This week the Census of India 2011 exposed our veneer of India shinning. More girl children are missing in a century. We need to be internationally rewarded for our extreme success in eliminating girl children in the 0-6 year age group. We are really very near to solving the problem of crime against women; simple formula no women no crime against women. Dear @IHM often poses a question about India’s faltering sex ratio, if it will ever improve. Then she finds the answer in the custom of dowry, mandatory nature of marriage for desi women and absurd inequalities for the bride’s family. This video compliments what she says. But if marriage was the bane of desi woman kind then there ought not to be other crimes against women outside the homes and especially married women. Marriage as an explanation for failing sex ratio is too simplistic; oppression of women is complex and multifactorial phenomenon.
Few weeks ago DG made a comment on a post about if marriages are over rated. @IHM blogged about DG’s basic premise on desi marriages; that further lead to a marathon of posts by different women bloggers. Everyone worded their heartfelt grievances against the institution of marriage to their heart’s content. Understanding desi marriage is a bit complex. To marry is one of the favorite national hobbies besides feeding corruption in the desi world (read South Asia, our neighbors are no different than us; rather they compete to keep the tabs with us).
In her book “Dowry Murder: The Imperial Origins of a Cultural Crime,” Vina Talwar Oldenburg found in pre independent India dowry was essentially an upper caste class ritual that intermediary castes adopted to rise up in the caste/class hierarchy. Castes were pretty fluid** at the periphery but the Raj in its need to administer diverse desis tried to fix caste boundaries and duties. Marriages and death feasts became the deciding point. If one belonged to X caste they could/should spend X amount, if they failed that meant they belonged to the lower strata. To keep up one’s position in the caste/class hierarchy or climb up in the hierarchy people started spending exorbitant amounts on these two life rituals, even to the extent where they borrowed money or sold their lands. It is then a rise in female infanticide along with dowry was observed.
It is not to say that communities did not practice female infanticide before that rather there were communities that took pride in the fact they were the bride takers and not bride givers. Village Devra in Rajasthan did not marry a single daughter in 100 years and now again is in news for all the wrong reasons.
In a culture that worships women as Goddesses in the religious texts why there is inherent hatred for living women is something to ponder about. If it is such an oppressive system for fifty percent stake holder why couldn’t they ever topple it, even when they are 50 billion in number they are still slaving. What does a marriage has to offer that women and their families spend all their energies and monies to feed this oppressor? If women are oppressed by the inequalities inherent in marriage so are their natal families. Is marriage only oppressive to women? If marriage benefits men then do all men benefit from it? If not then who are these men who lose in marriage and why? The natal families do not just comprise of all women they do have male members, brothers, fathers and other kinsmen. Are they oppressed too? The answer comes from Sai Akhtar Lahori***, who asks the divine how easy it is to sit in heavens and judge and how difficult is it to be a father of a daughter and a brother of a sister.
Marriage is not the end goal but is the new beginning to sustain this monstrous system. Marriage is not one time expense on dowry and feeding the groomsmen, it is a life long drain on the woman’s natal family. On every festival her natal kin is expected to send gifts to her and her in-laws. On the occasion of her first pregnancy baby shower and child related other ceremonies are her parent’s responsibility. Come the birthdays of kids, weddings in her in-laws’ home every time it is her parents who have to consolidate her position in the household by giving timely and status appropriate gifts. Does it ever end? Guess no, at the time of her children’s wedding, even if her parents are dead her brother(s) ought to bring in rich trousseau for the bride/groom and gifts for other family members. Her reputation depends on these gifts.
A man who is burdened with marrying his sister(s) and daughters finds it easier to accept dowry and gifts from his wife’s family than stand up and say NO to this life long drama. May be he even feels entitled to preferential treatment and gifts because he filled in another man’s coffers. If he could raise a voice to stop this oppressive cycle he faces challenges from other men and women in the community because he challenges their share of privileges. DG recalls a rich uncle of a friend; he married his son to a lower economic class same caste young lady with no dowry. Instead of appreciating his effort and emulating it people in the community gossiped about his son, that he had some flaw (impotency) that he had to be sold for no dowry. His young daughter-in-law was discriminated by other women in the family because she came from poor family and often did not have lofty gifts from her parents to flaunt. After two years of this ongoing harassment DG heard this rich uncle saying he’ll marry his second son according to the caste customs and will accept the dowry too.
DG sees these H 1B visa holder young men living in ghetto like conditions to send money home for their sisters’ wedding and then themselves being sold to highest bidder in the marriage market. DG sees these young poets and writers struggling everyday between their choice to pursue a dream or meet the dictates of masculinity to provide for their sisters’ wedding and submit to their parents’ demands of arranged marriages.
What kind of a system is this where oppressed are vigilant in protecting and perpetuating it and more than willing to feed its gluttony by butchering their beloveds?
If you are a father of a daughter(s) and a brother of a sister(s) do you have the courage to stand up and say “I refuse to waste money on feeding 1000 people I never met and give useless gifts that my daughter or sister will never get to use?”
Or you are the kind like her God forsaken now ex who had the guts to say “I won’t ask for anything but I’ll not refuse if I am given anything by your parents.” Yes, DG did marry that blotch on humanity and she is not proud of it. Yeah, we were cutting costs on food and milk to save for a grand wedding of a pint size terror incarnate (his sister), until last year she was still at her parents’ home. May be the helicopter they saved for is not good enough to secure her a prince in shinning amour.
* In 1925 Munshi Premchand wrote this revolutionary story about a young girl from poor family. Herparents could not pay a dowry so they marry her to a widower with children her age. She struggles and gives birth to a daughter and dies. Her last words are, “do not make me a women in next birth.”
**Refer concept of Sanskritization by M.N. Srinivas. It is still potent and functional go to Rajasthan and you’ll find Khati Rajputs, and Khati Brahmins and so on. More loyal than the crown…
***Sai Akhtar Lahori wrote two revolutionary poems about men’s oppression in patriarchy. Allah Mian Thalay Aa and Allah Mian Utte Raho.
Allah Mian Thalay Aa
Allah Mian thale aa Allah Mian please come down
Apni duniya Venda ja Come and see your world
Yah asmanon rizaq vara or else shower riches from skies
Yah fer kar ja muk muka or else have another dialogue
Tanon dhehi viyani pendi If you were to marry a daughter
nanki chak banani paindi If you were to give gifts to sister’s daughter at her wedding
rusi bhen manai paindi If you were to appease an upset sister due your poor gifts
lath jande sab tare chah All your charms would have left
Allah Mian thale aa Allah Mian please come down
Dhiaan non to jamne daindon You would have not let the daughters be born
kurman de to tane sahndon If you were to listen to torments from their in-laws
nal shreekan kade na bahndon You would not have sat with your kin who make snide
miti jandi kapre kha remarks for your daughter or sister is still unmarried
Allah Mian thale aa
tare gher na dane honde If you were poor and had no food at home
pate leef purane honed And every thing was old at home
kamle log seyane honed The rich but insane would have given you a ride
pa dainde tanon ghbara Allah Mian please come down
Allah Mian thale aa