left with a deformity and scar, no one would marry you
- When no one ever shares anything about the family’s financial condition because parents can never depend on their daughter for money
- When you are allowed to dream of the highest level of education but then instructed to settle for a teaching job because it would give you enough time to focus on family or banking job because then you can get transfer to wherever your spouse is
- When you are sent to debates and extempore to improve your self-confidence but at the same time asked not to argue with the men in the family
- When you are taught to be independent but at the same time expected to manage your spouse’s household from his diet to housekeeping
- When your job is all about sustaining yourself in case your spouse kicks you out of the marriage and not a step towards building a long term career that defines your identity
The Movie Thappad
Yesterday, I watched the movie Thappad. To be honest, I couldn’t think of it as a movie. It was a slice of truth for me. For people who are not exposed to Bollywood, Thappad is a recent Hindi movie. It revolves around a housewife Amrita and her fight to get her inner peace back after her husband slaps her in a fit of rage during a party. The promo and the trailer of the movie shout just one question- “Is it justified to ask for a divorce only because of an assault that happened just once and that too in the heat of the moment without any underlying hatred?” Even for a self-declared feminist, this action of Amrita was a bit far-fetched for me. However, after watching the movie, I realized I still have to learn a lot about patriarchy as a tool of systemic oppression. After all, how do we see a ‘slap’ when talking about a man and a woman?
When a woman slaps a harasser, it’s a lesson- a voice against injustice
When a man slaps his wife, it’s a domestic violence
When a woman slaps her husband, it’s a matter of shame for the husband and joke for others
But how do you see this particular slap, without any context? How should have Amrita viewed it?
- Her brother and sister-in-law asked her to forget it and move on because Vikram, her husband just found out that his employer had betrayed him and he was angry and in the heat of the moment, he slapped her
- Her mother and mother-in-law advised her that women have to tolerate a lot of injustice in order to keep the family intact.
- Vikram expected her to support him mentally and emotionally as he was going through a bad phase in his career
What I saw:
- Vikram didn’t apologize to her- not immediately, not the next day, not in the next few days, not among the people present in the party, not even alone
- Vikram was more worried about his image among family, friends, and colleagues
- The look in everyone’s eyes- sympathy, shock, guilt, anger, whatever but no one stopped or confronted Vikram
- Vikram was angry with his senior. He wanted to insult him and was being stopped by a number of people. He ignored everyone else but when Amrita tried to stop him, he channeled all his anger on her as if he owned her
Amrita did try to ignore it and move on. After all, this was all she used to do. She was like a user interface between Vikram and his life. From taking care of his mother to making printer work to fetching files and bed tea to running after him with his things, pleading him to have his breakfast, Amrita was living the life of a personal assistant robot. The only difference was she never complained, in fact, she took pride in it. She told her mother-in-law once- “I never thought I would become a housewife but when I had to, I decided to be the best one.” Amrita found a purpose in managing her household. She believed she was an equal partner in the life Vikram dreamed of but he proved it wrong.
Indian Housewives vs American Housewives
I take a lot of inspiration from movies and series that I watch. One major difference that I often see while watching an American series is the status of women in American households. There is a marked difference in the treatment of women characters portrayed in the series:
- Domestic help and baby sitters cost a bomb which often leaves parents helpless and one of them decides to take care of the home while the other works. Unlike in India where this responsibility invariably lies on the woman, couples discuss their situation and based on reality, take a decision.
- I often see the working partner acknowledging and appreciating their partner’s sacrifices and promise them to support them when their time comes unlike in India where the first thought that comes to the husband’s mind is that it’s his wife’s duty towards the family.
- Both partners often work together to manage the house whenever they can unlike in India where on holidays, husbands and children spend the entire day enjoying delicacies and watching television and the wife toils to fulfill their demands.
Status of women after marriage
What often happens to a small river? It doesn’t have a big water source to carry itself on its own for a long distance. After having its own course and its own name, it ultimately empties itself into a big river and is lost forever. Similar is the status of a woman in India. She loses her identity in the form of her surname, from an individual person, she becomes someone’s family. She gets a lot of love from her in-laws and respect in the society but just as an extension of her husband. She as an entity ceases to exist.
I used to love visiting my village. I was always treated with so much love and respect. I was always asked about my work, my travel, my adventures. I always felt proud of sharing my experiences and they would smile and nod and wish the same for their unborn daughters. However, things changed after I got married. On my first visit to the village with my husband, I was totally ignored. I thought they were just trying to make my husband feel at-home. But the next time I visited without my husband, things remained the same. All the questions I was asked revolved around my husband and my married life. People totally forgot that I had a job too.
There is an amazing book I keep coming back to. Its name is “Lost Connections” written by Johann Hari. Hari himself has suffered from depression for a long time and he is set on a path to uncover real causes of depression, beyond hormones and chemical reactions in the brain. In this book, Hari lists down nine causes that can make a person vulnerable to depression. We would discuss these causes and understand how they play out in the existing Indian society for women, especially homemakers.
