Feb 02, 2016
A right hitherto reserved for the eldest male member
In a significant decision, a top court in India’s capital city New Delhi ruled that women are eligible to become the legal head of a family, a position hitherto reserved only for the eldest male.
The Delhi High Court verdict said there is “no restriction” on a woman becoming a family’s karta — a role demarcated by ancient Hindu customs and scripture that defines the manager of a joint family, the Times of India reported.
This piece of news is very important because it is a significant step forward in creating parity in gender roles.
We all must be familiar with the Population Census survey, having answered the questionnaire ourselves or, being women, having witnessed someone else from the family answering on our behalf. I am sure the second part of the preceding sentence sounds absurd, right? But this is the truth for majority of the women living in the joint family system, including me. Frankly speaking this never disturbed me. I have been fine with the elders of the house taking the lead, for their age and wisdom.
However, there was something else which disturbs me, the mindsets. Let me share an incidence which happened to one of the woman I am related to-
Q : Who is the head of the family?
FIL’s A : I am the head of the family. My name is NNS.
Q (to MIL) : Your name?
MIL’s A : VV.
Q (to the woman I know) : Your name?
Woman (I know) : AM.
The MIL jumps in to defend the folly by making the correction to record her DIL’s name as AS, S being their family name.
The surveyors looked towards AM for an answer. She told them her name in all official records including Passport, Pan Card, Income Tax returns was AM and she thought they should go with it.
This might just look like any other day in a joint family set-up but, if you choose to, you might just see the differences in the last names of all the 3 members interviewed, even the MIL’s but there arises the question of accepting the DIL’s using her maiden name. Isn’t it disparity, caused by a woman upon another woman?
There are households like ours where the rule is – the cooking must be done entirely by the women of the house, disregard of the fact whether they stay at home or work outside, doesn’t matter in case of the working women if they come back at 6 or 8 in the evening while the men can chill before the TV after coming back from work. The women have to wake up early in the morning to do the housework while the men can remain sleeping until afternoon if it is an off day from work. The reason these men will give when asked to wake up early would be that they do not know what to do in the house if they wake up in the mornings. Their reason holds true since they were never involved to work around the house.
When a woman becomes pregnant, the common blessing she is showered upon with is – ‘It will be a boy.’ If the first born child is a girl, the acceptability comes with a statement ‘these days boys and girls are all equal.’ This statement irks because if the people believed in this they should not have been saying it. And if the second born child is also a girl then it is a shame. The second time, the same people forget their rhetoric of boys and girls being equal. Even today in well to do families, the couples are pressurized by the elders to go for the third child in the hope of a male child when the first 2 are girls. No, they do not flinch at getting the sex of fetus determined and getting it aborted because they find themselves incapable of bearing the expenses associated with another girl. Who are the people wronged here – the mother, the unborn child and the 2 girls too.
I stay at home meaning the onus of household chores and child care responsibility fall upon me, not primarily but wholly.
I often think how can we work upon changing the mindsets which hampers the parity between the status of a man and a woman in our daily lives and I realize there is hardly anything I can do to change the mindset of my generation or the previous one, given the patriarchal backgrounds with strict compartmentalized roles they come from. But what I can do is to work with the next generation, my son, and setting him free from the gender stereotypes to be able to create parity in gender roles in my own small way. There are a couple of things I have already been doing with him –
- Reading. I actively look for storylines where there is a father bending the rules by cooking and taking care of the child with either the mother being completely absent or makes special appearance in a page or two. The intention is to familiarize him with such family set-ups which, though, is not visible to him in his immediate surroundings but they do exist in other parts of this world and these are not alien concepts.
- Chores. I let him follow me with the disinfectant cleaner in his hand and spraying it around while I clean and wipe off the dust. He tidies up his toys on his own,helps me with the laundry by getting me the bag of dirty clothes and separating the whites from non-whites.
- Baking. While I add all the ingredients required to make a cake in a bowl, he mixes them well. And I let him take the credit for being an expert at making cakes. We make crappy cakes but that is another matter.
- Cheering for him. When he turns up with a cup of pretend tea or the cheeky Bournvita tea, I make it a point to cheer aloud for him to encourage him so that he is able to prepare a real cup of tea or the entire meal later on in life without any inhibition.
- Kindness and compassion. I consider kindness and compassion to be the most important attributes because they allow one to see the hardship of others and appreciate the work they are doing. Every child has these qualities and the need is to recognize their such acts, applaud, encourage and nurture them.
Yesterday was International Women’s day and this year the focus is on gender parity and to pledge for parity (click the link to pledge). We can pledge to take a concrete step to help achieve gender parity more quickly, whether it is financially supporting the education of girls, helping to make a group of women ready to be employable, employing women, helping women and girls achieve their ambitions, calling for gender-balanced leadership, respecting and valuing difference, developing more inclusive and flexible cultures to root out workplace bias.
I have pledged for parity, will you too?
Let us make parity a reality and do our bit about it which goes beyond just talking about it.
Until this year, Women’s day never made sense to me because I felt dedicating and celebrating just one day to the causes and role of women in our lives can do no good in the greater sense. However, this time, my fellow bloggers at Write Tribe decided to blog about this year’s theme of International Women’s Day, Pledge for Parity throughout the entire Women’s Day week and I wholeheartedly joined in with them.