Image:
A Suitable Girl (IMDb)

A brown woman's home is never truly her own

By:
Rumneek Johal (@rumandwoke)

The world was taken by storm by Netflix’s hit reality show Indian Matchmaking, but for many of us, mainly the brown women whose entire existence is centered around our eventual marriage -- it hit a bit harder.

The show has been critiqued for it’s backward ideals, along with the unfair demands often placed on women in order to make them a suitable partner.

One thing that hit me while watching the show, and a Netflix documentary on the same topic, is that a brown woman’s home is never truly her own.

A 2017 documentary called a Suitable Girl, which is available on Netflix and Amazon Prime, follows the real-life stories of three women in India --one of them being Sima Taparia (the Indian Matchmaker)’s real daughter -- as they show the trials and tribulations of three families trying to get their daughters married.

In the first moments of the documentary, as they show a family rejoicing and holding their beautiful newborn baby girl close, the narrator says “as a girl is born, it is understood that she has to get married one day or the other.”

From the moment a woman is born into a brown household, it is well known that her home is never her own, because her departure from her family is inevitable.

I often think about this myself, how in my own home, the spaces which are “mine” are never truly mine, because my eventual departure from my home, and by extension, my family, is lingering over my head from birth.

“Your mother-in-law isn’t going to like you if you talk back.”

“You have to learn how to cook Indian food so that you can make it for your future family.”

“What would your in-laws think of this?”

We raise brown women to recognize that sacrifice is inherent to their existence, and that once they are married, they go from belonging to their own family, to belonging to another which they must come to treat as their own, because that’s just the way things are.

“She has to leave her parents, she has to go to her in-laws place, that is fixed” one of the parents says in the documentary.

One of the girls, named Amrita, who gets married in the beginning of the documentary, is shown before her wedding chatting with friends about her interests.

She is a well-educated woman who works, and who talks about the “freedom” she has in her life. She loves watching films, being a self-proclaimed shopaholic and enjoying partying and hanging out with friends in her spare time.

Yet, as she prepares for her own wedding and her new life, she talks about how she will be leaving behind her own career, while learning to fit into her husband’s life.

Brown women are often made to adjust to a puzzle that is already built before they arrive, compromising and adjusting and filling a role in their new life that had already been decided before they even showed up, as they "leave behind" their home and their family.

Dipti, one of the three girls in the documentary is seen meeting with the family of a potential partner. 

Her parents use the fact that she doesn’t have many friends or many hobbies as a selling point as to why she would make a desirable partner.

Women who are auditioning to be wives are best suited when their lives add convenience to that of their husband and their in-laws, their own interests and desires are a roadblock if they don’t also benefit their new family.

I don’t want to give up my independence, my opinions, my fun time with my girlfriends, my tattoos, my love for wine, my job and many hobbies, my routine, my home and particularly my own family in order to fit into my partner’s already existing picture as their bride -- nor do I want my eventual marriage to be the only marker of my success. 

On her wedding day, Amrita is seen crying tears of sadness, and it's a scene many brown women have witnessed and understand they too will experience one day -- grieving the life they are giving up as they move on to another, and saying goodbye to their home.

Indian weddings also have a “doli” ceremony, whereby the bride officially leaves her family home and says goodbye to her family before she joins her new home. 

The doli is where on the supposed happiest day of your life, the sad reality hits that the home that was once yours officially no longer belongs to you, because you now "belong" to another family.

Brides are even told to keep their heads down, not to smile too much, to remain somber, while men arrive dancing their way into and out of their weddings, celebrating the joyous occasion where they gain a wife while another family “loses” a daughter.

To me the doli ceremony may have made sense when our mother’s generation were often moving villages or cities or even entire countries away to say goodbye, but to me, this ceremony is no longer needed, because beginning a blissful marriage should be a source of joy, one you embark on with the full support of your family, because you have no intention of leaving them behind.

Why does the beginning of a new journey have to mean the end of an old one?

In brown families, marriage is not just an eventual step one can choose to take, but an obligation, and a complete moral failing in its absence -- particularly for women, who are then interrogated for why they are unable to find a partner.

Some parents even consider the task of getting their daughters married off as a duty, something to check off of an imaginary list, and to feel that their job has been completed, as she gets passed into another family.

Ritu, who is the daughter of Sima Taparia, realizes that although she is not very thrilled at the prospect of marriage, she must accept that it is something she must do, if not for herself, for the happiness of those around her.

Your daughter can be extremely educated, independent, and even extremely happy, but without marriage, families worry she will always be seen as a failure, because it has been written in the stars that she must be someone’s wife one day since the day she was born.

“I’m running out of time with my parents. I’m leaving them behind,” says Dipti as she prepares for her wedding -- proving that once you do leave, you’ll only ever be a guest in your family's home, even though you were told it wasn’t yours to begin with.

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