“I’m doing what I want. I feel like, after marriage, however my life will be, I will not have regrets for not having enjoyed life in my 20s. I will never have to think that ‘my life was so dull and so boring’. I can be happy thinking I have (at least) enjoyed life when I was single.”
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Meet Manwara, 26, an MBA graduate, working in a well-known IT firm in Bengaluru. Manwara and her friends Deepthi (25), Sandhya (30) and Ruchika (28) live in a paying guest accommodation in South Bengaluru. They come from different parts of India, and are very different personalities. But they have some things in common.
Just like these four women, tens of thousands of women move to Bengaluru to work every year, from the nook and corners of India, full of aspirations and dreams of a great career and the freedom the metro offers. Hailing from middle-class families in small towns, many are well-qualified, placed in reputed organisations in this glittering city.
These four did not get married right after college—they are still single and work hard to be financially independent. But…
‘It’s like being in a pressure cooker’
Marriage is the most pressing issue for each of these young women. It is a matter of pressure from family and society, it is a frightening uncertainty, and will be a turning point, for better or for worse for each of them. Three of them are under pressure to get married from their families. Sandhya, the oldest of the group at 30 years, is engaged to be married soon. For all of them, the pressure began at around 25.
Deepthi, a Computer Science engineer, hails from Davangere. Her parents began pressuring her to get married a couple of months ago and started to look for suitable matches. “Our whole day-to-day life changes when this starts. They are always behind me: ‘Get married, get married, get married.’ It’s like being in a pressure cooker. I don’t get sleep these days because of this,” she says.
Each of the women knew this time would come, when parents and family members begin to prod them to consider marriage. When Manwara’s sister got married in 2014, she knew she was up next. Her parents have been searching for a groom since then, and she said she expects to get married in December. “When I go home, people ask, ‘Her sister got married in 2014, why is she still single?’,” she says. Manwara is from Silchar, a small town located in Assam.
Sandhya, who is engaged now, spent years deflecting questions from others. “I would not go to any of the functions because people would start asking ‘Why are you single?’ and ‘What is your age?’. Sandhya hails from a remote village in Kasargod district in Kerala. She is a post graduate in Pharmacy and works for a reputed pharmaceutical company in Bengaluru.
‘Getting the right match a problem’
While Manwara continues to work in the city, her family back in Assam has her profile posted on matrimony sites, looking for men who match their criteria. Manwara’s family has simple requirements: He must be a Muslim and employed. “If they find the right guy, I can’t say no, there’s no reason to say no,” Manwara says. “But they’re not getting the right match, so I am saved for now.”
For Manwara, marriage could mean giving up work, or, more troubling to her, her life in Bengaluru. If she marries a man outside of the city, she will inevitably have to give up her current job and relocate. Manwara says that when she initially told her parents that she did not want to marry, they scolded her. Now she feels that she will eventually have to marry, if only to make her parents happy.
“We can’t fight. Girls are sensitive about their parents. I never used to think about family, parents and all. But now I think, for their happiness, maybe we have to do things,” she says. “In India, we have to think about parents. We have to sacrifice our careers, our life for them. If we didn’t have to, maybe we could do something else.”
‘Nobody cares what I want!’
Unlike Manwara’s family, Deepthi’s parents have a list of requirements, ranging from education, to caste, to religion. But her personal list is a little shorter. “My dad asked, ‘What are the things you’re looking for in a guy?’ And I said, “The one condition is that he should be a man.'” She says, “I told them to handle it. I am not bothered. Because they are interested in getting me married, right? I am not the one—they decided the qualifications, nobody cares what I want, so why does it matter? It feels sometimes like you’re in a market and and people are bidding for you.”
When she graduated, her father made it clear that she could work for two years before he began looking for a husband for her. Now, nearly four years later, she is still unwed, but the search has begun. She points out that her mother has never tried to pressure her to marry, instead encouraged her to work toward independence, in her studies, her work and her finances. “But she can’t raise her voice, because she is very dependent on my dad. Now I understand why she used to keep on telling me ‘Study, study, study’.”
Deepthi adds, “I think my mother suffered a lot. She didn’t really have a choice, she studied only till her tenth. She had to get married, so she got married, and exactly after one year, she had me.”
But even if a woman doesn’t marry, she faces obstacles. Ruchika, a HR professional, who came to Bengaluru from far away Varanasi, says she wants to remain single so that she can take care of her parents. But her parents are not happy about her decision. Even her peers find her decision strange: “They feel the same [as my parents], that one day everyone has to get married and settle down.” As she explains it: “It’s India… every girl has to get married, otherwise society will start spreading rumours.”
This sentiment is echoed by the others too. “Though they won’t know the name of the person, they’ll know that she’s not married,” says Manwara. “People will assume that there is something wrong…”
Fear of losing their independence
The biggest concern is the loss of independence, especially if one has to give up her job. Sandhya says, “If you are completely dependent on someone, the chances are you will be dominated. I am independent and I am so happy about that. I have seen [my mother’s] life, what she went through.”
