October 28, 2013

Relationship advice from a feminist wife

According to me, mutual trust and respect are the founding stones necessary for the success of any relationship - atleast that's how I choose mine to be!! I cannot imagine myself being sincerely in love with anyone whom I can't respect. (Note: Respect and obedience are not the same in my dictionary. Mutual respect means that the comfort-level between two people is so high that they can agree to disagree. Obedience means that you're not allowed to have a conflicting point of view at all). I think it's impossible for me to keep a relationship alive if I cannot innately trust the other person. (Note: Trust does not mean blind faith. Trust allows for rational questions and arguments to arise so that you're reasonably convinced whereas blind faith doesn't allow for you to perceive facts).

I also think that for a relationship to be successful, you shouldn't take the other person for granted. One should understand that love, affection and trust are to be earned over time through actions which make one deserve them. Even after earning love by gaining trust & respect, it shouldn't be taken for granted. You should always act responsibly and be willing to take accountability for your actions later on as well, with the understanding that you might lose one's trust or affection if your actions are not worthy of them. This is what is meant by "not taking a relationship for granted". You can't act nasty and cause wanton damage to the other person and then come and say "please forgive me because I love you". Or you can't ignore that your partner is contributing much more than you for the relationship and make it up with "I love you so that should be enough". I don't mean contribution in terms of physical and/or financial contribution. These sort of words don't describe it - It goes beyond - I mean some sort of inner effort driven by an intense desire to keep the relationship happy.

As a natural corollary to avoid taking the other person for granted, avoiding ego conflicts is just as important to keep the relationship alive. In a relationship driven by mutual respect and responsibility, I don't think not having ego conflicts would rise any question of compromise on self-respect. In short, I think it's possible to avoid ego issues without compromising on self-respect - provided both the people in a relationship respect each other equally and act responsibly. Arguing about "why me? why me?" will be just as fruitful as the eternal debate about "Hen first or egg first?". Besides, genuine affection cannot be vulnerable to ego for long. When you love someone, you naturally want them to be happy and instinct cannot be suppressed by ego. One should never let ego stop oneself from saying sorry or expressing love to someone. Heck - one shouldn't let anything stop that - let alone ego!! It's never too much no matter how many times you say it. There's no need to wait for the right moment to do that - Time is now. Who knows when we'll be gone?

Like everything else in life, like education, career, character, including life itself, in a relationship too, there're phases and there is a need to progress/evolve with each phase. And each phase in a relationship also offers challenges similar to each phase in career, education etc. And it's necessary to accept this, acknowledge the challenges and work on them to progress to the next phase. Marriage is not some magical conclusion but just the beginning of another phase in a couple's relationship. It is neither necessary nor possible for two people to have the same taste, opinion and view on everything. As long as both of them allow each other enough personal space and freedom, relationship can have the potential to be long-lasting.

Guide to marital bliss - Find out what feminists fight against!!

If you've never really understood the evils of patriarchy (link), believing that feminists blow things out of proportion, may be you should open your eyes to this. Let me show you what's wrong. Below are the guidelines for women translated from a Telugu book on marital bliss which was being distributed at a wedding last week. We need to take this seriously - because our rituals are not evolving with our mindsets. The book advocates this code of conduct for today's women to restore values in today's society of Kalyug. We must not let anyone defend this sort of inhuman abuse under the name of Indian/Hindu culture/values. I'm giving scanned images of some of the guidelines along with the English translation of these guidelines. Adding my response to some of the guidelines in red.

1. Every task performed by a wife must be upon the husband's orderAre we talking about a wife or a slave here? Or worse, the book doesn't see any need to differentiate between the two, treating marriage as a legitimate access to slavery today, since slavery was abolished decades ago ?

