Is the second wife always the other woman?

Despite a post sometime back about all that I watch on TV, I actually watch very little of TV in a day. And there’s just one Hindi soap I follow. It’s a serial on child marriage and its repercussions, called “Balika Vadhu”. And I’m totally loving the realistic portrayal of what happens to couples who’re exposed to the modern world as it is, and have to deal with regressive traditions like child marriage. ย If you follow the show – a lot of people do – you can totally skip the next paragraph. Otherwise, you might want to know what I’m talking about.

In brief, the story is currently revolving around this couple who got married as kids, grew up as friends and fell in love with each other as adolescents. But when the boy moves out of his village into the city to study Medicine, the ties of childhood begin to snap. He falls in love with a girl in the city, lies to her about his marital status, initially because he’s embarrassed to own up he’s had a child marriage, and later because he doesn’t want to lose her. He falls out of love with his wife, who is still besotted by him. Now, the boy’s family has cut off all ties with him after learning that he’s virtually living in with another girl in the city, who he wants to marry. His wife, predictably, is distraught.

But this isn’t about my favourite serial. It’s about the issues it brings up. At the very apparent level, it’s about child marriage and the debilitating effect it has on the lives of the people involved. The boy has fallen in love with another girl and thinks he’s done no wrong because he realises that child marriage is an outdated concept. The girl, on the other hand, is forced to respect the tradition because she has no option.

At another level, it’s about rural migration to urban India. The village boy who tries to fit into the city life, changes his name even, because he doesn’t want to sound like a rustic. He lies about his marital status because he knows his friends from the city will not understand how he’s actually survived a child marriage. But this isn’t the story of just this boy. It’s how many stories in India go. And just as the boy in the serial has fallen in love with a city girl, promised her marriage, and hidden his true identity from her, millions of Indian men end up doing that. This is not an opinion; it’s a fact that women’s organisations in cities will verify. Because often these men marry their love interest in the city, maintain two parallel families and wives – one in the city and the other in the village, and by the time one woman gets to know about the other, she’s reached a point of no return in the relationship.

Since bigamy is not recognised by the Indian Marriage Law, the second wife, usually the one who would appear to be smarter, more suave because she’s from the city, is at the receiving end of an unfair deal. At the end of the day, she has no legal standing, and if her husband chooses to abandon her, her marriage is only as good as a live-in relationship. Thankfully, the Supreme Court has begun to see that this is an injustice that no woman deserves. Also, the Domestic Violence Act accords live-in relationships legal status because the lawmakers understood that second wives couldn’t be left to deal with their problems without the backing of law. What happens to children produced as a result of such marriages? Why should they be treated as illegitimate?ย 

Imagine, to love and trust someone with your life, only to realise one day that you’re just ‘the other woman’. A lot of such women would continue to play the farce of the relationship, because exiting it would be more painful. But those who take a stand must also suffer the ignominy of accepting that they’re not really the woman to the man they live with, that they thought they were. And to the world, they also become the husband-stealer, the wicked woman who ensnares others husbands. But she isn’t always that, is she?

It all started because a man decided to migrate.ย I’m not saying there aren’t men in urban India who don’t fool women thus. But this is about the problems of migration that migrants even within the country bring with them.

And the question is – can this man be blamed? What of his right to happiness with another woman? What of practices and social pressures that make it impossible for you to cut yourself off from past relationships? Do you think this man is only a villain or a victim as well?

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16 responses »

  1. This man is both a villain and a victim. He is a victim to the regressive traditions. And yet, despite knowing what it is to be a victim, he chooses to dupe another person. That makes him a villain.

    Coming to the technicalities, I don’t think child marriages are accepted as valid in India. Both parties need to be of legal adult age for a marriage to be valid. So, technically, the man is not lying when he says he is not married. It might just have been another girlfriend he left behind in the village. But to the woman in the village who has no option to go to a city or to even another village and live independently, even this choice of pursuing happiness illegally is not available.

    • But this isn’t about child marriages alone. A lot of men who move from rural to urban India haven’t had child marriages. They’ve had arranged marriages most likely to someone from the community. And the legal question is valid in that case.

