Trigger warning: This article contains mentions of suicide.
Narrow lanes of third-tier cities are making a huge buzz in our drawing-room conversations when most of the middle-class families are uniting together to watch heartland stories like Panchayat on OTTs. Post-COVID, the families who have resumed their daily routine are finding ways to keep alive those connections which they made with their parents and siblings during the lockdown.
These light-hearted, family comedies on OTTs, giving us a glimpse of the simplicity of life, are proving another excuse for us to bond over those nostalgias when we visit our grandparent’s village during summers. These stories are about common people with common aspirations and common desires like we used to have in our childhood.
In the series Panchayat, Pradhan ji(played by Raghubir Yadav), technically the former Pradhan and husband of Pradhan Manju Devi, is an unconditionally loving father, who does not express his fondness for his daughter Rinky(played by Sanvika) through grand gestures, but rather through his mundane actions. From prioritising Rinky’s consent during her marriage proposal or sharing light jokes about her mother, Pradhan and Rinky always had a heartwarming presence on screen.
The reason I liked their chemistry is that it resonates with the bond many girls like me share with their fathers. Our fathers are not the most eloquent individuals but express their love by fulfilling all our desires and not just our needs. However, the same Pradhan has a different attitude towards his wife, which, again, many of us must have observed in our own households.
The progressive Pradhan, who wants to educate his daughter puts no restrictions when she wants to go out with her friends on a scooty, wants her to marry the guy of her choice, and suddenly turns into a patriarchal husband when it comes to his wife. From hogging the role of Pradhan, which actually belongs to his wife Manju Devi, or restricting her to work as a rubber stamp.
The Pradhan is often discouraging when Devi wants to proactively learn more about the role of a Pradhan and assumes that politics is beyond a women’s league. It’s not the flaw of the character; rather, it’s a mirror to our society, where educated men want to raise their daughters as progressive feminists but simultaneously fail to accept their wives as equal individuals who also have dreams and desires.
These double standards are the result of deep-rooted patriarchal values which restrict men from accepting their wives as their actual “better halves.” The new-age educated men are rising above the prevalent discrimination between a girl and a boy child. This might be the result of their unconditional love for their own blood, which stops them from discriminating against their own offspring. Or the reason behind this ‘wokeness’ can be the competitive nature of the society where every father wants their child to surpass the kid next door.
Whatever the reason may be, the new-age fathers want an equally brighter future for their daughters and for this, they are ready to defy the age-long patriarchal values with which they grew up. Amidst supporting their spouses emotionally and financially, they often forget their basic rights. This gap is hardly ever bridged as societal expectations force mothers to put their children above them. So if a man is good to his daughter but not to his wife, he will still be considered an ‘ideal man.’
In the Netflix crime thriller Mai, we saw a very brief interaction between Yash, Supriya and Sheel, yet it was significant enough to showcase how many men around us react in situations where family dynamics are involved. Yash was a loving and caring father who was so understanding that his daughter, Supriya, could share about her relationship and boyfriend with her father, which she was not comfortable sharing with her mother. Yet Yash was also the same man who couldn’t defend his wife in front of his elder brother, even when Sheel asked for his support.
Often men around us take up the “responsibility” to “maintain the family relations” at the expense of the women related to them. Here Yash gave up his own son to his elder brother despite Sheel’s disagreement.
At some point, we may have witnessed our own fathers or brothers becoming Yash in front of family and relatives, where they chose to keep silent instead of supporting their wives.
A relation may never be equal until both the partners consider themselves equals, with equal liberty and choice. Identifying your partner as an individual human being with desires and choices is important, which even these OTT fathers fail because that’s how the patriarchal structure works. No matter who the woman is or whatever she does, she will always be scrutinised in respect of her relationship with her husband. Her identity as an individual becomes secondary. Her title as a wife or a mother or a sister, etc., becomes her primary tag.
Communication is not a choice but rather a requirement in a relationship. It can be lacking from any two sides, whether it’s a man or a woman. However, we saw in Gehraiyaan that Alisha’s dad gave her space to take a step back from him, even hate him and blame him for her mother’s suicide. He lets her maintain that distance from him so that she can take her time and process her grief.
Yet Vinood was unable to give the same space to his wife. The urge to mend everything with her was so strong that it suffocated his wife to her death. In order to save Alisha from the same pain and suffocation that her mother went through, he kept her mother’s infidelity a secret. Yes, he was a protective father, but as a husband, he lacked communication with his own life partner for whatever reasons, which resulted in her taking such an extreme step of suicide.
If we look around us, we may come across men like Vinood who are ready to accept their grown-up daughters as individuals who have the right to maintain their distance from their families. However, those same men may not be able to extend the same liberty to their wives. As someone’s “wife”, they are obliged to fulfil all their duties and maintain all the relations, whether they want it or not, because that becomes her job as a “good wife.”
The general expectation from men is so low that even the bare minimum gesture from their side comes as a surprise, and women are expected to be thankful, stating that at least they are fulfilling their duties instead of ignoring her and the kids.
Series like Panchayat and Mai and movies like Gehraiyaan reflect how long we have to go as a society when it comes to the discourse around women and gender rights. Even though some modern dads have accepted the equality between their boys and girls, a family cannot come out of the patriarchal clutches till there are disparities lying between two women of the same household, just because their status and how they should be treated still depends on the kind of relationship they share with the patriarchal head of the family.
Divya Tripathi is a Journalism student from Jamia Millia Islamia University.
Featured image source: Vakaao