2. Wife must eat after the husband's meal is finished. This is being advocated even through TV soaps, Bollywood films, advertisements and authors of some blogs (link). Should be questioned seriously as notions like this affect women's health (sometimes leading to serious illnesses and increase in female-malnutrition) and deprive them of dignity (link).
3. Wife must not sit when the husband is standing.
4. Wife must go to sleep upon the husband's order after he has gone to bed.
5. Wife must be well-adorned and clean when around the husband.
6. Wife must not dress up when the husband's not around. So that's how the concept of suhagan-abhagan and oppression of widows is being advocated.
7. Wife must never utter her husband's name even by mistake.
8. Any verbal abuse or other punishments which the husband chooses to give the wife when he is angry must be patiently and calmly borne by the wife. Tolerating abuse has been and is being conditioned into women's minds, making it difficult for them to gather the strength to fight back and sometimes even recognize abuse (link, link). Abusers know that they are immune to punishments through this support system which diligently aims at protecting patriarchy. The support system includes the authors of this book and its parent-books (link, link), self-proclaimed God-men (link), members of our legal system (link), members of teaching community (link, link), self-proclaimed social workers (link) and family counselors (link) to mention a few. For public awareness: Any emotional/verbal/physical abuse of wife/live-in partner by her partner and/or partner's family member(s) is a criminal offense as per Indian law under the domestic violence act (link, link).
9. Husband must be addressed to using plural pronouns. It is ideal to address him as "My lord!" This is a regular practice rule in many households, including those in the educated class today. And this indicates the level of societal interference in Indian marriage. How can any relationship (including marriage) become successful if the terms of the relationship are dictated to by other people?
10. Wife must immediately respond to the husband's call even if she is in the middle of any other work.
11. She must always be smiling pleasantly. She should never express emotions such as anger/frustration. Whereas a husband can express his anger through verbal/physical abuse (from point 8). Also, I think domestic violence through females might be beyond the imagination of whoever wrote this book. We need to understand that the same set of factors (perceptions around male privilege, superiority and entitlement to be obeyed) which force women to tolerate abuse make it impossible for men to report abuse.
12. A wife must not stay near the entrance of the house and look outside for more than a minute, based on necessity.
13. Wife must not go for pilgrimages, celebrations, marriages etc. unaccompanied by her husband. Under extremely necessitous circumstances, she can go upon the husband's order.
This is prevailing in an era where some (married) women are working as astronauts, military-professionals, entrepreneurs and politicians. Restricting/controlling women's movements and limiting their exposure has been essential for the survival of patriarchy. Defenders of patriarchy continue to threaten women through victim-blaming and advocating restrictions on women's movements/social interactions (link, link, link).
14. Among holy water (theertham), A wife must consume the holy water which was brushed the husband's feet (pada pooja). The wife who consumes this holy water daily will acquire the supreme bliss (punya) of the seven seas.
15. A virtuous wife will never reject the left-overs from her husband's meal and will consume them as the most sacred offerings.
A truly civilized society would consider advocating/enforcing of the above two points as brutal indignation.
16. A wife must respect gods, parents-in-law, guests, cows and beggar-saints. She must first serve food for all of them and then have her own food. She must also give food to servants.
17. Fasting, vratas and other rituals will not benefit the wife if not performed upon the husband's order. She'll go to hell if she performs them without the husband's order.
18. Wife must not interrupt the husband when he is in an important task. She must not interfere when he's relaxing/resting. Whereas the husband has the right to order his wife and be obeyed even when she's in the middle of work (from point 10).
19. Wife must not blame the husband even if he is impotent/weak/incompetent. She must not look down upon him or make fun of him. How else can patriarchy control women, if not by not allowing them to speak their mind or speak up against those oppressing them?
20. She must not show her face to the husband during the three days of menstruation. She can face him and slowly talk to him on the fourth day after shower. (In case of compulsion due to unavailability of help from other people, there is nothing wrong - I didn't understand this bit in braces).
21. A wife must wake up daily before sunrise, meditate upon her husband, see her husband's face, attend to the calls of nature and pray to the rising sun. She can show her face to others only after seeing her husband.
22. Wife must wear the auspicious symbols which aid in increasing the husband's life-span: Turmeric, Kumkum, Sindhoor (near forehead), Kajal, Taamboolam, Mangalsutra and other related jewelry (like black-beads), bangles, plaited hear, flowers in the hair, ear-rings. She must never be without any of these. I have too much to say on the subject - Will do another post soon. We need to question and fight some people's obsession to dictate what women should and should not wear.
23. She must not befriend any malicious woman, arrogant woman or any woman who fights with/hates her husband. A woman who speaks up for herself is arrogant ? We need to address the non-virtues of obedience and blind faith which are glorified in "our culture". Notice that controlling women's interactions outside family (who she interacts with) has also been a key component of patriarchy.
24. She must not bathe naked. Some people's obsession with women's bodies and properti-fication (viewing them as husband's/father's property) does not leave women alone without rules even in the bathroom!
25. She must not sit on any cooking related equipment like grinder, other machinery, utensils etc.
26. Must never praise herself or speak about her achievements. Of course - Lest patriarchy would run the risk of letting a woman speak up for herself or speak positively about herself, which might give her confidence to overcome the inferiority forced upon her.
27. She must like everything which her husband likes (except bad addictions). She must make his likes into her likes.
28. She must be happy when  her husband is happy and sad when her husband is sad.
29. She must keep a track of house-hold supplies and inform in advance if anything needs to be replenished. She should never irritate by saying "This is not available, that is not available etc." Why does one person have a right to become irritated and hand out punishments upon hearing facts whereas the other person is deprived of the right to even speak facts?
30. She must believe her husband is superior to the supreme trinity of Gods and serve him.
31. A wife who follows fasting, rituals, vratas etc. while neglecting the husband will never attain their benefits. She may go to hell.
Guess who'll find these rules convenient? Can you imagine anyone who is not an abuser/misogynist believing in any of these rules/guidelines?
32. A wife who disagrees with/opposed her/argues with/fights with her husband may be born as a lizard in the next re-incarnation and as a fox later on. The life of a lizard/a fox might be better than a woman's life if she's meant to be treated as inhumanly as mentioned in this book. A human life may not be worth-living for someone who is denied even basic human rights of freedom, equality and dignity.
33. A healthy wife must never be seated on anything which is higher than what her husband is seated on.
34. She must never make fun/speak loudly in front of teachers, elders, parents-in-law. She should not sit on anything which is higher than what they are seated on. Suppression of women has been and is being achieved by conditioning and controlling women's actions, including who to talk to, how they talk, sit, eat, walk, telling them what they ought to feel and making them feel guilty for not following all the rules.
35. What a woman may receive from her parents, brothers and sons is limited. But she may receive infinitely from her husband. Not sure what it is that she is receiving. I think the only thing which a woman can receive without any limits as per this book seems to be abuse and orders.
36. A wife who serves her husband and parents-in-law fulfills her life's purpose and her parents are worthy. Many women today are choosing to forgo this fulfillment for better-fulfilling purposes such as independence and self-reliance. If Indian parents stop judging their worthiness by the success of their daughters' marriage, we might be closer to overcoming the social evils of patriarchy and laying the foundations for a healthier society.
37. Women oil their hair and wash their hair once in a week. They choose a day of the week to do this as per their wish. Sri Gurucharitra Grantha clearly says that it is best to do this every Wednesday. It mentions clearly that it is inauspicious to do this on any other day of the week. Found this too troll-ish to comment !

