India – A land of rich cultural heritage and traditions!
During my young growing-up days, this statement brought a wave of pride in me.
That little girl was told to respect traditions; that little girl was taught to practice what people of several generations did and that little girl was made to believe that the traditions formed the country’s cultural backbone.
However, having been a witness of the lives of grandmothers, mothers and other women for years now, that little girl is no longer a puppet of what she has been told, taught and made to believe. She’s now a woman in agony; a woman who wants Indian womanhood to break free from the shackles of traditions.
I am not a feminist. I don’t hate men. I neither support women blindly. Rather, I am against the traditions which has tied down women for ages. It’s not a concern of who framed the traditions. Men cannot be blamed just because it’s a matter of confining women. Infact, India has seen several mothers-in-law who have been the cause to dowry harassment and death of daughters-in-law. India has seen several mothers who have shown partiality between raising sons and daughters. And India has seen several women who do not like a widow to bless her daughter’s wedding. Thus, it’s not a concern of men dominating women. It’s more about Indians believing in traditions that ruin Indian womanhood.
Call it traditions or notions, it’s all in our Indian blood! It’s not about somebody doing it somewhere. It’s happening now, here and all around us, in your home and my home. Please open up your heart and mind as you go through each one of the deep-rooted traditions below. It only takes a few minutes to unveil ourselves from the blind traditions we have been following what our parents taught us – yes, just a few minutes to decide to let go!
Let the change begin!
The Little Girl
1. A baby girl is a burden to the family while a baby boy is an asset
The ‘good news’ becomes bad news in some families when the baby that was born is declared a girl. The mother-in-law of one of my dear friends refused to visit her first-born because it was a girl. Though this has been changing and several families are looking with joy to a baby girl, it is still a stigma today in many rural families in India.
2. It is beneficial to provide education to the son than to the daughter
Perhaps, it isn’t applicable to middle class and higher class families. However, below middle class families who cannot afford to educate all their children prefer to send their sons to school. According to them, a son is going to earn money and give back to them when he grows up while a girl is after all going to get married and wash dishes in the future.
3. Sons are the rightful heir
A family’s legacy can be continued only by a male child while the female child cannot pass on the legacy. Be it the then kings’ throne or the wealth in the present times, rightful heir are the sons. Genetically, both the sons and the daughters carry half of the genes from the mother and the father. And both sons and daughters have equal potential to pass on the family’s genes to the next generation. What makes sons superior then?
4. The children invariably get the father’s surname
It is a practice not only in India but in most of the world. This is a byproduct of the above rule that the male child gets to the heir. My appreciation to the handful of parents who have the mother’s name included in their child’s name. By the way, my name is my daughter’s surname!
The Young Woman
5. A girl must watch what she wears
A two-year old is constantly taught to put her frock down and to sit without parting her legs. I have observed a mother telling her daughter not to do when her three-year old was lifting the dress up of the Barbie doll. It’s a shame even to the doll form. A twenty-year old who doesn’t cover her chest with the dupatta is dressing-up for style and not dressing to safeguard her dignity.. ‘Unwanted exposure’ of body areas is a shame to the girl. And shame is a thing of a girl! A guy peeing on the roadside, pulling out his most private organ, is a casual act. Even when it is criticized, it is about polluting the nation but never a thing of shame. A little boy who grows up watching little girls being constantly told to watch their dress is only going to understand that girls ought to dress-up as per a defined standard.
6. It is a disgrace if a girl’s inner wear strap shows off accidentally
And most people just can’t take their eyes off the strap! Some send secret signals to the girl to let her correct the blunder she has done. In colleges, there are secret codes between girls. And the so-called well wisher guy would get severely upset when this happens to his dear girl friend. C’mon, it is a strap of a few cm lying inside her dress. Just because it covers her breasts under the dress, the very visibility of it is a disgrace?
7. Puberty in a girl is a thing of announcement
And a celebration! Have you ever thought if it would be embarrassing for the little girl? I happened to listen to a conversion between three 13-year old boys during one such ceremony:
Boy#1 Is she getting married?
