Most social customs revolve around the institution of the family. And the family, or home, is the woman’s domain. So let’s face the fact that women play a significant role in perpetuating decadent social customs.
Women dominate family affairs no matter how much subjugated they are in other matters of life. But their dominance is pathetic. Because the dominance is over petty, superfluous things masked by the disproportionate importance attached to them. By women themselves. Who else?
For instance, take dowry or jahez. It concerns women and women only. It’s the girl’s mother who thinks of her daughter’s dowry the day she is born and starts filling the hope chest the day she reaches puberty.
It’s the girl herself who either categorically asks for specific things or subtly expresses her desires. It’s the girl and the mother who do the shopping. The poor man — the father — who procures the cash has no idea what the women are buying and for what.
Once married, the girl is excessively possessive about her dowry. In a world totally strange, these are the things she can cling to and call her own. She resents it if anything is used by the in-laws. And who will use her grinder, or china, or teflon-coated pots? Certainly not the men of the family. They don’t cook.
If dowry is demanded by the boy’s family it’s invariably a woman, the saas who wants it. When you hear about a boy who has the cheek to make such a request/order, be sure he is voicing his mama’s wishes.
Now we come to the importance of dowry as far as the marital happiness of the couple is concerned. It has none. The dowry doesn’t make the couple more compatible, more loving, more understanding. Sadly, the dowry, the material, is in fact immaterial in the couple’s personal life. Conjugal happiness depends not on the dowry or grandeur of the wedding ceremony but on the couple’s respect for each other’s needs, likes and dislikes, mutual love, give-and-take and compromise.
The dowry only has a snot value. A big dower may camouflage in-laws’ resentment and rejection with superficial respect of a bahu rude and haughty. The luxurious items, the electric gadgets brought by the girl may give a feel of enhanced status to the groom’s family. But does it really change their lifestyle?
In a family of modest means and fixed salary, the foam of her big bed would sink soon, the sheen of the sofa would fade and the orange-coloured kitchen gadgets are still only made of plastic, even if they are made in France.
In a family where the girl has to swallow pricking remarks that she ‘brought so little’ the dowry serves as a scapegoat for in-laws’ shattered expectations and their severed link with the boy (son/brother). Their anger and frustration is displaced from the bahu they themselves brought into the family on to the things she has or has not brought.
All the customs related to family and marriage are practised by women. The superstitions, the stigmas on different social happenings are believed by women. And who gets a raw deal in the process? Women. Really.
When I wonder about it all, why women have made a mess of their lives, I come to the conclusion it has something to do with female illiteracy. The overwhelming majority of us is illiterate, with closed minds where the light has yet to reach. But a friend of mine doesn’t agree with this hypothesis. She says she has seen many educated women with orthodox, conventional mentality. Why didn’t education enlighten them? She wonders.
Let’s remember on this sultry, oppressive day of the month of March, the International Women’s Day, that women of our country have two battles to fight. One is the political battle. The other is the social battle. And it is this battle which is more difficult to fight because the victims are women, the culprits are women.