11/08/2016 2:02 PM IST | Updated 11/08/2016 3:35 PM IST

Where Marriage Is Synonymous With Inequality

Let me start by saying that I am not against marriage as an institution. However, I am against the fundamental inequality that has the power to convert an Indian marriage into a form of slavery. Many may say I am being vituperative, others will say I'm too irreverent while the others yet will be indifferent. Nonetheless, I do not write to please the majority; I only write to express my sentiments.

In our society, inequality and discrimination on the basis of gender, caste, class, disability and religion are prevalent in all walks of life, including marriage. In fact, the inequities of marital unions are evident even in our scriptures. Lord Rama, who is viewed as the most noble and righteous king, subjects his loyal wife Sita to a trial by fire (agni pariksha) to test her fidelity.

There is not much difference between the mindsets reflected in mythology and the present day scenario.

Moving to the Mahabharata, Devyani is deserted by her beau Kacha, who refuses to marry her when leaving to return to Deva Loka despite wooing and romancing her. Consequently she curses him, causing him to curse her that her husband would not be of a strong character. She marries King Yayati who betrays her by having a relationship with Sharmishtha who repeatedly requests him to give her a son despite his initial refusals. Yayati is cursed by Sage Shukracharya, his father-in-law, for betraying Devyani. Interestingly, Devyani who fights back Kacha and Yayati when they betray her is not portrayed as favourably as Bheeshma and Kunti are. Is it because she does not conform to the norm of a pliant woman?

To get suitable wives for his half-brothers, the revered Bheeshma forcibly abducts Amba, Ambika and Ambalika at their swayamvar, despite their protests. However, Bheeshma denies the women their right to choice. Amba flees to wed her suitor but he refuses to marry her as she has been touched by Bheeshma... a mere touch of a hand could make a woman impure while a man could have as many wives as he wished!

Kunti tells her sons to share Draupadi, refusing to be convinced by Yudhishitra and Arjun. Again Draupadi knows she would be deemed disloyal if she ever nursed feelings for any man or loved a husband more than the others. In contrast, her husbands have several wives.

There is not much difference between the mindsets reflected in mythology and the present day scenario. Marital rape is still legal and though India achieved independence in 1947, women still remain slave to their husband's wishes. Despite several legal provisions to address domestic violence, dowry, cruelty, etc, women continue to be subjected to injustices. Marriage seems like a sale of slaves, wherein a family pays a huge dowry to sell their daughter who is weighed and measured on the basis of countless parameters by a man and his family. She is then condemned to a life of slavery with constant victimization. A woman is expected to reside with her in-laws and forget all about her own parents, and if she expresses a desire to live separately with her husband, she is debased and tagged as a destroyer of the family unit.

Marriage seems like a sale of slaves, wherein a family pays a huge dowry to sell their daughter who is weighed and measured on countless parameters...

If a woman is disabled in some way, her challenges increase. Either she will never get married or will have to pay a high dowry to be grudgingly accepted in matrimony, only to be subjected to harassment and humiliation later.

The exercise of choice by a woman is not looked upon kindly in general, the bloodiest proof of that being honour killings in the case of marriages between people from different religions, castes and classes. Even if that extreme doesn't come to pass a couple may be 'disowned" by the family or face social ostracisation. A person who chooses not to get married will also judged negatively for their lack of compliance to majoritarian norms.

Back to marriage, we never get to know what happens behind the closed doors of a house as there is pindrop silence on the tyranny of the hegemonic norms permeating marriage and leaving women trapped. We never get to see and hear those peremptory commands made to women by their husband and/or in-laws and the violence that is left unrecorded except in tears, bruises and grief.

I urge all those who feel imprisoned in a marriage that seems impossible to escape from to act on Napoleon's advice: "Courage isn't having the strength to go on -- it is going on when you don't have strength."