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The pressure to conform

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Our society should be more willing to accept women who defy convention, says Monica Khanna

In a landmark verdict decriminalising homosexuality, the Supreme Court has indeed taken a brave and historic step forward, moving away from archaic and regressive beliefs. The journey to this destination hasn’t been easy for the LGBT community. But the challenge doesn’t end with legalisation. Bringing about a change in social attitudes is going to be a far more Herculean task.

We live in a society that deplores non-conformity. An individual who chooses to tread on ‘the road not taken’ must be prepared for flak from people around—people who are concerned about the individual’s well-being, but who cannot accept decisions that don’t fit in with social mores.

Marriage, for instance, is a given. He or she (especially she) who is born must one day get married. While a man may still get away with being a bachelor boy, a spinster is virtually a threat to society.  If she is single, she must be promiscuous and of ‘loose’ character. Concerned relatives will put pressure and search for worthy eligible boys to make sure she jumps on the boat before it sinks. For if she misses the boat, it is a decision she will regret for the rest of her life. While she is at the peak of her career, she will not realise her ‘mistake’. But in her old age, she will miss companionship— and by then it will be too late. Who will marry her when she has crossed the prime of her youth?

Says Kainaz Jussawala, author of Coffee Days, Champagne Nights, “If you are not dating, they think you’re too busy with your career. If you’re not married, they presume you’re too selective. And if it’s none of the above and you stay silent, they think you’re lesbian.”

If the woman gets fed up of the taunts and agrees to get married, the next logical step is procreation. After all, that is the primary objective of marriage and the ‘normal’ course of action for any individual. He or she (especially she) who is born must one day bear children who will continue the family lineage. A woman that decides not to have children must be prepared for the million questions that will be hurled at her—and will sting her like harsh slaps across the face. Why did you get married if you didn’t want to have children? Who will look after you in your old age? More importantly, who will light your funeral pyre? And inherit your wealth? If there is a medical problem, there is still an element of sympathy (coupled with generous advice which is free of cost). But for a couple that can conceive and chooses not to—there must be something terribly warped with their thought process.

While people are less critical than what they used to be a generation ago, it will take time for attitudes to change… it will take time to allow an individual to make choices without imposing our own judgmental views on them… it will take time to stop expecting, and start accepting… it will take time to respect decisions made by others that seem to go against the ‘norm’. When a foster daughter performs the last rites of her father in public, we take a step forward. When a law allows people the freedom to choose their partners regardless of sex, we take a step forward. And each step forward makes a difference!

“If you are not dating, they think you’re too busy with your career. If you’re not married, they presume you’re too selective. And if it’s none of the above and you stay silent, they think you’re  lesbian!”

 - Kainaz Jussawala, author of Coffee Days, Champagne Nights

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