Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thoughts on Patrilineal Virilocality

A very good friend of mine got married in her early twenties. Her marriage was being forced down her throat, since her mother was retiring and her father wanted to relocate. Although she had no qualms about a quick marriage and that too a forced one.
The first guy she met got along well with her. He was into hotel management and was working in a reputed hotel in Delhi. They both began dating each other until he lost his job. She had started liking him by then but in an Indian arranged marriage, expressing a desire to marry a jobless guy is like throwing the axe on your foot. Even then she was hoping against hope, that he would find a new job and they would end up together someday.
Because she had started planning a future with him. The guy got a job and actually a very good one. But to take it up he had to relocate to Malaysia.
My friend despite bowing to the decisions taken by her father for her marriage, always chose to stand up for her rights. She loved her job and didn't want to leave it. She also always wanted to be in Delhi, since her brother and his family were settled here. And she wanted to stay close to her natal household.
While the guy she was pursuing wanted to be an NRI at any cost. She tried her best to convince him so that he would settle for another job in Delhi. But he didn't budge.
She bowed to the pressure exerted by her family and settled for another guy brought up and settled in Delhi.
This guy was an old acquaintance. What amused me was the quick rebuttal of her earlier decision, since as a person who had closely known her mind, the other guy had made her heart his home.
Even then she decided to marry this other guy and not move out of Delhi. The only assurance in favor of this decision was that she wanted someone's shoulders to cry on, if something ever went amiss.
She wanted to be spared of the dilemma of making new friends and being a foreigner in an alien land.
Despite she settling for a quick arranged marriage I admire her for having not fallen into the trap of "virilocality".
Recently I saw an advertisement in which the intimate conversations of a couple going to get married are being aired.
One of most interesting aspects of the conversation was the guy telling the girl about her re-location to his place of residence. And the girl nodding her head and saying a "yes" with no signs of protest.
That is what most Indian brides have been doing and will continue to do. Virilocality has been etched in the aggressive Indian patriarchal family system.
In an interview held recently for Springer, I was asked the very irritating question pointing towards the change of residence after marriage. After looking at my cv and date of birth they may have expected me to be getting married quickly to avoid a "late marriage" and to not lose out on the good guys. 
I replied with an affirmative 'no' since marriage is nowhere in my mind. And I wonder why aren't men asked such questions that belong to the stone age?

Amusingly, the interview was for their mumbai location which doesn't house my parents. Then how on earth did they get the idea of me changing places after marriage, if at all. And the possibility that I would find a guy living in mumbai itself was ruled out out-rightly.

When I am told to marry an NRI to brighten my career prospects in research, I only have one question to ask  such people. Why can't I move out to a foreign country on my own? Why am I expected to marry and why is a husband expected to be the "passport" for a foreign country? A career counselor I had consulted six months ago, told me that this was the preferred choice of most Indian women, when it came to going abroad and finding a job or going for a higher degree.

The Nairs and Menons of Kerala practised the matriarchal 'tharavad' system until it was abolished recently. In which the woman stayed at her natal household even after marriage, and the husband stayed back at his place with his sister, if he had any. If he didn't have a female sibling he was expected to move in to the wife's place. Her children stayed in their mother's natal home which was also their home. The woman's brother in this case was the custodian of the woman's wealth and for such people a family meant 'sister and her children'. Although this system didn't project the rights of the Nair woman, since she was pitted as the sister of the Nair man, this didn't fan the fantasies of regressive patriarchy that expected the woman to leave her parents and home and make another person's house her abode.
What finds favor with women like me is the "neolocal residence" in which both the husband and wife stay in a place away from the natal households of both. This type of post-martial residence is widely practised in the west.
For my sisters, who think that there isn't a choice beyond virilocality, think again. Maybe we can start aping the west with this, now that we have started following them in everything we do.

Indian marriages are themselves a very violent institution that is gendered to the core and expects the woman to re-shape her life and choices. Patrilineal virilocality adds fuel to this fire, which is an important aspect that most women aiming for equal rights with men, tend to ignore, but must not overlook.

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