Any home or family that alienates its women is regressive.
I was shocked to read a friend’s post on Facebook yesterday. She was attending a wedding in the family. And she was disallowed by a family elder, ironically a lady, from participating in the ‘mehendi’ ceremony, because she (my friend) had lost her husband a couple of years ago. In another episode, a friend who is pregnant and is due to deliver in a month, said her family wants her to postpone her ‘maike’ visit (to her maternal home) because a distant relative had passed away on her husband’s side – so until the period of mourning was over, she could not ‘carry the stigma/shadow of grief and death’ into her own home. In another horror story we have heard, a woman was disallowed from inviting her divorced sister home, by her mother-in-law, because a young, divorced woman was “capable of corrupting the minds of the men” in the house.
For heaven’s sake, we are in 2016! Well into the 21st century! And we still have such cruel, crude, primitive, biased thinking that is prevalent?
I believe we have an urgent need in each family to examine how our women are treated. I think more than in workplaces, we need a policy in our homes to ensure that women are not harassed in the name of God, religion, rituals, tradition and culture. And as in the case of all three women, whose stories I have shared here, it is often, unfortunately, women who either directly try to alienate other women or partner in such alienation. When I was much younger, I rabidly fought a lot of this discrimination against Vaani (and her family) by my own mother – but I lost out every single time. This is one of the principal reasons why I choose to remain detached and distant from my side of the family – to protect our own inner peace and sanity. I wish I had been stronger then. But at least over the past decade or so, I have been championing this thought that any home or family that does not give equal opportunity and respect to its women has to be condemned unequivocally.
Last year when my father-in-law Venks passed on, and we were readying his body for cremation, the priest asked me if any of Venks’ grandsons were around. This, as I understood it, was to light the source fire from which, notionally, the funeral pyre would be lit. I told the priest that two of Venks’ grandsons were on their way from different Indian cities and they planned to reach the crematorium directly. Since the source fire (in an earthern pot) had to be lit at home, I suggested that my daughter, Venks’ granddaughter, be allowed to light it. But the priest would just not agree. We got into a dignified but vocal debate on gender equality that lasted several minutes. Finally, I backed off, because I didn’t want to hold up the proceedings that were being led by the priest in partnership with Venks’ son, my brother-in-law. However, when it came to bid the body goodbye, all of us were asked to notionally ‘feed the body’ (vai-ikku arisi). I invited my daughter too to do it. The elders in the family and the priest didn’t quite appreciate this. For, per them, unmarried girls must neither feed the body nor see it off. Not only did Aanchal take my cue and ‘feed Venks’ body’, she and Vaani accompanied the cortege to the crematorium and literally saw Venks off. I am very proud of the choices my wife and my daughter made. After all they were close to Venks too.
I must confess here that although social norms, banal traditions and dogmatic rituals are all stacked up always to favor men, it is the women who are more resilient that us men. I say this from my own experience of fighting our crisis – without Vaani on my side, I would never have made it this far. And in almost every story around us, whenever I have met sensible, sensitive, compassionate men, I have always found them acknowledging this truth. The other day I was chatting with Gregory Jacob from Dubai (his family’s story of surviving a traumatic phase of bankruptcy is now a famous motion picture in Malayalam – Jacobinte Swargarajyam – in which Nivin Pauly plays Gregory’s role). And Jacob had this to say: “Amma is the backbone of our family, she is the warrior queen, she has been the pillar of strength for all of us. I guess we men aren’t really fireproof after all!” I can’t agree with him more.
I don’t want to preach. I just want to make a plea. Let’s be the change we want see around us. Let’s get rid of any thought, practice, ritual, tradition or custom that alienates a woman. And let’s start from our own homes!