Personal Essays The Pain Of Being An Indian ‘Bahu’

The Pain Of Being An Indian ‘Bahu’

In-laws envisage the hapless bahu to behave like a robot, silently obey orders of elders, keep their mouths shut and give birth to sons.

It was precisely twenty six years ago, that I entered into matrimony with a computer professional. Though it was a negotiated match, what got me hooked was his decision to go in for a civil ceremony. An ostentatious socio-religious wedding was an absolute no-no. It was a bit of coincidence. That’s because I too have always detested rites and rituals of any kind. Naturally I would never have condescended to the customary circumambulations around the fire, or other elaborate meaningless rituals.

The patriarch was an anesthetist of some repute, affluent and decent enough. Theirs was a family of six: The doctor’s wife, the son, and an older daughter. Two maternal aunts were also part of the household. Being fun-loving and gregarious by nature, I thought life would be full of fun with so many people around. As they say: The more the merrier.

So the deal was clinched. With the wedding duly solemnized in a local family court, I entered a new family. Looking back I think there was a faux pas on my part. Little did I realise that the four women had adopted a friendly approach merely to study me, and I foolishly blabbered a good deal about my views, ideas, dislikes and personal preferences.

In Indian society doctors are considered godlike beings for they heal ailing humans; then why can’t individuals provide some breathing space to their bahu?

Soon these began to backfire on me. The first attack came from the pater familias. He noticed that I was not overtly religious, did not enter the family’s prayer room after a morning bath, like rest of the family did. (Had I been briefed, I certainly would have done so. I am fairly secular and respect people’s sentiments). This miffed him no end. One fine evening the “Father” managed to corner me. Pontification began.“Aren’t you ashamed? Don’t you suffer pangs of conscience? You are a nastik (agnostic/atheist)! You will ruin yourself and this family as well,” he concluded.

I whimpered that I believed in a superior power above. This infuriated him all the more. He blasted my parents for my flawed upbringing and insolence. I mused, which parents teach bad manners to their children? Secondly was the gentleman unaware that nastikvaad happens to be a renowned school of Hindu Philosophy? Had his grand medical knowledge, muffled his knowledge of the scriptures, who knows?

I am a scribe by profession. What is a scribe without her byline, more so when one is a freelancer? The diktat came all too soon: Delete your maiden surname. Affix the new one! It was the “Father” of course. I tried using both. But that was not to be. He turned grumpy, kept nagging me all the time. Finally I had to relent, for the sake of family peace. Funnily enough, when one of Father’s nieces, a lawyer by profession, began using dual surnames after entering wedlock, he had no qualms, nor did his affection towards her dwindle, to say the least.

Also Read: Is Sindoor A Symbol Of Marriage Or Patriarchy?

In Indian society doctors are considered godlike beings for they heal ailing humans; then why can’t individuals (like the person in question) provide some breathing space to their bahu? Does a woman commit a crime if she uses dual surnames? Does marriage envisage a total cut-off from one’s past life and family? I kept wondering.

Time passed. The last straw that broke the camel’s back came two and a half years later. When I found myself in the family way, the aunt led the female battalion to combat me. They fired a salvo, “Don’t you dare to come home from the hospital unless it’s a BOY.” Their faces looked sinister and menacing. The “Father” too nodded his tacit approval. Unless there was a male heir, wouldn’t his branch of the clan face extinction?

Much later I learnt that it was meant to be bypassed in humour. But honestly, at that point of time I was not amused. Anxiety gripped me. The D-day arrived; on a warm September midnight a daughter came into my life. But my ecstasy was short-lived. That evening the “Parents,” accompanied by the aunt trooped into my hospital cabin. Greetings over, I shyly asked them how they felt. Accompanied by grimaces the answer came in unison. “Is there a reason for celebrations? See what you have done. You did not bring a son!”

An ideal bahu would beget only sons; woe betide any bahu “who brings a girl.”

My world crumbled. The joy of nascent motherhood vanished. Coming from a medical professional, this was unacceptable. Had the honorable gentleman conveniently forgotten that a child’s sex is determined by male chromosomes? In which case his son was equally guilty. Wasn’t he? Why, oh why is the quintessential Indian parents-in-law so harshly unfair towards their bahu? Looks like, in-laws with such a mentality, envisage the hapless and helpless girls to behave like robots, silently obey orders of family elders, keep their mouths shut, stifle their wishes and whims, and most important of all function as sex toys for their spouses.

An ideal bahu would beget only sons; woe betide any bahu “who brings a girl.” I felt saddened. At least the “Mother” could have been empathetic. Had she been in my shoes and begotten a girl child/children, would she have faced similar humiliation? I guess she had a lucky escape as she had provided a SON to the dynasty!

Nowadays Indian girls are storming male bastions, taking up challenging professions which their women predecessors could not even dream of. It is indeed paradoxical that Indians’ craving for a male child refuses to die down, despite all the scientific, educational advancements and social progress that we commonly boast of.

Onward to the present. My heart is filled with joy, tinged with a little sadness. Joy because the “girl” who was not welcome, has graduated as a physiotherapist and is rearing to spread her wings, brimming with confidence! Sad because my parents-in-law have been dead for almost a decade now!

Also Read: Marriage: The Shiny Trophy At The End Of The Tunnel, Or Is It?

Featured Image Credit: Nav Bharat Times


  1. Jaya says:

    Annnhh, so sad that so many women go through this even in “enlightened” and educated households. As someone who’s been a vocal critic of daily soaps, I fear that this mentality has become even more entrenched in 21st-India thanks to trashy TV soap operas. The same drama unfolds on TV screens all day long—big, joint families grating against each other, women torturing women, sons and fathers getting a free pass and tons of “seva.”

    The name-change, the kitchen politics, the beta expectation from the bahu—the misogynist erasure of women and their labor continues unabated in a New India rendering beti-bachao slogans hollow.

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