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Even from the distance of five hundred and fifty kilometers I could sense sadness and a muffled insecurity in the voice of my father when he called me yesterday, a daily ritual of ours of one call in a day. After a bit of emotional jostling he told about the death of Gupta uncle, a friend from his senior citizen Club and neighbour. It was not that the deceased was his close friend or they knew each other for long, but there were circumstances which troubled (or scared) him as well as me.
After he retired from a reputed position in the Central Government, Gupta uncle, a widower, moved in this double gated, CCTV secured, residential colony in Gurgaon. Twice a year he visited his daughter and son who were settled in Pune and Chicago, respectively and once a year the children and grandchildren visited him. For rest of the seven and a half months he lived all alone, with an arrangement of a part-time maid who cooked and cleaned. The most awaited part of his every day routine was the evening tea with his friends in the Club. And over the tea, the friends, all of them retired and old like him, debated on the political issues, made fun of each others arthritis or heart conditions but at the same time looked after each other.
However, despite all this jolly company, Gupta uncle died two days back in his 1.75 crore 3BHK flat. He breathed his last in the company of four walls, choking on that fine linen which his departed wife had once matched so tastefully with the peach curtains. He was 85. The maid discovered the body next day and informed the neighbours, who then informed the next of kin.
‘Everyone at the Club was saying that Gupta was so unfortunate to have such an uncaring son who left him alone at this age’, dad said.
Now this is the thing that troubled me.
Why blame only the son, why not the daughter too?
This is the social psyche I am talking about.
Here I am not arguing that boys’ parents do not face hardship. In some cases they do as well, but if they do then society blame the son and daughter-in-law. But this is not the same for girls’ parents because it is not considered the duty of a married woman to look after her parents. There is no (social and moral) obligation over a daughter and son-in-law. A son may leave his wife and children at home to take care of his parents, he may change his job, he may bring them home with him or he may fail and thus fall in the eyes of everyone but the same SECURITY simply doesn't exist for parents of his wife.
When a son is born, mother and father heave a sigh of relief that now their old age is secured. Now there is someone to feed them when they are too old to cook for themselves, carry them when their frail limbs give away, talk to them when the loneliness starts eating into their head. And what about parents of girls, don’t they get old, feel lonely, fall sick. But do they also feel so secure that there will be their daughters to take care of them? No. They can’t demand that because this is against the traditions. It is an accepted norm that parents don’t burden their daughters. That is a SIN.
Father of a son worries for his falling health but father of a daughter has an additional worry – how will he drive car when his driving license expires after he crosses 75.
What do they want from us, from the daughters?
They just want us to look after them, to oversee things, to supervise that the maid is not cheating them, the watchman is not fooling them, to have small dinner talks with them and to ensure that when they are dead, their body is not discovered by a maid. Imagine the state of those who can’t even afford a maid.
Why is this like this?
Because that is how the society is constructed, re-constructed and re-re-constructed.
Have you noticed that there is not a single advertisement, single chant, single hymn which emotes, which preaches that the old people, be it from boy’s side or girl’s side, should be taken care of equally. There are plenty of advertisements showing a boy on his motorbike traveling miles to bring his old mother along with him but not a single Ad showing a woman doing the same; instead we have portrayals of a grieving father on the bidai, marriage, of his daughter richly laden with gold. Yes there are some Ads where girls look after their parents but only before marriage.
How many movies do you remember on this subject? Not many? However there are so many movies which mock a man living with his inlaws as jamaai raja or greedy parents of a girl disrupting the marital harmony of their daughter.
Recently there was a popular movie trying to give an emotional connect on this issue – Piku. But in this movie too, the girl was looking after her father because she was not married and she was not married because she was looking after her father. Then she fell in love but did not commit because of her other duties. A happy ending would have been that she marries the guy and the couple then takes care of the father, as it is normally expected the other way round. But the Director didn’t want to create any ‘social confusion’, so he conveniently killed the father (an obstacle) and brought the movie to an acceptable end.
A mother will tell her son to take care of her when she is old but she will tell her daughter not to worry about them and instead look after her husband and children. Because with son she has a ‘Right’ and with daughter a ‘Duty’.
The day they will stop feeling themselves a burden over daughters, the day they will start imposing that Right, start telling the daughters without any guilt, start Demanding them like they demand their son that ‘Daughter this is your duty too to look after us when we are old’….that day…I believe that day, the practice of female foeticide will stop.
Previously published in The Hindu under the heading An unequal burden at home