I have written previously about my upbringing in the context of a traditionalist, sexist backdrop. Rajasthan speaks for itself!
I think women should go to heaven just because we’ve truly lived the life of one. Over the years, I have observed that many tend to put the onus of sexist, ancient treatment of women on illiteracy and rural life in general. But the ‘educated’ are no different. Education is no judge of a character; it used to be a way to weigh the open-mindedness but over the years, I can certainly say that it was a flawed judgment.
In my village travels, I have worked with many who surprised me by bashing these notions that sat comfortably in my mind. I met men and women who have lived all their lives in the chronic backwardness and illiteracy, yet who surprised me with their open-minded thoughts on treating others.
In Indian cultures, we pride ourselves on having relationships that last. But where can you distinguish that a relationship has lasted out of love versus out of obligation and tradition? I once had a discussion in my village with someone about a happy marriage–or the concept of it. I found so many people who were completely different from their spouse; they did not share any interest or life view. In fact after decades of marriage, the couples seem to be alien to each other. As if their only role was to have children and raise them. It made me wonder what a ‘happy marriage’ meant to them? I was told:
“There is nothing called a ‘happy marriage’. Happiness is only defined in moments; in short bursts sometimes. That’s how a marriage is lived; that is how life is lived. You cannot paint a life as ‘happy’ or ‘sad’. It has both. You can’t define a marriage with a word. If the marriage has lasted for the benefit of the children, it is a successful marriage. That’s all.”
At first, I felt like a stone had been shoved down my throat. I found difficult to swallow, much less, accept this. But it really made me think. I tend to get idealistic many times and I wondered if this was perhaps what it eventually condensed to?
This conversation made me think of my many relatives–the women. I’ve seen shades of many. Rajasthan is known for its backwardness among women. In this coal mine for us, you will find the diamonds. I have seen my share of meek women but more than that, I have seen powerful women. I live in a house with such women. My mother is a strong woman who has been the decision-maker, unlike those women who are shown in TV soaps who gulp at the presence of their husbands and are scared to even drink a glass of water in front of them. My eldest sister is my inspiration in goodness, patience and my newfound love: cooking. My grandmother was someone who held the house and the relationships together despite being of subtle character. Surrounded by them, I have become like them too. It made me think no less of myself; these women gifted me the belief that I can do anything that a man can/cannot do. There is nothing that makes me rely on another person. If I am reliant, it’s not out of helplessness but it is out of choice.
But in seeing some of these women, I saw how many of them lost themselves in the roles that they played. Sometimes there is nothing wrong in that and it really depends on your perspective. But in mine, it seemed unacceptable. I cannot cease being myself–not before marriage and not after it. Why should one stop being themselves? There must be a damn good reason for that to be justified.
I keep hearing that nonsense: “You are married, you cannot do what you want.”
Since the Qur’an did not specifically mention that, I am not listening to them anytime soon. Why must we sacrifice? If we are playing our roles well enough, why do we have to stop being ourselves?
Just because I am a woman–is not a good answer.