Boy #2 Dude, it’s the puberty function
Boy #1 What’s that?
Boy #2 Hey, haven’t you seen the whisper ad? (Assumes he is whispering this)
Boy #3 There’s blood now there for her. (Assumes he is whispering as well)
And all of them laugh together.
Apparently, a small bunch of us heard this. And the poor little girl burst into uncontrollable tears, feeling ashamed. Her fellow classmates bringing her privacy into their fun discussion was indeed embarrasing to her. Well, tell me, can you imagine announcing and celebrating a boy’s act of releasing his first semen? Isn’t that something highly private to an individual?
The irony in here is that she is expected to whisper about it for the rest of her life though the first time can be a loud announcement. Bah!
8. A menstruating woman is a kind of untouchable
Yes, there could be some biological, emotional, mythological and scientific reasons. However, a natural physiological phenomenon has been made a taboo to that extent that a menstruating woman is prohibited to stay together with the family within the home. A neighbour in my apartment stays in a separate room during her menstruating days and her mother-in-law pushes the plate of food through the doorway. I mean to say, it is not a thing of the past; it’s still prevalent today. From, ‘don’t touch the pickle’ to ‘don’t call out a God’s name’ these taboos make women shameful of her healthy body.
9. An unmarried woman is a failure
A woman of thirty years of age and not married begins to carry a load of pressures from everyone around. Yes, marriage is a beautiful phase in anybody’s life. However, a delay or a decision to not marry isn’t a thing of failure. Not all individuals have the same design of life, right?
10. A woman cannot marry a man younger to her
It’s not-so-likable. Infact several wedding proposals have been called off at the budding stage after realizing the age factor. Guys younger to a woman for some reason must become like a younger brother and not attractive to fall in love with.
11. The bride cannot be taller than the groom
“Did you notice that the bride is taller than the groom?” these secret whispers circulate through the wedding hall, degrading the couple’s outlook, if at all the bride is taller. Just another ill-defined rule of marriages!
12. The girl must carry a bag of gold and wealth to get married
A colleague returned back to office after a week of bride hunting in his home town. “So, how did everything go?” was the question for which he answered, “Technical round is over, HR screening is going on.” It hasn’t spared educated, uneducated, rich or poor. Dowry has infected almost every nook and corner of India. One of the biggest pre-wedding talks is always about how much the girl is bringing in. That much pride or shame it brings in to the groom’s and the bride’s family! There is a hidden business behind every Indian wedding! How then can it bring dignity to an Indian woman? How then can love exist between the couple when money has already corrupted a part of their relationship? A guy I had assumed to be forward-thinking explained that he agreed to take up a Master’s distance course from BITS Pilani because his parents believed it would raise the potential dowry value for him. A weightage of the groom’s value? Men, please wake up! Bypass your parents’ beliefs. Not demanding dowry directly is the same as secretly expecting dowry. Marry a girl, don’t bargain a girl.
13. Parents donate their daughter to the groom’s hand during wedding
Well, there could be convincing vedic explanations behind kanya dhanam. However, in simple reality, the bride and the groom are getting married. Wouldn’t it make much sense to keep the fact as simple as it is instead of complicating it with unnecessary rights on the groom’s family over the girl and the unnecessary let go drama from the girl’s family?
14. The girl’s parents must provide the basic amenities for the newly-wed’s living
It does happen in a few Indian societies. The parents of the bride has to buy all the home appliances for the new home of the couple. A friend of mine was to move to the US soon after marriage. In this case, the groom’s family calculated the amount of the appliances which was later deposited in their bank account. It says that India has a long way to understand what a marriage is.
