Oh, Kerala! Beautiful, tropical coastlines rimmed with a thicket of tall palm trees, with clear blue skies above and warm beachy sand below. Kerala is a beauty. She is perfection. If only the youth of God’s Own Country had it easier. If only we could break out of the chains of our society.
Well, what do you know? As it turns out, we can. Through marriage, of all things. As a young woman growing up in the State, I always heard other disgruntled women complaining about the “shackles of marriage”, about how the traditional Taali that a woman wears around her neck as a symbol of marriage translates more as a chain choking the life out of her every time she tries to move in any direction that displeases her husband and his family. The Taali in this sense is symbolic of ownership. It’s like a rope halter for cattle when in the hands of the family, and like reins for a horse in the hands of the man who quite literally rides her from time to time.
But that was before. As someone who spent her adolescent years in a society that truly believed in The Taali Theory, as someone who once dated a boy who told her what to wear, and as someone who later found true love and decided to take the leap into marriage, I beg to differ. After living in Kerala as a native Malayali, being exposed to the rules of our society and obeying those rules to have a traditional wedding in Kerala, I have gained some perspective. One year into my marriage and away from the reach of the chains of our society, I have come to realise that the institution of marriage in itself is the biggest hypocrisy in God’s Own Country. Let me explain why.
What I am about to say applies more to women than to men, but is relatable to even a child growing up in the State.
The notion of freedom:
“You have to get married some day. So we will protect your honour by curbing your freedom. No late nights, no drinking or smoking, no short clothes, no boyfriends/girlfriends, no mental health issues (get over it!), and no friends from the opposite sex. You can do all of those things after your marriage, if your spouse permits you to do so.”. Marriage offers freedom on a silver platter these days. Because nobody really cares what you do with your life once you’re no longer their responsibility. Except for the family that just led you into their lives, expecting you to conform to more rules that come with marriage. Unfortunately for them, you had been promised freedom.
The categories and boxes:
So many of them to tick if you find a partner for yourself. “We are a modern and forward-thinking family because we let our daughter have a love-marriage. But yes, the boy has to be from our same religion, community, and caste, and should be a God-fearing non-drinker and non-smoker”. Like that ever works out. The funny thing is, the strongest upholders of community strength don’t even bat an eyelid before swapping sides the minute they’re faced with a rebel from their own side. One daughter who refuses to take their shit and threatens to walk out on them if they offer resistance is enough for these very same upholders of bias to turn the tables and advocate for ideals of “equality”. I personally knew a Hindu spiritual instructor who openly criticised parents who “failed to raise their daughters with dignity”, daughters who had boyfriends and desired to marry men from other communities. The Gods above roared with laughter when her daughter married a Christian and the very same woman later addressed the very same gathering to say, “What’s in a religion? All are paths that lead to the same God.”
The family honour:
“We are an illustrious family”, says every family in Kerala. Whether it’s a tale of rags to riches or vice-versa, they all have a legacy to share with anyone who cares to listen. It could either be, “I may be poor now but my father owned 5 elephants.” or “My father may have been a drunk, but I own 5 elephants today.”, the bottom-line is always the same: We need to further the honour of our family through a marriage alliance with an equally (if not more) honourable family. And the definition of dishonour mostly translates as a “love marriage”. A friend of mine recently decided to marry her boyfriend of 5 years. Both independent people with jobs of their own, the only glitch in the plan being the fact that they belonged to different communities. The parents of both parties finally made their peace with it. But one of my friend’s uncles traveled from house to house, recruiting previously indifferent relatives to gang up against her parents because he felt honour bound to “protect” his family. The marriage is going through anyway and I’m counting the number of days it’ll take for him to say, “The happiness of the children is all that matters in the end.”. Any day now.
Need I say more?
In everything I have explored above, the main idea I’m trying to convey is that at the end of the day, no one really cares what you do with your life. It’s more of an “All’s well that ends well” kind of thing. But the struggle to get there is very real. The shit-storm that our young Indians have to navigate is horrendous. And the best part is, I could find a representative from every State in India who would relate to each of the points made above. I have spoken about the part of the country I hail from, the truth and realities that I have come to understand. But the sad fact is that it’s the same almost everywhere.
In Modern times, very rarely does The Taali Theory apply to the injustices at the hands of in-laws and spouses, mainly because everyone is getting to a point where they’re independent both financially and emotionally. Unfortunately, the rope halter for the modern day herd of young Indians is in the hands of their own families that want to uphold some nearly forgotten ideals of honour and pride from a by-gone era. Hence today, we have new chains to break and bigger hurdles to leap over. Because breaking out of the restraints of people you love is much harder than rebelling against an everyday oppressor.
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.