I like to think that I am a feminist. And this side of me has become stronger since my daughter was born. But there are many times I’m too scared or don’t want to hurt the other person to say anything.
I belong to a fairly progressive family. But it wasn’t always so. One reason I am extremely proud of my family is the status women have in my family – and the way people have grown and changed their thinking along with changing times. THAT I think is the most important thing. The ability to change. To not stick on to old traditions just because it has always been so. My Nani did not allow my Mummy or Mausi to work even though both were very good in studies. Reason being that how will they find a good groom? But the same Nani always encouraged us girls to work. We are six cousins on my Mom’s side – 5 girls and one boy (my brother). Both my Mama and my Mausi have 2 daughters each and have never felt anything missing in their lives. My sister-in-law can wear anything she wants and say anything she wants in front of my parents. My Mom doesn’t think of her daughter-in-law being different in any way from her daughter. When Anna was born everyone was thrilled it was a girl. When a few months ago I was struggling to cope with work and baby, there were times when I really wanted to resign. But it was my Mom who always convinced me to not quit. Not that quitting for a couple of years is bad but just that she has seen in her own life the subtle differences that creep up because one person is financially dependent on the other.
My husband is a wonderful man and I have nothing but admiration and respect for his mother. She is truly an extraordinary woman and to be as loving and caring as she is after all she has faced is truly amazing. My father-in-law’s family is orthodox in the extreme. I never knew such people actually exist till I met them. Thankfully I have not had much interaction with them but what I have heard from my mother-in-law makes my skin creep. They have physically and mentally tortured their daughters-in-law from day one. And it still continues. It is a testament to my mother-in-law’s nature and upbringing that she still puts up with it.
But we don’t think alike at all. She truly believes that it is woman’s job to serve. To forever be at a lower level than her husband. That a daughter is ‘paraya dhan’. She believes the same for her daughter and for her, the son-in-law is someone to be respected and treated with utmost courtesy at all times. She treats me the same as she does her daughter. I have never felt on a lower level in that respect. It’s just that even for her daughter she believes that now her main family is her husband’s family and that they are more important than her own family is. That the ‘maika’ can never truly be a girl’s home once she is married. It’s never visible in her treatment of me which is always loving but is evident from the things she says. I don’t blame her. She has been taught it is so from the day she was born. She has seen her parents treating their son-in-law and family as Gods even when their daughter was being ill-treated. It makes me so sad. How difficult her life must have been? And all because she had the misfortune of being born a daughter.
Since Anna was born I have become much more sensitive to these things. People often joke that now R is a ‘ladki ka baap’ and has a ‘bojh’ on his shoulders. I know that these jokes are well-intentioned and I have laughed at them too. But not any longer. I will never let my baby feel that she is in any way inferior to anyone (man or woman) and I will not tolerate even any jokes about it. Because for a 5 year old who overhears it might not be obvious it is a joke. I don’t believe I am inferior to any man (including R) and that is because never ever in my home environment was such a thought conveyed – subtly or unsubtly. I know that I am my own person and not some extension of my husband and if the need arises I can survive on my own. If I have another baby and it turns out to be a boy I will try to never let anyone make either of them feel that they are at different levels. It might not be easy. And I might not always be able to control what others say and do no matter how much I want to.
But I can make sure that our home environment is such that Anna will know that she is treasured and cherished and that is the way it should always be. She is not ‘paraya dhan’. She is ours because she is our baby. And when she is old enough she will be her own person. Marriage is not the goal of her life. If God-forbid she marries a man who doesn’t treat her well or whose family looks down on her I will be the first to tell her to leave.
Till we learn to value ourselves, we won’t value our daughters.
This is not a very coherent post. Just some tangled thoughts that have been in my mind a lot these past few days.