Written by Shahidah Hameed
“What will your mother-in-law say? She will tell everyone I didn’t teach you anything,” echoes the voice of an Indian mother in her daughter’s ears.
The majority of Indian women all over the world, especially in India, grow up with the constant reminder that she’s going to be someone’s wife and daughter-in-law someday. Every day she is shaped into the perfect wife so that she would not bring shame to her family.
Indian women in the 1950s were not given the opportunity to go to school and were home-schooled. Instead of science and mathematics, the lessons that were being taught to them were how to clean the house and cook good South Indian food like tosai, mutton briyani and chicken curry. They might sound tasty, yes, but it took years of experience and generations for every girl to perfect the taste. There were practical lessons on how to take care of a child for when an extended family who have kids visited, and so on. A girl had to babysit the kids, bathe them, feed them and put them to bed. Later, in the 1980s, Indian women were given the opportunity to study up to secondary school and then were married off between the age of 13 to 16. If a woman is yet to get married after the age of 16, she might consider herself lucky but her mother would start to get worried because there is no Indian man interested in her daughter.
Indian women of our generation are finally given opportunities to enter university, and if she’s luckier, she gets to stay in a hostel during her studies. But some women might be someone’s wife or fiancée during her first year of bachelor’s degree. Most often than not, she will be married off even before her convocation. Imagine receiving a scroll with a pregnant belly! Anyhow, she would be thankful because she is part of the first generation of Indian women to get a tertiary education and in the current economic situation where a wife has a joint responsibility to feed the family, she finally gets to have a paid job, when earning used to be considered as only the ‘man’s job’.
Times and people change but culture seems to remain the same. Even though so many things have changed, the power to choose her better half for an Indian woman still remains in the hands of her parents. We are in an era where Indian men are not advised to choose their own partners but if they do, ‘it’s okay’ but he has fallen into a trap called love. It’s a wrong but that is all it is: just a wrong. It is totally the woman’s fault and not his.
On the other hand, if an Indian woman decides to follow her brother’s footsteps, she has committed an unforgivable offence. Most of the time she would not be allowed to marry the man of her choice because what would people say then? Even if she succeeds in her continuous fights with her parents, after days and weeks of crying and proving that he is the right one for her, her whole life would be a series of drama where all her relatives will have their popcorn in one hand and a sniper rifle in the other waiting to attack their target if something happens between the couple. They’re just waiting for that one wrong step to say “If only you had listened to us and married the man of your parents’ choice”. You would not even be able to tell your relatives your problems about the marriage because the only words that would come out from their mouth would be, “But he was your choice”.
Every daughter who experiences this would tell themselves that when they grow up, get married and have children, they would not do the same to their daughter and would give her a better life. The problem lies in the mentality of the society as it is far from changed for the better, and this affects how an Indian mother brings up her daughter because she has a 100-kg barbell upon her shoulders in order for her to help her daughter prepare to face the biggest battle, called life.