For the last few days an image on social media has been making rounds, in which a young man can be seen waiting outside an examination centre, where his wife is sitting for her B.Ed. exams. From the image it appears that the person in the picture is trying to lullaby his baby to sleep, in absence of her mother, in his lap. Netizens were quick to notice this picture and within no time this image started trending on social media platform across the valley. What one could gauge from the reactions of people on the image is that the majority had taken a unilateral stand on this gesture and had started projecting person in the picture as a hero at the drop of a hat, as if he had done some yeomen’s service by allowing his wife to appear in exams.
What may have been a normal and unnoticeable act in other parts of the globe is being blown out of proportion in our valley, for the reason that women pursuing studies post marriage seems like a rare phenomenon and when it comes to a lactating mother pursuing education, it sounds damn impossible.
The debate on this image has opened the proverbial Pandora’s Box regarding the educational rights of women post their marriage. Why girls pursuing educational degree are often hesitant to tie the sacred knot during their stay in universities for higher education? Do they fear it might lead to their academic stagnation? Why marriage instead of being a liberating force is proving to be the opposite in our lives? Is academic stagnation one of the reasons behind our marriages getting delayed too late, and girls preferring to marry above their usual marriage just to complete their education?
This is a gendered issue as our female folk are often at the receiving end of this cruel societal norm. Reason behind this scenario is multi-layered. Usually our sacred agreement of nikah is signed on the terms and conditions set by the boy’s family. The girl accepts these T&C’s as fait accompli without complaining about her genuine rights and duties enshrined to her in both religion and the state constitution. Every person irrespective of gender has right to live with dignity and earn livelihood for survival, so why can’t woman pursue education after her marriage without prior permission from her in-laws, if the law guarantees her so. But in our patriarchal and conservative society, rights and duties of bride are dictated by her in-laws. In many cases it has been found that the mother-in-law plays spoilsport as she doesn’t want her daughter-in-law to pursue her studies or work outside her home, but instead considers her as household assistant employed (read married) to lower her workload in routine household chores, nothing more.
Some families are generous enough in allowing the woman to pursue her career goals, but that just appears to be mere eyewash. With passage of time her education seems undue for the family and slowly her enthusiasm towards her educational needs fades with each passing hour. Finally she is made to swallow a bitter pill of acceptance that after marriage, education jumps out of the window and she should utilise her energy in serving family. That ultimately forces her to discontinue studies midway.
Recently I heard of one such tale straight from the horse’s mouth. The girl was literally forced to marry a person by her family, who happened to be a government employee in the revenue department, on the verbal assurance that she will be allowed to work in private school and complete her master’s through regular mode after marriage. One year after the marriage everything was going hunky dory in her life as she was allowed to pursue her career and do a job, but the attitude of her husband towards her changed after she had a baby. First she was barred from going to teach at school by citing the cliché often used by men to discourage women from working: that women’s place is in home, she is not meant for earning as her earning is haram. Seeing this attitude of her husband towards her, she was forced to give up her studies; thus, her dream of pursing a doctorate degree was cut short by the very person who had assured her that she can pursue these dreams.
The above story is the microcosm of our attitude towards our spouses who leave comforts of their parental home before settling with in-laws. This also busts the myth that educated husbands are liberal in allowing their wives to pursue studies post the pregnancy period.
Both government and civil society should do something about rights of women, especially after marriage, be it about inheritance rights of property at their parental home or domestic rights at home, so they can live a dignified life without succumbing to the whims and fancies of misogynistic norms that infect our society.