In a country where women are worshiped as goddesses, we never realized when all that gender bias kicked in. In India, marriage is believed to be a sacred union of two beings. The two come together, take vows to be there for each other in sickness and in health, and decide to spend the rest of their lives as one. Especially in India, the day of marriage is believed to be the most important day of a girl’s life. As if nothing else matters…
There was a girl I knew from the block. For the longest time, the girl was taught to cook, to keep the house clean, to keep the family together, to keep the man happy, always. The girl started to think this was her life, that this was her only purpose. Nobody taught her to live for herself or to stand on her own feet like they teach men. Dare she questions their norms was she shushed. So, she learned to stay quiet too. A time came when she forgot she even had a voice, how stupid of her!
Society is a real player though. I must give it that. It underestimated the power of women to a level that transcended conscious levels of rational thinking. Yes, saying stuff like “women must stay home at night” or “women can’t drive” became normal! Women had to fight patriarchy, misogyny, oppression of thought and what not just to be treated as humans and not objects, and for the basic rights that every human deserves.
Even after decades of protest, some things yet remain unaddressed…
Then came the big day! The girl had now blossomed into a woman. She was to be married to a man finally. He was handsome, educated; he earned well. He was well-settled. The girl’s parents were so happy. This was the happiest day of their lives.
She took his surname, shifted to his city, gave herself a new identity. They had two beautiful kids. Life seemed perfect.
It is known to be seen only in the womankind, a display of selfless love that involves them burying their desires and their happiness for others’ sake. The woman immerses herself into nurturing a family so much so that it becomes to her her known Universe. Her life begins and ends at her husband and her children. She’s fierce, protective to death. She would not, under any avoidable circumstances, let any trouble in around them. But some circumstances, as we know, are unavoidable and uncalled for…
Seven years after the marriage, the man passed away. The children were too young to make sense of what was happening and that their lives had changed forever. As a widow, the woman was left alone with children to feed, to educate. Her parents never thought teaching their daughter to earn for herself was necessary. Working a marriage after all was supposed to be the only job she needed to excel, right… as-is for all women in this country? So what happened when things didn’t go as planned? Nobody had an answer.
There are approximately around 55 million widow women in India. There is no clear data, however, and no real statistics about what these women are doing to run their homes. Are they getting support from their paternal family, or are the in-laws taking care of their finances? Are they working themselves, or are they sending their children to work? Are they doing fine, or do they need help? Nobody bloody cares. If none of these options are to work, should she have just committed sati, like the good old times? That would have been easier on a widow, I suppose.
The air around the existence of a widow in the society we live in is so deeply misconstrued that escaping it becomes a bigger challenge than survival sometimes. The shadows that creep around the term itself, the marginalization and discrimination that a widow faces in India is profoundly perturbing psychologically and, in some cases, physically too.
She lost him to a fatal disease. She spent all that her husband earned paying hospital bills to get him back on his feet. During the whole affair, more than love, the fear of losing the only earning member of the family was scaring her dead.
At first, she didn’t know what to do. Everything was under question now that he was gone. How will the family get its bread? Will she be able to send her children to school? Will she gather the courage to continue? She couldn’t answer any of those questions. Yet those questions came haunting to her every night.
The woman loses her companion for life; society terms it ‘losing her honor.’
The woman loses her children’s father; society terms it ‘getting desperate for money.’
The woman loses love; society deems it ‘losing respect.’
Initially, people offered her help, the kind of help she didn’t need. What she needed was somebody to tell her that she’ll make it, her children will make it. What she received was sympathy, fake condolences, and charity. Some were, in fact, happy to see him gone, mostly his close relatives. Jealousy rots the mind and soul alike. All of that wasn’t helpful at all.
The woman knew she had to sail this boat alone, as every widow. Going through all that pain, she did the smartest thing I’ve known. And on the course took some brave decisions too. She had to!
She invested all that she had left. She never begged. She upskilled herself, did multiple jobs, went on to run her shop even. Also, she took care of her home. She raised her children beautifully, ensured their education came first always. She struggled like one hell of a superwoman!
Pity, that’s not what these women call for. Charity, that’s not what these women ask for. Your judgment, that’s not what these women give a damn for! Their entire life is a struggle unparalleled. The least these women want is respect, and independence – from the webs of inability this society has pushed a widow into since ages, from the stigma that is associated with a woman without a partner, from the constant suffocating atmosphere that’s outright downgrading. That is honestly the least this society can do. At grassroots levels, teaching girls to be independent in all possible meanings – financially, emotionally. High time we did that!
No, her boat didn’t sink. And I hope nobody else in her position ever sinks. I hope things change.
The woman’s daughter
Featured Image Credits: The Huffington Post UK