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My Mother's tales of patriarchy

- By: Alka Singh -

We are all made of flesh and bones, but mostly we are made of memories. Tracing back my roots to why I am a feminist and why I am a rebel; makes me recall the stories my mother narrated to me as a child. They were narratives of violence, shame, betrayal, abuse, cowardice and a lot more; all the words that sum up what it is to be a woman living in a man's world.

My mother is the first generation educated woman of her family, not because they were poor but because they were too rich to care about being educated. She couldn't ask her mother for school stationary as that would invite her dis-enrollment from school. So she used the same notebook over years to write her notes and memorize them, only to later erase it with chipped away pieces of her sole pair of rubber slippers; and use the same notebook for the next academic year. Her sister out of jealously would put off the dim-lit kerosene lamp and my mother would sit in the moonlight studying for the next day's exam.

She could finally break from the shackles of her repressive home and moved out to continue her pursuit of one thing that meant everything to her: her education. At the university she finally had her first taste of liberation and there was no looking back. All this only to come back home one evening for her summer vacation, to find her drunkard father who had almost beaten the life out of her mother and was calling out to her elder sister. When she quietly entered her room, she saw a shadow signalling to her to remain silent and lock the door. She realized it was her elder sister sobbing in the dark corner of the room. After locking the door, she went to her and what my aunt had to say was beyond horrific. Her father had been raping her for months now, and today when their mother tried to intervene; he left her in a near-death condition. It should not surprise anyone if I tell you everyone in the family thought my aunt "asked for it".

Sure of the patriarchal exploitation of an Indian family system, my mother decided to never marry. But she was 23 years of age, a graduate and a shame for the family. My grandmother forced her to get married, calling her home on the false pretext of being ill. My father is a good human, egoistical like most North-Indian men of his generation. His only flaw: he was a coward married to a warrior. My mother wanted to continue her education. The condition placed by her in-laws: You cannot have a masters degree while your husband remains a graduate. And your husband cannot study for his masters, until his unemployed graduate elder brother too gets a masters degree. So, if you want to study; along with your own arrangements, you have to pay for the education of your husband and your brother-in-law. And so she did; paid for their education while completing her own master's and law degree. Along with all of this she bore four daughters, because her mother-in-law wanted a grandson and her husband black-mailed her into fulfilling his mother's demands. The same mother-in-law who left my mother alone to die during her first child-birth as she knew my mother was bearing a girl-child; and the neighbours rushed her to the hospital.

Despite all her qualifications and zeal; and remember she finally gave him a son too, my father never allowed my mother to work as he was a well-respected business-man and it was against his honour to let his wife work.

I AM that fourth unwanted daughter of an almost dying mother. I AM the one the relatives wanted to give up for adoption. I AM the one they wanted to exchange for a boy. I AM the one they sent off to a boarding school for a better education at the age of 9 when I told them "whatever you're saving up to pay for my dowry, invest in my education and you'll not have to pay a dowry". I AM the one they were taunted for spending so much on a girl's education. I AM the one who told them I don't want to be an engineer, I'll graduate in Political Science. I AM the one who has boyfriends, smokes, drinks and does everything a "good girl" isn't supposed to do. I AM the one who has made it clear to them that I"ll never marry as I don't believe in the institution of marriage. I AM the one who has told them if I ever feel the desire, I'll have a child, not out of marriage but out of love. I AM the one who wants to take care of them for the rest of their lives. I AM the son my father never had, and the daughter my mother always wanted.

And the story doesn't end here. There's still so much to say about my own experiences of being a woman in a man's world. And I am sure my mother and all the women out there have so much to add to this too. It's high time we hear all these voices, each and everyone of them.

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