“Actually aunty, I don’t think I am ready for marriage.”
“My dear, don’t say that. You are 23. You should be married off. Later, you will have no option but to marry a divorcee or widower with kids.”
Does the above conversation sound all too familiar to you? Perhaps yes, if you happen to be a south Asian girl. We are in 21st century, yet our mentality (for majority) has not changed for the better. We, the South Asian girls are expected to marry at a much earlier age then our male friends who have the full liberty to pursue their goals. I have this friend of mine whose parents are quite liberal and want their daughter to do well in life. However, pressure from relatives and their cutting remarks on her age (she’s only 22) are making her wonder whether running away to a foreign country will save her from being forced into marriage. She’s not alone in her struggle; her story is the life story of many others. I recently attended a wedding where the bride’s parents were too relieved and grateful to God to have found a groom for their daughter as she is 30, too old to get married apparently! Despite being highly qualified, the bride mentioned has been taunted for years by neighbors and relatives for not getting married.
From childhood, we have been pressurized by our parents to do well in studies, to take part in extracurricular activities and so on. Then all of a sudden, many of us discover that our parents and families are way too eager to get us married off. Some may ask us whether we have a good guy in mind; but rest is not so lucky. Recently, the mysterious death of Shamarukh Mahjabin Shyama, a 24 year old doctor sparked debates across Bangladesh. She was the “golden child” of her family who has always performed exceptionally in studies and also married according to her family’s choice, a choice that turned out to be wrong. While investigations have not yet proven her husband or any of his family guilty, there have been evidences that she was physically abused and few days before she was found dead, she had told her father that her husband is not supportive towards her dreams. Many other talented girls like her shared the same fate. They could never reach their goals because they were married off early into families where they were expected to abandon their dreams and be dutiful housewives.
While I was growing up, I have known a number of girls who have been toppers throughout their academic life. I envied them; I wanted to be like them. To be very honest, I idolized them. But then my impression about them was shattered, one by one. Because once they got married off in their early 20’s, they became the “model housewives”- beautiful, well-mannered, good cook and intelligent enough to impress the relatives and guests. Everyone would praise them, but all I felt for them is sympathy. As it was perfectly depicted in the movie “English Vinglish”, a married woman’s identity is often lost and her efforts are often not recognized. As the protagonist in the movie, Shashi (played by Sridevi) tried hard to win her family’s heart, but could not do so until she managed to speak in fluent English whereas her elder sister was viewed with respect by her husband and daughter. Shashi, a loving wife, a doting mother and a free thinking lady is not treated with respect as she does not have an identity of her own. Hence, why should we give up on our dreams? Often, the South Asian women give up on their career to perform their duties meticulously as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter-in-law. But does our society ever acknowledge the sacrifices made by these women who once upon a time, had their own dreams? More often than not, we frown upon the housewives; we assume that they have the most relaxing life, they have all the time on earth to watch TV soaps and waste their time discussing the episodes. What about the hard work they put on for raising their children, to keep all the family members happy?
The story does not end here. There are many other ways in which we are tortured on a daily basis. Eve-teasing is another social disease across South Asia; it is so difficult sometimes for girls just to step out of their homes and go to school or workplace. What’s more tragic is often we are asked to cover up to avoid getting teased. What a nice little joke! I remember my teenage years when I used to wear school uniform (Shalwar Kamiz) and still I would hear remarks from local goons and come back home and shut my door; bursting into tears. From childhood, I have suffered because of being a girl and many of my friends also suffered, in different ways. A friend of mine from childhood suffered from inferiority complex because of her dusky complexion. Decades later, despite all the achievements and accolades, she remains a vulnerable girls lacking self-confidence. So, what is the solution?
As Gandhiji had said, we have to be the change we wish to see in the world. Thus, complaining about the plight of women across the situation won’t make the situation any better. To break the glass ceiling, we have to take initiatives. We have to challenge the norms and pursue our dreams, to not be afraid and chase our dreams; to work hard to achieve our goals and set an example for our sisters across South Asia who are crying for freedom, who are crying for their dreams, who are dreaming to live a fulfilling life. This is how we will break the glass ceiling.
Shucheesmita Simonti, M.A. 1st year, International Relations, South Asian University