I distinctly remember I was in my 8th class while I was getting ready for an award ceremony wherein I was to be felicitated for securing the highest score in my community that year, when my dad walked in the room saying, “You are looking extremely pretty, you make me proud in every way. I will make sure that by the time you are eighteen you get some good proposals for marriage.” I was delighted and blushed as it was something that my father said for the first time and as an Indian teenager getting married and being ‘settled’ was then the eventual dream of my life! Also, what my dad spoke is something that every concerned father of a daughter especially in our country thinks, day in and day out. An Indian father is largely satisfied only when his daughter is married off to a suitable man. That is a significant moment of pride for him. However, I was somewhat luckier than the other girls. I received my first marriage proposal when was yet seventeen. At that time my father himself refused the offer as he became more concerned about my education. Other two proposals followed immediately when I got an admission into engineering, but my dad had become positively adamant by then and didn’t want me to compromise with my career. His dreams for me had changed, rather evolved with time and I didn’t know the driving force behind it, but I was content. In due course of time, my thoughts and ambitions also advanced and I no longer considered marriage to be the sole aim of my life and there are a few silly and many grave reasons associated with it. A few incidences that took place with some close friends, cousin sisters, and family friends shook me to the core and made me question myself WHAT IS IT THAT IS NOT EXPECTED FROM A GIRL? The answer I got was NOTHING. I concluded that I ought to be perfect. And if I am not in the slightest manner, then I shall be tagged as a low standard product manufactured not acceptable to the so-called high-quality standards of the society. “Oh! She’s a human at least.” “No, no, she is a girl!” This is the common dialogue, not of words but often out of actions that I see many girls coming across at every phase of their lives.
Avantika is a family friend of ours who fell in love with a guy while she was seventeen and her family agreed to their marriage. Soon the road to happiness became bumpy and the marriage proved to be an immature decision. The frequent husband-wife conflicts became violent day by day to the extent that Avantika was left badly bruised by her husband every now and then. The family intervened at many junctures and wise people ended up advising Avantika, how she should handle her husband, and family. For God’s sake, she is the one who is beaten up and abused and you are sitting there and lecturing her that it is her who dragged her husband into such an inhuman behavior? Never mind, Avantika was now learning the art of COMPROMISE. She started compromising with the situations and the events that didn’t make her happy or comfortable. She gave up her choices; she gave up being herself and nodded with a yes to her husband’s will. And guess what? She was highly rewarded for these genuine actions and this time he hit her so bad that she had to be hospitalized for several days. It is then when her family filed a complaint of domestic violence against her husband. Having got a dose from the police, he became a little cautious and it was temporarily a good turn of events for Avantika and within a year she became a mother to a baby boy. She was just nineteen then! Everyone in their family thought that things have now become smooth for the couple as Avantika achieved the so-called final and the most important goal of her life – Motherhood. But surprise, surprise! All those who said so were proved wrong. Her husband got addicted to drugs and alcohol within a few months and involved with other heinous activities. Maybe he had to refresh himself after thrashing his wife brutally and had to have a progressive graph to ensure his dominance. Many times Avantika thought of ending her life, but she had to live for her child who was her only hope. Twelve years passed, and Avantika had now accepted her fate. One morning, while she was preparing breakfast for her family, her husband’s phone blinked with a message and she was tempted to check it. And her worst nightmare had come true. Her husband was having an extramarital affair. When she questioned him about, he didn’t find it necessary to respond. Avantika was shattered. All she wished for was a happy life and a healthy courtship with her husband. But her marriage proved to be the biggest mistake of her life. She longed for love and affection. She was tired of abuses and emotionally broken.
In the middle of all this, she happened to chat with some guy over Facebook and it turned out that they became good friends and eventually really fond of each other. I am not sure if they were into a relationship but all I know is that Avantika needed a friend by her side, who supported her, cared for her, to whom she could open her heart to and I believe she had found one. But how could she do that? Don’t you remember that she is a girl, shackled by an immature decision that she made years ago? Yes, she a girl and the society does not permit her to be bold enough to think of her happiness. You guessed it right! When her husband found out he lashed her and left the house to live permanently with the other woman. Not only her husband, but her own parents believed that Avantika had ruined everything. Really? I don’t understand when were things in place in this fourteen-year-long relationship? Avantika did not want her marriage to fall apart owing to all the social pressures and therefore lived in her husband’s house with her son who was thirteen then. She loved her son a lot and it was only this time they got few hours to spend with each other and have some mother-son conversations. In one such talk, Avantika spoke her heart out and asked him, “Beta, what if I divorce your dad? Will you live with me?” “No, mom you are not financially independent. How will we survive if I chose to live with you? I shall live with dad. He shall take care of my needs.” her son replied. This came as another shock to her and the earth slipped beneath her feet. She left her husband’s house after six months, got divorced and went to live with her parents. Avantika was judged by all, even her near and dear ones blamed her of being incapable of handling her marital life. Words like self-respect, self-worth, career and financial independence were alien to her. Even after having come out of such a long-term abusive marriage, she thought that her final recourse rested in getting married again and her family too agreed with the idea as they also had to get rid of social pressures and stigmas.
She registered her marriage with the same Facebook guy and her happiness seemed endless. Two days later she gave a call to her brother saying, “He hit me. He doubts if I shall be loyal to him and is concerned if I do the same to him what I did to my ex-husband!”
I don’t say that every early marriage or every marriage meets a similar fate. I know of many couples who are having a healthy relationship since years. But my experience teaches me that it is mainly the female counterpart who takes a higher role in making it happen. I know a friend who is in a relationship for over five years and is undergoing a lot of family pressure to get married. She is the breadwinner for her family, extremely competent professionally and also a social entrepreneur. But as you know, she won’t be labeled settled, until she is married. What an irony! Moreover, she has given more than 100% of herself to prove her worth to her boyfriend, and shoulders all the responsibilities of being a good life-partner even though they aren’t married yet. Still, her boyfriend thinks that she is incompetent of becoming his wife as of now, as she is not perfect as per his high-held standards of some parallel universe! Her struggle continues.
I believe it is inhuman to expect so much out of a girl. We say girls are capable of conquering the world and yes that’s true, but it’s not necessary for her to fight a battle every day. I don’t demand any special empowerment or reservations for any girl. But we must understand that it’s high time to shun the hypocrisy and the double standards and alter the definition of being ‘settled’. Give her some space to be herself, let her breathe! A girl, or a boy for that matter, can be single, yet settled. Give it a thought.