Feminism India


Episode 1 of our podcast - “What marriage, now?” - was our attempt to summarise the marriage situation in India, specifically when it comes to the shit-storm that youngsters in our country have to navigate the minute they introduce their girlfriends/boyfriends to their families. We discussed how we felt that religion was usually the biggest barrier when it came to marrying someone of your choice, followed by caste and community. However, if you’ve listened to the episode, you might remember that we mentioned another little point about “numbers” in passing, but couldn’t dwell on it too much due to the simple technicality of time constraints. But you see, “numbers” happens to be the point which is closest to my heart for very personal reasons.

When I introduced my “half-Christian” boyfriend to my family, they very quickly came to terms with it and wholeheartedly accepted him into their lives. But when my husband (then boyfriend) introduced me to his, these numbers played a very crucial role in determining the levels to which my self esteem would fall in the time leading up to the wedding. For a lot of reasons, a lot of these numbers were big topics of discussion when it came to our wedding.

The first of those numbers was obviously height. I’ve mentioned a couple of times on the podcast and my blog how I’m smaller than the average woman and Shane is bigger than the average man. I’m barely 5 feet tall and he’s nearly 6 feet tall. The minute certain members of his family met me, they marched up to him to let him know that this marriage would never work out. It still amuses me how people jump to these extreme conclusions with such ease and make loud proclamations such as “Your marriage will fail because she’s too short for you”. To that, he said “Well, I’m the one marrying her, aren’t I? I don’t see why anyone else should be too concerned with it.”

But it didn’t end there. Someone even had the audacity to suggest that both him and I would be mocked by his colleagues and peers because of my height. “What will you do when the people you work with laugh at you for marrying such a short woman?”, this person asked.

“First of all, nobody talks like that about my wife and second of all, don’t you think it would be very unwise of someone to try and trash my wife to me?,” he retorted with an accompaniment of his signature death stare. You see, Shane is as calm as the summer sea and hardly anything ever replaces the childlike smile on his face with that death stare. And when I see the death stare, even I know that I need to shut the fuck up.

Later, I met an acquaintance of one of his relatives and this acquaintance turned to said relative to exclaim, “Is this the girl you kept describing as painfully short? She looks just fine to me!”. I had to patiently hide my disgust as I watched the pathetic attempts of this relative to cover up for what had been said behind my back.

Most of these insults were passed around behind my back but some of them came to me the through channels of cousins and well meaning family members. But there was this one instance when someone from his family actually had the nerve to say it to my face. “It’s just your height difference that makes it so weird to see both of you together”, this person said.

“Oh, don’t worry. I more than make up for it with my personality”, I responded. Till date, I don’t know what consumed me to come up with that perfect response at the right time because I usually happen to be the person who comes up with retorts and ideal responses only two days after I’ve been insulted.

The second number that contributed to a lot of fuss was age. Shane and I were classmates in school and he happens to be 4 months my junior in age. Technically speaking, I was born in 1991 October and he, in 1992 February. For four months every year, I get to enjoy being older than him and often resort to shutting him up by saying “Is this how you speak to your elders?”. I just turned 25 this month and for the next three months, I’m going to relish throwing that line at him as he sulks away at the age of 24. In fact, to speed up the visa process before our wedding, we got married on paper in December of 2014 when I was 23 and he, a mere child of 22. It’s one of our precious little couple-jokes. Unfortunately, we happen to be the only ones who find it hilarious.

Right before the wedding, a person from our generation from my circles rang me up to say, “I heard you’re getting married to someone who used to be your classmate in high school”. And before asking me if I was happy and excited about the wedding, this person transported me to a police interrogation cell through this phone conversation and began asking me questions like, “Are you sure he’s not even a single day younger than you?”

Under the pressure of the moment, I panicked and responded in the negative. I assured this very concerned individual that my fiance was not even a single day younger than me. To this day, I loathe that lie. I loathe the fact that I fell into this trap of conforming to some of the most ridiculous rules set by our society. I detest the fact that I lied about something that I didn’t even feel ashamed of to begin with.

And among those from Shane’s side who were gymnastic champions when it came to jumping to extreme conclusions, some went up to him to say - you guessed it - “Your marriage will fail if you marry someone you should be calling chechi”. “Chechi” is the term we Malayalis use to refer to older sisters and women in general. To that he said, “It’s my fetish to be with a woman who is 4 years older than me. Are you being unsupportive of my fetish?”. Trust him to freak people out and regret the day they decided to talk to him.

So here I am, writing about it for the whole world to read - I, Ankita Narayan, am 4 months older and a whole foot shorter than my husband Shane and my life is amazing. Not because I’m older or shorter than him but because we don’t give a shit about these silly little things that little people concern themselves with. Honestly, in all these years of being together, not even once has our age or height difference contributed to any form of misery whatsoever.

Recently, we at Desi Outsiders received an email from a listener who explained her concerns regarding introducing both her and her boyfriend’s families to the fact that they shared an 11 year age difference, with the girl being older than the boy. The minute I read that email, I regretted not having told my story in more depth on the podcast because I felt that a lot of youngsters in our country also suffer from the dilemma of these numbers, much the same way as I did. Add to the two numbers I addressed above, the number of weight as well. Girls and boys get bullied for this particular number from the time of adolescence, so you can imagine how much scrutiny they go under the minute the spotlight of “prospective bride/groom” is shone upon them.

I feel that just like the pettiness with religion, caste and community when it comes to marriage, the fuss with numbers is also causing a lot of pain to the youngsters in our country. Although I can say with a lot of pride that when I was directly mistreated about my height, I stood up to the person who tried to put me down, and my partner never let anyone get away with their derogatory comments on my appearance, all of those things still did manage to get to me. There was a lot of hurt and resentment that I had to try and hide beneath a veneer of bride-to-be happiness. I know for a fact that none of those people who said all those hurtful things to/about me can ever come back to me trying to justify their words and actions. But the thought that boils my blood is that a lot of girls and boys have kept their mouths shut and taken this kind of discrimination at the hands of their future in-laws. And a lot of them have even felt too scared to defend their partners when their own family members acted petty.

This is something we talked about in our first few episodes. Do no harm, but take no shit. Respect yourself and your partner enough to shut people up when they try to target things that you could never possibly have control over - where you were born, when you were born, what religion your family practices, what health concerns you struggle with. PLEASE try to be your own shield against these things and protect your loved ones from the bullies they might encounter through you. And please speak up if you see your own loved ones acting weird and crazy to a fellow human being who has been newly introduced to your family. At the end of the day, it’s all about how one human being treats another irrespective of all kinds of man-made segregation, and I truly hope that at least our generation learns to rise above it.

Ankita Narayan

Edinburgh, Scotland | http://ankita.ink/

I'm a blogger, podcaster, wife and feminist. I record snippets from my life on my blog, tackle social issues on my podcast and work with my team of fellow feminists in this space.