Over lunch one Monday many years ago a colleague, who had just returned after a weekend visit to her recently married sister, was complaining bitterly about how her sister was always addressed or referred to by her parents-in-law by her ‘new name’. “This custom became obsolete many years back. How can it be followed in this day and age? I can’t imagine such old-fashioned people exist even today. I feel really sorry for my ‘didi’,” she said.
My colleague was not speaking about her sister’s surname. She was referring to the custom, followed by some communities in India, of a woman being given a new first name by her parents-in-law after marriage. Apparently, since some years, the particular ceremony was still followed as part of a traditional marriage, but just as a ritual/formality. The bride would continue to be addressed by her own first name after marriage.
This was a purely personal/family matter about which I could do nothing, so I did not comment. Of course, I felt sorry for my colleague’s sister and for my colleague.
One day, about a year later, the same colleague’s ‘maami’ (mother’s brother’s wife) came to our office for a few minutes. The colleague introduced her as Sita maami. The next day, another colleague said that Sita maami bore an uncanny resemblance to a woman called Meera who had been her neighbour in Delhi many years back. Our colleague laughed and explained that Meera from Delhi and Sita maami were the same person. Because her husband’s name was Ram, Meera’s name was changed to Sita after marriage.
Again, this was a purely personal/family matter about which I could do nothing, so I did not comment. Of course, I wondered how my colleague, who had complained bitterly when her sister’s mother-in-law followed an obsolete custom, laughed about the same obsolete custom when it was practised by her grandparents.
A few months later, this Sita maami’s son got married. To my surprise, my colleague, who had felt really sorry for her ‘didi’, started referring to and addressing her cousin’s wife by her new name!
This is only one small example of how many of us are quick to criticise our own and our sisters’ parents-in-law when they discriminate against their daughters-in-law, but gladly overlook the same discrimination when it is perpetrated by our own parents. Sometimes, as in the case of my colleague, they even perpetrate the same discrimination themselves!
I’ve always wondered how, while so many women complain about the regressive behavior of their parents-in-law, very few women speak about the regressive behavior of their parents!
If we want to get rid of old-fashioned, regressive, patriarchal attitudes, we must resist them and fight against them irrespective of whether they are displayed by our parents-in-law or our parents.
Each person must remember that her/his parents are, in most cases, another woman’s parents-in-law.
This applies to all social ills. We all examine others with a magnifying glass. We must also remember to look into the mirror.
To quote William Arthur Ward: It is wise to direct your anger towards problems – not people; to focus your energies on answers – not excuses.