One morning, as the sun rays kissed my eyes waking me up to a new day, I had a realization. The realization that it was my birthday today..! The realization that I was 24..! Well 24 is just a number that I have reached to from number 1. But in India, it isn’t so especially for a girl. Your age brings in a lot of questions from the society. The age of 24, in the 21st century is apt for getting married; rather you should hurry up by this time..! With age 18, being the legal age to get married, every girl is under the pressure of marriage once they reach that age. Your willingness to marry, your dreams are not a matter of concern. Why, because we are entitled to answer this society and we must maintain our respect in the society. And who is the one to carry the burden of this respect? It is of course the daughters and daughter-in-laws of their houses. If you are to qualify as the best girl in the society, you must bid adieu to all your aspirations, desires and dreams, simply listen to what is being asked to do, become passive human and yet actively share the burden of work. Why passive? Because you are not to be the decision makers of the family so you must hold no opinions in the matters of house. Why active? Because when it comes to your job of cooking in the kitchen, provide sexual satisfaction to your husband, giving birth to children and nurturing them, you are not expected to be dumb. That lowers your value.

The position of women was never better in the society. The society always discovered ways to keep women in their patriarchal claws. It is not just the men of the society who are responsible for this alone. The women too have actively become the wheels of this patriarchal vehicle, then whether it could be the desire to have a boy child as a mother, or demanding to have a grandson as a mother-in-law from her daughter-in-law. But on top of everything, our marriage system has played a crucial role in maintaining the patriarchal control.

Marriage has long been considered a sacred institution which a person must undergo in order to lead a fulfilled life. When girls and boys reach the age of marriage, their families start hunting for a suitable partner for them. In India, we practice 2 kinds of marriage; arranged marriage and love marriage. Though the later processes are quite similar under both, there is still a small distinction in them. In arranged marriage, the most preferred kind of marriage in the society, the boy’s or the girl’s family generally search for an ideal partner for their children. It is then followed by fixing a date on which the boy’s family goes to the girl’s family to have a look at the girl. The girl even today, in most cases, is just an object during such times. She puts her best attire on this day since she is to qualify the test of getting selected for the marriage. She walks in with a tray filled with tea and snacks as an item put up for sale. The boy and his family have a close look at her as she walks in. Her eyes are fixed to the floor and she blushes, because that is the most ideal thing for a woman to do. She is then asked several questions, like whether she can cook and stitch, basically to find out if she can do all the household work, because it is only in the eye of the society that this looks like choosing a bride. In reality, this is more like selecting a maid. Once the answers are satisfactory, the boy’s parent give their green or red signal. If it is green, they exchange sweets and celebrate. If it is red, the girl has to play the same game again until she qualifies. In all this, her willingness to choose and say no has zero value.

This is then followed with fixing the date for marriage and accepting the money proposal put forth by the boy’s family who would shamelessly ask for some amount or certain gifts in exchange of the marriage deal. They won’t call it dowry, since it is illegal. But it is yet widely practiced. Such a horrible deal for the girl’s family..! They are under loss in this business of marriage. The boy’s family takes the money as well as the product. There is no exchange. It is just a one way flow. Several ceremonies like tilak ceremony, engagement ceremony, haldi ceremony take place before the final marriage day. On the marriage day, both put on new attires for their new beginning. The girl would wear bangles (color varies across castes and sub castes) and apply hena/ mehendi on her hands. It is said that the darker the color of their hena/ mehendi, more would be the love among the couple. They also draw the names of their husbands on their hands which the husbands are asked to search on the first night. On the marriage day, they both walk to the beautifully designed stage with the varmalas (flower garlands) which they would eventually put around each other as the priest recites the holy mantras. This symbolizes acceptance of each other as partners, irrespective of whether they truly become partners later on. This is then followed by the popular feras which means going around the holy fire taking 7 vows of an ever-lasting bond, loyalty, care and support, good up-bringing of children and respect for each other. But of course, most would agree that these things are hardly followed. In most cases, we know that women are victims of severe domestic violence and being uneducated, their inability to work and earn forces them to continue with the acceptance of abuse for their own lives, and most often than not for their young children. Than the question arises, where these promises disappear?

The most important ritual in the Hindu wedding would be the time when the bride groom fills the forehead of the bride with the red sindoor (vermilion) and then puts the mangalsutra (thread with black and golden beads) around her neck marking her as his wife. Sindoor and mangalsutra hold a major place in the lives of married women. Though I have always adored the beauty of newly wedded women as the sindoor and mangalsutra adds beauty to them, looking at how women are treated, with complete lack of independence and authority, sindoor and mangalsutra simply looks like a license to me in the hands of husband under the authority of which, they do what they wish.

