That India has a morbid level of patriarchy working through its veins is no secret. It touches every aspect of life, daily. When Gauri from Delhi started browsing newspaper matrimonial ads for a match for her daughter, separated from her husband after ten years of marriage, she was in for a shock. Entering new territory, looking for a divorced match for another divorcee, Gauri didn’t know what to expect. But she hoped that the family would be a kind one, which would understand what trying a second time was about.
Carefully, she made her first call to a potential match’s family.
We’ll question you, don’t question us
“So why did the marriage end?” was the first question. Startled, Gauri explained that it was incompatibility. When she tried to ask the groom’s mother the same question, she was interrupted by another question.
“Does she have a kid?”
When Gauri said yes, the guy’s mother was aghast. “Oh, I can’t tell him that. Sorry.”
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Recovering from this harsh conversation, Gauri tried again after a few days. The next family wanted a Brahmin girl, no matter what. They wanted her to be just as beautiful as she had been when she married the first time, fair and with beautiful skin. Another man, divorced himself, with two kids, turned down the match. It kept getting more ridiculous. What could a man who had been divorced, and had children of his own, not understand about a woman who was exactly in the same shoes?
Or was she?
It’s always the woman’s fault
In India, the sad truth is that even when a woman is set to marry for the first time in her life, she and her family are put second. That doesn’t change when she has to get married a second time. As preposterous as it sounds, the guy always has the upper hand. As one marriage counsellor shares on the condition of anonymity, “Even after a divorce, a man feels he is more entitled than the woman. To society, he seems like a wronged man. On the other hand, she is always seen as damaged goods.”
Related reading: I’m divorced, so what?
That several women come with children from a previous marriage makes them the aforesaid ‘damaged goods’. As Baroda based Surekha Shah, mother of three daughters, recently realised when trying to find a match for her eldest daughter a second time, “This is not far from the definition of women as ‘commodities’ – as a gender, women seem to exist just to please men and their families.”
In another instance, Gauri was told by the maternal uncle of a potential match that her daughter must be beautiful, because his ‘nephew may be 42 and bald but he lives in London and has a great job.’ When she asked why his previous marriage didn’t work out, he said that the woman he previously married was ‘not right in the head’, a reason she was given four times in a row.
Interestingly, all the four families in question had discovered the woman’s instability only after the wedding.
Gauri, tired by now, admits it’s too repetitive a reason for her to believe it anymore.
Though this isn’t a proper survey and is simply what one mother has discovered through browsing matrimonial ads and making phone calls, it reflects the truth. Marriages are all about gender one-ups – whether or not both parties are equally matched or find a connect, doesn’t matter. Most men and their families believe it’s their right to get the better of everything.
Second chances for equality
What is deeply unsettling is that in the event of a second marriage, when life has failed both the man and woman once, their shot at a second innings is marred by patriarchy. Instead, the opposite should be happening – second marriages are even more about equality. It is a time when both people have had a setback and are trusting and brave enough to take another chance at life and love. At that juncture in life, to be judged as a commodity with extra baggage isn’t moral or humane.
Men must treat second marriages with as much respect as any union deserves.
If the men have gone through the pain of separation, so has the woman. The number of years spent in a difficult marriage shouldn’t be seen as baggage when it comes to the woman and simply as ‘compromise’ when it comes to the man.
Raising feminist sons has become more important than anything; that includes valuing one’s partner irrespective of gender. And even more so when it comes to a fresh innings for both people involved.