I read an extremely depressing piece of news last week. A young woman in Tamil Nadu (incidentally, a Chartered Accountant) was murdered by her in-laws in the hope that their son could get remarried for a greater dowry. This horrible tragedy comes in the wake of the Supreme Court diluting dowry laws over misuse, even when close to 7,600 women were killed over dowry in 2015 alone. What upset me, though, more than the actual murder of a bright young woman, was the number of people who shared the story on social media, with different variations of the question, “The girl was a CA. Why didn’t she walk out of the marriage?”.
When I studied Chartered Accountancy, I was part of the very privileged 1% that had studied in a CBSE school and had parents who were post graduates. Most of the girls I studied with were first generation post graduates who came from modest and traditional homes. They were very sharp, academically, and worked very hard. However, their world was restricted to coaching classes, office, and their parents.
And almost all of them had zero financial independence.
I remember a conversation with a former colleague about what she did with her stipend/salary. She told me that she gave it to her parents. What will you do after you get married? I asked. She replied, without as much as batting an eyelid, that she would give it to her in-laws because that’s what her parents would expect from her. It was the ‘right thing’ to do, she said.
The story talks about how her parents gave Rs 45 lakh in cash, apart from 100 sovereigns in gold to the girl on the day of her wedding — all of which was whisked away by her in-laws on the same day. And this was considered to be acceptable — not only by the girl’s parents but by the girl herself! What is the point of having a prized academic qualification when your world and opinions are restricted to what your parents tell you?
Money is an important factor in relationships — let us not kid ourselves otherwise. Money is even more crucial in a joint family set up. Contributing to the family is important, but never at the cost of sacrificing yourself. Women need to save more aggressively, and more importantly, be taught that there is nothing shameful in spending and saving for themselves. We hear so many stories of abusive husbands and in-laws, and the common thread that runs across them is greed, and a vulnerable woman without financial independence.
While we can’t detect or cure greed, we can help make our women less vulnerable. Tell them that the money they earn is theirs. Teach them how to operate their own bank accounts, how to use a credit card, and register for insurance and an independent savings plan. Ladies, your money is yours, and yours alone. If you are a home maker, you are not any less valuable because you don’t have a degree. You have an equal right to your husband’s salary. If you are a parent of a daughter to be married, make sure everything you give her is locked up in accounts that only she can access. Most importantly, remember that there is nothing wrong in talking money with your family. Discuss investments, savings, and everything in between.
I can’t help but wonder if this girl would have managed to have the courage to leave her god-forsaken family if she had had the money to make that decision. Maybe she would still be alive. Maybe.