Interview of author, Dr Rachna Arora: ‘Laws are not enough to protect rights of women…’


Dr. Rachna Arora is the co-author of the hard-hitting, thought-provoking and socially relevant scholarly book ‘Indian Women and The Shaadi Conundrum’ along with Deepika Sharma which discusses role and importance of women in marriage, challenges faced in a patriarchal society and how to make a marriage work as a two-way traffic. A psychologist in private practice, Dr. Arora is the founder of the online platform focusing primarily on women empowerment, yourcounsellingcorner.com. She also hosts several platforms on Skype video/voice chat and mail. She has been at the forefront to empower women which gel with her profession and believes that women should assert themselves to make empowerment a reality. Passionate about poetry on her personal blog, Dr. Arora writes self-help articles to empower, motivate and inspire women.

She is an inspiration to many and me. It’s very rare to come across such a gem of a person and in this interview done via e-mail, Dr. Arora discusses at length on burning topics such as equality, sex in marriage, rising divorce and what makes a successful marriage where she makes insightful observations.

You can check the book here. Along with Deepika Sharma, Dr Arora is also behind the website The Happy Women.

A woman should know her rights, be confident and empowered to voice out her opinion in a more assertive manner: Dr Rachna Arora

Dr Arora

  1. Your book, ‘The Shaadi Conundrum and the Indian women’ offer an in-depth analysis on various issues facing women such as the bride to be, caught in a patriarchal setup and longing for the husband’s unflinching support for equality in a marriage. What are the factors preventing women from getting an equal foothold in married life?

 There are many factors that prevent women from getting an equal foothold in married life. Ours is a patriarchal society, where women are constantly struggling with the issues of gender discrimination, inequality, bias, and stereotypes in all aspects of their (personal as well as social) lives. The expectations from men and women are very different where the latter are always stereotyped, judged and discriminated on the basis of gender.

 In our society, girls are conditioned from birth to be subservient to their future husbands and his family. It is taught that the ideal daughter-in-law is the one who takes care of everyone in the family and makes them happy. The culture of a bride coming to live in her in-law’s family is rooted in patriarchy, and all it does is to force the DIL to conform to the habits and expectations of her in-law’s family. She has to assume all household duties and domestic responsibilities and fulfill the role of a caregiver. Whether a woman is working or not, the household chores are deemed to be her duties, while nobody cares if the same is expected from a man.  There is always a pressure on her to adjust, follow, comply and obey everything that the in-laws and husband demand while ignoring and suppressing her likes and dislikes. Post marriage adjustments and pressure to fit into the image of ideal daughter-in-law eventually forces a woman to compromise on her self-respect and lose her identity, that further result in her lack of control in daily life with little or no involvement in decision making.

 Other reasons are low financial independence, expectations of dual responsibilities and depressed status in the family. In a family, women get second class treatment that makes them think that men are superior and it is a woman’s duty to serve men. Women do not get the same respect as men even if the women are highly qualified or are in a top class profession where they take critical decisions that impact the company’s operations. There are unjust expectations from women that result in a loss of independence. They cannot go out or meet friends and family without the husband’s or marital family’s consent. They are expected to sacrifice their career especially in a case where husbands work outside the city or country.  All these reasons give way to unequal footing for a woman in her married life.

 Moreover, the surrounding society mandates a woman’s obedience to her husband and her in-laws. Any disobedience would bring disgrace to both, the wife herself and her originating family, and might lead to the woman being ostracized and neglected by even her very own family and in her own home. This always makes a man superior and a woman submissive and never allows a woman to do things her way. With all these societal pressures, it becomes impossible for women to have an equal foothold in married life.

 But, here, I would like to add that now more and more women are taking a stand for themselves. Women are also moving away from the oppressive gender roles which required them to cook, clean, and shoulder every responsibility of the entire household. Now, more and more women are voicing against that regressive mindset. They don’t see their husbands as superior beings but treat them as equals. With education and awareness to back them, women are now breaking free of the rules that told them to stay quiet in front of a man. More and more women are becoming financially independent and don’t rely completely on their husbands, or anyone else, for survival. With this financial independence comes a stronger sense of self-confidence.

