Individual choices are supreme. Enabling women and not interfering with their agency is an important goal for our society, and it is imperative that we understand that ultimately it is a woman's choice as to what she wants to do in her life. There cannot be any disagreement over this.
But as we strive to reduce society's control over women, it is important to call the bluff on certain practices which pass off as a woman's choice, or choices made by others for women.
Giving dowry could be a choice, but it is now illegal. The girl's side spending for the entire wedding could be the girl's and her family's choice, but it smacks of patriarchy. Wearing the ghungat or hijab can be a woman's choice, but itâ€™s a sign of female repression. Karva chauth and south Indian nonbu could be out of the wife's, but they are signs of gender disparity in a marriage.
The bride converting to the groom's religion before their wedding could be the girl's choice, but it is a practice rooted in the patriarchy which seeks to suppress women.
We have to be careful and not second-guess the Mandya bride's reason for conversion to Islam. She has clearly stated that it was her choice to convert and marry according to Islamic customs, and it's not our business to interfere, let alone call for bandhs, threaten or indulge in violence and participate in online lynch-mobs over the issue like Hindu caste groups did. Perhaps, she really found in Islam what she could not get in the religion she was born in - whatever it is, it's her choice.
But the wedding has sparked off a debate, and has come under a lot of scrutiny. And in the interest of gender parity that we strive for, it has to be pointed out that it is women who are always expected to accommodate and change their lives after a wedding. She is uprooted from her life. She has to change her name, her lifestyle and possibly give up on a career. When was the last time we heard a Muslim man convert to Hinduism, or vice versa, for the love of his life?
The question becomes even more important in the context of this wedding since Islamic personal laws in the country are biased against women.
We cannot be judgmental about the choices women make, they have their reasons for what they do. We do not have the right to interfere. But we can have the good sense to learn from events and speak out, with the hope that women make informed choices which don't compromise their rights and freedoms. We cannot allow our appetite for secularism to let the inherent patriarchy in our society to flourish.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The News Minute is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information in this article.