"I decided to leave the marriage, which I had hoped was going to be forever."
The outburst against her in-laws by Faryal Makhdoom, the wife of boxer Amir Khan, sparked much debate about the role and treatment of the daughter-in-law in a Desi household.
Many would argue this is nothing new and the age-old argument of issues between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law and the in-laws family in general, have gone on for centuries.
However, times have changed and so have women, especially, women from South Asian communities, who have developed independence, progressed in careers and business, and are fully capable of supporting themselves to live as individuals, as well as being part of a marital family.
Whilst marriage is supposed to be the start of a wonderful and happy life for a couple, we take a look at what are the common scenarios that can lead to a Desi daughter-in-law to say ‘enough is enough’.
Family Lifestyle Differences
Problems can arise from differences in the lifestyle and attitudes of Desi families, especially, in countries like the UK, USA and Canada.
Those families with traditional and orthodox beliefs will not be very open to change and will continue to live their lives this way. This includes dress-sense, cuisine, adherence to traditions, strict attitudes to women working, domestic expectations of women in the household and overall control by the elders.
Whereas, families who have adopted more Western values and are comfortable to integrate more into Western society will live a very differently and more liberally. Where expectations of the women will be dictated by their individual choice, higher education is usually the norm, restrictions will be minimal and equality in the household may be more acceptable.
Therefore, a Desi girl being brought up in a home which is more liberal and marrying into a home which has strict lifestyle and values can lead to problems in the marriage. Perhaps not during the honeymoon period but soon after.
However, this may not be the same vice-versa, where a more liberal minded family will not impose restrictions on their daughter-in-law and aim to treat her as their own.
Manpreet Kaur says:
“My parents always taught us to respect our family name but never stopped us from doing what we wanted. I studied away from home, worked two years abroad and then set-up my own business. They were proud of me.”
“I then got married to the son of my father’s long-term friend. Their family was very different to ours and very traditional but I didn’t think it would affect my marriage.”
“After a year, my mother-in-law began to say to my husband, I had too much freedom in my marriage and I lacked respect for their family and did as I pleased. My educated husband never had any issue with it but the family did. His sisters often questioned me about my whereabouts.”
“A few months later, I was accused of having an affair by the family, which was not at all true because I loved my husband unconditionally. My husband got torn, not knowing who or what to believe. The taunting and lies continued. It got unbearable. I was not going to let them do this to me. So, I made it easier for my husband, I decided to leave the marriage, which I had hoped was going to be forever.”
In addition, there can be a class divide too. Where wealth differences between the bride and groom lead to problems. Especially, if the girl comes from a richer background in society and money.
Deepika Ahuja says:
“I lived in India in Delhi, in a very lavish way. My parents were rich and very modern thinking. They felt it would be good for me to marry abroad and to have new experiences.”
“I started to look on dating and marriage sites for a partner. I came across a handsome man in the UK. We clicked from the first few exchanges and I decided he was the one. My parents were happy as long as I was happy.”
“I got married with a big wedding in India and arrived in the UK to live with him and his family. It was a small house with people living either side in a street and was certainly not what I expected the UK to be like.”
“I liked to wear modern clothes such as skirts, tight jeans, crop tops and look good. I found that he was fine with it but his family did not approve. They questioned why I never wore Indian clothes. I told them I came from an Indian city and I prefer a Western look.
“From this it turned them into saying I was lazy and did not do anything in the house except watch TV, go to the gym and order take-out food. My husband would tell me to ignore them which I did for a few years.”
“But it got worse, they began to humiliate me in front of relatives and friends calling me useless and other names. I said things back too and heated arguments became very common in the house.”
“His mother accused me of ruining her son’s life and bringing misery into their home. I told him I was leaving. He begged me to stay. But I moved out into my own flat, divorced him and now live with a non-Indian, happily.”
Love or Arranged Marriage
The type of marriage can make a difference too; if it is arranged or a love marriage.
In love marriages where the couple are totally happy with each other can face hardship and challenges post-marriage. Especially, if they decide to live with the extended family. This is a common scenario where the daughter-in-law will find it hard to settle if her husband’s family lifestyle is very different from her own family or if she is unaccepted right from the onset, due to the ‘love’ marriage.