1. Reason 1: Disconnection from meaningful work: The life of an Indian woman is a story of endless chores. Whether she’s a working professional or a home-maker, often running a household is a one-woman show. Even during holidays and vacations, women hardly get any time to relax. I recently watched Four More Shots Please! where the character Sneha complains to her husband- “ A woman is expected to work as if she has no family and manage the home as if she has no job.” Ultimately, it becomes a thankless mechanical routine without acknowledgment, respect, mindfulness, and rest.
2. Reason 2: Disconnection from other people: Out of all the evil practices that exist in Indian society, the hardest hitting one is the fact that a woman has to leave her own house after the wedding and settle in her husband’s home. This shift, unfortunately, is not only physical but also mental and emotional. Suddenly one day, her own family ceases to exist. They don’t have the right on their own daughter. Not only her family, but she is also expected to spend less time with her friends as well. In their place, there’s a family who judges her every action and behave accordingly. Relationships are formed based on a social contract rather than emotional connections. A woman has to go through levels of tests to prove herself worthy of love. In the end, it looks like a battlefield instead of a family. And if she chooses to have her own home, she’s called a home-wrecker!
3. Reason 3: Disconnection from meaningful values: The battle between the intrinsic motives and extrinsic motives. Intrinsic motives refer to the emotions that motivate you to do something, the inner peace and happiness you achieve from doing something. Extrinsic motives refer to external rewards that motivate one to act like the hope to be respected and loved by your husband and in-laws. More often than not, the unrealistic expectations on women to be perfect at everything pushes her to value others’ opinion more than her inner voice. This leads her to compromise on her own aspirations and beliefs to make others happy.
4. Reason 4: Childhood trauma: Not even considering sexual abuse that women face during childhood; little girls are often exposed to violence and insults faced by adult women in the household. While growing up, they undergo constant scrutiny by their own family, relatives, and even neighbor. Also, the lack of exposure to knowledge of menstrual and sexual health leads to many women suffering in silence.
5. Reason 5: Disconnection from status and respect: As discussed in previous sections of the articles, when it comes to status and respect, most women struggle to have an identity of their own. They are said to be “paraya dhan” (someone else’s property) destined to be married off (transferred) in the process called “kanyadaan” (giving away the daughter). Ironically, a woman is often termed as “ghar ki izzat” (family’s pride) and n number of restrictions are imposed on her to uphold this respect.
6. Reason 6: Disconnection from the natural world: Though equally relevant for both the genders, this cause holds more essence when we consider the restriction of movement imposed on the women. Sometimes due to safety issues, sometimes to keep them under control while sometimes, to avoid gossips from neighbour, women often find themselves unable to travel on their will unless essential or accompanied by family members
7. Reason 7: Disconnection from a hopeful and secure future: In a country where the female labor participation is only 26%, most women are dependent on their family for survival. Even for most women having an income, there is a lot of dependencies on parents and spouses and hence taking a decision on their own, whether it’s about the family in long terms, high-value purchases or own travel plans don’t happen. When one cannot have control on their own life decisions, it’s impossible to have a plan for the future.
8. Reason 8 & 9: The role of genes and brain changes: Mental health is still a taboo in India irrespective of the gender. Although some studies suggest that women are more prone to have mental health issues, women are already considered weak and hence, many of their symptoms are always overlooked in the form of laziness, mood swings, tantrums, etc. In a lot of households, women are the primary caregivers and in the process, their own physical, as well as mental health, is neglected. In the absence of diagnosis and treatments, these ailments often remain untreated. The book says that some studies have suggested some genes believed to be responsible for people being more prone to depression. The author himself talked about his mother and her family suffering from depression for a long period.
Let’s continue this debate…
I often have this urge to clarify at the end of all my articles, it’s not a war between men and women. It’s a revolution against an age-old system that perpetuates gender stereotypes in the name of culture and tradition that harms both men and women. Ironically, to date, no man has ever told me openly that being a woman, I should lie low but women in my family have. In fact, I have met many men who are the victims of patriarchy- always pressurized to be the breadwinner of the house, expected to be stoic about their feelings, pushed to pursue careers that bring money and not job satisfaction. Going back to the movie Thappad again, I really liked a fresh approach the movie had. Unlike typical movies and shows made on violence against women where the culprits are demonized, this movie gave a new perspective- an image of a modern and educated family where women are respected or so you would believe. Though the movie tries to be as realistic as possible, few questions often cross my mind, about what alternative a woman has if she chooses her mental peace over the comfort zone of an unjust alliance. What about women who do not have the so-called-privilege of being educated or having family support. It seems that this article has just touched the tip of the iceberg but let’s discuss it some other time. As of now, I am closing this article with the trailer of the movie.