The Indian marriage is under siege. Women may be storming boardrooms now, but in a marriage, they are still forced to regress to the traditional definitions of gender. Shaifali Sandhya, a clinical psychologist, put the Indian marriage under the microscope, and over the last 12 years, came up with some startling facts on how nothing has really changed. She collected data from 400 Indian couples— mostly middle and upper middle class—and has now published their stories in a book, Love Will Follow. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Scrutinizer: Shaifali Sandhya.
What made you look behind the veil of the Indian marriage?
There have been tremendous changes in the country in the last decade and a half. In the coming years the number of middle-class homes are predicted to grow from 39% to 55%. With this, there has also been a domestic revolution in marriage with female education. But the interiors of the marriage have become even more regressive.
The book was prompted by a chance encounter on a plane. I met Ambika, an educated, upper middle-class wife and mother, who told me that she chanced on her husband’s diary and dialled a number he had written in it. A little boy answered the phone and handed it to his father, who turned out to be her husband. Though she was shocked, hurt and humiliated to learn about her husband’s other family, she did not leave him.
On the contrary, she used her energies instead on being the perfect wife and mother that she was, and when on occasion she could not bear the pretence any more, she would cut her wrists in grief. Why didn’t she leave? What caused her to stay? This intrigued me as a psychologist and triggered the book.
What are the biggest challenges to the Indian marriage now?
While American couples fight about money, work and sex, Indian couples fought about in-laws, how wives ought to behave, children and finally their relationship. The most frightening thing is that there will be a risky shift in marriage. A risky shift occurs when a large number of people have extreme views on something, then that view will pervade to a larger group. The perception of one gender will hold sway over our lives. What this means is that women will judge other women and themselves even more so by the standards set by men.
Do these problems exist because the Indian woman evolved but the Indian man didn’t?
Indian women have evolved educationally and in terms of their career aspirations. But research shows that Indian women are thinking twice as negatively about themselves than they did 20 years ago. Think of the middle-class girl here. She is raised to believe that she is capable of doing anything she sets her mind on, to study, to work. And then she gets married and realizes that none of it is true. She is still stuck with the same problems that her mother was... I am hopeful that the book will open a discussion about these issues.
Love Will Follow, Random House India, 255 pages, Rs295.