Seema Sharma who had a love marriage says:
“After about six months I noticed changes in the way my mother-in-law and my husband’s sisters communicated with me. Instead of talking to me, they started more or less ordering me to do things around the house, told to wear certain clothes, calling me by spiteful names and did not like me having any kind of contact with my parents, on the phone, by WhatsApp or even going to see them.”
“When I told my husband about it, he use to just dismiss it and say, it’s just the way they are. Don’t worry, they don’t mean anything by it. I’ll speak to them.”
“Every time he did, it made it worse. They accused me of implying they were beneath me and not educated like me. After a year, I had to get out of there, I was being blamed for little things, it was beginning to affect my marriage. Fortunately, my husband took my side and we moved out.”
Arranged marriage has its pitfalls too. Where when the couple lives in an extended family, little differences become huge problems.
Tasmeen Ali, who had an arranged marriage after living in a different city, says:
“My mother-in-law wanted me carry out all the domestic duties in the house, despite the fact I had a full-time job. She did nothing to support me. My husband had a younger brother and sister living with us and my husband did little to help because he feared his mother’s reactions.”
“I come from a small family, so found it hard to keep up with the demands of everyone. If my father-in-law tried to speak up for me, my mother-in-law would accuse him of over-complimenting me for things expected of me as a daughter-in-law.”
“After I had my first child. Things did not change much. Even more was expected because I was on maternity leave. One day I just snapped and left with my child. I later filed for divorce.”
Physical and Emotional Abuse
Desi marriages have been riddled with some form of abuse for decades.
Domestic violence against women in the 60s, 70s and 80s was sadly common. Where Desi women who were mainly illiterate and came from the homelands, got married into households with no idea of what to expect or experience in marriage. Women were often beaten and abused for making mistakes, doing something wrong and not understanding. They lived in fear of their husbands and families, with no place to go.
This has dramatically changed with new laws and protection for women from domestic violence. But the practice still continues in some way or form and domestic violence rates in general are still very high.
According to the charity Safelives, every year around 1.4 million (8.5% of the population) women in the UK suffer some form of domestic abuse and 887,000 cases of domestic abuse were recorded by police in England and Wales.
So, physical, and especially, emotional abuse are two traumas experienced by Desi daughter-in-laws frequently in marital homes. Perpetrators are not just a husband but the whole family can be involved.
Jayshree Shah, who was married for seven years says:
“I had an arranged marriage and the first few years were great. After I had my first child, a girl, life changed. My in-laws slowly began to verbally abuse me that I did not have a boy. This turned into them winding my husband up and he began to hit me at night in places that were not obvious. Nobody came to help me.”
“No one looked after my daughter and some days I was in so much physical pain from being beaten that I found it hard to get up. So, my child suffered too.”
“I could not tell anyone including my own family because it would’ve destroyed them. I then fell pregnant and gave birth to another daughter. The beatings started again. This time even my mother-in-law hit me with pans in the kitchen.”
“One day a non-Asian visitor came to the house to ask about double glazing. I collapsed in front of him. He called the police because he saw bruises near my sides. I was then taken away to a safe home with my daughter and my husband was charged with domestic violence.”
Gulshan Ahmed suffered immense emotional abuse:
“I met my husband at university. We got married soon after finishing our degrees. We did not have much money so we stayed with his family. At first it was all good but then his mother and sister started to emotionally abuse me when I was alone with them by saying I was not good enough for my husband.”
“The constantly hurt me with very harsh words about me, my looks, my family. They called me fat, dark and ugly and said I needed make-up to look pretty.”
“In front of my husband they were nice as anything so he never believed me when I told him. One day. I took an overdose because I could not take it anymore.”
“It was after that he decided we were moving out into a rented flat. Despite his mother crying and pleading with him not to leave.”
These are just some of the areas of life in Desi marriages where life for a daughter-in-law becomes impossible and leads to them saying ‘enough is enough’.
Tolerance, acceptance and understanding in South Asian society need to have a place for marriages to survive.
Adjustment to different ways of living and respect for choice need to play a major role. Otherwise, it is inevitable that more and more Desi women will come forward and reveal to the world, what goes on behind closed doors, in Desi marriages which are just not working.