So, there was this massive fuss over Karva Chauth.
"Smacks of patriarchy!"
The outrage built up. There were heated exchanges across social media. There were opinionated pieces across news websites, all of which attracted much attention.
Now, the bubble has burst, the fuss has fizzled out.
The outraged feminists have gone home, perhaps to their lesser halves. The ones outraged by the outrage are now offended by something else that's trending across social media.
Across India, women like my friends are slowly and surely reduced to something less than human. In such households, the men are infinitely superior, the women are insignificant.
Meanwhile, in millions of households across India, women continue to lead lives that are hidebound, and governed by, yes, archaic beliefs. These women often exist only to serve, to service, to give birth, to cook and clean. Their desires and dreams don't matter one bit. In fact, they themselves don't matter.
What's more, we don't need films like Parched to portray oppressed and repressed lives or regressive attitudes. It happens amidst us. Right here in cosmopolitan Bangalore, for instance. And also in cities, towns and villages across India. For many women, it's an everyday reality, all their lives. It is emphatically not just a one-day fasting affair.
So let me tell you about such women.
Let me tell you what happens to them at home.
One woman, now in her 40s, had her only child at 18. The girl, following in her mother's footsteps got married while she was still in college. I won't be surprised if the daughter has also had a baby by now.
Meanwhile, the mom, who I used to know well, has had many abortions over the years. The last time I met her, she couldn't sit down because she was in such incredible pain—her womb was so lacerated from frequent D&C (dilation and curettage) procedures. A D&C, for those who don't know, is basically the surgical removal of the foetus, along with quite a bit of the uterine lining too. Basically, the doctor scrapes and scoops out whatever the uterus contains. Sometimes the uterus gets perforated. Yes, it can hurt like hell. Try to imagine your innards being scraped raw. Try to imagine waves of pain spreading from your belly to your lower back, try to imagine severe cramping, and in some cases contractions. You cannot walk without pain for weeks, and there's severe bleeding for days. Plus there is the emotional and mental suffering—those scars never, ever, go away.
This friend never wanted any of the abortions she was forced to endure. "My husband loves me so much, he tells me he doesn't want to share me with another child," she told me once, wincing from the pain of the latest procedure.
Looking at her, you wouldn't know how much she hurts, inside. This 40-something woman drives a classy sedan, appears confident and happy to all those around her. And yes, she holidays abroad with her husband, very often.
This friend never wanted the abortions she was forced to endure. "My husband loves me so much, he doesn't want to share me with another child," she told me.
Yet she also goes through these horrific procedures because her loving husband doesn't believe in family planning or in using condoms. She has had an abortion at least once a year. And goes through a silent emotional, physical and mental breakdown, in the process. She has been married for 20-25 years now.
Do her parents know what happens to her? Yes they do, but they tell her they can do nothing because her place is with her husband now.
Another woman I know is a little bit luckier. She doesn't go through this kind of physical pain. But in some ways, her scars go even deeper. In her in-laws' house, she simply doesn't exist. The men in the family do not consider her a living, breathing person. Though I have it on good authority that her husband does interact with her—they have three children, after all.
For the other members of the family, this young woman is there to serve, cook, clean and look after the aforementioned children. If her father-in-law wants his meals or is ready for his evening tea, he will come into the dining room and place his handkerchief on the table. He will not look at his daughter-in-law, talk to her, or even acknowledge her presence. That is his way. That is how things are done in this family.
This invisible daughter-in-law is in her 30s. And she is a computer engineer by training. Her parents allowed her to complete her education and then promptly got her married. Did I mention that her husband is a techie, a software engineer? Presumably, he interacts with women colleagues. At office, he probably follows prescribed etiquette and possibly, even treats female co-workers with courtesy. And at home? Well, that's another matter.
He and his 30-something wife have three young sons. These boys see their mother being considered as nothing. What is to say that they will not turn out exactly like their father/grandfather? As adults, perhaps they will treat girlfriends/wives exactly the same way. Then the cycle of abuse will be complete.
He will not look at his daughter-in-law, talk to her, or even acknowledge her presence. That is his way. That is how things are done in this family.
Incidentally both the women—the 30-something and the 40-something—observe Karva Chauth. I don't know if they want to or are forced to. They just do.
But this story is not about a custom that's been lent glitz and glamour by Bollywood celebrities who pout prettily as ideal bahus or biwis. This is about how across India, women like my friends are slowly and surely reduced to something less than human. In such households, the men are infinitely superior, the women are insignificant. In fact, they may as well not exist.
But then India has within itself, so many such stories. Scratch the surface, and these hidden realities emerge. These are truths that are not shared on social media.
But they should be. For these are truths, we should be outraged about.