 If a woman encounters a relationship where she is told to conform to these archaic gender roles regardless of what she wants to do, she has to make the choice to say ‘no.’

  1. The issue of adjustment often crops up when the woman is the one to pull the plug while the husband seemingly faces no such thing. So far, why educated women cutting across social classes fail to adopt a practical outlook when her individuality is snatched the time she becomes a wife and daughter in law or her personal space is infringed, thus treating women as inferior beings?

 As I mentioned above, ours is a patriarchal society, where a majority of women are brought up and conditioned according to the stereotypical images and roles that discriminate between men and women. A woman is often raised up with the mind-set that once she gets married, she will have to adjust and sacrifice her needs in order to nurture and take care of the family and husband.  This gender-based discrimination creates a sense of fear and insecurity in women, making them psychologically weak. It also leaves a deep imprint upon a woman’s self-perception. They tend to internalize what society believes, imposes and dictates which results in low self-esteem. Due to these negative effects on their psyche, women feel incompetent to deal with unrealistic demands and expectations that are based on gender discrimination and stereotypical roles. A woman tries hard to fit into the mold created by society and refrains from going against those pre-defined roles due to the fear and insecurity of being rejected and disapproved. 

 All these reasons prevent a woman to take a practical outlook and refrains from voicing out for equal treatment and rights in marriage. The other major factor is the thinking of log kya kahegein (what people will say). Society plays its part by labeling a woman as a failure when she pulls the plug to marriage. She is scared of voicing out her opinions and expectations, as she believes that if she says no or expresses her opinion, she will be portrayed as bad bahu (daughter-in-law). That’s why most of the women try hard to fit into the image of good bahu and keep living life as inferior beings.

Other factors like the lack of support from parents, and society make it difficult for women to stand against unequal treatment. Our society looks down upon a woman who speaks her mind or expresses her opinions. Many women want to challenge this mind-set but the above-mentioned reasons and many more factors hinder her from adopting a practical outlook even when her individuality is at stake. Even well-educated and financially independent women go through this and are forcing themselves to live with it.

 3. You have referred to the Nielsen survey which is telling on how 87 percent women are prone to depression and 82 percent lack the time to relax. Moreover, the different case studies sadly show how women have very less say in decisions regarding their lives and on being made the scapegoat and the decisions taken by the groom are often tilted in favor of his family regarding her career choice. Do you think it’s the right time to bring a law to prevent such atrocity or the woman should be more assertive putting things in perspective before marriage or is there more to it?

 Definitely, a law will play a very big role in preventing any unjust treatment that women are subjected to, once they get married. Despite there are several laws in place in reference to women rights in India, the majority of women suffer in silence.

 So, what I feel is that only laws are not enough to protect the rights of women, rather it is the women who need to be more assertive to communicate before and after marriage. A woman needs to voice out what she wants from her life and communicate the same to the groom and his family. Parents need not make marriage a goal for daughters and women should also refrain from pinning all hopes from her partner-to-be.

 Parents should be mindful and conscious while raising their daughters so that they will grow up to be confident and empowered women, who will be aware of their rights and responsibilities and will not try to fit into the stereotyped image created by society.

 An approach to deal with this problem is provided in our book. We have dedicated an entire chapter, “Before You Say Yes”, in which we have suggested things that every woman need to consider before marriage and how the woman should go for marriage. A woman should know her rights, be confident and empowered to voice out her opinion in a more assertive manner, both in pre and post phases of marriage.

 We have also given tips and suggestions for women to cope up with the challenges of the married life and to self-empower themselves to live a happy and fulfilled life.

 4.  Sex remains an important factor for a healthy married life as rightly pointed out in the book. But, the dichotomy lies in the fact that in many bedrooms there is often a lack of sexual communications among couples that should go beyond having children. Also, how do you see recent surveys such as India Today special issue pointing out at how women demanding more in terms of pleasure or sexual experimentation can help in making a marriage blossom in a beautiful manner?