Stopped reading here. Please do comment your response after reading the recommended code of conduct for women to achieve marital bliss. Defenders of this book might be interested to know that many women may not want to achieve this "marital bliss" today, if that is meant to be achieved by subjecting themselves to this sort of abuse and by forgoing basic human rights. Increasingly, more women want to choose self-respect, independence and self-reliance over "marital bliss" today. We need only to see the gross inequality and misogyny lying at the heart of our "institution of marriage" to understand why. And the defenders of this book might want to consider choosing another path to "restore values" other than oppressing close to fifty percent of the human population. May be reforming our institution of marriage by redefining the terms to allow for freedom, equality and personal space might help?

Updated to add: I request the readers to please post any negative experiences similar to the implementation of these rules in the comments section. I want the world to know that the threat posed is real; that some people do take rules like this seriously.

Related post(s):

In case you thought nobody takes this sort of rules seriously:
My mother in law suddenly commented “Men should not wash inner wear after Marriage according to Sampradayam (meaning Traditions)”. (link)

My guide to marital bliss!!:

October 09, 2013

Dear Telugu people, no politician gives a sh** about Telangana/Samikhya-Andhra/Seema-Andhra

In case you happen to be indifferent towards your government and don't believe in voting, you need to be made aware of the story of Andhra Pradesh - How bad can become worse. Now, I'm not pro/anti Telangana and this is not about whether or not Telangana should be formed. This is about the way a non-issue has been politicized to play with the sentiments of the people. This is about how political gains have motivated every party to stray the masses, fuel riots and stall progress in the state, ultimately destroying normalcy in all the regions of the state. As a former resident of Andhra Pradesh, let me give you a first-hand account of what happened.

