>They let me be me!

>If you aren’t already watching this television series on child marriage, it’s time you started to. Unlike most other stuff that gets aired on national television in our country, Balika Vadhu is a mature, well-rounded take on the evils of child marriage. Not your typical saasbahu serial, it shows a conservative Rajasthani family and how it deals with its women – daughters and mothers, D-I-Ls and M-I-Ls. The daughters-in-law in the serial are referred to as bindhdi – a typical Rajasthani word that means bahu or simply D-I-L. And that’s where my story begins.

When I got married to The Guy (and his family, for all practical purposes!), I was referred to as bahuji. Right from my parents-in-law to the servants in the house, everyone chose to call me bahuji”. I wasn’t D, no, I wasn’t even any other term of endearment, I was respectfully “bahuji”. Interestingly, I wasn’t the only one; it was a practice followed unfailingly by my MIL’s family for every daughter-in-law in the family.

Despite being an apparently open-minded army man, my father-in-law often introduced me to his friends or colleagues as humari bahuji” (our daughter-in-law), leaving it up to me to say, “Hello, I’m D.” Or when I was in a more assertive mood, simply, “My name is D.”

I turned up my nose in disdain every time I was referred to as bahuji, not only because it negated my identity as an individual but also because it was a constant reminder of my position in the house – never a daughter, always a daughter-in-law. I had chosen to retain my maiden name after my marriage, so this was clearly an assault on my feminist sensibilities, nay, my humanist sensibilities too. I love my name and I could not understand why I couldn’t be called by it.

The Guy, being used to this manner of address, found my resentment unreasonable. Till I asked him one day how he’d feel if he was constantly referred to as Damadji by my family. Yeh humare damadji hain.” “Damadji aapne khana khaya?” “Damadji ko bula do.” Irritating, huh? Point taken, he admitted and tried to explain as politely as he could to his parents.

Of course, they saw no harm in it. To them, it was as normal to call me bahuji as it was for me to expect to be called D. Nobody had ever really stopped to think that the epithet could be considered offensive by somebody. So there I was, faced with the challenge of explaining to them why it was so demeaning to no longer be D but just another bahu,” with the very polite ji or without it!

I didn’t want to go into the theories of feminism and the politics of language used to undermine a woman’s identity, so I did what I thought was the next best thing: tit for tat! I jokingly started referring to my in-laws as saasu ji and sasurji ! My message was loud and clear: if you want to be treated as parents, stop referring to me as D-I-L! They got the message – that I didn’t like being bahuji for all and sundry. But they still didn’t understand why. For them I was probably rebelling against a family tradition. To me, I was objecting to an unreasonable patriarchal practice.

And I just didn’t want them to stop calling me bahuji; I wanted them to stop calling anybody by that vague term of address. I finally I had to tell my M-I-L how epithets such as “bahuji” did nothing for a woman’s identity.

I explained to her how when someone calls me bahuji, they are not referring to me but the just the woman who married the son of the family. Had it been somebody else in my place, she would still have been bahuji. If I were to die or be separated and The Guy were to re-marry, his second wife would be no different than me – she would still be bahuji. A woman’s identity is derived from her association with a man and not from who she really is. As Simone De Beauvoir realises in her book, The Second Sex, that woman is always perceived of as “other”, “she is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her”.

Each time I was introduced as the bahu of the family, my existence as an individual independent of my relation with the family was undermined. The family plays an important part in shaping the person you are, but it cannot be the defining factor for who you are. It’s not that I want to hide that I am the daughter-in-law in this family; it’s just that it’s not all that I am! It’s not my introduction. In fact, it should not be the introduction to any woman. Why take away from who she really is?

They finally let me be “me”. And I wish the world would let every woman be “her”.


23 responses »

  1. >Wow. I agree. Well expressed. Women do see themselves as daughters, sisters, wives and mothers. I was chanced upon one of these Astha/Sanskruti channels, where this guy was preaching how women must wear a bindi to indicate they have a brother,, another to show they have sons, and another to show they are not orphans – their dad is alive, and of course a large red one to show they have a husband.I wanted to write and ask if he thought a man should wear just one bindi to show he has a wife…LOL And I love Balika Vadhu, I even make my maid watch it if she is free 🙂

  2. >Lovely post! I would definitely find it extremely impersonal if addressed as bahuji. Sadly, many people fail to realize that a woman has an identity of her own and doesn’t exist just in relation to the men in her life.

  3. >Its great to know how you held your fort. Way to go! I doubt if ever I can be that assertive, I am usually that irritating pesk, who wants to please everyone. Well done. I looooooooove Baalika Vadhu, I watxh every episode when I am in India, unfortunately Colors is not available here. 😦

  4. >very brave of you indeed…women/girls don’t dare to even say the slightest of the issues to their in laws… and that what has been the reason for them to be suppressed for centuries… but now I am happy that they are rising up… coz until they themselves would not define their lines, no one can ever understand what they are and what they mean to humanity.