 Sex definitely plays an important role to make a healthy married life. Lack of sexual communications among couples is mainly due to lack of sex education and the topic itself being a taboo in our society. Women often refrain from taking initiatives. Even the educated women think that it doesn’t look nice if they talk more openly about sex. As mentioned in our book, “Many women in India seem to be in a denial mode when it comes to their sexual needs and preferences. They do not feel empowered to demand that the partner should provide pleasure in ways that they prefer.”

 I definitely see the survey as an eye opener for women, as sex is a necessary pillar of a healthy relationship, it makes the emotional connection stronger with their partners. So women should learn to embrace and express their sexual desires. Discussing and taking initiatives will definitely help a marriage to blossom in a beautiful manner.

 5. In our country, women are often treated as outcasts looking at female infanticide or sex selection at birth which should worry us all. Moreover, something which I feel very strongly and close to my heart is how women are treated badly during menstruation period where she is not allowed to participate in rites, for instance. Drawing on your professional experience, what do you think should be done to overcome such issues in modern India and how can we raise awareness where the odds are stacked against women?

 Even in modern India, women are still struggling with these age-old taboos and practices that are demeaning to them. The most important thing is to educate the society about such issues and bring awareness to common masses. To educate people about menstruation and eliminate the myths surrounding mensuration is very much needed. There should be an authentic source of information otherwise people will keep on passing the misconceptions and myths to the next generation.

 In the absence of proper educational material, girls get confused and become hesitant to talk about it. The taboo nature of the subject only makes the situation worse. So the most important step is to properly educate young girls about menstruation. It is must to provide accurate, accessible, and clear information.

 So what I feel is that we can overcome such issues and raise awareness in modern India through social campaigns. Social media has a great role to play in spreading awareness about menstruation. We need more social media campaigns to educate and challenge the stigma and taboos around menstruation.

 Empowerment of women through education and increasing their role in decision-making can also aid in overcoming the cultural taboos.

 6. One of the most interesting things in your book is the Dos and Don’ts for a happy and successful married life. Why do you think there is a lack of dialogues in a marriage where things are done from the point of view of the groom’s family when the irony and fact remain that a girl has left her family space to adapt to a new ‘social environment’?

 It is an irony in our society that a woman is expected to leave her home and things are done from the point of view of the groom’s family. The reason is somewhere the same, ours is a patriarchal society that gives this benefit to groom and his family over the bride and her family. Most of the people prefer to marry in a traditional way, with the consent and involvement of parents. Courtship periods are very minimal. In all this, girls are by far the most vulnerable party in a marriage, whether it is a fully arranged or a love marriage.  Their parents and elders take the decision of choosing the partner for them and they have to cooperate and marry a person who is a stranger in most of the cases. The less educated, poorer, and rural Indian women are the ones that are subjected to a fully arranged marriage and they have no or minimal voice in choosing their husbands. Marrying this way is associated with lower levels of communication with the husband even on trivial things as how to spend the household’s money or big decisions like when to have children. They have very little autonomy and need to take permissions for most of the things, even to visit their parent’s home.

 7. How do you explain the rise in divorce rates in our society and do you think couples should think well before taking the call to get married? When we speak about compromise in wedlock, it should be a two-way traffic, right?

 There are social as well as personal factors for the rise in the divorce rate in our society.  An increase in the rate of divorce is an indication that this social taboo is being challenged and the stigmas attached to it are being broken. Earlier, many people chose to stay in the marriages even if it is a loveless one and continued to suffer in silence because of the stigma associated with divorce. But, not anymore. Living in a loveless marriage is not advisable, but where the differences are trivial and can be sorted out without compromising the individuality, it should be the way forward.  Earlier, people believed more in fixing the relationships, rather than breaking them completely. Nowadays, people believe that they are capable enough to live by themselves, or without their spouses. In a fast-paced society, people have become more self-centred, lacking patience and are reluctant to compromise. With the advent of globalisation, people have become independent. The lessened influence of family also results in a greater reluctance to compromise. Many times, when couples enter into the institution of marriage their main focus is on what they get out of it rather than what they will give.  So when something goes wrong or not happens according to expectations, they get disappointed as the real picture is different from the imagined one. In today’s generation, intolerance is increasing and they want instant gratification. They put their personal interests before each other and instead of working out little differences, or put more efforts into a relationship to fix the issues, they prefer to move on. There are also many couples who give up on their relationships after trying for a very little period of time.

