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Some time back someone I know told me that a neighbor of hers, an unmarried man in his early forties, was looking for a bride. As is common hereabouts she wanted to know if I knew anyone suitable. He had shunned marriage till then but had now agreed to it for the sake of his bedridden mother, she told me, as he wanted someone around to take care of her.

My shackles rose on hearing this. If he wants someone to take care of his mother he should very well do it himself, or get paid help, I angrily retorted. But a bride who arrives with gold, landed property and hard cash, will cook and serve him, as also nurse his mother in sickness is so much more better, right? Yeah, taking care of parents comes somewhere top in the list of reasons why men marry.

During my own youth what the families were most concerned about in the girl they chose for Chunnu, Munnu or Sonu was whether she was subservient enough to do their bidding without fuss. In other words her capacity to be a doormat mattered A LOT. That is AFTER her financial worth. Things have not changed much for the majority in the present, though we pretend loftily that it has. Taking care of the in-laws gets top priority still, to the exclusion of leading one’s own life. And even perceived neglect can result in violence and death as it has happened too often and to too many.

In the light of this, it is no wonder that the Supreme Court said this recently:

“Daughter-in-law should be treated as a family member and not housemaid, and she cannot be “thrown out of her matrimonial home at any time”, the Supreme Court has said, while expressing concern over instances of brides being burnt and tortured in the country” [From here]

It is bad enough that the apex court has had to spell it out to the populace. What troubles me even more is the reactions to this news item from those around me. The amusement and derision (from women) is unmistakable and the denial astounding and heartbreaking.

Yes, the lucky ones can afford to be amused by this news item, having never had to face situations of terror or helplessness at the hands of a strange family. They can choose to be derisive because they have not been threatened with violence or eviction from the matrimonial home for every imagined wrongdoing. They have not had to work long hours serving, not allowed to sit down even for long periods of time, been denied proper nourishment or beaten and/or had their spirit crushed.

In short when you are privileged, you can sit back and talk of ‘waiting’ for change to happen from ‘within’ as a better alternative to being imposed or suggested by an outside force, in this case, the court. After all you have nothing to lose while calmly waiting for one set of unknown and faceless people to change their rigid mindset towards another set however long it might take.

The million dollar question is, does change really happen from within (as claimed), ON ITS OWN without any prompting? Has.It.EVER?

Or has it been set in motion by those who question (unlike those who follow like sheep because ‘oh this is what we have been doing for centuries, this is culture, tradition and other blah blahs) the status quo and dare to go against established norms? (The established norm here being the unquestioned superiority of the man’s household and everyone living therein and total subservience of the woman who has entered the household as a bride)

Do institutions like judiciary have a role in planting those seeds of change or even speeding it up by observations, rulings?

Some believe not. I believe they definitely have.

In the meanwhile we can and should do whatever we can to change mindsets, teach women to be self reliant, not marry them off at a tender age, convince parents that marriage is not a be all and end all for their daughters (or sons for that matter), but standing on their own feet is, and oh yes, we can also stop making those assumptions about the life of others, that it is a matter too simple, of ‘adjustments’. No, it is not. It is a matter of broken bones, bruises, burns and numbing pain.

Empathy, much needed.

©Shail Mohan 2016.