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A mannbaudhu girl’s challenge

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It’s not an encouraging label for a girl who puts forth her opinions and argues in favour of her rights.

Sushma (name changed) works in a private bank, struggling hard to establish herself as a sincere and hard-working employee in a highly gender-skewed work environment. She lives in a small town in Bihar, which has its own peculiar patriarchal structure. Inherent with this peculiarity is the underlying principle of considering women second-class citizens.

Being the eldest child and a girl, she struggles between taking care of the household chores and working in an environment which does not miss an opportunity to show her “place”.

However, her hard work will not be going unnoticed for long as she is expecting her well-deserved promotion soon. One may say financial independence empowers women, though only economically. It does not necessarily bring about a change in her social identity. The social set-up is a highly governing factor. When a family is acutely patriarchal, her financial empowerment merely adds a working hand without a change in her status within the family. More often than not, the patriarch takes control of the money as well as the expenditure.

Sushma is also expected to conform to the frivolous demand that she “get settled”. She is shown the example of her two cousins of the same age group who got married at an “appropriate age”. Their education were clumsily completed, with no intention of building a career out of it and gaining their agency but just to find a prospective groom. Adhering more to these standards, they have checked another box: becoming mothers within the first year of marriage. Like socially sanctioned ideal women, they have abided by these essential norms. Pursuing careers and chasing dreams are given to women as an option, superscripted with an asterisk of numerous terms and conditions.

Having internalised these social norms, her parents are now having sleepless nights. Pressuring with unsolicited advice to get settled at an appropriate age, with complete disdain to career aspirations, is a prime behavioural instinct among such parents. Such parents are driven by a certain rush to fulfil those parental obligations which means marrying off the girl at a certain appropriate age. Doing well in career and having aspirations to go beyond that is not considered having settled in life.

Getting settled and doing good in life is exemplified by those two cousins who got married early, found suitable grooms, and bore babies within the first year of the marriage itself. That has given her parents an eyesore.

In Sushma’s case, repeated reluctance to get married as she does not identify herself in that mental frame has met with conspiracies to force her into an unwanted marriage. Her reluctance and arguments are labelled as being of a mannbaudhu girl.

In the Maithili-spoken region of Bihar, the word mannbaudhu ladki is used for a girl who dares to put forth her opinions and argues in favour of her rights. It is not an encouraging label.

Instead, it has a negative connotation which implies that they have been given the freedom to have education and pursue a career. Standing up for her rights is considered being ungrateful towards the magnanimity that certain parents show. Thus, the usage of the word mannbaudhu means a girl who is

breaking her limits, an impudence of sorts. In other words, subservience is still expected in return.

She is a mannbaudhu girl who is fighting for her rights. I am a mannbaudhu girl too. Every girl must be mannbaudhu and be proud of it at the same time. If having the right to education, pursue a career, establish our own identities, not conform to social dogmas, defy limits, and try to own our lives will be considered being mannbaudhu, then every girl must indubitably be a mannbaudhu girl. Women are individuals with their own agencies and reclaiming that is their right. The colloquial shame attached to that word must not deter women in their fight against patriarchy. If anything, it must be worn as a badge of honour. Be an impudent mannbaudhu girl.

rewatikaran@gmail.com

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 5:04:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/a-mannbaudhu-girls-challenge/article30367680.ece

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