 There are more serious reasons for rising divorce rates like marriages were arranged with the giving of fraudulent information, dowry demands after marriage, abusive relationships, one partner is drug-addict. Nowadays women are becoming more aware of their rights and have stopped taking abuse (in any form – mental, physical, emotional, social) as ‘normal’. This is something that I feel is good as now women are finally standing up for themselves.

 Yes, it is an essential that couples should think well before taking the call to get married. It should be a must for couples to consider all the important aspects, discuss all things, have an authentic, and detailed conversation and communicate their expectations about married life before tying the knot. Realistic perspective towards marriage is a must. Otherwise, when a woman or man enter into a relationship with unrealistic expectations and build some fancy view of marriage they are surely going to get disappointed when they get to see the true picture of how marriage really looks like.

 And definitely, when we say compromise it should always be two-way. It takes both of the companions to adjust, sacrifice and compromise when the need arises.

 8. Recently celebrity author, columnist and former actor Twinkle Khanna publicly said that before getting hitched to Akshay Kumar she did a thorough research on his family’s health history. Considering that a celebrity couple has endorsed the need for tests, do you think couples in India is ready for such a thing before getting hitched which is a step towards positive, healthy and modern outlook to marriage?

 Yes, definitely it would be a step towards good health and a modern outlook with respect to marriage.  Health screening should be essential for every couple before marriage as it helps in preventing a lot of health conditions that may arise in future.

 However, in our society people enter into this lifelong union without adequate knowledge of their partner’s health status. There are many instances where women contracted HIV through their husbands which could have been prevented if people had known the importance of getting an HIV test done before marriage. Premarital tests may help in this regard. The knowledge of the future partner’s health status gives a choice to make informed consent and it also enables a couple to seek proper medical care early to prevent unnecessary stress and burden after marriage.

 But I really don’t think that our society is ready for it yet, as it is still entrapped in age-old norms and customs. People in our society do not understand the importance and necessity of getting health screening before marriage. People get offended by the very idea of it. But at the same time, it is very much needed as I really feel that everyone has the right to marry a healthy partner. And, it will also help the couple to better prepare for the future that lies ahead. In recent times we have seen progress in our society and our younger generation is more aware and progressive in their thinking. I am hopeful that with awareness our society will embrace these healthy practices soon.

 9. Considering how legally complicated it is for a woman to take the husband’s surname after marriage and the fact that wearing mangalsutra is a personal choice, what makes us self-appointed guardians to decide what is morally right for a couple?

 Ours is an intrusive society where everyone has the tendency to keep giving bits of advice and suggestions without even being asked. Here, people are more interested in others’ life and everyone has suggestions on how the other person should live. People have questions and advice for not only couples but for everybody, be it a single, married, sportsman, businessman, student, teacher or parents. Even the people who do not have any prior experience or expertise have advice and suggestions to offer. Our society is filled with such self-appointed guardians who are naturally inclined to offer unsolicited advice. So, it is the mentality of people that we cannot change and we have no control over it.

 So, what I recommend to all couples or anyone who gets unsolicited advice is to simply choose to ignore it if it is something they do not believe in or if it goes against their values. It is very much in our control on how we respond to unsolicited advice that actually is bothersome and stressful at times. But the recipe to save from unwanted suggestions is to be yourself, we should not get too much bothered by what others have to say, as we are not here to make everybody happy. As long as couples are happy and satisfied with whatever lifestyle they want for themselves, and do not allow people to intervene in their lives, society eventually loses its power on them. 

