Mixing Feminism with Shaadi

Shaadi = Marriage in Hindi

Aditi Roy Bhowmick
4 min readDec 6, 2021

My partner and I got married on November 17th in the most pared down Indian wedding situation possible. We drove 2 hours to a court in UP to get our registration done since courts in Delhi were not functional because of peak pollution and restricted activities. I could not have found a better person to share my life with given my priority of gender equality everyday in my personal life (in addition to all his other redeeming qualities). That said, wading into wedding waters as a feminist is a rocky ride that no one warned me about!

A still from one of the most powerful scenes of the Indian web-series “Made in Heaven”

First, we dodged a ton of patriarchy by not agreeing to norms such as me sprinkling water on Anurag’s feet, my dad “giving me away” (kanyadaan), and so on. We also prevented our parents from splurging their savings on nuptials so that society doesn’t frown. As a result, we all came through saner and our parents’ retirement finances are sunnier, as they should be — it’s their hard earned money. Stripping down all the extra stuff resulted in a week of actual intimacy as a family. Without having family drama, caterer mishaps, wardrobe disasters, and financial losses to distract us, we were all forced to get to know each other and it was incredible.

Two weeks in, I want to write about something else. As a feminist and an Indian woman, I have looked upon marriage with curiosity and intense fear my entire life. Real talk, the day after I got engaged while I was delighted, I also called my best friend and cried because I was worried that patriarchy will get me. Of course, I was delighted by the idea of having fantastic company to co-administer my life. But I have always been terrified of how marriage strips away freedom for young women in a substantial share of cases in urban and rural India till today in subtle and not so subtle ways. What am I talking about?

Source: https://www.cairn.info/revue-d-economie-politique-2018-5-page-745.htm

a) Consider patrilocality where you have to go live with your partner’s parents and share of lifetime spent with your own parents starts a steady decline. Seriously, who made this rule (don’t answer, I know who did).

b) In all the Indian soaps we’ve seen growing up, going to your “natal” home seems like such a big deal, something you have to plan for and be apologetic about.

c) Expectations of demure-ness increase.

d) You get to write W/O (“wife of”) in a lot of government IDs, no one ever writes H/O.

e) For those living together for the first time, there’s always the gamble of how your household gender share of labor will shake out (this thankfully was not a fear at all for me given Anurag and my years of household gender equality practice by now).

If you’ve seen those Indian soaps, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Who is a stereotypical bahu (daughter in law) in our collective imagination in India? No eye contact, head covered, soft-spoken, a tamer version of her bachelorette self. This, and the fact that I consume and engage with empirical gender research for a living had filled in me mortal fear of this institution which in most cases is patriarchal unless you customize it. The result. Paranoia.

Source: https://epc2014.princeton.edu/papers/140782

Imagine associating something with a loss of freedom your entire life. The thing happens, and you hold your freedom dearer than ever. It’s an interesting psychological experience. My brain is on alert trying to notice the slightest change in my life and how people treat me. I am definitely a little while away till truly believing my luck that in my case, marriage and feminism can coexist mostly because of the partner I chose. But it’s a process.

This whole thing has made me realize that as a young South Asian woman, the thing I cling to the most is my freedom to make choices and stand shoulder to shoulder with the men in my life.

I wanted to write about this because no one tells you about this mental anguish when two seemingly at loggerheads concepts mix — feminism and shaadi. Certainly nothing on my Instagram feed about it.

I would love to hear from other feminists who are married about their mental reasoning post the event, and if any of this resonates. I would also appreciate research/reading lists on marriage norms and geographic mobility of women post marriage, social network effects of marriage, marriage and gender wage gap in developing country contexts, and any related content.