Posted by Ishita Shah
The news of Sanju Rani Verma, a 35-year-old who left home to become a Public Service Commission (PSC) officer has been hailed as inspiring, by the media. In 2013, when her mother passed away, her family members started pressuring her to get married. Sanju Rani was 28 and this is an age that most in a conservative society would consider the wrong side of twenties and too old for a woman to stay unmarried. The devaluation of women in relation to their age is a common and much talked about concept.
Pressure wasn’t the problem though. Sanju Rani had no money. After her graduation from RG Degree College in Meerut, she was pursuing her post-graduation from Delhi University. Her mother had passed away from an illness and her family hounded her to drop out of college in order to get married.
Sanju Rani Verma had a tough call to take. She believed in her own dream of one day becoming a civil servant and to achieve that, she had to leave home while already grieving the loss of her mother because she wanted to fulfill her dream of becoming a divisional magistrate. That is no easy task for anyone.
She had another uphill battle, that of earning her own money in order to finance her studies. Sanju Rani had no financial support and had to quit studying as she could not afford her fees. Without any support, she rented an apartment in Delhi and started tuition coaching classes. To quote her, “I not only left my home in 2013 but also my studies. I ran out of money. And then I started teaching children. I also got part-time teaching job at private schools. Somehow, I managed to continue my civil services preparation.”
Sanju Rani Verma prepared for her exams and finally cracked the extremely difficult UP PCS exams and is a civil servant today. Her grit and determination in the face of such challenges without any aid from her close ones is noteworthy.
This misplaced concern for a young woman that we see in the case of Sanju Rani and the Indian society at large, probably stems from a good, albeit misconstrued place. The biggest worry for an Indian family, rural or urban is to have the daughter of the family married off and ‘settled’.
A higher priority is given to women’s marriage over their education and even it is by their evident consent, it has always been detrimental. Even more so in 2020 when the cost of living and the need for a stable career is absolutely necessary for anyone to survive, irrespective of their gender.
The fact that Indian parents believe matrimony is more important than an income generating ability for women is tough to change even today, as is evident from Sanju Rani Verma’s story. With financial freedom comes the autonomy and for a person to be financially independent, a solid education or at least, some entrepreneurial exposure is a must.
Allowing and supporting the child’s desire to study further is only going to aid them in with achieving the means of income. This realisation may have dawned on most parents but somehow their wish to see a daughter achieve her career goals is almost always secondary to their desire of seeing her married.
I remember when I turned twenty five, the first question I was asked was not “What are your plans for your Masters?”, but the ever annoying oft heard- ‘When is the wedding?’ It is a fact that we as women have to accept, that we will always be asked about our matrimonial life before we are asked about our professional life.
Sadly, not every woman possesses the courage of Sanju Rani Verma and honestly in my opinion there is no need to. If only the family members would deign to have some belief and faith. Of course the whole idea of a woman settling down and not studying further has its roots embedded in our patriarchal society. Pursuing our goals can be a difficult task in itself but doing so without anyone’s support, like how Sanju Rani had to, is a mammoth task too.
It is sad that girls have the added burden of convincing their parents, maybe even family members that they should be allowed to do so. Leaving home or succumbing to pressure cannot be the only two choices for women who wish to work towards their goals. If only Sanju Rani Verma’s family members had known better, she wouldn’t have had to leave the conventionally comfortable space of her home and could have focused her energy on her aspirations.
No financial freedom means that, in the event that a marriage turns sour, a woman may stick around just because she has no stability or means to support herself. The notion of unmarried people as failures after the age of twenty five has to stop.
We as a society have normalised the abrupt demise of a woman’s career plans in the name of early marriage and settlement. Somehow we haven’t heard such phrases out of the uncle’s mouth. Yes, pursuing higher education and career goals is definitely possible after marriage, but the fact that these possibilities do not seem to materialise into reality for many women proves that married life definitely interferes more with a woman’s aspirations than it does with a man’s.
While a vast majority of us could claim to hail from liberal families with progressive unorthodox views, we still witness marriagesputting limitations on a woman’s achieving capacity. This false misplaced sense of ‘settlement’ that stems from a majority of older parents is very tough to argue against. A person’s life could be falling apart, but if that person is married or about to be married, it’s almost as if they have things going on for them.
I agree that marriage is a huge milestone for several people and it deserves its due importance too, but not at the cost of other big goals or something that could be professionally fulfilling.
It is inherently problematic that being married and settled is seen as some sort of a cure all for us. Failing to see other issues in life that a woman could be suffering from is a mistake and hurry them for matrimonial life is an act that older generation has very often implemented. The extension of this problem is that the older generation will not even bother if it a completely happy marriage as long as the children are married off at the right age and time.
How many Sanju Rani Verma are we harbouring today? How many women have failed to achieve their highest potential just because their parents thought it was more important for them to get married at the right age than it was for them to achieve their dream?
Jasvinder Sanghera, at the tender age of 16, was locked in a room by her parents when family took her out of education and they imprisoned her in own home just because she refused to get married to the man they had chosen for her.
Apparently, asking to view women as actual persons with hopes and dreams and goals to achieve is too much to ask for. Why is it, that no matter how academically smart or promising a girl is, her ultimate goal is seen as an appropriate marriage at the appropriate age and time? It is more important than ever to impress upon them, that if a woman could achieve her dreams if she so wished, and is supported in her endeavours, she could reach new heights.
Ishita Shah is a lawyer, bibliophile, animal-lover. She finds dogs better than humans. She volunteers at a couple of NGOs and loves travelling and schooling people on double standards. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.