The Indian wedding for Dummies - 5. Life with the in-laws
The "Indian wedding" (I should say the Hindu wedding to be exact) has made the subject of numerous books, movies, visits to India. In short it’s an institution. I will try here to understand something to it!
Once all the ceremonies of the marriage are completed, the bride goes up to the threshold of her house (where traditionally the wedding takes place) with relatives and throws a handful of rice and coins over her head, as a symbolizing of “paying back” for what her parents have done for her as well as her best wishes for prosperity to her former household. Similarly, the car in which she sits with her husband is pushed by the family and covered with money to keep away the evil eye.
After that, she fully becomes a member of her in-law family: she goes to live with them, she is invited to call the parents mum and dad (which is simply inconceivable for Europeans). In some communities, she even changes her first name for one selected by her new family, sometimes even for the female version of the husband’s name! Like that you make sure there is a clean slate of the past... Though I must say, there is often much more to look forward than backward as in the villages (where more than 60% of the population live), girls are married on average at 16.
Life in the joint families (extended families where several generations live under the same roof and especially (this is the very principle) share food, worship and property)) is not always easy. Take my friend for instance: she married into a very rich family and yet was not allowed to go out unaccompanied after sunset...
I must admit that the joint families system is very practical, more economical, with in-house babysitters and papysitters etc, but it doesn’t really encourage personal development...
Economic growth (and for example the creation of new jobs* with children not embracing their father’s career and having to be geographically mobile, or the women's access to education and employment) is accompanied by socio-cultural changes, including the decline of the joint families system and the rise of nuclear families (63% in urban areas) and 59% (in rural areas) (source).
In the joint family, the daughter-in-law has to deal with the mother-in-law, saas, which is an icon in India; it’s recommended not to read too much on the topic because it's just super scary! Half of the soaps feature the tyranny exerted on her daughter-in-law, a kind of revenge for what she herself suffered from her own mother-in-law and all the men of the family! (source)
Anyway tyranny happens only when they live! If the parents cannot afford the dowry they committed to, things can heat up pretty bad... In 2012, more than 8,000 women were murdered for this reason; a popular technique is throwing acid or an accidental fire in the kitchen.
And to top it all, even if the daughter-in-law and mother-in-law share a good relationship, the first will have to deal with the mother-son relationship, which, in India, is of the same ilk as with Jewish or Italian mothers. I once read that “since Indian women cannot marry the perfect man, they make him”. Good luck to keep the kid on Earth! And what expectations, what pressure he has to deal with!