‘Brides aren’t maids’—Kashmir’s overlooked marital mess

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It simply drew her crazy to be locked up in the ungrateful and unsatisfying routine to the extent that she attempted self-harm. 

Sabira had taken care of all her daily chores and sat by the window to read the newspaper while sipping a cup of tea. It was her me-time and a simple way of finding peace in a day full of chaos. As she browsed through, she found an article on mother-in-law – daughter-in-law relationship which piqued her interest. Reading how elder women are feeling at a loss and do not have a good relationship with their daughter-in-law triggered her thought-train. 

She had been married 10 years and since the day she arrived, she had been subjected to control. Like she were some advanced robot and her mother-in-law held the remote. Her husband’s birth-giver thought she should do everything as per her wish and it made Sabira feel suffocated. Like she was traded as a slave and had no rights whatsoever. 

Even simple things like what should be kept where or what should be cooked for dinner was subject to approval from the mother-in-law. Her choice did not matter and was of no significance whatsoever. 

So many times she would be told that it is not her house and she should fulfill her desires at her maternal home. Even though being at home, she felt homeless. Her in-laws place never became her own abode.

Sabira came out of her thoughts and wondered how easy it was for someone to claim that the daughter-in-law is taught menace-full things by her family before getting married. 

Sailing in the same boat, Aabida read the article–stirring up Sabira’s sentiments with a sheer disbelief. She wanted to scream on top of her lungs and tell the world how different the story in real life is. 

Since the day she had been married, her mother-in-law would tell her how she has to transform into what is acceptable in her new house. Whatever she had done previously, liked, worked as, nothing mattered and nothing will be considered. It’s a new birth and she should also start afresh. 

She wasn’t told how she could erase her memory of thirty years and suddenly become what her mother-in-law wanted her to be. 

Everything she did was critiqued. This is not good. Salt is less. Curry is less. This is no new dish. We do not cook fritters here. Everything she did was looked down upon, to the extent that she considered suicide!

She just had had enough and just didn’t know what to do to fit the bill. Whatever she tried, she never got a word of approval or appreciation. It was similar to living in a desert and looking for water — a constant, unending search. 

Sometimes she felt she was just a glorified maid with no rights and no say in the family. She was just supposed to cook, clean and obey. Nothing more was expected of her and nothing accepted either. She kept thinking on loop that if she and her identity did not matter, then why was she even brought into the world?

It simply drew her crazy to be locked up in the ungrateful and unsatisfying routine to the extent that she attempted self-harm.

A marriage counsellor put some light to the issue. Parents in Kashmiri society, she argued, tend to think that children are their investment. “And that grooming and raising them somehow gives them rights to decide for their children and demand a lot of things from them—obedience at the top.” 

Of the common things, she said, is career choice. Parents put their dreams onto their children, not letting them do anything or make a choice because they think they are not able to, and to be taken care of once they are old enough. 

“Majority of the people marry, or get their kids married, for this purpose – someone will come to handle all the household chores,” the counsellor said. “They’re not looking for a bride, they’re looking for a maid and it is unfair for the woman who is entering a new relationship and being thought of as a maid.” 

Nobody says this out loud, but that is what is playing in their minds, the counsellor continued. “They believe someone will come and take care of them and all the household.” 

Per say this is not so wrong, she said, but when the parents especially the mother is unable to detach from her son and expects obedience from the couple, it becomes a torment. 

“A couple should be left to start a new life, on their own instead of being dictated what to do and what not to do. Mothers-in-law can be controlling to the effect that she only will tell them when to open the windows and when to close them. This reliance and control on children is harmful. Instead, raising kids should be for the sake of Almighty and taking care of in old age should be on Almighty. He is the best disposer of affairs.” 

Discussing the much-talked about write-up with her friends, Faiqa mentioned that she gave up on the relationship with her mother-in-law a long time back. 

“It was just a waste of effort and emotions because she would always go to her son and say bad things,” she recalled. “Those things would instigate him and trigger a fight between us. 

Faiqa’s mother-in-law would put words in her son’s mouth, thoughts which disturbed the peace and sanctity of their relationship and created tension. “And after doing all that she would claim to be a saint and would perform all five prayers,” said Faiqa, who often wondered, whether her mother-in-law even knew the religion or she had just kept it restricted to the prayers. 

“Does she not realize that tormenting another person is equally wrong and she will be questioned about this? Does she not fear that her attempt to keep the couple discontent will be looked down by the Almighty and she might as well be thrown into the depths of hell? After all who told these mothers-in-law that just because they bore a son and are a parent they are immune to hell and cannot be questioned? Aren’t the daughters-in-law even allowed to breathe freely?”

On consulting a religious scholar, he clarified that a daughter-in-law has no responsibility of her in-laws. As such all the rules imposed by in-laws especially mothers-in-law are considered oppression in the religion and will be dealt as such by the Almighty. 

“Does that mean our mothers have no fear of Almighty? Are they ignorant or are they pretending to be?” Faiqa said. “Just because they suffered something does not mean their daughters-in-law have to suffer the same. After all everyone has a different destiny and different issues. Why cannot they just be good humans if nothing else?” 

After all, Sabira thought maybe she should not have been sabir. Maybe she should’ve been Nizalah instead. She took a deep sigh, knew the older generation will not change and got back up to finish rest of her chores.  

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