Have you heard this slogan? “Dulhan hi dahej hai” (The bride is the dowry). Living south of the Vindhyas has its disadvantages and I only came across this on IHM’s blog today. What does this vague and virtuous sounding statement actually mean? It means the man’s family is still entitled to dowry but instead of assets like a gaadi or air conditioner, they’re getting an investment which yields increasing returns over its lifespan.
Have you read R. K. Narayan’s story “Annamalai”? It’s a collection of vignettes about the author’s long time servant. One of them describes a dispute Annamalai and his brother have with the local money lender* over a lamb born to the sheep they pledged with him. The sheep gives birth while it’s in the custody of the money lender and both parties stake a claim on the offspring. You did not pledge a pregnant sheep, says the money lender. You are not entitled to anything the sheep produces contends Annamalai. The sheep, obviously, has no say in the matter because, well, it is a sheep. You know precisely where I’m headed with this train of thought, no? Nonetheless, that’s the beauty of blogging. You can be as redundant as you wish**.
If the dulhan is dahej does it mean the family who accepts her gets what she produces too? Or does it mean the family should be satisfied that a ghar ki lakshmi (better known in our country as free domestic help) has made her entrance and not expect more? Well, duh! The whole idea of dahej is that people get money they haven’t earned. What difference does it make whether it was the dulhan’s family or the dulhan herself who earned it? The woman’s “new” family is completely entitled to all earnings.
We are to hand over our paychecks to our husbands to manage and be grateful that we are allowed to work at all. The woman who wrote to IHM said she didn’t want to part with her money. So she packed her bags and went back to her parents only to have her father and uncles assure her MIL they’ll “send her back”. Her birth family have, presumably, fulfilled all their duties towards her by getting her married. Staying married is now her problem. If she has issues with her MIL she needs to work them out without her parents’ support because they’re not her family anymore.
The husband doesn’t even appear anywhere in the letter. He begins by asking his wife to save all her earnings. He then gradually demands she turn over half to his mother. Finally, just as things start to get uncomfortable, he fades into the background once the abuse intensifies.Men’s Rights Activists (the very term creeps me out) paint him as the ultimate victim – caught between wife and mother while the reality is that he’s the ultimate enabler. These are not “women’s issues” (whatever those are). They’re deep rooted issues pertaining to a warped sense of entitlement enabled by patriarchy. The husband not only feels entitled to tell his wife what to do with her earnings, he decides he has the right to stay out of uncomfortable situations even at the expense of his own wife (remember those marriage vows, dude?) being abused before his own eyes.
I used to have a t-shirt that said “99% of politicians give the rest a bad name”. That’s exactly what all these upholders of patriarchy do as well. They give the few truly decent people out there a bad name. They enable the Leslie Udwin’s of the world to walk in with their self-righteousness and turn Indian Men into a capitalized italicized term. “Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”, Blackstone said. Yet the innocent do suffer. It makes my blood boil.
There is no conclusion to this piece of writing because I’ve tried all sorts of endings over the years. I’ve been hopeful, cynical, objective, academic, prescriptive, emotional, sarcastic, and even indulgent. It doesn’t ever seem to matter. But it does. Every post I write does matter because I know someone reads it. Bit by bit, post by post, word by word, line by line, comment by comment, women step out of the shadows. Not here in particular but somewhere out there they do, They come out and say, “I thought I was all alone.” All these letters bloggers like IHM get, they’re all the same story worded in a thousand different ways. It’s hard to to be patient. It’s hard to be optimistic but then I remember, each story is a real person.
* My memory of the details is a bit vague. Note to self: update the post if I ever find the book and re-read the story 🙂
** And repeat yourself. And say the same thing in twenty different ways.