Mr. K. Chandrasekhar Rao was an insignificant candidate in the Telugu Desam Party, who was denied a lucrative ministry in Mr. Chandrababu Naidu's cabinet when TDP was in power. Now, KCR decides to form his own political party and chooses separate Telangana as the party's agenda and joins hands with Congress which was then under the leadership of YS Rajasekhar Reddy. He again is denied a ministry post and splits from Congress. Congress comes to power without any support from TRS in the 2009 elections in AP, with YSR as the CM. In an unprecedented turn of events, YSR dies in a helicopter-crash, leaving the state with no powerful government. All the later CMs were just stooges of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi whose main objective is to ensure that the Congress party Nehru-Gandhi family rules India forever and she is uninterested in petty aspects such as public security. In these circumstances, KCR decides to start Telangana agitation which to his own surprise becomes very powerful owing to the support and drive from Osmania University. The politically motivated agitation begins to take violent, ugly turn and thousands of youth are provoked into joining the agitation, with regular bandhs, riots and protests going on all around Telangana for several months. There have been several cases of suicides reported for the cause of Telangana.

My point of contention here: What was the Andhra government doing when it became increasingly evident that the Telangana agitation was going out of hands, threatening public security and progress of the state? Was it not the responsibility of the government to strive to restore normalcy in the state? If lack of welfare and unemployment  in the region were the key issues due to which the agitation gained momentum, why didn't the government announce a single welfare policy or project which would benefit the region? If the agitation was fueled by politically motivated anti-social elements, why didn't the government try to take control of the situation? And most importantly, why was the government so late in responding about a separate state, waiting till all damage was done? At best, it can be said that the government failed to administer and at worst, one can believe that the government has added fuel to the fire for political gains.

The way the Congress government has responded, or rather, not responded to the issue is only half the story. The dramatics between YSR Congress (started by YSR's son YS Jagan) and Indian National Congress to ensure Congress its' vote-base in Seema-Andhra regions is another half. Andhra Pradesh used to be a peaceful and progressive state a few years ago with Hyderabad as its vibrant capital, admittedly with large portions of Telangana and Rayalaseema as under-developed. Today, the entire Seema-Andhra region is in dark because of agitations fueled by politically motivated anti-social elements in the name of a struggle for United Andhra, toying with the sentiments of the people. Make no mistake - protests of this nature cannot last without backing from powerful elements and the source of power now is YS Jagan, who will soon merge with the UPA after 2014 elections. Why doesn't the government assure that the concerns of all the regions will be addressed while deciding the terms of separation? Why doesn't the government promise progress in all the regions instead of playing divisive politics - flaming the sentiments of Telangana people as anti-Seema-Andhra and Seema-Andhra people as anti-Telangana? The Congress party will have to answer for letting making this happen to the state.

Sometimes I just feel like screaming at the Telugu people saying "No party gives a sh** about Telangana/Samaikhya Andhra/Seemandhra. All they want is political gains and tomorrow, history will be forgotten but it is you common people who will pay the price of their political gains." Seriously, what has come out of this agitation? Achieving a separate Telangana? And what will separate Telangana lead to? If history is telling, will the political parties which have failed to make any progress in the region in the last 60 years achieve progress in the new State now? And what will the United Andhra agitation result in? All the political parties (YSR Congress and TDP) which're protesting against it now are just chameleons who agreed for a separate Telangana a few months ago. Telangana will be formed anyway - The politically driven United Andhra agitation will only succeed in hampering the progress of the Seema-Andhra region and making it dark. Like history has shown repeatedly, like in case of every other politically motivated agitation driven by power-hungry politicians, the poor people will pay the price. The political parties will get on with their lives, history will soon be forgotten and the employees of the electricity board will move on. Who will give back the progress which might have happened in the last five years which were lost in the name of agitations in the state? There is no power in hospitals - who will pay the price of the lives which couldn't be saved due to lack of electricity?