When her seemingly healthy 60-year-old mother died last year, Pranay Manjari Samal’s father felt depressed and alone in Bhubaneswar. The primary schoolteacher’s four children all lived away from him. A few months after his wife’s death, his blood sugar skyrocketed and a worried Samal asked her father to come to Bengaluru and stay with her for a few months.

“My brother and his wife live 2km from us, but my sister-in-law works in an IT company and I have a flexi job," says Samal, the CSR (corporate social responsibility) head at Edifice Consultants. “We figured he would be more comfortable with me. On weekends he could stay with them." Her in-laws didn’t say anything, but every time they called, Samal sensed their disapproval. Shortly after, during a phone call with her husband’s sister, what had been left unsaid spilled out. “You don’t look after your husband properly," her sister-in-law told Samal. “Your attention is all on your family, your father."

That conversation pushed Samal over the edge. “I had to do something," she says. She poured her anger, building over years, into an online petition on Change.org: “Soon after my marriage, I had a shocking realisation—I was no longer my parents’ daughter.… Whenever I wanted to support my parents financially, it created havoc in my married life. To avoid this, I had to lie and cut my personal expenses to save money for my parents. But every time I gave some amount to my parents, I felt guilty and ashamed by doing it like I’m doing a crime." At the time of going to press, the petition had gathered 14,586 signatures in three weeks.

Titled “Create commercials to empower daughters" her petition is addressed to insurer ICICI Prudential. It might seem like an odd choice but in this case, the law didn’t need fixing. The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, holds all children equally responsible for the welfare of their ageing parents. In 2016, a Bombay high court judgement emphasized that married daughters were responsible for their ageing parents. To whom could she appeal to help change attitudes, Samal wondered.

Insurance and bank advertisements traditionally depict women as dependent on men—be it their husbands or their fathers. Women lay the table or pick up clothes from the floor while the men of the family discuss weighty financial issues. “Everything around money is so traditional. I don’t think the finance sector talks to women. Eighty per cent of the bank segment is men," says Asha Kharga, chief marketing officer at Axis Bank. Last year the bank’s home loan advertisement stood out for its female role model—a financially independent mother, driving a car, and telling her soon-to-be-married son nicely that it was time to move out. Buy a house close to me, she adds. The advertisement was appreciated by most, but conservative viewers slammed it for being “anti-national" and “home-breaking". Kharga dreams of an India where she can make advertisements showing a single woman funding her own wedding, saying something along the lines of, “I want my parents to enjoy my wedding."

For now though, in the world of financial sector advertisements, men play protectors, women their ever-smiling, compliant followers. Men are hard-working wage earners, women the careless spenders. The father-daughter financial relationship is depicted in one, and only one, scene—that teary day of her wedding. Nobody looks at what happens after happily ever after.

So Samal addressed her petition to one of the companies producing these ads: “We are capable of taking care of our parents too. Wouldn’t it be great if ICICI Prudential can promote this change—Daughters too can take care of their parents’ financial needs?" She picked ICICI because its commercials were emotional and had the public pulse.

Samal was always troubled by the way our society reassesses a married daughter’s relationship with her parents. When she was in Class VI, she couldn’t understand why her maternal grandfather had to make the trek to his married daughter’s house to seek permission to take her home. “Both my grandfathers would then finalize a date, and my nana would make another journey to pick up his daughter and take her home on the appointed day," she says.

When she was selected for Change.org’s flagship campaign training programme She Creates Change, which focuses on gender issues, Samal saw her chance to help bring this relationship on a par with the one men share with their parents and started her own petition.

The popular online petition website realized in 2016 that women had a better history of winning campaigns and decided to empower more women to change their world. “Women had better storytelling skills, more commitment to an issue and were better at mobilizing people," says Nida Hasan, associate country director, India, at Change. But for many women, feeling like they were alone in their fight to make a difference was a key barrier. Change helped them build a community.

Now the site is brimming with popular campaigns by women: Issue passports that carry only a single mother’s name (the rule was changed after this petition); make self-defence a compulsory subject in schools; protect the sexual rights of unmarried women; end female genital mutilation; make it mandatory for all hospitals to declare the number of Caesarean deliveries; order an in-depth study on male child sexual abuse. Women have appealed to companies such as Amazon to end plastic waste; Tanishq to ensure their jewellery advertisements feature dark-skinned models; and Air India to recruit transgender people.

Meanwhile, Samal’s questions haven’t stopped: If marriage exists just to suppress women, why don’t we boycott it? Why is a daughter-in-law put to work from Day 1 and a son-in-law treated like a king? Why don’t we give our daughters accountability? Why is it so difficult for a married daughter to help her parents financially? Why do ads show a daughter’s father only crying and anxious? Why isn’t there a single ad that shows the same about a groom’s father? Maybe ICICI Prudential will help her find some answers.

Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable.

She tweets at @priyaramani

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