 10. Finally, what makes a successful marriage?

 A successful marriage takes hard work and strong commitment from both the partners. When people enter into the institution of marriage they should have a clear perspective towards marriage. It is not something like it is projected in the media. Life after marriage is not only about happiness all the time, rather, in reality, it also brings with it many challenges, responsibilities, struggles, ups and down. So, to make a marriage successful, a couple needs to work on it so that they can go through life’s challenges without negatively affecting their relationships.

 To have a harmonious relationship and overcome the hard times’ couples need to be willing to work through the challenges of life together. There are many factors that make a marriage successful but mainly it depends on deep friendship, mutual respect, trust, and gratitude. Both husband and wife should be sensitive to each other’s feeling and needs.  One should not try to overtake the other. Unless they maintain mutual respect for each other and be ready to discuss vital issues, they will not find a solution. So, to have realistic expectations from each other is a must. One should be willing to accept what he/she can’t change and accept their partners for who they are, which is essential to make a marriage work.

 According to renowned psychologist John Gottman, there are three things that work for successful marriages, treating your partner like a good friend, handling conflicts in gentle and positive ways, and being able to repair after conflicts and negative interactions. 

Indian Women and the Shaadi Conundrum offers scholarly, in-depth analysis of women issues


 

Book Review: Indian Women and the Shaadi Conundrum

Authored by: Dr Rachna Arora & Deepika Sharma

Released in 2016 by Authors press, New Delhi

Rating: Four stars

Introduction:

Today, March 8, the world celebrates International Women Day and it is important to reflect on the place held by women in society who makes several choices that defines their life, career and issues that plague them in juggling family and professional life. The book, ‘Indian Women and the Shaadi Conundrum’ assesses issues faced by women in their married life which is often dictated by a patriarchal society that treats the ‘fairer sex’ as inferior and roles they are expected to play in society. Often, religion, rites and rituals get the upper hand where women face the ire of misplaced rules in society. The author addresses several themes pertaining to relationships, expected roles for women, stereotyping and equal values which seems to wane by the day. The issues treated in the book is timeless, relevant during the bygone era, the present and the future where it seems dogmatic views has not changed an iota no matter how much we shout hoarse about equality in society. In short, ‘Indian Women and the Shaadi Conundrum’ serves as guide in terms of practicalities in offering first-hand account and is a small bible that has explored in-depth the role of woman in their married life. Let’s analyze the focal points.

Narration:

“Post marriage, my life has become miserable because of constant interference from the family members. I am expected to take permission from my in-laws before buying clothes for myself. Privacy is an alien concept in the house, as my sisters-in-law walk freely into our room at odd hours.”

Authors Dr Rachna Arora & Deepika Sharma use first-hand accounts in exploring the situation of women who often lack the support of their respective husbands in several instances and points out at the so-called happy and long-lasting marriage. Pride is taken in a society like ours where divorce is taboo. Unfortunately, many of us prefer to evade the grim reality and we proudly wear the veil of seeing everything hunky-dory but had we chosen to look behind the curtains, a box of Pandora would unveil right in front of our eyes. In this book, the right questions are asking on the role of mother in-laws in the way they treat their daughters where honest questions and assertiveness is recommended for the woman so that she is not taken for granted.

The role of extended family is also being addressed and the courtship period where the mandatory six months is recommended before a woman takes the plunge. The authors recommend on the need for a woman to put things in perspective and not succumb to the pressure of tying the knot. Oh! The famous log kya kahenge and if needed call off the engagement off if the ‘stone-aged’ influence of doggedly keeping rituals, customs and traditions arise.

What I like the most in the book is that it has several Dos and Donts, checklist on how to gauge a prospective groom and aspects where a woman can work it out or cannot compromise with in-laws. I think before getting married each and every woman must have a checklist before going ahead. The book has a must have list that addresses pressing issues such as a realistic approach to marriage, knowledge about laws and legal rights and financial security, among others.

