The other morning, the maid who comes home to help in the kitchen arrived in tears. She looked distraught. Though dark-complexioned, reddened bumps showed through her face. Her hair was disheveled. Her eyes were blood-shot. She lacked her characteristic joie de vivre disposition about her that day. Persistent questioning by my wife had her spill the beans. She had been at the receiving end of her inebriated husband’s violence the whole night. She wasn’t allowed to sleep, as she was his punching bag! That wasn’t the first time she has been at the receiving end of her drunken husband’s violent ways. Yet, she had it in her to maintain a distinct sprightfulness about her. A mother of three, she had been a meek victim of her drunken husband’s violent brawls since 25 years of marriage. She also had to contribute to her family’s income by helping in the kitchen of many a home. Turning blood to sweat, she had managed to marry off her two daughters into reasonably stable homes and circumstances, and even embark on refurbishing her humble home, while her fisherman husband continued to have a jolly good time with his hard-earned money making the local country liquor vendor richer. This is not the story of a one-of-her-kind Indian woman. With women in India continuing to be victims of a patriarchal society where brutal Brawn of the male species run rough shod over physically inferior female species, what ‘romantic love’ are we celebrating as ‘Valentine’s Day’ on February 14th? Is there romance left to celebrate between couples, especially married ones in Indian homes today?
What is achieved when urbane well-to-do ‘romantic lovers’ exchange red roses, cards and gifts on that day, with the radio and television playing movie songs in the background that represent love of the most ‘intense’ kind, that puts even Romeo and Juliet to shame,?, far removed from the grim reality of women in a typical Indian home. What is achieved by having huge stickers of red hearts stuck to every conceivable nook and corner of one’s living space?
In a nation where over 50% of ordinary women are at the receiving end of domestic violence like my distraught maid, where 5,000 women die annually on account of dowry, or the lack of it, where a woman is raped every 20 minutes, Where women make up 72% of acid victims, and where fetal sex determination and female feticide constitute a thriving Rs.1, 000 crore industry, what ‘romantic love’ are we celebrating, which Valentine’s Day is supposed to be glorifying on February 14th?
Ideally, the highly commercialized market-driven celebration of romance and romantic love, which is nothing but a chip of the Western culture has no relevance in India, where romance and romantic love are nonexistent commodities in an average Indian home, in which the woman, returning home from a hard day’s toil has to put up with her invariably inebriated husband’s drunken ways, usually violent, and also has to comply with his many a demand.
When the country’s youth, ‘madly in love’ dine on candle-lit dining tables in expensive restaurants, and exchange red roses, cards and expensive gifts, people who stand to gain are the restaurant and gift shop owners, and online retailers. An average Indian woman stands to gain nothing. I am not some grumpy old-timer, shouting from the rooftop against a commercially-driven celebration that stinks of hypocrisy to the core, but one who hopes that, just as red roses, gifts and cards are being exchanged between young men and women in this country on Valentine’s Day, the Indian woman ceases to be the victim in her husband’s and his family’s hands, and that she ceases to be a docile door mat before marauding men. I hope that the Indian woman continues to be draped in her life partner’s romantic ways, the entire year, and not just on Valentine’s Day.