The feminist movement will benefit by recognising the struggles of (at least some) men against patriarchy.
Tej Pratap Yadav seems to be finally back in Patna for good, but with a new home. For most of November and December, he’s rarely been in Patna, and hasn’t stepped into the family home. He has spent most of this time going on religious pilgrimage in the Braj region in and around Mathura, and Varanasi, Bodh Gaya and other places. He has also made trips to the Birsa Munda jail in Ranchi, where his father Lalu Yadav is lodged. He has been steadfastly avoiding his mother Rabri Devi, his wife Aishwarya Rai, and his brother Tejashwi Yadav, who is three years his junior.
Tej Pratap Yadav called up chief minister Nitish Kumar and demanded his right to separate accommodation as an elected member of the Bihar legislature. He had so far been living with his mother and wife at 10, Circular Road, Patna. Tej has now been given a house at 7 M, Strand Road.
The separation should help in his divorce petition, which comes up before a family court in Patna on 8 January. His family wants him to reconcile differences with wife Aishwarya Rai, whom he married in May 2018. They are not compatible, he says. She’s too urbane for him, he says, educated in Delhi’s Miranda College. He’s a rustic son of the soil, a misfit in politics and public life.
Tej Pratap Yadav’s struggle against his family is the struggle of humanity against patriarchy. He is seeking what everyone seeks: to be his own person, not his parents’ son. “One gets life from God after much difficulty,” he said, “If a man has to live his life ‘ghut-ghut kar’, what’s the benefit of remaining alive?”
The Hindi word ‘ghutan’—suffocation—is the right metaphor here. Millions of men and women live such lives of suffocation in India thanks to arranged marriages, thanks to just the pressure of getting married. Indian parents sign some contract with children in the womb—we’ll bring you into this world only if you agree to get married when we ask you to, with whom we ask you to wed.
Aishwarya Rai’s father is a former minister and a leader in the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the party run by Lalu’s family. Aishwarya’s grandfather was once the chief minister of Bihar. The marriage was a political alliance between the parents. Tej has said on record: “I was made a scapegoat for political benefits of several people in my family and party… There is no match between us.
We both come from extremely different backgrounds. Our culture and grooming are poles apart. I was never ready for the wedding. I kept pleading my parents and also discussed my feelings with brother Tejashwi and sisters but nobody took me seriously.”
Also read: Unveiling: The Aishwarya Rai of politics
Not just women
Tej Pratap Yadav’s predicament is a reminder that men, too, are victims of patriarchy. They are often forced into unwilling and unhappy marriages by coercive families, often for benefits such as dowry or social status. And we are not even talking of the forced marriages in Bihar where men are kidnapped at gun point by families of young women. The number of such groom kidnappings is increasing every year—it was 3,400 in 2017.
Pressuring sons to get married is no less than kidnapping at gunpoint. Such parental pressure, forced marriages, and the alienation of sons who want divorce need to be recognised as patriarchal violence against men as much as they are recognised as an assault on women’s freedom and individualism.
The institution of marriage is often recognised by people as a harbinger of misery, but what is not acknowledged is that women alone are not its victims. There’s no comparing the magnitude of misery men and women face. Men may have to suffer only through ‘suffocated’ companionship, which they compensate for with children and adultery. Women face much more: domestic violence, dowry deaths, marital rape, harassment by the mother-in-law, the pressure to produce children, the killing of female foetuses in their wombs and so on.
The degree may be lesser, but patriarchy also forces men into unhappy marriages, killing a part of their autonomous selves with slow but steady ‘suffocation’.
Of patriarchal women
It may help us fight for the rights of married women if we recognised that men, too, can be victims of patriarchy and the patriarchal institution of marriage. The low divorce rates in India are not a sign of a great family culture. They are rather a sign of how a large number of people agree to live through ‘suffocated’ lives—women and men alike.
Incidentally, in this case, wife Aishwarya Rai has not moved out of her in-laws’ house. Perhaps she, too, is under pressure from her parents and in-laws to ‘make the marriage work’. Or perhaps she’s herself happy with the fruits of patriarchy, thank you. After all, she could be the chief minister one day like her mother-in-law! Just as men can be victims of patriarchy, women can be its agents—yes, women like Rabri and perhaps Aishwarya.
It doesn’t help anyone’s cause that the plight of men is ridiculed and not taken seriously. “Our differences are irreconcilable,” Tej Pratap has said, “I had said this to my parents before the marriage was solemnised. But nobody listened to me then and nobody is listening to me now.”
Had Tej Pratap Yadav been a woman forced to stay in a marriage by her parents, we’d feel far more empathetic. But we are conditioned to think of patriarchy as a force that affects women alone.
That is not true. Patriarchy is not what men do to women. Patriarchy is what society does to us all, men and women. Women definitely bear the greater burden, suffering emotional and physical exploitation, institutionalised misogyny, discrimination from fathers and male bosses, female foeticide and dowry deaths and so on. But men, too, suffer from the same force of patriarchy.
If the feminist movement were to recognise this, it would only grow stronger. After all, feminism is all about individual freedom and choice. Let us empathise with Tej Pratap Yadav.
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