India’s Bahu: The Many Roles of Married Women

Marriage is a complicated concept: a man and a woman vow to be together, love each other and support each other through thick and thin. It makes perfect sense when thought about abstractly, but the reality of marriage brings along many nuances.

The Two People in a Marriage

In India, marriage means significantly more compromise for a woman than it does for a man. Women have a job to do: to fill a number of roles perfectly, without complain or resentment. This isn’t to say that women are resentful in their roles, but it’s high time someone points out that women go through a much harder adjustment period than men. It’s time to concentrate on the bride for a minute, and leave the groom be!

Why does a marriage lead to more of an adjustment period for the woman? The reason is simple: we live in a patriarchy. Often, a man keeps living with his parents and stays in the room he’s had since he was a child. His habits and routine are not under scrutiny. The woman, on the other hand, leaves everything familiar behind and steps into the new life, a new identity. The literal meaning of a Bidaai in an Indian wedding is ‘Goodbye’. It translates into leaving everything you know, and are comfortable with, behind.

Source: Pinterest

The In-Laws

Indian family dynamics are significantly different to families in the west. We live in a collectivist society, and the nature of our relationship is not usually defined by pure love. There is love, don’t get us wrong, but there is also fear, respect, and gratitude, and seldom is this relationship easygoing.  Regardless of how you characterise your relationship with your parents, you must acknowledge and accept that it’s a bond that is built over time with patience and understanding from both ends. Eventually, children either get to a point where their parents understand that they are individuals with their own set of ideals, or these children learn to work around them. Either way, it’s a long, gruelling process.

After marriage though, women specifically must quickly fall in line with her in-laws, and that relationship is largely governed by her spouses relationship with his parents. Falling into this dynamic can often be confusing and frustrating. There are those who will demand to live away from their in-laws if this dissonance is too large. But before we delve into the saas-bahu drama and dynamics, riddle me this: why aren’t men expected to take as active interest in his in-laws?

The expectation to care for in-laws is not alarming nor over the top, but the fact that this condition is unilateral is disheartening. We live in the new age now, and there will be those 1 in 50,000 men who take the time to get to know and care for their in-laws, and to them we give our thanks! May you inspire your colleagues and friends to do the same.

What About “Me”?

Scientific studies say that human brains are not built for multitasking, but an Indian married woman can easily disprove that theory. It takes super powers to manage a career, family needs, house help and personal life. In doing all of this, there rarely is anytime to spare for herself. It can be challenging to juggle the various roles and responsibilities seamlessly and look great while doing it all in heels. It takes a toll on women and we are only humans.

While women have ventured out of their domestic roles and men have embraced the working woman they have done little to support her. What does it mean to have a wife who also has a career? “Juggling the career, kids and household sounds like a you-problem, but fetch me a beer as I contemplate about the patriarchy we live in and you cook, clean, iron, around the house.” Sound Familiar? While some men claim they are more supportive of their wives careers, the reality is that women are likely to be questioned for their work hours more than men. This attitude costs women in their personal and professional lives. While women tend to leave their husbands who are ‘busy or working late’ to their work; women often get questioned for not balancing their lives and work better. Is that fair?

Home Management

Whoever said that housewives do nothing and live a cushy life have never managed a house before, and it really shows. Do you know how much effort goes into running a house? You have to guide maids and cooks, plan out meals to perfection, and maintain the house’s infrastructure. And we’ve just noted the larger tasks at hand. There are a million tinier issues that need attention on a daily basis, and if you are not aware of them, it’s because your wife has already taken care of them.

Housewives are anything but free, and working women bear an even larger burden. They handle the house while they also partake in full-time work. Husbands help out all the time, but they mostly pick up ‘manlier’ tasks. These include paying bills on time, managing the dhobi once in a while, and buying some groceries from time to time. Handling the maids and cooks is still a women’s job, even if she’s out of the house for 12 hours everyday. Now, many households aim to prepare their girls beforehand by teaching them basic home management. Please note that the brother of such a girl is never taught the same life skills, essentially turning them into a man-child. But for someone who’s never handled a home, it’s a difficult challenge to accept.

Losing Your People

When a girl get’s married, she ends up moving into her husbands home, and his life. It opens up a whole new world, but more often than not, her old world goes for a toss. As mentioned before, you leave behind your family and often, your life. You literally say goodbye to it during the bidaai! It’s sad, but your friends and your family start playing second fiddle to your husband’s. If you’re lucky, you will find a man who understands your personal identity and doesn’t question you keeping it. But most of the time, it’s a sad story of drifting apart from people you would have once gave your life for.

Source

Norms are slowly changing, in the middle and upper middle class, where women fight for themselves, their beliefs and their people. But this is still only a small percentage of women across the country. Patriarchy has many forms and men often don’t realise how entitled they feel to a woman’s mind and body. Only by calling it out whenever we can, and fighting for who we are, can we attempt to find a middle ground. A woman’s narrative in India is common, but silenced; it does’t have to be.

Leave a Reply