The uniqueness of women should be celebrated in all its forms and it whittle down to personal choice. The hair style, choice of jewellery, weight or shopping shouldn’t be a matter of seeking approval on the eve of marriage. These are simple things but something which the authors deemed right to remind women whose individuality are often lost in translation.

The book points out at life post marriage where a woman suddenly finds herself at the cross-road with labels such as bhabhi, devrani or jaithani. A strong message is sent: Treat us like a daughter and give equal treatment. The main points are often on the need for a daughter in law (DIL) to be answerable and boosting the image of an ideal bahu or the fact, she will learn and manage on her own. The authors explore the various issues and discuss communications as an effective tool for a healthy relationship. It’s about the need to engage directly with in-laws and be assertive when things go awry. It’s important to accept new relations which is often tough, taking into account that a girl is leaving her comfort zone and ‘privileges’ at home. It’s a two-way traffic, I’d argue. Be assertive and learn to say No matters above everything else not to crush the self or individuality.

A whole chapter is devoted to patriarchal nature of society where the father-in-law expects his morning tea and owing to the protocol for DIL in India, whose parents never get special treatment. It serves as a great contrast, as the authors rightly figure it out, how women don’t make demands to the Jamai Saab. It’s a tragedy in today’s time how parochial and patriarchal our society is ingrained in rules dating back to the dark age. Or, the preconceived notion when it comes to arranged marriage where the woman is controlling the man and this cliché that she is too independent.

There are passages like, ‘The girl is too cunning, that is, why she has brainwashed our son… He chooses a girl he loves, she would not want to live with us after marriage…This boy is married to a girl from the hills. These girls are so cunning and into black magic…He has married a different culture girl, these girls are mithi churi.’ Sounds familiar!

In the chapter, ‘Self-Empowerment: The Key to Happiness’, the authors points at common stereotypes where women grew up with rules such as women don’t laugh loudly, a shame to play sports, your rightful place is in the four corners of the home or a woman is respected after marriage because of her husband.

The authors make a great pitch for parents to instill equal values among girls, urging her to say no, curfew applying for both women and men as well as addressing the much-dreaded menstruation which is treated as taboo. It’s no secret in many homes girls going through menses are treated like outcasts and it’s time to throw out such illogical and ridiculous practice where society, albeit parents are to be majorly blamed. A woman going through menses is a normal being.

The authors devote an entire page in the form of a chapter to in-laws, reminding them of shared efforts in a household which is not the sole domain of a woman, the need for reciprocal relationships, keeping a check on personal boundaries and avoiding comparisons. It’s much-needed tips for parents-in-law in today’s times.

The husband or hubby to be is also urged to take a stand for women and it’s his responsibility as an equal partner to voice out against social injustice or helping during the adjustment period.

What’s Not!

Honestly, I am not going that route in pointing out at flaws in the book since it’s a scholarly product where the authors have used extensive survey, much to their credit and case studies to support their claim on something obvious. It’s a worrying aspect in the way we treat women as second-class citizens after marriage where she is expected to fulfill social obligations without reasoning.

Final words:

The work of authors Dr Rachna Arora & Deepika Sharma in Indian Women and the Shaadi Conundrum must be lauded for their in-depth analysis and critically assessing the position of women in the marriage sphere. This book should serve as a reference point for organizations such as National Commission for Women and the case studies as a guide in drafting legislations to protect women, upholding their rights in society. A brilliantly explored scholar work that serve as a guide to the Government, academic institutions, NGOs and helping to spread awareness, raise mass consciousness and educate. Full marks to the authors for urging us to question rules that discriminate against fellow human beings. Such nonsensical rules should not only be questioned but chucked out. It’s written in a simple and direct language, that makes it easy to understand minus technical jargons. Go and grab it.

PS: The book has been given to me for review by the authors through my good friend, poet and author Soumya Mohanty Vilekar. You can buy the book on Amazon and check out more on Goodreads.

V