Do you remember Rothi, the first wife of singer James? She was pageant winner, used to be a regular face in advertisements, theatre and television at one point. Rothi had to leave acting after marriage as per her husband’s orders. James had told her explicitly that she couldn’t continue her acting career. Finally, after having two children with her, James left her and got married to someone else. Rothi had to leave with her children in 2003 and since then she has been raising them on her own. The popular James made no efforts to contribute to the rearing of his own children, did not spend even a iota of his wealth on them. After marriage Rothi had to quit acting but it’s not as if James had to similarly quit his music career. Such things are prevalent in society even today. The men who we trust to be the most educated and aware end up being the biggest impediments to independent and self-reliant women.
The custom of marriage has continued to foment gender discrimination in the subcontinent even in the twenty-first century. Every organism evolves and so do their customs and beliefs. It’s only the institution of marriage that has steadfastly resisted evolution. Till date women have to move to the house of their in-laws, Hindu women have to wear the sindoor and adorn themselves with numerous symbols of superstitions like the shnakha, pola, noa (white conch-shell bangles, red coral bangles and iron bangles, all meant to be worn by married women) or the mangal sutra. The fight for equal rights for women has been going on for a long time and, inspired by the same, many educated and cognizant women have cast aside such things. One would expect progressive individuals to greet such assertions of independence from women with a warm welcome. Instead, just the other day for instance, the legal minds of the Guwahati High Court proved how the influential and powerful people of society continue to cling to discriminatory attitudes. In a divorce case that was filed in the Guwahati High Court the judge, while granting the divorce, cited the woman’s refusal to sport the sindoor and shnakha as proof that she no longer considered the man in question her husband. As per the judge her refusal amounted to her considering herself as still unmarried or tantamount to not accepting the marital vows. This can be the judgement of a superstitious and misogynous man but in no way can it be the judgement of a court. It’s the court’s job to safeguard against gender discrimination and protect human rights and women’s rights. Instead, when the court seeks to posit things like the sindoor and the shnakha as mandatory for married women then this is surely an unfortunate turn of events. As long as this patriarchal mindset exists women will continue to suffer. This is indeed unfortunate. How can we forget that the courts are not outside society and its judges too belong to this existing social order.
The problem is that even today men take their wives back to their parents’ houses after marriage. Men refuse to embrace adulthood, instead wanting to spend their entire lives as the apples of their parents’ eyes. So the parents, the siblings, everyone takes care of this apparently grown man and then a wife is added to this mix. Yet another slave for him. For most men it becomes impossible to take care of themselves like adults are supposed to and consequently the wife, finding herself in a completely different environment, struggles to make sense of things. She has to walk the tightrope of appeasing everybody or risk inviting their criticism. She has to completely relinquish her independence and self-reliance in order to make a space for herself at her in-laws’. I know as soon as they read this hordes of women will say how nice their in-laws are and how they never had to negotiate with their independence. But the thing is why must a woman live with the relatives of her husband? It’s not as if the husband has to live with the wife’s family or that he is meant to appease them. After marriage a women has to abandon everything she knows, her family, her friends, her home and her locality, her familiar environment and spaces, all in order to seek refuge at her husband’s house. But a man has to relinquish nothing for the sake of marriage. There must be limits to even discrimination but marriage glibly crosses them all the time.
The Assamese man who had filed the divorce case had complained that his wife did not wish to stay at the house of her in-laws. That’s why he wanted a divorce. If a wife doesn’t wish to co-habit with anyone other than her husband then an adult male can move elsewhere with his wife. But the ones who forever remain their parents’ children refuse to live apart, even if it means leaving their wives. Are our men only their parents’ children? By hook or by crook don’t they end up becoming their wives’ children as well? All they desire is for their wives to take care of everything for them, from their meals right down to their shoes and socks.
The idiot from Assam has no desire to be an adult, let alone be responsible. Hence the divorce. If two people don’t wish to live together anymore, if there’s no love left between them, then even if one person decides on a divorce then at least it can happen without any problems. And that’s what happened too. The problem was not with the divorce. It’s the judge’s comments on it that has invited a lot of criticism. The judge has declared that married women must wear the sindoor and the shnakha. On the other hand most married men continue to remain bachelors. Can you look at a man and tell if he’s married or not? They look the same. Married men don’t need to carry around signs validating their marital status, no sindoor, no bangles etc. There must be limits to even discriminatory attitudes, limits that we all know don’t exist. What happens if women, even the ones who love their husbands, don’t wish to carry around such signs of marriage? Don’t they have the freedom to make such a choice? Why can’t marriage be about freedom rather than captivity?
In Europe and America married Christians and Jews, be it men or women, wear wedding rings. That’s their marital symbol. If a couple doesn’t wish to wear rings then they don’t. People of all religions deserve this freedom. Not just Muslim men, even Muslim women don’t have to carry visible signs of marriage and that’s a good thing. However, just because they don’t have to display proof of marriage doesn’t mean Muslim women enjoy more freedom than women of other religions. Muslims women are as much victims of this patriarchal social setup as the rest of them.
Marriage is gradually becoming an irrelevant thing. The institution had been founded in order to provide legal legitimacy to essentially a master-slave relation. Women were thought to be weaker and always dependant on others, they were perceived of as nothing but a vagina and a uterus. Marriage was founded to give men rights over women’s bodies. And exactly for these reasons it’s now an obsolete and meaningless institution. A woman who is not weak, who is self-reliant, whose identity is not defined by her vagina or her uterus, a woman who believes in independence and rights, a woman who doesn’t accept the master-slave dynamic but instead subscribes to equality and equal rights, why would such a woman choose marriage? Marriage seems more necessary for the men who are languishing their days dreaming of remaining children forever.
If an ancient institution such as marriage is to be preserved then it urgently needs to undergo change and evolution. It must discard its misogynous early roots and undergo modernisation, premised on the principles of equal rights of men and women. Marriage cannot continue to treat the husband-wife relation as that of a master and a slave. It must be built upon foundations of love and trust and no one’s human rights should be compromised in the process. Marriage must not seek to enslave women. Instead it must become a way of freedom from captivity, it must become synonymous with independence.