Coming from a South Asian background where I grew up in a joint family with my dad’s brother and his family, it was difficult to be different from the rest. We were all taught the same things, had the same cultural development but I am proud to say I am vastly different. My parents are less conservative than my aunts and uncles; or so I always thought. Now being 25 and having a sister who is 30 and unmarried, I am beginning to see that everything my parents say to other members of our community is absolute bullshit.
“Oh look she’s younger than you and getting married already”
They are exactly the same as so many other Asian parents, comparing our development with that of others our age, regardless of the differences in our circumstances. It doesn’t matter to them that I have different priorities to these other women my age, it’s more about “oh look she’s younger than you and getting married already”.
My cousins are married, so with me and my sister not even having a potential on the horizon, this scares our family. Having aunts and uncles ask me if my sister has “sorted” anything out infuriates me, to the point where I have abandoned the polite silence I was taught when talking to elders and now I let them know that we have different priorities. Maybe they should focus on the shit their kids are getting up to behind their backs and worry less about why my sister is not married yet. Being married is not at all high up on my list of priorities for my life and that is my concern, no one else should be involved in that decision.
Why is the idea that a woman cannot be happy without a husband still holding so strong in the South Asian culture?
My parents love to boast and claim that as long as their kids are happy they are not bothered about our relationship status. But behind closed doors my mother begs me to find my own husband and not wait until I’m too old. “For your happiness you need a partner, for the betterment of your life” she says to which I respond “if you can show me one person who married at my age with a healthy, happy relationship, I’ll start letting you set me up”. Why is the idea that a woman cannot be happy without a husband still holding so strong in the South Asian culture? If your daughters are meant to be Laxmi (goddesses), why do older generations continue to treat us like we are burdens, especially when we are unmarried at 25? My aunt (who openly states her regret in marrying her husband) goes so far as to tell people how terrible it is that one of her brothers has children who are settled and that they have their own children whilst, my dad is still stressed because his kids are not settled in their lives. Having a partner does not denote being settled in one’s life, this isn’t rural India in the 60s, dowries aren’t a thing here, we do not marry to up our status anymore. Marriage is not a box to check off in an attempt to have a “perfect life”.
There are many examples of South Asian women who never married but did something more with their lives, they had strong careers and helped communities. Many women in the Indian government were actually successful as single, widowed or separated women. Examples including Indira Gandhi, Nandini Satpathy, Sheila Dixit, Vasundhara Raje, Uma Bharti, Mamata Banerjee, Jayalalithaa Jayaram and Kumari Mayawati all of whom showed a rise in their careers post/ without husbands. Many of these women were also more than just political figures, they were writers, poets and singers, some were mothers and great example of women who are successful in “having it all”.
I often wonder if my parents regret raising such strong, independent women. Perhaps if they go back and think to themselves; maybe we should have been stricter and they would have conformed to the “traditional” means. Not to say we aren’t traditional, we have the best of both our Asian culture and our British culture, but this one unimportant thing means people look at us as if we are dirty and have lost our Indian heritage. I speak out to my parents about the things they say and do, and try to let them know how it makes us feel; to help them understand the world is ever-changing and they should grow with it. Perhaps if more children were able to share these thoughts with their parents there wouldn’t be so many girls married off at 23 and sent off to live their lives with a boy from “a good, rich family” only to get divorced a year later. Maybe if more of us had the confidence to tell our parents the truth, there would be less unhappy women regretting their marriage choices. It is time to stand for what you believe in and realise that some traditions are meant to be broken.
Guest blog from Shreya
Shreya is an Indian, born and bred in London with a BSc in Neuroscience and MSc in Biological Sciences. She works in the media, hoping to move into the charity sector to help the most people she can. She is a feminist, mental health advocate and believes everyone should be treated equally and be able to find help wherever they are. She reads, writes, dances and loves to travel. She is one of the creators and writers for her own personal blog The Melanin Chronicles, where she tries to help people know they are not alone.
Follow her blog https://themelaninchronicles.co.uk
Instagram: @shreyapateya @tmelaninchronicles