Sunday, June 12, 2011

Men, women and relationships in India today

Yesterday I was on the phone with a friend who sought my advice regarding her marital dispute. The conversation led me to do some hard thinking on women, men and relationships in contemporary India.

A highly educated couple, the woman comes from a liberal background. A clear pointer to this is that she studied in Delhi for her MA and M.Phil, managing her life all by herself during those four years. The husband comes from a less liberal (I am not sure his parents would have agreed to their daughter studying in distant Delhi) background, has a ph.d and a good position in a prominent public sector company. Both share religion, caste and class.

Post marriage, after the literal and figurative honeymoon period was over, the husband made it clear that he expected his wife to take up a more "womanly" career, one which ensures she is back at home by 5pm in the evening. She refused and slowly hell broke lose. She suggested several times that they approach a counselor, but so far he has refused stating that counseling is only for the mentally ill and for good measure added that she can approach one to cure herself of her mental sickness of wanting a career.

Her parents wanted her to settle down after she found a job in Delhi after the M.Phil. Out of extreme lonliness (she is not the most extrovert of persons and had few friends at the time in Delhi), her mother's tears and endless haranguing she agreed to this proposal. She insists that outsiders like me not see the situation in black and white terms. Her parents are genuinely worried that she being an only child will be lonely and unhappy in old age and by getting her married, wanted to settle things for her. She loves her parents dearly and does not want to let them down, especially when they have invested so much in her happiness (she wanted to study in Delhi and without batting an eyelid, they agreed). Hence she agreed to this guy. They met a few times in Delhi for dinner (as someone I know once said, sometimes we fail to really know a person even after a lifetime, so how can you assess someone after a few dinners?) and he seemed ok enough. So she took the plunge.

My first reaction was why she did not discuss issues like career with him before they got married. But it looks like promises were made by him about her continuing with her position which he has retracted later on. To be fair to the guy, he may not have fully comprehended what he was getting into. Sometimes statements can mean different things to different people.

All in all, this is a very unfortunate situation, for both man and woman.

I am a feminist and I am not ashamed of saying it. There was a time I used to strongly believe that the world is created by men, of men and for men! But the older and wiser me think that in this new India, it is not easy for young men also. Women expect so much more from a marriage than their mothers did. But age old expectations of a man's role as the bread winner has not changed.

Also relevant is my friend's assertion that her parents have given her plenty of opportunities to explore her potential. A great education, for starters. Only to secure her happiness(and not to shirk their responsibility of her, this I must add is a very loaded concept, why is a woman a responsibility?), she asserts, were they insistent that she get married. SHe was clearly not seen as a burden to be traded of to a husband for dowry (the classical arranged marriage situation).

My friend agreed to the marriage primarily because she did not want to let her parents down as she loves them deeply. Now she is so conflicted about the choices she made. Thankfully, her parents have now rallied to her support.

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