Sandhya has been living and earning independently for the last seven years, and is not prepared to give that up. She detests the idea of asking for permission to go places or spend her own money, and has made that clear with her husband-to-be. “I have already informed him,” she says, “he can suggest. And I can take it or not take it, that’s my wish.”
“80 per cent of people want to work because they don’t want to ask money every time from their husbands,” Deepthi adds. For Deepthi, this is one the biggest differences between generations: freedom for a woman to do as she pleases.
“I don’t think this generation of women will ask ‘What am I supposed to do’; they will just inform you of what they are doing. Earlier you had to ask, ‘I am going for a movie. Shall I go?’ Now it is, ‘I am watching a movie, and I will be late.'”
Compromising their careers for their families
These women also fear that, with marriage or a family they will be forced to compromise on their career. Ruchika says that while she does not want to to that, she expects she may have to. Manwara says that should her husband’s family decide she cannot work, she will have to give up her job. She says many women are forced to choose between career and family.
“Some girls I have seen are very career-oriented, but most of them are 30-plus and not married. Because they’re focusing so much on their careers, then obviously they will not get married,” she says.”Obviously it’s difficult to maintain both of the things, right?”
But Deepthi and Sandhya have a different view.
“It’s not like men are giving permission for women to work, it’s our right to work,” Deepthi says. “I don’t think I will compromise. If he is also ready to compromise on his career, then I will think about it.”
“I don’t want to compromise my career for family or family for my career. It has to be a railroad track. It has to run parallel,” Sandhya says. She adds that, if she must relocate after marrying, she will not move before finding work. “People will discourage you from resuming work if you take a break from your career”, she says. But working is too important to her to give up. It’s a part of her identity and gives her her dignity.
‘Male colleagues can’t behave properly’
All the women faced obstacles in choosing a field, getting a job, and moving up in their career. Deepthi’s family pushed her into her current field: Computer Engineering. “When I was growing up, I wanted to do film editing, something behind the camera,” she says. “But I had nobody to guide me. Our family is very conservative, so nobody has any exposure to entertainment media. And my mom was like, ‘Okay, you have to study engineering.’ And at some point I thought I should earn money so I could move out (of my home), so I studied.”
Sandhya says that the hiring process is different if you are a woman, as well. “They go, ‘Okay, are you married? If not, you will get married and relocate. If you’re married, do you have kids? No kids? Then we’ll need to give you maternity leave. You have kids? Then you’ll take more days of leave,” she says. “A guy will join the organisation and leave after six months—that is not a problem for them.”
Once employed, many women, like Deepthi, find themselves in male-dominated offices. Sandhya says many male co-workers struggle to ‘behave properly’ around women, and dislike reporting to female superiors.
Deepthi believes the ability to branch out from science and engineering fields will be easier for future generations.”What you wanted to be, it was not that easy to follow. Either your family wouldn’t have been financially supportive, or there wouldn’t have been anyone to guide you how to go about it. After 10th, nobody had any idea about arts or commerce,” she says. “If you stay in a very small village, you don’t know which school in town is good or which road takes you toward your passion. But now, you don’t need to ask someone, you can Google it.”
As more and more people go online, information becomes more readily available and instead of doing “whatever your cousins are doing,” as Deepthi put it, women will be able to consider more options.
The future for young working women
For all of these women, education was key in the independence they’ve attained so far. Deepthi says, “My dad said ‘No, no, if she wants to study, I will not stop her.’ That’s why he allowed me to go out. That’s why I’m here. I’m here because of my parents. Otherwise, by now I would have been at home looking after a child.”
Similarly, Sandhya says her father valued education, and had let her continue studying despite the pressure to marry. It’s a value that has been instilled in her as well. “Get as much education as possible,” she advises. “That is the only thing that will be with you always. Only parents can spend money on you without expecting anything from you.”
“Don’t listen to anyone, do whatever you want. Even if it’s wrong, you’ll learn from your mistakes.” Deepthi says. “I listened to my parents. That’s why I’m an engineer. That’s why I’ve decided that I’ve listened enough, I won’t listen when it comes to marriage.”
All these women believe the pressure for girls to marry will be around for years to come. For Manwara, independence and freedom while being single were deeply important.
Every year, more and more young women are entering India’s workforce, from families from all around the country, from varying levels of wealth and education.
“India is changing, slowly, slowly,” says Deepthi. They say they could already see changes taking place. Students were beginning to choose the arts stream despite scoring good marks in science, women were exploring new interests, such as modelling. While the pressure will always be there, it seems that young women are discovering new tools to combat them.
“I think the younger generation is bold enough,” Deepthi says. “They will follow their passion.”
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