15. The daughter-in-law belongs to the husband’s family after marriage
I respect my husband’s family, but why would I belong to them? Why would anybody, be a man or a woman, shift their belonging to another family after having lived with the filial family for a few decades? Do anyone even understand how we develop a sense of belonging with our birth family? Through love over time! That is exactly how it should happen between the families following a marriage. A pre-defined rule can only make things worse. The belonging to each other’s family must happen naturally with both the groom and the bride. Our traditions have dictated more wrong to our married lives than we can imagine.
16. A daughter-in-law’s last name changes to that of her husband’s after marriage
This is a direct result of the point above. My name is my right. I haven’t changed my last name after marriage. I only saw it as an unnecessary inconvenience to change my name in all my identity cards. However, I have known of women who loved to get their married names changed. Let the woman decide it! Her name is her right, not the right of the husband’s family.
17. The daughter-in-law’s caste, religion, customs and God of worship changes to that of the husband’s after marriage
To those who respect caste and religion, it is supposed to define a set of customs one has been raised under. What logic is then for the daughter-in-law to change it to something else which wouldn’t define her in anyway? The family God of worship is believed to protect the people of a lineage generations after generations. A girl is broken from this lineage after marriage and joins inbetween with another lineage. If at all she gets a divorce, she comes back again to her first lineage? Man, leave a woman be herself. She doesn’t need tags.
18. The daughter-in-law should never let down the husband’s family
But the husband’s family has no rules ever when it comes to behaving with the daughter-in-law. Several social crimes against women in India go unreported because women shouldn’t bring disrespect to their husband’s family. How else can truth be told and justice sought?
19. A married woman must display the proof of her marital status 24×7
I don’t wear a mangalsutra or a toe ring. It’s heavy and doesn’t go well with all my outfits. You call it disrespect of a tradition for the sake of fashion. I call it my identity! Neither do I believe that my husband’s longevity is dependent on a piece of ornament I wear or don’t wear. As a matter of fact, not husbands of women who wear a mangalsutra live forever. My mom would ask me, how then will people know that I am a married woman when I go out. Why should people even know? Well, because I shouldn’t attract another man. Really? Does it protect a woman? Do potentially harmful men target only unmarried woman? When these monsters don’t spare a two month old and a 80 year old, what protection can a symbol of marriage give? And tell me, why isn’t a man needed to show he’s married?
20. The son-in-law deserves royal hospitality in the girl’s house
There’s always a special meal when the son-in-law visits the in-law’s home. His pick up, drop and everything else during his stay there goes royal. He is the most special guest of the girl’s family. And these guys on the other end show off their high-headedness as if it were their birth right to be treated royally at the wife’s place.
21. The wife must address the husband with respect
I’ve seen childhood friends become couples. They’ve always addressed each other friendlier, untill getting married. All of a sudden, from day one of their marriage, the girl referred her husband – the guy we all grew up with – as a new respectable person. Not that husbands do not deserve respect. But the demand for respect deprives the wife of her choice of addressing her husband.
22. The mother-in-law and father-in-law must address the son-in-law with respect
Though he might be half the age of them! Can somebody please tell me why?
23. It’s the right for the son’s parents to stay together with their son while the girl’s parents can only be guests
After all the upbringing and the wealth you’ve given away to the daughter, you can only earn the guest credit in her family. Yes, now the husband’s family becomes her family and her parents are third party. And parents who do not have a son always remain as guests.
24. A daughter-in-law (and not the son) is entitled to serve her in-laws in old age
On humanitarian ground, it is alright. However, in many families it is a forced burden on her rather than an obligation. Still worse is the fact that the son refuses to do any service to his bed-ridden parents because it is his wife’s duty.
25. No matter what the husband does, the wife is expected to ‘adjust’
The wife discovers her man is impotent, well, ‘adjust’. The husband turns a drunkard, beats her, doesn’t work, cheats on her and whatever! It is her fate to ‘adjust’. This plight of women might not be transparent in many middle class and upper class families. However, one can see several women of the lower strata who work as maids and in construction jobs undergo torturous conflicts with their fit-for-nothing husbands every other day. And they still choose to live together with these men because our tradition dictates the woman to ‘adjust’ no matter what.
