Breaking the cycle..

… Or to be more accurate, why breaking the cycle is so difficult..

Our friend Bikram raised some questions in his post here, and I thought I’d try to answer.

Bikram questions ‘The mother-in-law knew how his son was treating the daughter in law , yet she did not say anything Rather she was calling up the Girls father to give more, I mean WHY.. Did she go through the same when she got married and came to the family..

Let me explain with an example. I met a young woman here. She must be in her late twenties or at max, her early thirties. She grew up in India, but got married to an NRI who was 34 at that point in time. She was 18. She says her parents had no plans to get her married but when the proposal came up, it felt like a good one. She has three children, and lives in a typical joint family type of environment, here in the UK. One day we were talking and she started telling us about how tough it is for her. She works, but once she is home, she is expected to be the obedient, dutiful bahu, making tea for everyone, clearing up. It might not sound like a huge deal, but as she says, if you end up spending 45 mins for having a simple cup of tea- it becomes a big deal. Especially in a country where she has no maids or anybody to help out. If she fancies a cup of tea and makes it for herself without checking with the rest of the family, it is considered quite rude. A small example, but it affected her badly enough for her to share it with us. Then she went on to say, ‘What can I do, I can only wait for when it will be my turn to be the mother-in-law’.

I was stunned to hear that. Surely one would think that she would try to break the cycle rather than have it continue? But then I realized that, for her, it is just a fact, an accepted reality. As a daughter-in-law, she has to accept what is given to her, and she has to wait until her son gets home a DIL before she gets to throw her weight around. She does not think of breaking the cycle because she has accepted the system for what it is.

What horrified me, was just a statement of fact for her. Why? Because that is the system they have been brought up it, that is the system they are familiar with. They don’t see a problem with it. A boy will bring home a wife, while a daughter will be sent away. I have heard this justification from so many people.

Dowry is justified too. People think that it is perfectly legitimate. These days it is termed as ‘gifts’ which the girl’s side gives ‘willingly’. I don’t understand why gifting is only the woman’s parents prerogative? Then of course, people will explain that a daughter is going away to her ‘real home’ so her parents would like to ‘gift’ her things. That to me is the root cause of this whole thing. The imbalance in society which is brought about by the concept of a male child being ‘apna’ and a female child being ‘paraya’.

The system is also the reason a parent dreads the birth of a girl child, dreads the day they will have to shell out huge amounts of money to get her ‘married off’.

The only way the evils like sex selective abortions, dowry etc can be eradicated is the system itself changes. If both sons and daughters take up the responsibility of looking after their parents, if parents of daughters are not left destitute in their old age, if a daughter is not taught that no matter what, once she gets married, her marital home is her home, and not her parental home.

In fact in the program, in both the first and the third episode, we had women expressing how it is so horrible for a parent to have their married daughter coming back home. It broke my heart to listen to that. I can’t even begin to imagine how helpless they must have felt. Where could they have gone? How could they have walked out on their marriages when all that has been drummed into their heads is that their parental home is no longer their home?

The moment that stigma goes away, we will find a lot of women comfortable about standing up for their rights. When they know that they will not make their parents unhappy if they land up at their doorstep. When women understand that they don’t need to accept everything that is thrown at them. When they are brought up with the belief that no matter what, their parents will always be there for them. That they are no ‘paraya dhan’.

22 thoughts on “Breaking the cycle..

    • But instead of putting her DIL in same pressure , maybe she can break the cycle and it will pick up from there to new generation wont it ..

      I know what you say if system is changed, but what is this system , Rather WHO is this system , WE the people are the system , So if we change what ever way, threatening- punishments by law- naming and shaming .. any way that will make us the people CHange will indirectly change the System ..

      I agree with you.. thinking has to change for sure .. and maybe jsut maybe WE the generation of india can change our thinking and when our kids get married or start their life We can break that cycle ..

      • Agree entirely, Bikram. We are the system, so we need to stop defending the system, stop accepting traditions just because they are traditions, and change what needs to change. If each of us bring up our girls with the aim of empowering her, ensuring that marriage is not her end goal in life, things are bound to change.
        I have seen girls think there is nothing wrong in dowry, that attitude has to change.

  1. I so so agree to what you say Smitha..the problem will go away only if we change the way we think…its really funny when people say they are just asking for XYZ, its not dowry, but its just that your daughter will also benefit from it, since it will be in her house!!!.what nonsense!

    About your friend in UK..well…my in laws are here now, and I have to go back home and make rotis…for 6 people..honestly, its not big deal because my MIL and FIL do every thing including cut the veggies, make the rice, dal, etc etc..I just have to make ONLY rotis..and yet there are days, I get too tired to do that..but I dont tell anything because then MIL will do it..she does all work at home otherwise and if I crib about doing even this, isnt that wrong? *Confused*

    • I agree, RM, mindset change is what we need.

      As for this lady, from what I could gather, she had very little freedom in the house. From what I could understand, there is no concept of sharing chores.. In your case, your in-laws do pitch in, and do what they can, don’t they. I think that makes a difference. And they still think of ‘their time’ as the time when they will have a DIL to throw their weight around:(

  2. It is really sad that to see that some women of today don’t really think and accept age old practices and traditions as though they ought to be as they are. When this girl in question is not enraged by the fact that she is given an unfair deal and has just accepted the situation as a rule, I really fear for the coming generations.
    My only hope is this, our generation. Because, we are and should be the questioning ones, so that positive change can be brought about.
    Great post, Smitha!
    I have been following SMJ not so much for the hype but because I believe even a step in the right direction will be helpful. I had written my two cents here:

  3. The mindset needs to change for things to improve.
    You know sometimes we frenz talk about things that happen at home. We have a fren whose MIL doens’t treat her real well, when start talking we talk about small-2 things like how MIL’s treat us differently from their sons or how they do nothelp us in kitchen or how they keep finding mistakes in what we do etc. At the end of the whole discussion I always say, that when we live in a joint family there would always be things which we would not like. In fact if we are making adjustments then even our in laws making adjustments. There will be things that they do that wud hurt us (and vice versa) and if it is a major thing it is better to discuss with them but if you can ignore then ignore but remember one thing, if in future we are in the same position we will not do this to our DIL.
    Sadly women do not follow this principle, they feel since I have been treated badly I will take my revenge when my chance comes and the viscious circle continues and we sit expecting somebody else to break it.
    Forgetting that change starts from within!

