"You do not win a war by wailing, moaning, crying, grumbling. You win it by hitting back. The mindset of men will never change. Never. It is the thinking of the girls themselves which needs to change. Once a girl has worked hard, excelled at studies, acquired a good position, she should, at no cost sacrifice her career to serve a man, simply because he is her husband. It is not easy, but the only solution." This was one of literally dozens of responses I received to my last column, "What happens to girls?" (The Hindu Sunday Magazine, June 27, 2004). Clearly, this is a dialogue that must go on as it touches an issue that concerns men and women of all ages, but particularly young women and men.
The majority of the responses I have received are from younger people. And there is a common thread that runs through them. For instance, in my column I had quoted from the letter of a father who had educated his daughter in science and then found that her husband was not willing to accept her working in another city even if it meant better prospects for her. Several readers wrote back saying I had missed the point when I quoted the letter.
"Why did the father of this girl choose this groom for her, knowing fully well about their pre-conditions?" asked a reader. "Couldn't he find a person who would agree to her continuing her job? Does the father think there is no man who will be willing to let his wife work after marriage or respect her talents? Searching for a person like this may take a longer time, but definitely there are men with such mentality. Unless the father had a time frame to get his daughter married away just to finish his duty and the daughter also was willing to obey her father or forced to `obey', they could have found a match suitable for her. In this particular case, knowingly getting into an alliance like this and then blaming the mindset and society for this muddle, is just not right." Many other responses echoed these sentiments. These are relevant questions that I should have raised. It is evident that the problem is not just that of societal values that relegate a woman to a secondary position once she is married. The problem is that even educated young women do not assert themselves. And their parents are so anxious to see them "settled", that is married, that they do not take a chance of ensuring that the boys these girls marry respect them as individuals.
Several readers emphasised that girls should fight it out. "And what use is education if it can't fire your soul?" writes a young woman. "It is high time that we live our lives for ourselves, than for the sake of appeasing the so-called middle-class society around us. Women get badly treated because they are willing to bear it. So who is responsible for `what happens to the girls', once married? These `fathers of the girls' and the girls themselves. Only then comes the groom and his folks."
Another young woman was far more specific and angry that women don't fight back. She writes: "I travel in buses and when I see men sitting on the women reserved seats I ask them to stand up. If they don't, I'll make them. But how many will do that? Women, especially in Bangalore, do not even bother to ask perhaps from fear or they don't just bother. My blood boils when I see women keeping quiet. Either they should scrap the women reserved seats for it is a mere mockery or fight for it. Who will fight for them? Even seats in Parliament, why ask for 33 per cent seats? Are we not entitled for the whole? Why stop at 33 per cent? Why can't we storm through? Women not getting equal treatment in offices, then demand for it! Where is the fighting spirit? Why are we letting this happen to ourselves?"
Earlier: What happens to girls?
I would agree with many of the readers when they say that women who can help themselves, who have the means in terms of an education, a career option, should not meekly accept marriage without thinking things out. They have the right to object, to refuse, to pause. And they should use this right. If they don't, then they cannot sit back and blame the whole world.
At the same time, we must always remember that there are many women who do not have a choice. Their circumstances force them from a position of dependence in their maternal home to one in their marital home. Thus it is not easy to ask them to stand up and fight and question when the consequences could be fairly drastic. Yet, even under such conditions there are stories of women who have fought back.
In any society, the process of change is painful. Someone has to pay the price and in ours, women are being forced to pay the price for this change. But in the long run, it will be worth it. Because our daughters and theirs will be the beneficiaries. So will our society.