I was going through Ellen Barry’s article in the New York Times that talks of how young rural women are moving to the city (Bangalore) with hopes of leading their own lives. Coincidentally, a friend of mine shared the same article on Facebook highlighting this section from the well-researched piece: ‘Each morning, before she is allowed to eat, the daughter-in-law must wash the feet of her husband’s parents and then drink the water she has used to wash them.’ My friend was almost flabbergasted to note that such practices still exist. Knowing that such neanderthal practices do exist, I replied to her, and a vigorous discussion ensued.
To be honest, a lot of such ignominous practices, or norms, rule women’s lives in our society, a little too strictly in the rural areas, and masked in the urban. It is surprising to note that a few of my friends too (highly educated, working in the top tech firms of the world) have been through these ‘societal norms’ after marriage; some of which, if not the same, are similar, and equally abominable. A few examples are as follows:
The daughter-in-law is not supposed to sit on a chair or a bed in the presence of other family members. Her ‘place’ is on ‘the ground.’ She is supposed to sit on the floor.
A daughter-in-law is supposed to touch the feet of her in-laws EVERY SINGLE MORNING. The sad part is that this rule has to be strongly followed even if the woman is heavily pregnant.
A newly-wed woman should not eat her meals in front of other members of her family. She should be eating away from anyone’s view, especially of the elders, and that can be in a dark, dank, storeroom!
Why? I ask why?
Note that I’m not waging a war against in-laws here. I’m pointing out the daily oppression our daughters have to go through. Silently. At home.
If you dig deeper rationally, you will notice that the blanket of our customs and traditions is so huge, and so thick that a lot of such practices are easily covered under its hood. Our girls suffer from some of these draconian rules, but they are expected to follow them. The moment a girl revolts, she becomes a stigma. Questioning or not willing to adhere to these ‘customs’ exacerbates the situations and makes her the wretched one.
Coming back to the discussion we had on Facebook, someone suggested boycotting the author of the article because she was portraying India in a bad light. I found the comment funnily fanatical. Rather than boycotting the author, we should boycott some of the oppressive and demeaning traditional practices that are widely prevalent here. We can choose not to speak about these maladies, because sub-consciously, we want to maintain the status quo of the society; but at the same time, we can’t really squelch the courageous one who chooses to talk about and bring such issues to the forefront. Sadly, the patriarchy ingrained in us makes us immune to these social ills around us, and we pretend that they don’t even exist.
In addition, the roots of such social malaise are so deep that thinking of changing anything makes us shudder. Uprooting them will probably take a few lifetimes. It is often sad to note that our with our education, we have not moved too far ahead from where we started.
Nevertheless, a change can start somewhere. It has already started. The fact that a Sashi or a Prabhati (from the article) can garner enough courage to be the aberrant daughters and move out of their homes is enlightening.
We can start the change with small steps.
In our own homes.
The article referred to in the post above is by Ellen Barry and appeared on the New York Times on September 24, 2016.