  2. I see this man as a sheer victim to dogmas and societal pressures.Agreeing with Clueless….childmarriage is no more accepted ..so you see the boy as innocent .Irrespective of boy or girl certain decisions are left to age and time and so is marriage….the boy has full right to his emotions and feelings and choosing a partner….the boy is not to be blamed …..talking of cutting his last relationship that is called’ marriage ‘ …it now exsists only in the eye of the families and not the court….so legally invalid….Flip the side ..are we going to call the second man as the other man?….because nowadays it happens that way too …isn’it?….

    • Apart from what I said to Clueless, the legal validity of a marriage or the lack of it does not take away the social sanction that puts a stamp of approval on such weddings. Irrespective of the fact that a child marriage may not be legally binding, no woman who marries a man already married will consider herself his first wife, even if she’s legally so. Think about it.

  3. @Cluelesschick: Dude, sorely miss your posts and I know you must be really busy wht with having a baby and all … but I hope you post real soon!

    D: You moved to WP too! Welcome ๐Ÿ™‚
    Personally, I’m somewhat surprised at the following this show appears to have garnered, and concerned as to what ideas it might give to less liberal minded people.

    I agree with what Clueless has said but I think maybe the focus ought to be on what the female half can do to overcome her situation. Or am I going off the track here?

    • Why are you surprised at the followers the show has garnered? Apart from the fact that it has some great actors, I don’t think it’s showing anything which is true to reality, at least for issues which are relevant. By showing the problems associated with child marriage, the show actually discourages the practice. On other things, like how men can fall in love again and start living with another woman in the city, they’ve shown amply that the man is no less troubled by his situation than the women. He is insecure, unhappy, is losing the support of his loved ones – not a very rosy picture. So which part of the show might give people wrong ideas? I’m not sure.

  4. In India, I think no matter how modern we get some regressive traditions are still followed. And, whether we like it or not, we get sucked into a vortex and we believe its real.

    In this situation, I think what the guy feels is a pull between being happy to being obidient. If he had stayed in his child marriage, he would have been the PERFECT Indian man. But because he feel in love, he is villan/ disobidient/ modern etc.

    Its similar to having a son & when he is married, he is EXPECTED to live and take care of his parents. And if, god forbid, he wants to live alone and enjoy his marriage, he is a bad human being.

    The grass is always greener on the otherside ๐Ÿ™‚

    p.s. Don know if I made much sense

  5. O Yes..the other woman may be The Woman but she will always be looked as the ‘Other woman’ primarily because of the chronological order in the man’s life.If the relationship garnered from the childhood lacks incentive and power to be lived (by either of them)then it has no relevance of societal stamps and legal stamps.. He/she breaks them and enters other ignoring all this.Court marriages do happen…it becomes like a test drive car u never liked after riding…. but I understand that it was the title to the post and my first response was to the questions which you had put at the end of the post…anyways…worth the thought..good one..:)

    • True. So, basically you can either opt for the social stamp of approval, or personal happiness. Even the second wife has to choose between the two.

  6. Well-written D. In fact,in one of the responses to ur previous post, had written how hard it is for me to believe that I have fallen in love with this serial. But it’s amazing, the true and beautiful portrayal of the reality. The dilemma arises due to many complex societal structures, laws, practices and complex human nature. They are talking about child marriage and repercussions shown are true. However at the same time, it can happen with anyone. I mean what if after 10 years of marriage, someone realises he has fallen out of love with wife (or husband). The reason could be many or none. How to rein in ur emotions. This complexity of emotions and feelings makes relationships so difficult.

    • This makes for another post – do we have the right to fall in love a second time? And ditch our first love for it?

  7. D, I think legally a Live-in Relationship only has recognition if both the partners are uncommitted . This is to prevent bigamy. In one case a couple thought they could Live in because now the courts had allowed it, they were told ‘This is not America.” I blogged about this,

    http://indianhomemaker.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/this-is-not-america-court-tells-married-man-in-live-in-relationship/

    But I don’t think child marriages should be seen as marriages at all, since the kids were not adults when they married – all such marriages should be declared null and void.

    I agree I have seen many such marriages, and it’s terrible.

    I think the man should also take the responsibility to get his village wife a divorce (from himself) and help her either marry or make a life for herself. Not possible? At least he can help her get education.
    Or else she is a free slave for his parents and family, even though she is his legal wife.

    If all marriages had to be registered, things might improve.

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