26. It isn’t respectable for a married woman to attend a wedding without being accompanied by her husband
I met one of my cousins at a wedding who wasn’t accompanied by her husband. While we were chatting, our uncle put his nose into our chitchat. His first question to her was, “Where is your husband?” Her husband was on a business trip. Well, that was a reasonable situation that he couldn’t attend the wedding. But my uncle’s next advice was, “Make sure to come with your husband for the next occasion. That’s more respectful for you.” Do you understand the depth of tags Indian women are subjected to?
27. Marital rape is a part of a woman’s married life
Yes, sex is a part of married life. However, on the name of sex, there are women who undergo rape, abuse and violence in some Indian homes. Marital rape is still isn’t a serious thing to many Indians, leave the law and government aside. It is viewed as a husband’s natural right and control over the wife’s body. While many countries have criminalized marital rape, the traditions of India does not allow any action against it. On account of an nth point, I say, India needs to understand what a marriage is!
28. Retirement is only for the husband. The wife has to work until she’s bed-ridden
Men in India deserve a relaxed life after sixty. But women must continue to look after home chores until she is severely sick. Have you seen the grumpy old man rebuking at his equally old wife for a five minute late coffee? Retirement is a thing of men and these old men demand their tired wives more than ever.
The Expectant Mother
29. It’s always the woman’s incapability if a couple doesn’t get pregnant
Been a few years since they were married and no ‘good news’ yet? The fertility of the woman would slowly get in for a toss now. Does this country even understand that conception is not an exclusive thing of woman? How many more women is required to carry the shame of her husband’s incapability in order to make people question the man instead of the woman?
30. Parents must bear their daughter’s delivery expenses
Okay, they gave away their daughter to the groom’s family and now she belongs to the new family. Tell me then why did she roll back to her parents when it was time for spending money? If she belonged to the husband’s family, aren’t they supposed to look after the childbirth expenses? Man, how unfair!
31. A mother who chooses not to breast feed is a bad mother
Yes, research talks about the benefits of breast feeding. For whatsoever reason, if the mother prefers not to breast feed, she would be looked upon like a witch. I certainly support breast feeding as long as it does not trespass the mother’s choice. However, it’s her body, let she choose it with dignity.
32. The grand children belong to the father’s family
Last week when my mom had visited us, we went for a stroll with the kids. To a group of dear old aunties, I informed that my daughter is enjoying her walk with her grandmother. The immediate question to me was, “Whose mother is she?” I replied, “My mom”.
“So she is not her grandmother.”
“Because the rightful grandmother is the father’s mother.”
So, tradition wants you to pay the expenses of the baby’s birth and look after her baby years; but when it comes to belonging, again tradition would favour the male lineage.
33. It is the woman’s responsibility to look after home and children
It’s as old as time though has hardly seen any changes with time. For centuries women have uncomplainingly and willingly taken up the home maker role. And that’s where they made a mistake! Today, irrespective of a woman working or staying at home, she is expected to be the primary care taker of home and children. Tradition always ties up an untidy home and a sick child to the woman of the family. No one ever asks the man of the home why the kitchen is unclean. If at all someone asks him, he would happily point his fingers to his wife and add, “You must ask her.” To all the men reading this post, become aware that it’s your home too; they are your children too.
34. Women of good family do not smoke or drink
“Oh My God, that woman drinks? She doesn’t seem to be from a good family.” Any man, however, is eligible to drink and smoke. It has nothing to do with his family background. I am happy that not many Indian women do but again, if at all she wants to, it should be her choice of habit without dragging her family in it.
35. A woman who expects food to be served is lazy
When once her 10-year old granddaughter asked for sambar, my mother-in-law sneered from the kitchen, “Can’t you come to the kitchen to take sambar by yourself, what laziness!” In a few minutes, her 35-year old son asks for sambar and she runs with a spoonful of sambar, “Wait, I am coming.” And yes, nobody ever serves my mother-in-law! She cooks and she is in-charge of serving food to the family. But when it’s turn to have a meal, she has to get self-served.
