While growing up at home, much like many other middle-class households, conversations about marriage were quite frequent. When I look back today, my whole childhood seems like it was one long training session, filled with lessons in ethics, morality, tactics and what not.
Recently, as I learnt about Aristotelian ethics, memories of my Dadi telling me what to do and what not to do came up. Whenever I would break something, my Dadi would say that she would make up its price by cutting it from my dahej (dowry). Such talk was common from my family – after all, if I couldn’t endure being talked to like this at home, how would I fare at my future in-laws’ home?
“Ek chup, sau sukh (stay quiet, earn a hundredfold happiness),” I was told over and over again, meaning that one should bear injustices to be rewarded later.
I despised hearing this. It is a lie that is parroted to young girls to instil in them the idea that subjugation brings happiness. In a patriarchal society like ours, this proverb has been used to maintain the status quo in exploitative relationships.
Still, I didn’t quite ‘endure’ as well as my family would have liked. Among the many battles I’ve fought over the years, choice of clothing has been a major one. My family believes they have complete authority over what I can or cannot wear. This was not just restricted to wearing shorts, but extended to anything deemed inappropriate – a tight shirt, an off-shoulder sweater, a sleeveless blouse and much more.
After coming to Chandigarh for college, in the anonymity of a metropolis I had the opportunity to groom myself in the ways I wanted. But I decided otherwise. More than being able to wear what I want, I wanted to challenge this authority of my father in this matter. I wanted him and my family to know loud and clear that the sartorial choices I make are not something they should question. Whether it is a silly skirt or the partner I choose and the way I decide to lead my life – they can either be happy for me or not concerned at all; but their permission is not what I seek.
There were fights over some dresses I ordered at home when I turned 17. My father was convinced that they had erred in how I had been brought up the moment I undermined his authority. I was yelled at, threatened, abused, cursed – there was even praying. But it was never about just a dress – I could not stand the idea of living a life where I had no choices, where my clothes were a family concern; with the length of my skirt was inversely proportional to my father’s pride.
All that is done and dusted now. My father is completely aware that whether he likes it or not, there is no point in sharing his agony over what I wear, or what I choose to do with my life.
It’s been five years since my little rebellion led to some kind of liberation, and I have been very consistent in the assertion and the persuasion of the little freedoms that I have so far gathered for myself.
What troubles me is the fact that this fight doesn’t get over with family. Rather, it starts from there. Because once I don’t listen to my father himself, am I going to take it from a colleague, a friend, any relative, or my boyfriend? How much patience will I show towards them when I have already had a very long and emotionally draining fight with my own parents? How much of a sympathetic ear am I supposed to have towards their sensitivity and over how many times will I have to yell that what I wear or what I choose is not something which should be anyone else’s concern.
Now, if my boyfriend, who is another of my very own proud choices, asks me to dress in a specific way in front of his family, it is wrong. How can my childhood training of ‘ek chup‘ deliver any ‘sukh‘ now when it has failed to deliver it so far? How do I let him know that I have run out of patience to re-enter the ring for a fight I have been fighting for years?
And if I was not this person, had I not fought over a dress six years ago, a boyfriend would never have materialised in the first place. If I had allowed my parents to choose the length of my clothes, they would have also chosen a person for me to love out my life with – and in no way would it have been my present boyfriend.
I feel that the childhood training of “Ek chup, sau sukh” is loosening its hold on me. I know in my heart of hearts that I would pick a thorny and uphill battle for liberty over and over again rather than bear a lifetime of injustices just to satisfy the image others have of me.
Soumya Thakur is a poet and a final year BBA LLB student at Chandigarh University. She is a student activist and the Secretary of AISA, Chandigarh.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty