If you are somewhere in your late 20s, at some point a distant relative who has probably not called you in ages must have started expressing their pressing concern for your marriage. “Why 30 is still Dirty for Many Indian Women” researched-based article on HuffingtonPost.in throws light on the burden an Indian woman feels of getting married ranging from their late 20s to mid-30s.
As per key findings of Human Development in India less than 5% of Indian women only had the choice of choosing their husbands, and only 62% of women felt that their wishes were considered in an arranged marriage norm. Despite having access to education, opportunities for economic empowerment the societal pressure on women to get married, and having limited say remains the same.
Meet Kokil, a 20 something young enthusiastic woman, searching her meaning of life while everything boils down to one thing “Shadi kab karoge ?” (when will you get married ?)
Kokil’s Story — Voice in her head
I have been born and brought up in a middle-class family located in a beautiful place called Tapi. Since my childhood, I have grown watching both my mother and father working really hard to provide for me and my elder brother. As a woman, I feel fortunate to be born in this family given the patriarchal structure and gender-based discrimination. Due to social norms, women have a limited agency to live their life. I can vouch that my parents never treated me any differently. I was given an equal opportunity to access education and much-needed support. However, I belonged to a society where women are expected to have perfect qualities such as kind, well mannered, caring, nurturing, and obedience therefore inevitably social classification of gender has played a great deal of role in my life and who I am today.
Kamla Bhasin aptly says in one of her finest work Understanding Gender “Every society prescribe different norms for girls and boys, women and men, which determines almost every aspect of their lives, and their futures”
I have grown up watching my mother doing household chores and taking care of everyone at home. I don’t know whether she was given a choice to be a “mother” but she does it all that she can in her best capacity to make us all happy. Is it something you do easily like breathing, eating, or sleeping?
As a woman, you are expected to overflow with a motherly feeling towards the entire universe. And that is supposed to be natural. (Understanding Gender) Sometimes, I wonder how she feels having so many responsibilities to fulfill?
As a child’s socialization begins from home, without conscious efforts I have learned cooking, caregiving, respecting, and mothering observing my mother. As a child I remember one of the things that distinct my mother from other women was her engagement in economic activties. She is self-employed, although now women her age have started gaining economic empowerment almost 25 years ago when my mother started her work, it was uncommon in a small place like Tapi, and my father has been stepping-stone. They both have been supporting each other for years. And together they have given wings to my dreams as well. They supported my desire to continue my education outside Tapi.
After completing higher secondary education, I stepped out for the first time. Since then I have lived outside, almost for 10 years. All my life I grew up watching the following pattern.
For almost 20 years I have lived in Lala land, conforming to the pattern without questioning the purpose and meaning behind. Today when inquired on what might be the product following this process of life I realize it gives a sense of security, all forms of security one can imagine.
And the security that I seek from this process is an illusion of my mind because in true sense security feels like an illusionary concept to me. I feel I’m secured today and someday I may as well lose this sense of feeling secured . Being part of society, I don’t behave any differently. I would like to believe that I’m on a path of exploring the pattern.
In the past few years, few of my friends have successfully married, some are under pressure to conform the pattern and are in the process of getting married. And here I’m in the land of confusion.
I’m not against the institution of marriage. I’m strongly against what a woman in her 20s has to go through emotionally in the process of getting married.
Listen to what society has to say to most of us (Arey waahi char log kya kahenge sunlo)
Person (Log 1) : You know at your age I had kids, you have been given enough liberty . If you don’t get married people will gossip about you. You are soon turning 28 . Do you realize , your beauty will fade and then you will lose out to good options. Is there any problem? Tell me.
Are you not happy? You don’t look happy? I’m here. There is definitely something wrong with you, you should figure it out. Are you doing anything for your health? What is wrong with you ?
Here I’m staring and nodding because remember I’m trained to be obedient towards others? And speaking in my head please calm down ! I’m okay and so is my life. I know I don’t have work, a goal and for god sake its PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS ! But oh yeah you dont care covid will not catch you as you are too classy and beautiful for that. I see.
Person (Log 2) : It’s time you know. You have got more freedom than you should. You have studied more than you should. Its time to settle down. Is there something wrong with you ? What are you hiding? Tell us. If you have a boyfriend tell us.
Again I’m being obidient and speaking to myself ,wait time for what? And excuse me, who is anybody to give or take my freedom. And how are my life choices right or wrong?
Did I just hear the word *boyfriend* Well in the last 10 years dating trends have changed aunty ji .
Too many acquaintances in this modern age and every time it’s a stranger because relations don’t sustain. You meet a guy who is a friend, who likes you for years as a friend, who sleeps with you as a friend, who talks to you as a friend basically who does everything as a friend yet you can’t call him your boyfriend ! #ModernLove And yes, if I’ll have a boyfriend I can share my love life with my family. IT IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
Person (Log 3) : Oh dear ! You know you are crossing the age limit to stay at your parents home. Who stays at their parents home in their late 20s ?
Women don’t beta, parents won’t tell you that. You can’t buy more time, you are bringing pain to your family, please share with us what is bothering you ? Lets fix your issues and just say yes to marriage.
Again obedient me, in my head (this time almost in tears), wait what? Please stop planting the seed of fear. I didn’t know there was a limit? Mumma Papa always says come home, stay with us we miss you.
How come I did not know there is a limit . I don’t own a house nor have a job or saving . Where will I go? I do have a roof over my head but I’m suddenly feeling homeless !
Person (Log 4) : What do you want to do in life ? What are your life goals? Don’t think small, think big. Have you thought about it ? Okay tell me who is your role model ? You know right ? You have to marry soon ? How do you plan to find a suitable groom?
Think and answer these questions. There must be some thoughts. I want to listen to you.Say something, why are you not speaking ?
And I almost shattered and breaking down. Again being obidient and speaking to myself , What the hell ? Why are you trying to be my life coach ? Why dont you go and first deal with your mid-life crisis?
WE ARE FU*KING LIVING IN PANDEMIC TIMES. Do you even realize the gravity? I had plans, plans to travel and so much more but don’t you see how the pandemic has hit us all. People are dying, the situation is only getting worse and all you have to care about is My job? My marriage? My life choices? Also, how is it your business? Where were you all these days ?
I feel humiliated when I listen tocomments on my age, body, life choices. It hurts me more when I realize that these people have stressed my parents projecting their insecurities and idea of living life.
And here I’m alone with my thoughts, constantly battling. When I reach anyone to share my feelings, the most common response is “let it go, this is how society operates, just ignore . Let them say, that’s how they behave”. Such reactions reminds me of words by Assata Shakur, in her autobiography —
“People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.”
You know, this awareness. This awareness raises the question “Can I ever be free from all the opperession ?” And Kokil leaves us with her question to ponder upon regardless of gender, caste, class, or religion .
I’m aware Kokil is not exceptionally alone. Time and again women are experiencing bullying, judgment, gaslighting. The commonly believed perception that women should marry at a certain age and pressurizing women to get married is just one instance.
Does it mean one should let go?
Internalize the pressure?
Live in fear?
Is this the way to address it?
The name of the person and place have been changed to protect the identity.