  4. i think ur friend has to break the cycle rather than accepting it.. i still dont understand the need to give dowry and take in name of gift/streedhan.. i think we need to explain ur friend and change her notion. we can go an dhcnge everyone. at least if we trying changing the near once, automatically lots of ppl wil change na.. things might turn up right for next generation at least..

    • She’s just some one I run into at one of daughter’s activities – but it shocked me to see someone younger than me talk like this..

      If each of us change, hopefully the mindset will change.

  5. ‘Attached detachment’ is a term that I learnt one day from a friend’s mother. She said that with adult children, one needs to have ‘attached detachment’. It doesnt matter if it is a daughter or a son, they are individuals in their own right once they grow up.

    Absolutely, CR! I can’t agree more about this. My dad is a great believer of this. And I’m so proud to be his daughter!

    While I do agree that daughters should be able to care for their parents as much as sons, I would also stress upon the fact that, being cared for in the old age becomes one of the main reasons of people preferring one sex over the other. As a society, we must encourage people to not depend on their children for their needs. Be it physical, emotional or financial. That should hopefully give the children a chance to do whatever they want in their lives without feeling tied up to their parents, and parents to have children in the first place just for the joy of having them.

    The reason I brought that up is because a vast majority of people in India still believe that sons should look after their parents, while daughters will look after their in-laws. I strongly believe that we, as parents, when we bring our children to this world, our responsibility ends at bringing them up – and expecting nothing in return. Children are no insurance policy. They have the right to lead their lives the way they want to. If anything, every parent should start planning for their retirement, rather then their children’s wedding.

    ‘parents to have children in the first place just for the joy of having them. ‘ – Absolutely! Not as an insurance policy to be revoked in old age!

    In a family unit, ideally we all look out for each other in our own way. But when that caring is made into a duty, things start falling apart. With duties come positions, with positions comes power, with power comes power games and with power games comes politics. That is how a caring, loving nest becomes an institution.

    Absolutely, CR! I totally agree!

  6. “Dowry is justified too. People think that it is perfectly legitimate” A landlady in whose house we stayed for sometime, who was preparing for her daughters wedding once told me “we are planning to give her a non ac car, an ac car would be expensive. The ac, the couple can install themselves later” to which her daughter didn’t agree. She insisted on her parents giving her an ac car. This daughter was an engineer working as software professional in a company. Tell me who is to blame. The upbringing has to change more so of the girls parents. Make your daughter capable, self reliant and most importantly self respecting. She will automatically refuse to marry a man who asks for dowry

    • I know people like this too! Women who don’t think its wrong to expect their parents to give them gifts/dowry. Sadly it has to with the upbringing and the society around us.

      ‘Make your daughter capable, self reliant and most importantly self respecting. She will automatically refuse to marry a man who asks for dowry’ Absolutely!

  7. Rightly said Smitha.. it is the mindset that needs to change.. a daughter is just another human being. She can look after herself even without loading her with gifts before sending her to her hubby.

    Absolutely! I agree entirely!

    Today I read with shock how female foetus are aborted and fed to the dogs of the doctor couple! Can this nation give us anything more shocking?

    Goodness! Every time you hear something more shocking than what we thought possible.

    It is the daughters who have to put their foot down. No more being treated as “special” but weak.
    No more bring treated as ‘special but weak’ – Absolutely!

  8. “The moment that stigma goes away, we will find a lot of women comfortable about standing up for their rights.” Absolutely, Smits! But sadly nobody wants to break the cycle. This girl you’ve mentioned about in the post clearly doesnt see anything wrong in being treated shabbily and thats because of the pathetically ingrained conditioning that she and so many women like her have been brought up with. Unless this mentality changes, mindset progresses it will be very difficult to unchain this vicious cycle 😦

  9. Love this post Smitha.
    And why are the male family members less affected? Because husbands have their wives to take care of them in their old age, this is one reason wives used to be often much younger. Even today in parts of India, old widowers might marry again to have someone to ‘look after them’.
    Who ‘looks after’ the wives? No, not their life-partners, but the daughters in law are seen as care givers for the wives, press their feet, obey them etc (the same things that wives are expected to do to their husbands).
    So if women don’t keep the daughters in law in control, they are reminded that there would be nobody to fetch them a glass of water in their old age.

  10. Logically, if a woman goes through something wrong, she should be determined to ensure that nobody else (especially any woman in the family-her DIL) goes through that trauma/pain… but usually that’s not the case! And we are like, I will see my DIL!! Sad and numbing! 😐

  11. It is very important that the mindset changes and we make sure that if something was difficult for us, we at least make an effort to make it simple for others…

  12. Now you know why it is said that ‘a woman is only another woman’s worst enemy’ πŸ™‚ Unfortunately even educated ones do not empathize. Women are the greatest boon that good gave the entire humanity!

    • Rahul, that is what I was trying to explain. Women become a woman’s enemy because of the system that we follow. Of a woman nit belonging to her own house, of needing to get married and stay married. If you check out IHM’s comment, it shows why men are relatively unefffected.

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