Surviving Indian Patriarchy: What A Fourth Daughter Feels…

If you don’t know me, I should tell you now that I am not moved to tears easily, unless someone pinches me (or my kids) real hard.

I haven’t seen the programme Satyamev Jayate yet, but have been listening to this song. I don’t understand every word, but get the essence and gist of the lyrics. And it’s moving me to tears.

The imagery in this song, the women (mothers?) with tears in their eyes, the little wide-eyed girls, the teenaged girls (daughters) who seem to understand more than I wish mine would ever have to…

I am the last of  FOUR daughters. And the 4 of us are as empowered as women could be in India, and at least 3 of us are as empowered as women are in any developed nation. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have our stories, our wounds, our insecurities.

This is my story. My wound.

All my life I grew up hearing stories of the grandmother who threw a tantrum (that lasted a few years) when the nurse brought me out of the labour room. Another daughter – the fourth! – for her favorite son. Could things get worse?

An aunt who already had two daughters apparently offered to take me home with her. Yes, I was that CUTE even then.

My mother was thrilled, she says, because she did not want to wash a baby boy’s bum.

To say my father was unhappy, would be an understatement.

I will forgive him that, because from that point on, he made sure I, like my sisters, had the best of education and were strong, independent women. To his credit he showed little tolerance towards those who over the years, spoke with funereal gravity about the burden on him.

Whatever reservations and doubts he had, he did not allow his daughters to become fair game for other people’s prejudices. Except his mother’s. Luckily for me, she did not live to see me through primary school.

Over the years we got immune to the jibes of friends and relatives who would talk about the fix my dad was in and the expenses he would have to suffer for our dowry and marriage. The only expense he was concerned about and worked towards is the money required for our education.

Any talk of dowry was treated with utter disdain. I remember one incident where the could-be groom’s family were asked to get out of the house because they hinted at a dowry. This was for my eldest sister, the only one of us who went in for an arranged marriage. The elders in the family were worried that my father’s pigheadedness would land all of us in trouble, but he believed the only trouble he saw was us ending up with men who demanded dowry and treated us badly.

I am no longer angry, but can’t forget the constant talk of ‘poor C & S, only daughters, what will they do in their old age…’ The old age they are now enjoying, independent, and to a large extent, alone in their home. They know just a phone call away are 4 daughters and their families.

Sadly, I can’t forget the stories handed down to me over the years of how upset my father was to have yet another girl child. He, however, prefers to not remember.

For me the wound festers. Even after all these years of him doing right by us, making sure we were never denied an opportunity because of our gender, it hurts a wee bit.

Watching this song (yes, watching, more than listening), it hurts more than a wee bit. My chest tightens and my stomach feels like stone.

I could so easily have not been here. Or so easily not been here the way I am today. Not be the person I am, and not have such an easy and beautiful life.

It was so close, and I am not always conscious of that. But when I am, it hurts so bad.

ps: I remember getting angry with R when during both pregnancies he refused to consider names for boys, saying he was not going to have a son, only a daughter. I am glad in my life I saw that side of a father too, though it scares me to imagine how he would have been if we did have a son.

pps: Critics/cynics be damned, I think I am in love with Aamir all over again.

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Umm Oviya + Nilah = Mother of Oviya + Nilah. Because in the Arab world a woman is first addressed as bint X (daughter of X) and then once she has a son (Y) she is Umm Y. I am not sexist, so don't mind surrendering my identity to my daughters.

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11 comments on “Surviving Indian Patriarchy: What A Fourth Daughter Feels…
  1. Heh heh, I am looking for a nice pic of him to add to my side bar :) Loved this post. I know of a few other sisters who did not have any brothers to ‘protect’ them (etc. etc.) and that actually made them more independent.

  2. My mother is the eldest of four sisters and she called me after watching Satyamev Jayate – I will post more in a blog post later, but isn’t it amazing that this show has had such amazing reactions?

    • UmmON says:

      I haven’t seen the show yet, as not available online. Just the song was so haunting. This evening I made my daughters listen to it. The younger one danced. But with the older one it was an opportunity to talk about issues we face. I was so moved by the questions she raised.
      Looking forward to the post concerning your mum.

  3. Navina Anand says:

    Looked for the tamil version and watched it. As an only girl child I realize I have been incredibly blessed and insulated from this kind of stuff. Hats off to Aamir Khan .

  4. Anu says:

    My Grandfather (that generation) had five girls before the 2 boys came along. He made sure the girls were all well educated and never once have I ever heard any negative comments of having 5 girls in the house!

  5. Lakhs says:

    V: Just for that, I am so glad I am not in India. A recent visit there had some freinds feeling very sorry for me, because I have two daughters. They were agonising over how much we’d need to save to get the two married off. If I had to take that day in and day out, it would drive me mental!! As for Aamir, never ever fell out of love, in the first place….;he rocks, as he always has.
    We get the show telecast one week later here and I dont miss them.

  6. and this post V, got me misty eyed. consider yourself as having got a big hug from me.

  7. Hooriya says:

    This episode made me weep. We are three sisters were constantly the butt of all talks when the elders back home are tired of their work a day gossip in the name of “responsibility” .

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