A daughter-in-law is for life
It was the movie Ek Chadar Maili Si of the ‘80s that made me aware of the custom of “Chadar”, which was prevalent in Punjab in yesteryears, the custom by which a widow could marry the younger brother of her late husband.
The custom must have emerged to correct the inequality and injustice meted out to a widow. Until the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, women had no share in property. Widows, therefore, were left to fend for themselves. They were virtually doomed.
“Chadar” was a way out, a life insurance which helped them remain within the family with dignity and protection, and with someone providing for their needs.
Called a “levirate marriage”, the custom was also practiced in other parts of the world in societies with a strong clan structure and which prohibited marriage outside the clan. The custom ensured that the widow and her children were provided for and protected by a male.
It was in practice in Central Asia, Indonesia, Kurdistan, and across Africa in Somalia, Nigeria, Kenya and South Sudan – regions too distant to have brought the custom to Punjab.
I have often wondered how Punjab came to be the exception in India where this custom emerged, while widows led lives of penury in Varanasi and Mathura and other parts of the country.