In a society vehemently accused of savage patriarchy, it is often a woman standing tall as the other greatest adversary. She can be a mother favoring a son to a daughter, or a teacher extra attentive towards the male student’s comprehension of a subject. She can also be that damsel who stabbed her best friend, seduced her husband and eventually broke her marriage.
And it’s safe to say, in most cases, it is the mother-in-law who being a woman herself, takes it upon her to condescend the newlywed, hamper her matrimony, and reduce her to the lowest form human life. Before I start digging on this, a big shout out to all those mothers who brought home a tender girl, walked her through the new life awaiting her and comforted her through all her failures in the kitchen. Yes, India prides over hundreds of such mothers-in-law who have never drawn a line between the daughter-in-law and her own. Singing praises of her mother-in-law, Sejal shared how she chose to stay with her during pregnancy instead of going to her mother’s. Her husband’s mother, she goes on to say, had spent nights caressing her swollen feet, sweeping her vomit off the floor, and feed her with her own hands at times of mood swings. The young software professional teared up, recalling how her MIL slapped her own son for suspecting Sejal with a colleague. “This is her house as much, if not more, as it is yours. She will work till late hours if she pleases. If you doubt her character, you will have to doubt mine as well.”
But this wasn’t just an odd occurrence, for we spoke to Maithali Masi, who has been a rock to each of her 3 daughters-in-law. “Relatives say my bahus aren’t sanskari enough, they don’t cover their heads in front of my husband, their sasurji. I say, if they have to treat my husband like a father, they need to be comfortable in his presence, like their father’s. Can you show me a daughter that dons a ghoonghat around her own father?” Her voice turned bleak in reminiscence “I couldn’t go to the see my ailing mother, for my father-in-law wasn’t at home to grant me the go-ahead. When I reached, Amma was long gone. That day I had sworn against these pseudo-sanskars. My daughters-in-law don’t need anyone’s permission to visit their parents, why should they? Do my sons seek their wives’ father’s approval to see me?”
Unfortunately, such women are not found in bulk, India is in deficit of the ilk of Maithili Masi and Sejals’ MIL. Be it dowry, ineptitude in culinary and household chores, clothing, complexion, and at times bearing daughter before sons – an Indian mother-in-law never fails in exhuming a million flaws in the woman his son marries and designing plots to bring about her downfall.
The barbarity in the act of a dowry death in Kolkata will cart you off your sleep for weeks. A four- months-pregnant woman was locked in a wooden cupboard and set ablaze. After baking her for half an hour the husband turned for his mother’s permission to open the cupboard presuming the wife must have been choked to death, “Let her be there for some more time, let’s be sure the poor ugly bitch died.” was the response. This was a mother who had borne children, a mother who was now roasting a woman alive, a woman pregnant with a child of their own.
When born in a third world country, the struggles waiting to befall a woman are beyond human imagination. Rapes, illiteracy, employment inequality, sexual harassment, lack of sanitary facilities, death during child-birth and malnutrition are just a few to name. All a woman can do is not add an extra dimension to the other’s miseries. If you are blessed with a son, prepare yourself be a mother to the girl he brings homes someday. For those rich with daughters, let’s make them strong, strong, like the bride in Kerala who didn’t flinch for a moment and took up to cancel her wedding against the unjustified dowry demands last year. More power to such women.