The ritual of Kanyadan, which in English literally would mean giving away the daughter to the husband, symbolizes the passing on of the responsibility of the daughter from the father to the groom. Why did you drive women to the level that they had to be given away to someone as responsibility? This ritual has a lot of importance in the Indian’s Hindu weddings. It is considered as the most sacred of all rituals. But is it truly that beautiful? Doesn’t it sound like donating your daughter to someone as an object? Has she lost her status of being a daughter when she is married?

After the wedding is done and the bride groom and the bride head to their home (bride grooms home), the bride now performs her last ritual before leaving her parent’s home called bidaai which means saying goodbye to her parent’s home. This ritual involves the bride throwing rice and coins backwards where her family members follow accepting the thrown rice. This means that the bride is repaying her parents for her upbringing and also wishes for their happiness and prosperity. How sad that raising a daughter is always a matter of doing something very big and unusual, sounding more like the daughter being indebted to her parents for all they do for her.

Once the bride reaches her new home, they perform Griha Pravesh ritual which means that the bride is welcomed to her new home. She is asked to tilt a pot filled with rice kept at the entrance of the door, walk in and immerse her legs in a plate filled with sindoor and proceed leaving behind the red imprints of her legs. This signifies the entering of goddess Laxmi in the form of the new bride. Again, is she ever treated as Lakshmi?

Then this is how the new life begins. In most household even today, women are literally giving their tests during the first few days of their marriage. How they walk, talk, how they prepare food and all. And as they are becoming the best daughter-in-laws, they are also supposed to become the best wives. They have to fulfill their husband’s desire and wishes. Wonder how many husbands actually ask their wives if they are ready to perform sex. Otherwise the question of marital rape would not have been there. In the same way their lives proceed. Eventually their names change and they replace their father’s name and surname with their husband’s name. So once they were owned by their fathers, and now by their husbands. In all this they are mere robots, functioning as per the rules of this or that, seeking permission for everything; for wearing dress instead of saree, for going out for a party, for buying something.

They are soon pressurized by the families to have kids. The girl is never asked if she is willing to have one or not. There is just force everywhere. And she cannot say anything because deep down she knows that this is the only family she has. I have heard many women say this that once you go to your husband’s house, you must live there till the end of your lives. What you have got, whether good or bad is your destiny or the result of your past karma. You must bear it.

So this is what marriage is. For the world, it is sweetly described as sacred or something holy. But in reality, it is more like a trading business. Once owned by the father’s company, later on is used by the husband. In all this, where is the woman’s willingness? Though the marriage ritual on a whole symbolizes the acceptance of the bride as a wife and a daughter-in-law, in reality she belongs to no one. Her parents performed the Kanyadan ritual and sent her away, and here at her husband’s house, if she is unable to perform something properly, her parents and her upbringing are questioned. So where is that understanding and true acceptance?

We have systematically paralyzed the girls of our society. First, we focused on keeping their upbringing restricted to becoming good wives and daughter-in-laws, over looked their education and talents, kept their brothers to protect them rather than telling them to become their own saviors, restricted their mobility, barred them from working outside and becoming financially independent and then finally traded them in to the marriage deal where again they continue to be victims, as they cannot be financially independent and create their own beautiful lives. It is a never ending circle.

To its root, marriage can be beautiful and in many ways uplifting for both the partners, if only we could understand the rituals we perform, if only we could now tell our sons to learn how to cook and clean along with our daughters. Our society is currently like a man standing in front of the mirror having a black spot on his face. The mirror represents the girls in the society and the man represents our society. The man wants to get rid of the mark on his face, but he feels that the mark is on his image in the mirror and hence, keeps on cleaning the mirror thinking this would help. But finally nothing works and the spot remains there. In the same way, we are constantly preaching our daughters to wear right, to learn cooking, to b perfect in order to become good wives in future and avoid fights in house, rather than the society realizing that the real fault lies in them. If they train their boys to do all the work, to remain calm and to learn to understand, the society and the marriage would actually be better than what they are today. At last what is looked up as women’s job is not their job in reality. If it was really so, they wouldn’t have had to learn it. It would have come naturally to them the way they naturally reproduce!

To end it here, marriage is an arrangement for this society to move on and continue this world, in terms of procreating children and also creating the future of the world. A ruined marriage can ruin the future of this world too. Hence, in order to make this world a better place, let us all together look at each other as humans capable of doing the best and also of committing mistakes, rather than looking at each other through the gender perspective and attaching meaning to the capabilities of each other. It is high time we erase gender bias from the world and shatter patriarchy. Let marriages be sacred in true sense rather than being a patriarchal arrangement making women their victims.         

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