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#BreakTheCycle: Of Bahus, In-Laws and Social Acceptance.

Barely a day goes by without something in the media about the subjugation and ill treatment of women in India.

Away from the shocking front page stories, that subjugation is nowhere more apparent in ordinary homes across the country where young brides have just arrived, dragged away from their family homes to begin life anew.

It is often a terrifying time for a young woman – now essentially “owned” by another and his family.  And “ownership”, more often than not, can result in subjugation of a horrific scale.

I was one of those girls but my story is different and is one which, I hope, will paint a different picture to the usual ones painted about mothers and “bahus” (daughters-in-law).

I am not someone famous.  I have no “Bollywood Masala” to offer.

These are merely the experiences of an Indian Bahu who is mostly treated like a trophy or someone who has to think of “society” at the cost of her happiness, dreams, ambition.

Times may have changed but not the Indian  phrase “Ki Long Kya Kahenge” (What will people think?).

If my experience as an Indian Bahu married for eight years is anything to go by it is to enlighten people to love the girl who leaves everything behind and makes your family hers.

I have received so much love and acceptance from my husband’s family that I can firmly say that love can move mountains.  I really wish to share my story of a simple girl who got married at the relatively early age of 22 and into a powerful political family.

My beloved grandfather was totally against me getting married into the famous Shukla family of Madhya Pradesh.

His reasons were understandable.  In the first instance, I hailed from a simple Pahadi family from the foothills of the Himalayas.  They belonged to the plains of Madhya Pradesh and topography plays a huge part in shaping individuals, families and communities.

In the second, the idea of their daughter marrying into a political family was too much for my family to handle, especially in a country where politics is synonymous with corruption.

The man who proposed marriage to me – my eventual husband, Bhawani Shankar Shukla – hailed from a long line of respected politicians.

My grandfather’s anger knew no bounds as my parents appeared blinkered by the “fame” of the family.

But his refusal to talk to me changed dramatically when he met the family for the first time at our family home in Haldwani and how he cried in happiness for me and couldn’t stop praising the boy and the family.

But overcoming my grandfather’s initial misgivings was merely the first part of the challenge.  As is often the case, innumerable characters – from family to family friends – attempted to discourage my father saying that it would cost him a lot to get his daughter into this family and that I would have to make numerous “lifestyle” changes – from only wearing saris to covering my head.

I was an educated woman and this was the last thing I needed but all our notions were gradually proven wrong as the relationship between the two families grew.

Eventually Bhawani and I were married and I was taken to his family home in Raipur.

At the time, his own grandfather was fighting cancer and it was a time of emotional upheaval for the family.  Despite this, everyone made sure that I was comfortable and enjoyed my first days and weeks of married life.

I was allowed everything I wanted but more than that it was the little touches that made it all the better: a simple smile, sitting down to eat with me or taking me out in my new hometown, despite their pain.

At the time I did not know it but Bhawani’s grandfather – as the head of the family – was the most important person in the family.

But there was a precedent to the way I was being treated.

My mother in law came from the royal family of Mahishadal (near Kolkata).  Although a Brahim by birth she was brought up in a typical Bengali environment and being an only child was highly pampered.  She wouldn’t survive without non vegetarian food in contrast to her in-laws.  She told me how her father-in-law ensured she adapted to the simple lifestyle that he led yet allowed her do everything she wanted, including eating non-vegetarian food outside the home.

My father-in-law even opened a restaurant especially for her so that she could eat the food she loved.  Things became easier for her because of the love she received from her in laws.  It’s doubtful that a highly pampered girl from Bengal would have survived in such an environment otherwise.

I firmly believe that it was because of this that she dealt with me so well.  She knew respect could not be demanded.  My father-in-law, although a little more conservative, accepted a lot of “modern things” in lieu of me.  And yes, I was allowed western clothes, I didn’t have to cover my hair and wasn’t required to wear a sari all day, every day.

They allowed me to go everywhere with my husband and have been very open minded about letting me have equal fun as their son.

For those who might not know, this is rarely the case.  A married woman not only becomes the property of her husband but also of her in-laws who in turn dictate what she can and cannot do – often accosting to the diktats of “society”.

Then when our first child was born, he was taken over entirely by my mother-in-law who looked after him even as I accompanied my husband on his travels around the world.

Bhawani’s grandmother was equally liberated.  A graceful woman, she believed in woman empowerment and would tell me how well her father-in-law kept her.

She was allowed to drive, dress up in heels – unheard of in her time – and she ensured that she enjoyed her life.

The whole idea of treating the Bahu well ran in the family and I feel so proud to be a part of this family who would do anything to please the girl they call the “Laxmi” of their home.

This brings me to my request to everyone in India and among Indian communities everywhere in the world.

Just love her and you will get so much love in return.  Respect her.  She is so much younger in age and experience.  Give her the freedom she deserves.

Marriage should not be a punishment for her.  Be genuine and don’t confine her to the kitchen walls.  She needs love, she needs a mother and a father.

Strive to make her forget the pain of being torn away from her family.  Ultimately, her happiness will bring happiness in your lives.  Set an example for her.

For all the mothers-in-law, stop using the phrase: “Ki Humne Bhi Yeh Sab Saha Tha”.

She should not be the object of all your frustrations.

Above all, she is just like your daughter.  Break away from the hypocrisy of treating your own daughter or son one way and your daughter in law another.

Break the cycle.

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