Don’t ask why, say why not if beti chooses her career over shaadi
That awful ‘off’ should eff off. It made me cringe yet again as I shared a ride and a gripe with a highly successful, happily single 30-something. Her mother, I know, is an enlightened doctor who prescribes empowerment along with E-vitamins to her tradition-trapped women patients. But she clearly wasn’t above usual regressive emotional blackmail masquerading as parental duty.
Her techie daughter vented, “When I told mom that I’d freeze my eggs if she thought having babies is the be-all and end-all of my existence, she snapped, ‘You can’t have them without a husband.’ Then she launched into her daily spiel about not fulfilling her parental duty of ‘marrying me off’. Grrr!”
It’s the burden of most of those writing into my Agony Aunt column in Mumbai Mirror. Worse, they’ve internalised the pressure. The older ones are wracked by guilt, and ask if they’re being selfish and/or stupid for choosing careers instead of pheras; 20-somethings moan that their life is over because, OMG!, they’ve been ditched and not hitched.
Can I blame them even as I administer my verbal ‘two tight slaps’ therapy to bring them to their senses? No. The adage that ‘A son is a son till he gets a wife; a daughter is a daughter all your life’ is tried and tested, yet, so much continues to work against her. It’s not only the single-minded drive to ‘marry her off’. The ‘married daughter’ continues to draw the short straw, de facto even when not de jure.
In theory, two amendments have sensitised the unapologetic discrimination of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. A woman is no longer stripped of all rights to her father’s Hindu Undivided Family as soon as she’s handed over to the in-law HUF. Section 29A, introduced in 1994 by the Maharashtra government, allowed her to continue to enjoy these plus those as a member of her husband’s HUF. The 2005 amendment post-dated this right. She’s now entitled to her father’s inheritance even if she’d married before 2005. But this section 6 was so shoddily drafted that it’s mired in litigation.
A Muslim woman gets only half as much of her father’s inheritance as her brother; though legally she has absolute rights to this bequest. Christian women have equal rights under the Indian Succession Act, 1929.
At a Zoroastrian conference years ago, an industrialist’s daughter bravely contradicted a speaker who’d been rah-rahing the exemplary equality enjoyed by Parsi women, both under its laws and on the ground. She was glared down. Yes, the real and present danger in all communities is that practice overrules paper. Patriarchal prejudice is not that easily exiled by statutory decree.
Take the ruling of the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal earlier this month. By it, only the wife and two adult sons were entitled to the Rs 44 lakh compensation awarded in the case of a Bombay Port Trust worker killed in a collision in 2010. It disallowed any rights of his two daughters on the grounds that they were already married at the time, and so no longer his dependents — unlike the boys who still had no jobs.
Or, at a more rarified level, take club membership. Most often, sons can avail of it forever as a right, but not daughters once they get married.
This skewed matter of rights festers in the primeval swamp of daughter as property, that too only the ‘paraya dhan’ of her biological family. Parents are proxy caretakers till she’s passed on to her socially anointed true owners. Ergo, that humiliating phrase ‘married off’ — with its underlying heave of relief at the daughter being taken off their hands.
Despite all the empowering strides, single is still shame, still hissing with ‘whys?’. Surely ‘why not’ should be more acceptable, now that woke parents so preeningly wean their daughters on Bedtime Stories for Rebel Girls and Fierce Fairy Tales.
If independence is saddled with a sell-by date, it becomes like Bernard Shaw’s sexist jibe: “Women said, ‘We will not be dictated to!’ and then became stenographers.” Why not let them find free-willed self-actualisation, including Emma Watson’s recent phrase ‘being self-partnered’?
A creditable why not is evident in the number of daughters getting hard-core positions in giant family-run companies. Why not stretch its boundaries? Instead of banging on about ‘marrying off’, why not divert the obscene sum spent on a reluctant wedding to skilling your daughter for the career she yearns for? Or why not use it to set her up in her chosen business? She’ll make it flourish since the entrepreneurial gene doesn’t pass on only to sons.
Beti padhao shouldn’t stop short. Give it last-mile connectivity.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.