She was dressed in a heavy bright-orange bridal lehanga; small drops of sweat beaded her forehead, more because of panic and less because of excitement. The sight of women standing at the doorway of her new home, to welcome the newly wedded couple, further accentuated her fears. Taking small measured steps, keeping the head bowed and with the gaze fixed at some distant point on the ground, she moved ahead. Her husband, whom she had known from last eighteen months of courtship, had suddenly become a stranger in that crowd, and she was alone…all alone and panicky standing there, wishing that the ghunghat (veil) becomes an ‘invisibility cloak,’ and save her from those penetrating and measuring eyes. Suddenly everyone was on a mission, loaded with advices, criticism, do’s and dont’s, this and that, and all these missions were directed against one person – her. As if she were a war trophy, brought by her warrior husband from some great battle, for which the whole community had gathered to measure its worth.
Next day was—muhdikhayi — the ceremony in which women from neighborhood and relations come to have the first glimpse of the bride. Dressed in the best saree from her collection and face layered in cosmetics, she was made to sit in the living room on the floor. There were women everywhere around her, of every size and every age. One woman said, her complexion is okay; another said height is little short; somebody cautioned her mother-in-law to keep a tight hand on her. And hence, the feedbacks poured, from all quarters. Every visible inch of her body was scrutinized and every not-visible inch of her body was speculated upon. An old woman pinched her buttocks, “get some fat here you skinny girl, if you want to deliver healthy babies”, chuckled the woman, bringing others to join into a chorus of laughter. As if she were a cow, in buyers market, whose teeth are checked or moo is listened to or the udder is squeezed… to assess how much milk it will produce.
Everyone was laughing, enjoying, small kids, old and young women, men in the house, but it was only she who was sitting with a shivered smile pasted on her humble lips, shivering like a child lost in a jungle. An old woman advised the groom to spank her hard to keep her under control, “an experienced teaching”, she said with a wink. Some distant relative shared another piece of advice, “never address your husband by name, he is your god now. For any chaste Indian woman it is a sin calling her husband by name, however modern she may be”.
She was quietly listening to them, but her heart was hit by a storm of emotions. She was wondering about all these women, they must have suffered/felt the same, which she was facing now. It was like an initiation ceremony, initiation into this SISTERHOOD OF SUBMISSIVE WOMEN. And, all these women gathered here to see to it that she too is moulded and bend into these set norms of this society, which runs on gender lines.
She was asked to bend…touch one set of feet to another, and thus began the task of subduing a new recruit. How much she longed for at least one soul who would have hugged her warmly and calmed her apprehensions in this new environment.
Though there were no demands or conditions of dowry, yes she should consider herself blessed. But dowry or no-dowry — it is always one of the factors, which decides the attitude of people towards the bride. It is the price tag which decides her brand….her parent’s brand. And, thus the most important spice in that ladies gathering was to discuss this profit, which will tell whether the groom-side was lucky to have such daughter-in-law or not. So dowry is another social pressure, which such sisterhoods or ladies’ gathering seeks to preserve.
Her father phoned, sister-in-law received the phone with a cold air and called for her. She picked up the phone, holding the receiver too tight with excitement; suddenly there was a hush, all chitter-chatter fell quiet and two-dozens of ears fixed into a position. Her Dad asked if she was all right and everyone was treating her well. She could sense the worry, a helplessness in his voice, as if he had a vision of her state. With her – her whole family was suffering. She missed the soothing solace of his arms, magic touch of her mother’s fingers on her head, playful teasing of her sister.
She had always thought that time has changed. That’s what she was taught in school and University and that’s what her parents had let her believe. And thus, such reality was so troubling for her. She had never believed herself to stand mute in such adversity, but there she was… mute and trampled upon, her resentment crushed under the social pressure which this institution of marriage was putting on her. What twenty five years of living could not teach her was taught by two hours of ceremonies…that she was a woman, an inferior sex. Next was the attack on her culture, she was corrected and taught new vocabulary, way of living, doing things, time table etc etc. Things which she had done back home were now forbidden here. Why a marriage does not mean an assimilation of culture, why is it a replacement or dominance of one culture over another…naturally groom’s over the bride’s like those victorious Aryans. Why this concept of victory and defeat, high and low, up and down, ‘groom’s side and bride’s side’.
Her family and she were inferior in their eyes, while groom and his side were superior, including their women as they too had assumed gender of the groom. Everyone was walking, one inch above the ground. So even a toddler had more liberty and privileges then her, if he happens to belong to their side.
Then began the task to train this new entrant (she) as a perfect handmaid for the groom. Her mother-in-law, sister-in-law all came prepared with their advices to inculcate “virtues”, which were essential to keep their son or brother happy. So she was taught to make his favorite dishes, to dress-up according to his taste (though she had come from a sound family with commendable etiquettes, but now her background culture was a defeated culture for them), to address him in subdued tone, to respect and serve his relations, to divert her love and care from her parental family to this new family as this was now the tradition. She was a sapling uprooted from its soil and implanted into new one, but won’t the sapling wilt if the ground is hard and rocky and lacks water and air. And after uprooting her physically, why they wanted to uproot her emotionally too.
Fortunately, her husband was supportive. He stood by her in his own way. So, he was her only pillar on which she could rest upon. She wondered what happens to those women who are unfortunate in getting even this pillar of support. But in an ironic way this whole system of pillar and support vindicates the objective of this sisterhood of submissive women. She had no identity, no identity at all…save her husband. Had he not been there to stand by her, she was a dead end (except the extreme step like absconding the marriage). So ultimately she was made to depend on him, he was that pillar on which she, a cow, was tethered to, and the length of the rope decided the limit of her liberty.
What her in-laws taught her was not entirely wrong, but it was wrong when one tells you all the duties but no rights. To get respect one should give respect too, but while they demanded respect from her but didn’t reciprocate the same. What was the point of all this hostility, prejudices towards her, why all this resentment in accepting her as part of family, why all these tests to see whether she suited them or not. Why she was not treated with equality, with the same love and concern like they had for their son. She was a stranger, an outsider coming into their family, She was more vulnerable then them. And why no rights of guy’s parents are endangered after his marriage but for girl’s parents it is otherwise. Everybody behaves not because they behave that way but because that’s how in-laws behave. It is really funny that the actual agent in this game of gender biasing is not a man against a woman but woman against a woman.Every single custom, suggestion is meant to make her accept herself as an inferior person, a commodity which is owned by someone, i.e. her husband. Everything has a prefix and suffix of: “this is tradition, it happens with everyone”.
Why do we keep on extending the expiry dates of these wrong practices by giving them a tag of “Traditions”. And when the spell of these sisterhood is going to break