Or more specifically, the story of the younger daughter in an Indian household. It goes like this. Her elder sister fell in love with a classmate from college, a boy from a different community. The family didn’t approve but the sister was stubborn. She refused to forsake her right to be with a man she chose for herself. But in the end, the family began to act out of frustration.They knew they couldn’t legally stop her from going after her man so they tried the emotional melodrama first. When that didn’t work, they tried the all too notorious method of threatening their daughter into submission. When the threats escalated, she decided to show them what she’s capable of doing by packing her bags and leaving for good. Today, the sister lives a happy life, far away from the negative influence of the family that refused to support her. The family in turn, tries to hide from society as they feel that every eye in the room is fixed upon them. So as damage control, they take it all out on the younger daughter. How, you ask? They say that they want to prevent such an eventuality the second time around. And they blame everything upon the education and privileges they bestowed upon their older child. So this is their damage control:
No more co-ed institutions despite the daughter’s academic achievements and merit seats because the family cannot afford to lose another daughter to the harm that comes with proximity to the male sex.
No more mobile phone privileges because why would she need a phone anyway? Her dad drops her off and picks her up from school/college. Moreover, she’s never going to leave the city or her family’s intruding gaze till she is married off (early, that too!) to a man of her family’s choosing.
No more access to the internet because the internet is a bad, BAD place where all the evils of the world reside. Moreover, what if she meets a boy online?
Basically, her social life is over, both online and offline. Basically, her whole life is over simply because her sister chose to live hers. How fair a bargain is that?
But more importantly, why do families inflict this upon their children? What is the motivation behind it? Again, it’s mainly some forgotten tale of honour and an issue of mindless ego that no one else really cares about. Ours is a society that is built on the idea of approval. Everyone needs everyone else’s approval but the unfortunate thing is that no one is waiting for you with open arms or approving hugs. Deep down, even Indians (!) are selfish and their only motive is to satisfy their own egos by telling themselves and anyone who would listen that they got the better deal.
“Beautiful bride, isn’t she?”
“Oh, but she’s not educated enough. Did you know that my daughter-in-law is an IIM graduate”
“The boy is an IIT graduate.”
“But have you seen his nose? My grandchildren are cute because the husband I chose for my daughter is very handsome.”
This thirst for validation that “what is mine is way better than what is theirs” is what leads to half of the country’s social issues. People worry about what others may be saying behind their backs. That they didn’t raise their daughters well or that their son is not as successful as his cousin. But coming back to the plight of the younger daughter(s), the lashing out of most families is a serious feminist issue. Allow me to explain.
A family has a son and a daughter. The daughter elopes with her lover from a different community, much to the shame and astonishment of her “unsuspecting” family. A year later, the son introduces everyone to his girlfriend who is also from said alien community. But he does the smart thing by getting his parents involved and making them feel important. He tells them that his girlfriend’s family is threatening to kill him, and that he wouldn’t be able to live without the love of his life. His parents decide that he should bring her home and show her folks who they’re dealing with. Moreover, “this case is different” they claim because the son has brought someone into the community, someone who is ready to accept their way of life. The family as a whole has contributed to the strength of the community and nobody dares to question that.
See the stark difference between both the scenarios? The son was never made to switch schools or colleges because of “proximity to the opposite sex” issues. The son was never snatched of his mobile phone privileges because “he’s a boy, after all! And boys like to have fun. We need to be able to get in touch with him once he leaves the house”. The son was never snatched of an internet connection because “he’s an engineer, after all. What engineer doesn’t need the internet?”.
Similarly, the minute families learn of their elder daughter’s boyfriend, they say, “But what of your sister? She will never get a good alliance if you marry outside the community. Please don’t be selfish by destroying all marriage prospects for her!”. On the other hand, if it’s a son who has an affair they say, “Let’s keep it hush for the time being. We’ll get your sister married this year and then you can do whatever you want”. Whether the sister wants to get married this year or not. Because the emphasis is always on the fact that the girls in the family need to be married off with dignity.
Unfortunately for the younger daughter, “dignity” is a very subjective matter.
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.