Newly-wed Munia spent this Eid cooking for, and serving, her in-laws, while pining for her parental home and a glimpse of her parents. When the 28-year-old had approached her husband about visiting her parents, he had simply dismissed the idea. Her first Eid after marriage was thus marked by a huge fight with her husband who chose to prioritise his family and some ill-formed notions of custom over the happiness of his wife and his in-laws.
“I'm the only child of my parents and I could never imagine celebrating Eid without them. To me, Eid is being woken up by my mother early in the morning, taking a shower, eating my favourite dishes prepared by her, and getting salami from my father when he returns from Eid prayers,” says Munia. “We live in the same district, but I couldn't visit them on Eid day as I was busy preparing dishes and serving food for my in-laws and guests.”
“I failed to make my husband understand my sentiments. He thinks that I am now solely a member of his family, and so I must adapt to his family's traditions of celebrating Eid.”
The experience of 30-year-old homemaker Sabiha Akhter is worse than Munia's. She could never even broach the subject of celebrating Eid with her parents to her in-laws, even though her husband has been living abroad for the past six years. “Eid actually doesn't bring anything pleasant for me as I'm accustomed to celebrating it without the dearest people in my life,” laments a frustrated Akhter.
“The first year after my husband went abroad, I felt very lonely at my in-laws. So my parents asked me to celebrate Eid with them. But when I asked for my mother-in-law's permission, it became a big issue. I had to tolerate their criticism over how I just love their son but couldn't become a part of his family, and that, with their son gone; I only prioritised my comfort, etc. My husband also misunderstood me and scolded my mother for such a proposal. From then, till today, I don't even dare think of joining my parents for Eid. I don't want any hassle; I really just want to protect my marriage,” she explains.
While in Bangladesh the idea of Eid is that of a day to be celebrated with delicious dishes and adda in the company of loved ones, the overall responsibility of pleasing everyone usually falls on the daughters-in-law of the family. And very few families notice that because of this, the daughters-in-law and their own family members are excluded from this basic joy of Eid—spending time with their loved and cherished ones.
But marriage is an equal partnership, and husbands are supposed to give importance to the choices of their wives. Reality, unfortunately, is quite different.
“The most common tendency of our husbands is them wanting us to accept their family as our own immediately after marriage. They take it for granted, but never think of it the other way around!” says 32-year-old Aklima Begum, a homemaker. “Sometimes I feel that my emotions have been sold when I got married.”
Even in cases when the husband values his wife's wishes, his family expects the daughter-in-law to adapt to a new set of rules overnight. Many families pressure their sons to 'control' their wives. A large number of women still don't dare visit their homes without permission from their in-laws.
It is a sad reality that when a daughter-in-law strives to change these ill customs, her in-laws do not take kindly to it, seeing it as a sign that their daughter-in-law is out of control or that they are not mindful of the needs of the family.
“When a girl is married to a man, she no longer belongs to her parents. Instead, she becomes a family member to her in-laws. I have become habituated to this, as has my mother. I haven't been celebrating Eid with my parents for the past 30 years. Such is the life of women! They must prioritise their in-laws above their own parents, and if someone can't, it is her own fault and she must make the necessary adjustments,” says 55-year-old Safia Begum, a mother-in-law.
But does a woman's wishes and desires end with marriage? Does she simply become an extension of her husband and his family, with no reciprocity?
Not only during Eid, the predominant patriarchal mindset of men means many women still get less priority in making family decisions and require permission from their husband or in-laws while going out of their home. “I never get permission from my husband when I want to visit my family on ordinary days, let alone on Eid,” says 23-year-old Nazmunnahar Moni, a homemaker.
For many women in Bangladesh, fighting against such backward customs is not an option. Instead, many consider themselves lucky if they are allowed to share their Eid with their parents, but perhaps time has come for them to see it as a matter of their own agency. It also falls upon the husband to assist his wife in upholding her choices, just as she does for him as a matter of course in daily life.
Although, over the years, economically solvent women have been striving to transform their role in the family, they too face troubles. Say, when they want to send money to their parents from their own income or have a family member come live with them. However, it is difficult or nearly impossible for women having no source of income to financially assist their parents.
According to young women today, dividing time equally among both families can be a good option. But this requires proper assistance and a degree of compassion from their partners. If husbands are not supportive and act as their wives' advocates with his parents, then who will?