With the help of a novel 'Seven Steps in the Sky', I've tried to point out some irrationalities in the way a woman, especially a married woman is treated. The book revolves around the married life of a woman and a few of her female friends and relatives. She was born in a middle class family in a town and was married in an upper-middle class family.
Despite the novel being set in a middle class family of a town in 1980s, the questions it poses are (unfortunately) still unanswered.
- Why is it always the daughter-in-law's duty to please all others around her? Why don't the in-laws often think that a little innocent girl has left everything - her home, the love of parents and brothers and sisters, friends she's known since childhood, the free laughter and games? And hence they should really look after her, take care of her hopes and dreams! A daughter is always told to win the hearts of her husband's family by love and service. Why doesn't anyone normally tell the husband, the mother-in-law, the sister-in-law, to make the new bride's life easier, happier?
Men always do what they please. A woman, especially a new bride, must forget her own wishes, and then gradually that becomes a habit.
- Why is the daughter-in-law often expected never to get tired? Do they think that once a woman becomes a daughter-in-law, she is an unlimited source of energy?
- Why do women get married? Girls study and wait for a proposal, and then get married. Right from the first breath, they are told that marriage is the ultimate aim of their lives. If that aim is not achieved, or not accomplished in good time, the girl becomes depressed, and her life loses its direction. Every effort is made to regain that direction; standards are dropped, and what was once barely an acceptable prospect becomes acceptable and it feels like an end to all the trouble. She agrees to observe every kind of traditional restriction. She must cover her head all the time, she cannot go out to work, there must be a certain amount of jewellery in the dowry. Every condition is accepted so as not to lose the chance of marriage. If it's lost, the daughters become a burden to the parents.
Why? What do the women get out of marriage?
Love? A roof? Protection?
Women want love but what they get is mostly desire in the garb of love, not love itself.
Women want a roof. Does the house become theirs? If a man is angry, he says - 'Leave my house right now.' If he is pleased, he says - 'You brighten my house.' It is always the man's house. The woman only brightens it. This is all that is expected of her - to look after the man's house.
Women want protection. For that protection is a solid wall erected around them. The wall has no windows to look out at the sky.
- A husband's death is a terrible blow to the wife. But, often it appears that a husband isn't greatly inconvenienced by the loss of his wife. That is because women's lives and emotions are valued less. And that is proved by the fact that a man can remarry immediately after his wife's death. Men often remarry quickly, even before their wives' pyres are cold. It isn't often possible for a widow to remarry, even for the sake of her children.
- If a widow's only son dies, it is considered to be the height of tragedy, but if a widow's only daughter marries and goes away, that's a great relief. Isn't it strange?
- Most women who marry, forget their identity and live in submission to the unwritten code of their in-law's house. Their talents are developed only within permitted limits. Everything else is sacrificed to the goddess named 'peace'.
Women have had a low status for centuries. They have been victims of injustice and violence, their intelligence and talents made subsidiary to beauty and appearance; they have been made prisoners under the guise of protection, and to make them accept all this without rebelling, they have been given false ideals. They have been told that, to be epitomes of endurance and sacrifice is the realization of their womanhood, that not maintaining a separate identity but submerging it into their husband's is their ultimate goal.
- Why is it set that the daughter-in-law can go to her parents' home only at a certain time during pregnancy? Why is the permission from in-laws needed to go to parents' home especially in the the initial months of marriage?
- All their life, children carry their father's name with theirs. There is no mention of mother in the family tree. Her mind and body were worn out with the endless chores of bringing them up, but she will die leaving no name, dissolve without leaving any trace. Why? If there were only daughters to a father, there would be no branches from his name, as if he had no children, as if he had never become a father. Why?
- Men can do most kinds of work, can survive somehow. But women have some biological limitations, and to make up for this, they must develop their talents, otherwise they cannot realize their full potential. So, shouldn't women be at least as much educated as men, or better?
- Why can't a daughter look after her parents if she is earning? If a daughter really wants to care for her parents, she should stay unmarried because if she does marry, she often loses the right to be of service to them. That obligation belongs to the son. After marriage, a son can take care of his parents, and ask his wife to do the same.
The same holds true when someone wants to pursue something which requires a lot of dedication. If a woman wants to be in a field which requires a lot of dedication to work, she is supposed to stay unmarried as she might not otherwise do justice to her 'household duties'. But, if a man wants to pursue such a field, he would rather be advised to get married so that his wife takes care of the household duties and he can pursue his interests/job better.
- When a husband's relations, close or distant, come to visit, stay for a meal, they all should be offered enthusiastic hospitality by the wife. Not many of the wife's relations come visiting. The husband will pay attention to them only if it pleases him, but if he is not in the mood, he will ignore them. He and his mother aren't often too pleased if the wife shows too much affection for her kin.
- Kitchen - is the woman's world. Their unhappiness stays hidden in the dark corners of the kitchen. Nobody sees it; the other rooms in the house are lighted and airy, but the kitchen, where women spend most of their time, is small and gloomy. Occasionally, the lights have to be switched on even in the day. There is no place to sit. There are fans in other rooms but often not in the kitchen, which is hot.
- A woman may work outside as hard as her husband, but it is always she who serves him the meals. Why don't we ever see the reverse?
- There are no words like 'barren man' or 'deserted husband' in the dictionary unlike their feminine equivalents. Is it because the right to 'desert' is a man's right only?
- Does wearing or not wearing bangles and applying or not applying a bindi makes a woman a worse or a better person? Does a society or a culture survive through its external rules, customs and conducts, or by its morality? By mere mechanical manifestations, or loyalty to the truth, compassion and selfless love?