36. The men in the family can wash off their hands into the plate after food
But even the youngest of the girls in the family are directed to take their plates to the kitchen. What big job is it to place our plates in the kitchen? And why should men be given that special privilege? I see this as the silliest of the traditions. My 71-year old father-in-law now takes his plate to the kitchen, well atleast when I am around because his daughter-in-law simply can’t accept this in her home. Yeah, my home!
37. Festivals are about women over-working in the kitchen while men watching special television shows
It was one of the first festivals after our marriage. The H lamented, “If my mom was here, she would have made, this, this and that sweets and savouries.” I replied the same: “If my mom was here, she would have made, this, this and that sweets and savouries.” I was brought up too the same way he was, isn’t it?
I’ve witnessed my mom waking up at 4 in the morning, getting the house and pooja room ready, grind from early hours for the vada and chutneys, prepare the delicacies relentlessly single-handedly, and all this with anxiety to complete before the ‘auspicious time’ for the pooja. Ask what my dad and the come-and-go guests did? They were anxious too, if they would miss one special show in one of the channels while watching another super special show in another channel. Traditional festivals are spoken of so highly of carrying much traditional significance. Perhaps, it was a few decades ago when the whole family took part in. However, today, festivals are only a matter of sumptuous meals and special television shows. I wish these special shows on festivals get banned unless men begin to get involved in the celebration.
38. It’s okay for the women in the family to have that last burnt dosa
In many families, the best dosa, the well-fried chicken leg and the best share of any meal goes to the men of the family. And the women feel glad to have done that having got the left-overs for themselves. I would blame the women themselves for this so-called-sacrifice they do.
39. A woman who yells or shouts is scorned at as an uncivilized woman
Our tradition has sculpted an image for woman – those sub-species of humans who ought to be polite, kind, considerate, gentle, calm, loving, caring, affectionate and……all of their synonyms. Our tradition has no comment ever to make when a man screams. It is so manly of him to scream. Once while I was travelling in a local bus, a daring girl gave left and right to a guy who was trying to misbehave with her. Guess what the conductor had to tell her? “First of all, lady, try to behave like a girl.” And of course, a man getting slapped from a woman is the biggest of all shames he can ever face, no matter what could have gone in the background for him to deserve that slap.
40. The mother is blamed for the son’s or daughter’s bad behaviour
In the 1950’s and 60’s, falling in love is almost a sin. When the girl declares she’s in love, it is always the mother who must bear the shame for raising up such a daughter. Well, guess who would make this comment first? Arre, the father! And one of those fathers I knew who made this comment had an illegal wife as well.
41. An unwanted pregnancy is the wife’s carelessness
It can be stressful for a woman to get pregnant soon after a recent child birth or late in life or after a long gap from the last child. Yes, it happened and the couple regrets. However, when the news reaches others, it is always the wife who will be put to shame. “Men will be like this and that. As a woman you must have been careful.” Why are men never asked such questions?
42. The wife must self-immolate along with her dead husband
What cruelty our tradition has done to women of the then days?! Perhaps, this is the only custom against women which has been completely eradicated from the country in centuries.
43. A widow is not allowed to wear bindi, kumkum and flowers
Doesn’t a woman have life after her husband’s death? Yes, it is sad that her partner is no longer alive. But that doesn’t make her a failure. And that shouldn’t deprive her of anything other than the marital status. It makes atleast some little sense that she has to let go of the mangalsutra but it is insane to deprive her of the bindi, flowers, kumkum and coloured dresses that she always wore from as a little girl.
44. A widow found laughing within a few months after the husband’s death is looked down upon in shock
More than a widower who gets remarried within a few weeks after his wife’s death! Losing a loved one is certainly an unfortunate event – be it our father, mother or husband. However, in the course of life, we learn to overcome the grief and continue with the rest of our lives after the departure of the loved one. In time, we regain the laughter, the happiness, the peace and the joy that life offers us. The ‘phenomenon’ of a wife losing a husband too is the same. She has lost a loved one, yes, but in time, she may carry on her life with grace, dignity and happiness. Why is tradition against it?
