Why are we so cruel to each other? Why do we malign, betray, let down, be abusive and sarcastic, besmirch our own kind?
Yes, I am talking of us, women.
Did I hear you ask, "What do you mean our own kind? I am not cruel or rude to anyone!"
Or did I hear you say, "Other women are not my concern. I am concerned only with my own."
Which brings us to a fundamental question, whom do we consider "our own"?
Our parents, who think of nothing but getting rid of us by marriage? Our daughters, for whom we have few other aspirations but to get them off our hands? Our sons, whose wives we dread, and who in most cases will get rid of us, or dump us in old age homes?
Our husbands who treat us like unquestioning slaves born only to serve them? Who?
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why our mothers-in-law were so rough on us, and why we, in turn, are awful with our own daughters-in-law? I have thought about it a lot, so let me put forth my theory, if for nothing else, to get you thinking enough to agree or disagree with it.
In our patriarchal society, women are objects to be used - as servants, as housekeepers, to satisfy the male sex urge, to produce children, to keep the home, to serve aging members of the family, to beat when male frustration levels are high, to pump for more money from our paternal families when the husband needs money, and for sundry other service uses. As we grow up, we are told that the home we consider our home and the family we consider our family, are in fact not ours - that our real home will be our husband's home and our real family, his family. We are told that we are 'parayu dhan' in our birth homes, only being kept till such time as the right 'sauda' can be worked out and the parents' karmic duty fulfilled. Not much love there, and no man to call your own.
You are given away in marriage, probably to a man you don't know, and probably a man who needs someone to cook and clean in the house, and to produce children. You have been brought up on the romantic love of Bollywood heroes and heroines singing songs in Australia and Kashmir, and have half expected that of your husband. You draw a blank. Probably, your mother-in-law doesn't like the way you cook or look, behave or talk. She feels you are badly brought up and her son is too good for you. Again, no love from your husband who prefers the company, and the cooking, of his own mother. So you long for your son. "He will love me. I will cuddle him and call him my own. He won't let any other woman come before me. I shall see that he has everything he wants. My daughter will not belong to me but he will."
Your son will be born. You will raise him as the apple of your eye. You will place all your longings in him. The inevitable will happen and he will have to be married, for that is what society demands. You will consult marriage brokers, the potential daughter-in-law's bank balance, her father's ability to provide your son a dowry, and you will make a choice. And from her first entry into the house, you will hate her - for she might displace you in the heart of the only man you have called your own. And so the cycle will begin again, like the Hindu karmic chakra. Except this time you will be the tyrannical mother-in-law.
Meanwhile, your daughter will be facing the same karmic chakra in her house. But from the start, you have made her 'parayu dhan', so you will coax her to make compromises. "Beta bandh chhod to karvi pade. Apne to stree kahavaye. Evu badhu to thay."
You are locked in your unhappiness because you are threatened by your daughter-in-law. Your daughter is locked in her loneliness because she cannot turn to her parents, and her married life is hell. And your daughter-in-law has you for hell and cannot turn to her parents who believe your home is her real home.
Do we stop to realize how we are being manipulated to remain unhappy and unfulfilled slaves? Are we given the time to think through this game plan and to consider that love is not about buying and selling, not about sauda, not even in the trading state of Gujarat?
Have we considered that love and affection are not like a roti that can be partitioned and that has a finite size, but like a smile that spreads happiness and joy, and the more you give the more you have? Have we thought that sharing our thoughts and fears with "our" women will bring relief and happiness and sharing and caring in our lives, more than hatred and fear? Have we looked into our souls to see who we really are, that we are not cogs in the cruel and rigid social order, but human beings who have the freedom to make connections with other women, connections that may or may not be approved of by a self serving patriarchy?
Of course, I am not talking of all women and all men and all families. There are many exceptions, many families which have gotten out of the chakra, many where women feel free to be themselves, where they feel a lot of self worth. But there are too many that are, to a greater or lesser degree, bound up in some part of this scenario. And that is why it needs being talked about.
The 8th of March is our day. The one day we have snatched from the world, to think about and celebrate ourselves. Shall we not begin a different, more trusting and joyful life with at least "our" women today?
Let us start with trusting and celebrating the women closest to us, and next year we can make a bigger circle.
(Mallika Sarabhai is a celebrated danseuse and activist. She can be contacted at