  5. >@IHM: Yes, a woman is never just a woman. She is always a mother, sister, daughter or wife. Ridiculous, I say!@Vinz: But how sad that I have to fight for it, no?@mystic: Exactly!@GM: That’s our problem – we’re so caught up trying to be what others expect us to be that we forget who we are!

  6. >thats a very goo write up… i wud hate to refered as the DIL cos i still hope to b daughter whichever home i am in .. obv only then its my home..but i think i wud love to use my husbands name where ive my dads now.. hopin he ll love me the same way my dad it.. purely outa love and not cos i can only be referred to in reference with him.. my individuality lies in my behaviour and attitude and addin his name to mine shows it too 🙂

  7. >D – when you said Bahuji, i remembered my instant “bhabhification” as i call it! but ofcos that was term of enderament and respect used by all of M’s younger sisters! so iw as call.thankfully ILs call me by name. though i wonder what my reaction would have been if they hadnt!great post as always D!cheers!abha

  8. >@Afaque: If you don’t stand up for yourself, nobody will. Women have to stop waiting for someone to come and rescue them.@sansmerci: To each his own. But I always wonder why men don’t think taking on their wife’s surname is an act of love?!@Abha: Lol @ “bhabhification” I know what you mean. But what else can younger bros and sisters of the husband call you? “Bahuji” is a different story altogether!

  9. >Hey, I just am speechless & I agree. I admire you for holding on to your views.I guess that in such cases if the man is on your side, everything else falls into place.I had the same views abt changing my maiden name. But then my man never agreed & i am where i am. I have also started seeing Ballika Vadhu since the past 2-3 days when this when in an ad i saw this young girl stand up against her much older husband.

  10. >baap re baap. and i thought it was nice and cute, and why, even a term of endearment – to be called bahu…this entire feminism thing is too confusing to us bum folk i think 😛

  11. >@Monika: Well, which is why I never asked 😉 I just didn’t told them I wasn’t changing my surname :D@Elxir: I’m like that: I make people grin!! :D@Dbum: Yeah, just as cute as it is be called “damadji”? A term of endearment that too?!

  12. >and what do the in-laws think. They would address their grand-children as “potaji” or “potiji”.. Fine, we accept that we are the D-I-L in the family but they dont have to make it so obvious by calling us as ‘Bahuji’.. We have a name and we have the right to be addressed by that. Our parents gave us a name and didnt call us as ‘betiji’.. The world knows us by a name and thats what our identity is. Imagine the husband calling his wife as “biwiji” !!!

  13. >In the south it is the opposite! They always refer to the son-in-law as the ‘damadji’! Mostly they don’t call him by name out of respect!!And the SIL refers to his wife’s parents as aunt and uncle, while the DIL call’s her husbands’ parents mom and dad. The concept being the DIL is actually the daughter. But who are we kidding, in most cases a DIL is just a DIL.

  14. >Hey D ..grt.i wonder if i would have been so assertive..i agree it is a term of endearment but puhleaze u cant refer to a person like that always!Havent seen balika vadhu..is it that good? I jus dont like the idea of being addicted to TV

  15. >@soulmate: Lol! That sounds so funny 🙂 They do have a vague epithet for boys – kaku bhaiya – though I must admit it sounds cuter than anything else !@jira: Thankfully, The Guy calls my parents mom and dad too! Otherwise, I would have had one mmore reason to cry foul!@my space: I’m not a TV person at all. And balika vadhu is the only show I follow diligently. I highly recommend it!

  16. >Hats off to you for wanting to always maintain and respect your own identity. Yes even i would not like to respond, if I would be called by any other name than mine. After all that is the identity we grow up with. Kudos to you.

  17. >I somehow feel most people understand when explained in the right way. 🙂 Which means in ways they can relate to/picture themselves in. You just proved it out – cool!Oh, and I am hooked onto Balika Vadhu too!

  18. >I never changed my name after I got married and my daughter has my surname as her middle name…Nobody had a problem with this except for an old geezer at the Kolkata Corporation…My father had gone there to collect duplicates of my daughter’s birth certificate and when the old geezer saw that my husband’s and my surnames were different, he was a bit hesitant to hand over the duplicates…He thought we were not married and my father had to feed him some line about how girls are today, how they like to be independent etc. just to get the BCs in his hand…Why should the Corp. employee care?

  19. >@Kiran: Thank you.@Dbum: Well, to each his own in that case. It doesn’t work for me.@Devaki: I hope everybody does understand when explained properly!@Bones: He cares because he’s one of the many self-appointed moral guardians of our society whose opinion nobody wants!@Tigress: Thank you.

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