Her parents have told her to get ready. A family is about to visit their home to ‘see’ their daughter. The parents are all set to welcome the guests; the prospective in-laws of the girl. The guests leave in a very happy mood telling the host family that they ‘liked’ the girl and would soon be visiting again along with some other family members.
This is exactly the sort of comments any daughter’s parents would want to hear from those special guests. However, the happiness remains for short-term only as the parents are later informed that they were looking for a girl with an extremely fair complexion to suit their ‘pathan’ son.
The girl was not too dark but now she knows that her complexion is so unacceptable.
After sometime, the same girl is sitting with some new guests at her home, presenting herself in the best possible way. She answers to all the questions she’s asked but remains quiet otherwise. Later her parents are told that the girl was so quiet that she did not seem to be interested in the proposal altogether. It all seemed so fishy to them. Thus, she’s rejected!
She’s confused. She doesn’t know what to do. She’s only trying to comply with the standards; trying to meet the expectations of her parents and the society. But it’s not working. So here comes another family who also wants to see if the girl is all that is required to be a good lady-in-law as per their standards. Learning from her past, this time she tries to speak a bit more than just answering the questions that she’s asked during one of the toughest interviews a girl experiences in her life. Making it a more congenial chit-chat, she dares to ask few generic questions from the ladies (of her age group) sitting across only after the mandatory interview is over. The response she receives is:
“Humara haq hai poochhne ka!!” (It’s only our right to ask questions).
As expected, this time again, it backfires. The parents are told that their daughter is too blunt; contrary to how a typical eastern girl is supposed to be and hence, not the right kind of ‘bahu’ at all.
There are several other similar aspects that are not-so-acceptable about a girl. Some families would not approve of her just because she has a career and according to them, girls who work possess doubtful characters. But then if she decides not to work and take a break for a while, she is still curiously asked:
“Why are you sitting home? Why aren’t you working if you are so qualified? Don’t you have any ambitions? [But we are asking this only out of curiosity though in our own family, we do not approve of girls going out and working along with men]”
This entire procedure of bahu-hunting is so influencing that the parents also keep trying to mend their daughters as per the society’s will so that their dream of having their daughters timely married can be fulfilled. She is told to appear in her best form before the ‘guests’. She is told to look after her appearance and at times if she fails to abide by the standard, she is taunted as to, “kaun pasand karega?” (Who will like you like this?)
The girl transforms into an entity whose main purpose becomes to groom herself into a pleasing personality – pleasing enough to secure the best proposal around. And if all the efforts are not working, then she definitely needs to check as to what exactly about her is not acceptable to those ‘special guests’. Maybe she needs to change her hair style – maybe shorter, maybe longer. Maybe her dressing sense requires improvement. Maybe she needs to use the right kind of cosmetics or visit the best salon in town. The entire struggle would be worth it if she ultimately becomes acceptable to the bahu-seekers.
One after another, these awful experiences contribute towards deteriorating the self-esteem of the girl. She is made to believe that she is so full of flaws that she gradually starts losing confidence in herself and her abilities. But then some of the girls dare to question the behavior of the society. They start thinking that if this is how the society had to treat them, or, if this is the way they could allow the society to treat them, then what was all that education, qualification and empowerment meant for? Is there really any difference between choosing a life partner and choosing a sacrificial animal?
Today’s educated girl challenges the society’s approach. She is empowered and refuses to be treated as a commodity. But the society’s mindset is yet to be changed, whether it is the parents who make their girls comply with the society’s shallow standards or those special guests who are always is search of ‘chand si bahu’ cum ‘robotic doll’ who can easily be tamed as per their aspirations.
Becoming a progressive society – as today we all aim for – demands that every individual makes an effort to abandon this absurd stigma and becomes more practical, sensible and down to earth. That definitely calls for a change in mindsets on a wider scale because it’s we the people who make up the society and set the relevant norms and therefore, can make a difference. Honest determination is the key to achieving it.
PS: This article also appeared in Express Tribune Blogs