45. A widow’s presence is not preferred at auspicious occasions
Even if it was her son’s or daughter’s wedding! Tradition assumes that a widow would let out bad vibrations which may affect the married life of the a newly-wed couple. Can tradition answer if everybody else is going to let out good vibrations? Is a mother who has lost her husband going to send out negativity to her daughter’s married life? I’ve witnessed several widowed mothers who have single-handedly raised her children without the support of any extended family members being not liked to be on the stage on her son’s and daughter’s weddings while the extended family members surround the stage, pretending to be the couple’s true well-wishers. Damn the traditions!
46. A divorced woman is non-adjustable, a rebel and doesn’t know how to live in peace
I wish Indian tradition was more empathetic towards women. How many Indians empathize with what a woman undergoes through a divorce? Including the parents of the woman, people around her first expect her to ‘adjust’ with whatever she is going through with her husband. For whatsoever reason, her decision to get separated from the marital relationship isn’t a thing of crime. She might be a woman who tried her best to ‘adjust’. A woman who gets through the painful process of a divorce despite the disrespectful tags that tradition bestows on her deserves respect for her courage and endurance.
47. A divorced woman is a failure
I was talking about a wonderful woman writer to my mom. And she replied, “What’s the use? She is a divorcee.” You see the irrelevant connection between a woman’s career and her divorcee status? In reality many divorced women might be living in much peace and happiness than several women who are confined in an abusive marriage. Married, divorced, single – these are mere status of a relationship. Let these not define the success or a failure of an individual.
The Rape & Abuse Victim
48. The girl who got raped by a man must marry that man
Does the image of a panchayat leader declaring this judgement, sitting under a huge tree come to your mind? It is supposed to be a punishment for the man. However, the truth is, it is a life-long punishment for the girl. It may not happen in the cities but it is a practice in rural areas even today. Virginity is an eligibility for a girl to get married. When it is broken, it can be repaired only by the breaker. Phew!
49. It’s a shame on a girl if she is raped, abused or molested
Does a man who meets with a road accident feel ashamed? Why then is a sexual accident a thing of shame? In a situation where the victimized girl needs love, support and justice, she is shunned instead, for having lost her so-called-honour.
50. Perhaps, the girl dressed or behaved invitingly to make the man rape her
Men can be rapists. It is the women’s responsibility to be safe and protected. In the Nirbhaya case, from the politician’s comment to the justification of the rapist, it was her fault. Do you know what makes these men to make such statements?
The so-called ‘rich Indian tradition of pride’ has given much liberty and rights to men over women.
Sadly, many women in India dig their own pits on the name of safeguarding the tradition.
Speaking in general about Indian culture and traditions, they of course make India beautiful. However, over the years, what we have missed to look into, is evolution of these traditions. Anything and everything in human development evolves with time. We no longer use the traditional stone equipment to grind chutneys. Blenders and grinders have replaced it years ago. Some traditions too need to evolve. There could have been a reason why they were created centuries ago. However, sticking to them blindly on the name of the same reasons which has lost its validity today, is foolishness. Traditions must help humans progress and not confine them to the past.
If you are with me, just don’t share but SHOUT ALOUD this message,
Damn the traditions!
Stop justifying the traditions!
Stand up against your parents & grandparents who support these traditions!
Let the change begin in you & me!
Background Image credits
Header Image – eduleaders
Save the Girl Child – UNFPA WCARO
Girl Child Education – NDTV
Women’s Rigts India – Youth Ki Awaaz
Menstrual Taboo – Menstrupedia
Dowry – IMedia India Group
Mangalsutra Tradition – Shaadicares
Marital Rape – The Health Site
Gender Equality – Business Times
Stop Rape – India.com