A couple of days ago, the highest court of the land delivered a verdict on a divorce case pending for almost a decade. The court held that the woman meted out cruelty on her husband by forcing him to leave his parents. The bone of contention was mainly on financial grounds. Social media erupted and was divided in its reactions – while some thought it was high time “home-breaking” women got their share of punishment, others questioned the double-standards of a system that is otherwise fine with a woman leaving her parents post marriage but has issues when it applies to a man.
Judgements are case specific and there could definitely be merit in finding a woman guilty of pressurizing her husband to give up his responsibilities towards his parents. But here is where I have the first problem with the judgement – the court goes on to make a generalization and callously states that “it is the pious obligation” of a “son” to take care of his parents. And instantly it reminded me of my parents who have been taking care of my maternal grand-mother ever since we moved into our new house (constructed on our own plot right behind my grandma’s place) in the year 1995. I do not wish to cast any aspersions on my uncle and his wife who stay in the same house as my grandma’s. My grandma is a great person at heart but her experiences in life (of being the eldest daughter-in-law in a joint family, a wife to a talented husband recovering from alcohol addiction and a mother to a second son who isn’t yet economically stable) have made her quite bitter in the tongue. Whatever she said was reciprocated by my aunt and in the family drama that transcends every other house, the kitchens separated. They are cordial with each other, exchanging delicacies every now and then. But the people who have been there with her every single day (in sickness or in health) are her daughter and son-in-law.
I am not bragging because they are my parents. Career opportunities or the luxury of long holidays could have taken my parents to places. But I know for a fact that if they were to move out, my grandma wouldn’t survive for long. More than loneliness, sheer neglect would eventually kill her. When my father religiously gives her the morning tea and checks on her medicine replenishment’s and my mother patiently listens to her complain as she force-feeds her with healthy food, I know I am probably witnessing just an exception. Why else in India would 50% of the elderly above 60+ and 80% above 80+ complain of some sort of mental or physical abuse? (source: Help Age India Survey 2015). I think it’s high time for us to realize that irrespective of the gender, each child (son or daughter) has the obligation to take care of his parents. If the society can internalize this, we probably will not have a “obsession for sons” and hence be able to correct the abysmal child sex ratio in India (918 in 2011 census)
A daughter who weds and goes into another family cannot disown her own parents. Whether an economically independent woman decides to invest in her parents’ life/health insurance premiums, take them out for a vacation or even support them financially for a life-time is entirely her own prerogative. There should be some faith in her judgement as to when, where and what requires her contribution (whether it’s her marital or birth home). After getting wedded, a man or a woman are legally bound to a new set of people – the in-laws. They too deserve the same compassion, respect and love that we owe to our parents. But unrealistic expectations of in-laws replacing parents in our lives are best to be kept at bay.
The second part of the judgement that caught my attention was commenting on any couple staying away from parents as against the Indian culture. The court states that “in India, generally people do not subscribe to the western thought, where, upon getting married or attaining majority, the son gets separated from the family.” This is taking it a bit too far. Individuals who want to be emotionally independent, share very diverse views from their parents, wish to migrate to another city for a living or who want to spend the initial years of marriage in a nuclear set up can afford to do so, if their parents are healthy and can take care of themselves. Care and support (whether financial or emotional) can be given even while staying apart.
Having said that, we need to be sensitive about a couple of things. Our parents, most probably, haven’t invested in social security since their whole lives revolved around events in ours’- from our birth to graduation to marriage and then birth of our children – the list is endless. Hence we should invest for them. Also as they grow older, there’s isolation, fear and loss of control and they will need us as much as we needed them. It is then best to be as close to parents as possible. Rather than remember our parents’ home selfishly in times to save on our rent or as a great alternative to crèches for our children, we need to learn to keep them engaged productively post retirement. We need to love and respect them always for what they are and not for what they are worth. We need to plan their future so that we are in a position to communicate this upfront to our partners and set expectations right in the first place.
Before I say a goodbye to you, here is an Irish blessing that every “dadu” witnesses coming true
“May you always be blessed
with walls for the wind,
a roof for the rain,
a warm cup of tea by the fire,
laughter to cheer you,
those WHO YOU LOVE NEAR YOU
and all that your
HEART MAY EVER DESIRE”
[Contributed by: Samparna Tripathy – A Freelance writer on public policy & social issues]