*A Women’s Day Special dedication
If I was a powerful leader in the state, the first thing I would do is disintegrate the joint family system, said Lalnunpuii*, a 29 year old wife and mother residing in Aizawl city.
The joint family system of India is still very popularly practised in Mizoram with the sons residing with their wives, children and their parents in family homes. While it looks all rosy and lively from the outside, it takes a few years to taste the bitter effects resulting from various adults with varied backgrounds living together under one roof and sharing their lives in the matter of a day.
It is said Mizoram is a shining example of gender equality with women taking up the market places and now sitting as heads of various department offices and educational institutions but at the end of the day, when these women close office and enter the doors of their homes. They become many things, a wife, a mother, a daughter in law, a sister in law, a home maker, a kitchen master and a person who makes sure the wall corners are web free, the cooking pots are glistening grease free, and the environment is dust free.
We have been married for seven years out of which we lived with his sisters for two years as they came to the city for further education and within these two years the love we built for five was destroyed. It is not that our love ended, but rather I could not bear to live a life gossiped, compared and complained of for one more day. Every effort I made went in vain. And to the parents, what their daughters say is accepted like the Bible while what we say is ignored like trash, said Lalmuanawmi* a 32 year old divorcee.
While there have been positive outcomes of such arrangements, a closer look at the families we know and see everyday majorly points to the negative. There are situations where two daughters-in-law with drastic differences in views of life and backgrounds are wedded to sons of one family. One can put it this way, it is hard enough to adjust to a life as a wife vowed to a human you have never lived with, but in addition to that, women have to be the epitome of a daughter mothers never had, and when two women with opposite lifestyles have to do this in the same house, that calls for even more trouble.
I do not have a moment of relaxation, it’s either the baby or housework or cooking and then a little bit of sleeping. Waking up late or being backward in any work, and there is a string of complaints from the family members. I graduated from the University, I was working a good full time job, I was a happy independent woman in love with a man. But marriage changed everything, and there is no way to wish for a different situation as my husband is the youngest among his siblings. I have thought of divorce hundreds of times but I can’t get myself to do it because of our children, said Zomawiii*, a 35 year old full time housewife.
This is the case for mothers-in-law, we see the typical “Saas-Bahu” dramas in our much favoured Hindi serials and while we detest and laugh at these characters, we fail to see how much of these dramas are recreated in our own lives often by our very own doing. And the men have to note this, when a woman marries you, it does not end with her getting to spend her life with the love of her life, she goes through a life-changing transition. One day she wakes up as the jewel of her father’s eye, everything she says seems beautiful in her mother’s ears and another day she’s suddenly the object of speculation of a whole household.
Rinhlui*, a young and beautiful 27 year old mother of two said of her experience, “Sometimes it feels like to see me sit idle is a pain in my mother in law’s eyes. I have to be up and running all the time even if I am unwell. And to talk of these things with my husband would be talking ill of his family, so that’s a no-no. This is the fate I have to accept and live with everyday as a woman vowed to a man she loves.”
*names changed to protect identity
image from here
originally published in The Mizoram Post, March 9, 2017