‘Women’ – I wonder who coined this term and what was going on in that person’s mind when he or she came up with this term.
I perceive it as an add-on to the term ‘men’, which according to me, is the added unique feature of carrying a womb within.
But that aside, I wish to step into the shoes of a neutral observer and understand the most important phase of “gender identification” when it comes to “weddings” and “shenanigans”.
In today’s day and age, a large share of families still consider it practical to select a groom or bride on the basis of various factors like caste, class, looks, fame and money. These attributes contribute towards what is considered a viable and approved method to select a partner. This belief is compounded by the fact that a marriage typically involves the coming together of two families. If the girl happens to select a groom for herself, she is often termed as “characterless” or “asanskari” and her parents are blamed. But if a boy selects his own mate, he is considered “cool” and his parents, even “cooler”.
Old mindsets continue to prevail
In our community, if an arranged marriage is taking place, then the first of many queries hurled at the to-be bride’s father is, “how much money can you spend on our guests, on gifts and on the party?” Besides, the process of marrying off one’s daughter is termed as kanyadaan — meaning the donation of a girl. Come to think of it, it is almost as though the girl is a ‘possession’ — an inanimate entity so to speak who exchanges hands as one would exchange a commodity.
The questions on top of mind for me are, “Is it not possible to select a groom of your own choice like in our religious scriptures? Can we not emulate examples from the Ramayana where Sita was empowered to choose her own husband with her father’s guidance?”
It is only fitting here to step back in time. Prior to the Aryans’ invasion of India, girls or women were accorded an equal standing as society’s male members. Even if one is to analyse traditions from long ago or examine primitive art, it is clear that girls and boys were considered equals in society.
However, following the introduction of casteism, a new era emerged. These new doctrines tried to dominate and with it, there emerged new societal structures. Subsequently, women received the short end of the stick.
Women often subconsciously assume the role of a homemaker. Society would ideally see her enacting roles such as cooking and taking care of children and family first. These areas are broadly termed as grihasti. Moreover, she should hold no outside knowledge because once she is married, the old notion went that she might get smarter, and possibly outsmart her husband. This would then hurt the male ego and, in turn, go against the principles of “grihasti” or paying obeisance to the male.
It is interesting to see the ideals of equality being followed, albeit with major differences in interpretation. For instance, the Indian Constitution guarantees the ‘right to life’. Unfortunately, however, the ‘educated’ Indian mindset is often in a cocoon of its own, enveloped in some archaic school of thought!
The law of the land is side-lined where convenient
Women were often forced to adhere to strict stereotypical roles. However, many have begun to break free from such roles with increasing frequency. Access to education has been an eye opener worldwide. It is only logical and humane to grant equal entitlement and opportunities. But there is a great deal of resistance seen in society when it comes to offering a level playing field to either gender.
What is also interesting to see are ‘broadminded family views’ in Marwari society. They are typically seeking a beautiful, educated girl whom they can show off in their often not-so-productive son’s parties. And since they are ‘buying’ her as they would a product with money, they are going to decide what they will ‘allow’ her to pursue in life. In simple terms, her new family will decide and enforce the boundaries.
It is as though she is now under the governance of a dictator. However, the law of the land does not accommodate such practices nor do traditional scriptures.
Yet, no sooner do marriage ceremonies give over than a girl is placed in ‘jail’, with a sanskari well- reputed family’ as her jailor. Interestingly, the ‘bitter sweet’ part in this drama is the fact that the bride’s parents are well aware of the possible trauma their daughter is about to experience.
The impact of education, if any, on progressive mindsets is often left wanting. After all, most lack the capability to raise their voice against such societal banes. I, for one, would like to raise a ‘toast’ to these educated families. Wow! Not only are your views ridiculous and illogical, but you choose to veil your fake male egos in the garb of ‘good family’ packages.
What dowry was meant to be
Dowry is an age-old practice in most parts of India. The term has come to be associated with negativity since this practice has evolved from one of giving out of free will, to one where outrageous demands began to be made. And in numerous events, when such demands weren’t met, there were gross violations recorded, ones that even led to murder.
In its original form, however, dowry was an endowment given to a bride, as a form of security for her. It traditionally comprised household items and other such goods that enabled her to make her new home a tad more comfortable. But in a world where women are as much, or even better educated than men, there is really no need for security to be given in the form of material possessions.
She is already a learned individual, armed as she is with a solid base in education. She has dreams, she has her sights on a successful career and when called upon, she can step into the role of providing for her family monetarily. More precisely, most families do not realise that dowry now is ‘given’ in the form of the education she received, or the career she is making a mark in.
At its core, marriage is the coming together of families. For a moment, let us eliminate all the complexities and stressors that are part and parcel of wedding preparations. Instead, if one views marriage in its most basic form, it is no more than a choice of two individuals to understand and respect one another and agree to have each other’s back through thick and thin. The marriage celebrations, and the partying alongside, are simply bonuses. Call them shenanigans if you will. They are meant to be enjoyed in the company of one’s close family and friends.
To the parents of a girl, I will reiterate that your daughter is not a product. Treat hear like the janki. It is time we widened our perceptions and utilised the wisdom of education to engage in rational thinking and, subsequently, partake in rational decision making.