“I want to bring about a change in the community,” I said to my 30-year-old married cousin at 3 a.m. He was sitting right in front of me while my mother was just about to fall asleep.
We had been talking about topics ranging from the recent losses his business had suffered to my impending high school final exams. We talked about stuff most people talk about at my age (17)— career and college.
We talked about friends and relationships and while discussing my first boyfriend, I was beginning to see a chauvinistic side of my cousin. We talked about how divorces are so messy with reference to my aunt who is currently on the verge of a divorce. An hour later, the bomb dropped.
“If a married couple splits, our society will always think lowly of the female, the female will always need support from everyone, the female will be victimised and the female will have to struggle much much more than her ex-husband ever will.”
I couldn’t believe that my own cousin, someone who is like a bridge between my parents’ generation and mine could have such sexist views. What happened to how much society has changed? What happened to women’s rights?
I asked, “Is that how much you respect females? You mother? Your wife? Your cousin, me?”
“It isn’t about me, dear. It’s society. If you somehow are married to a wrong person, and if you seek a divorce, no matter what wrong he’s done or the right things you do, you will be the one suffering. It’s just the way society works,” he said.
I don’t blame him completely for saying that. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen gender discrimination in my entire extended family.
My bad-tempered uncle once insulted his wife, called her unkind names, cursed her existence while I WAS SITTING RIGHT THERE TALKING TO THEM. But she didn’t say a single word. This is known as ‘Patnivrata’: a wife’s devotion to her husband.
When my (male) Hindu cousin ran away with a Muslim girl, the family helped, they took them in and accepted the girl. But when my (female) Hindu cousin ran away with a Hindu guy of a lower caste, she was abandoned. I don’t even remember the last time I saw her.
“But what about men and women are equal?”
“Men are equal to women in certain fields, namely education, jobs and salary. But in society and marriage, a man holds the upper hand.”
How can he say that when he married the girl he has loved since he was 17? How can he disrespect her like that? He is a husband, and his wife is supposed to be an equal, but here he is, claiming to be the bigger one in their relationship.
SHE left her home. SHE changed her name. SHE bore his son. But SHE is the weak one?
After many heated arguments till 5 a.m., he resigned and went to sleep, but how could I? My eldest cousin, the brother I have admired and respected for so many years was no longer the person I thought he was.
How could I sleep when he said this so bluntly: “You trying to change this ‘society’ isn’t going to amount to anything, just focus on your education and admission.”
How could I sleep when he said, “Your views are all picked up from those novels you keep reading and all the Hollywood films you keep seeing. Come back to India, dear.”
How could I sleep when all I told him was, “I want open-mindedness in the society”. And he says, “The society is as open-minded as it is ever going to get.”
How can I sleep when the youth now believes that there is no hope for our society, or worse, that young people, in the prime of their lives and at the beginning of their careers believe that society right now is headed in the right direction?
We still judge a girl who has a boyfriend. We still can’t accept that some people may want to have sex before they get married, if at all.
There are so many people still suppressed, so many people not being honest with themselves and others for the sale of fitting in.
I can never come out to my family because I know they will never accept it.
“Mom, what do you think about gay rights?”
“It doesn’t affect me directly so I don’t care. But I’m pretty sure there’s something wrong in the person’s upbringing,” she said.
My brother has similar views. Someone I believed to be open-minded, someone I believed to be accepting, won’t accept me for who I am.
“Okay, you want a change. What will you change?”
“I want open-mindedness.”
“How will you get that.”
“One person at a time, bhai. If an individual can affect even one person, it’s a win.”
“And how long will you keep trying?”
“Until I’m satisfied.”
“Society is too big. It’ll take time.”
‘If I can’t enjoy the fruits of the hard work my generation puts in, maybe the next generation will. Maybe 100 hundred years later they will.’
“But you won’t be alive a hundred years later! Why does it matter now then?”
“Someone has to begin, right?”