“Why aren’t you married as yet?!” This is a question many Indian women have had to field over the years, from parents, friends, relatives, neighbourhood watchmen and plenty of strangers at weddings. Staying single, especially after turning 30, comes with social stigma, because – even though times are changing – marriage still remains the penultimate life goal in India.
When a woman says she is single by choice, it’s more or less assumed that she is somehow unattractive or ‘unsuitable.’ And this stigma often translates into adverse real-world repercussions, with single women having difficulty getting business loans or denied rental housing based on their status – and, by extension, their ‘questionable character’.
‘Happily Unmarried’ an online project by Majlis Legal Centre, attempts to remove this stigma, and celebrate singlehood instead by sharing stories of ‘happily unmarried’ women. Majlis, a forum for women’s rights discourse and legal initiatives, decided to launch the project after noticing an increasing number of cases of domestic violence among married women. Although they are unhappy in their abusive marriages, they are afraid of walking away because of the stigma of being single.
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"I was 27 when it struck my mother that having abandoned an illustrious career in pharmacy for advertising, my resume was soon not going to be marriage-worthy. So she lined up some boys for me. My mother, like most others in my high-estrogen universe of a working women’s hostel, was eager to autocorrect my singledom. Being married then was the aspirational setting, and “being unmarried” was at best an affliction, or disorder which hopefully one would be cured of. It usually invoked pity and concern. I shooed all the boys away. I was waiting for love. I knew it would come. After a few customary “wrong boys”, it happened when I was 29. But my love story had a tragic ending, me being a runaway bride of sorts, and grieving for the next few years on a happily-ever-after that was snatched away from me. I was angry and sad. When I picked myself up together, I was 32 and according to my mother, my uterus was a time-bomb ticking away. I felt nothing for the babies I never had or wished to have. Meanwhile, the boys were getting worse. I decided to focus on me instead. I found a career of my calling and decided that I was my happily ever after. I loved the new me and my new life. Suddenly, it was raining boys, now that I had no time for them. I was 35, hot and single, and women were clutching on to their men a tad tighter in my presence. I did find love again, and eventually married at 39. My whole family clapped for me. I had averted the biggest disaster of “being single at 40” according to them. At 45, I walked out on my dysfunctional marriage- baby and cat in tow. Now they call me a “single mother", although I feel happily married to myself again. I believe that ultimately, whether you are single or married, it’s about showing up. For your partner, for your family, your friends, your children, the universe. But most importantly, for yourself. Are you good at showing up for yourself?" • Lalita Iyer is an author, columnist and story teller. She loves cats, cookies, bubblewrap, and the color yellow. She’s being raised by two boys, one of whom is feline! She is SINGLE. Not alone.▫️▫️▫️ #HappilyUnmarried #SingleSeptember #SingleNotAlone #Single
By sharing the stories, they want to encourage young, unmarried women to make an informed decision about marriage rather than giving in to social pressure and being unhappily married. Zara Shah, who worked on the project, comments “My biggest take away was probably the extent of the problem of marriage’s superiority as institution. I don’t think I ever realised (a) that it’s a problem and (b) how huge it is. Even the fact that we celebrate weddings and the way we do, making such a big
deal about it just goes to show how important the institution is. Not once, at least until the project had I seen or heard of anyone celebrating singledom. The fact that my 16 year old peers say things like ‘when I get married’ instead of ‘if I get married’ as if marriage is given. As if it’s some sort of mile stone that one
achieves in life.”
Majlis Legal wants to show Indian women that being single can be a healthy choice and that marriage should not be put on a pedestal. Rachael Alphonso is one of the women featured in the campaign. She used the platform to make an open declaration to a family friend who had expressed concerns about her unmarried status. Alphonso’s statement, “I will get married if a partner really adds meaning to my already very happy life”, is a very powerful one. It highlights the independence an individual can and should have with or without a partner by their side.
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"Dear family friend, thanks for your concern, but this is what I have to tell you: I will get married if I want to, if a partner really adds meaning to my already very happy life. I will get married for companionship, not to fulfil irrational social norms or to please society. If I am to have children, it is not for the selfish reason of having caretakers for when I am old. If I’m not married, I’ll invest my money to secure my own future. And if I get lonely, I’ll get a dog!" . (To read the complete article click on the link in our bio!). • Rachael Alphonso is 29 years old She has an MSC in Nutrition and Dietetics She hates cooking She loves reading, making memes and kicking patriarchy in the balls She is Single. Not alone. ▫️▫️▫️ #HappilyUnmarried #SingleSeptember #SingleNotAlone #Single
Another story was shared by Liyi Noshi from Arunachal Pradesh, who lives in Delhi with her five foster children. She decided against marriage when she was in her twenties. “I don’t have to please anyone,” Noshi says. “If there’s something I want to do, I can just get up and do it. No one will ask me, ‘Kahan ja rahi hai? Kyun ja rahi hai?’ (Where are you going? Why are you going?)”
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"I AM THE QUEEN OF MY OWN LIFE! I have to wake up in the morning only to please myself. I look at my married friends- constantly trying to please someone or the other. I don’t have to please anyone. If there’s something I want to do, I can just get up and it! No one will ask me ‘kahan ja rahi hain? Kyun ja rahi hain” And there’s nothing missing from my life either! I have children who love me and and who I love. I have an amazing dog. I almost feel grateful that I’m single. I’m just looking back and thinking of all my friends who were married at 25-26 years old and they already had obligations to fulfil. Of course there was a time when I did consider marriage but then I thought ‘what’s the use’. I appreciate the relationships, it’s great, but why is marriage necessary. When you love someone, you don’t have to get married to prove it." • Liyi Noshi turned 37 years YOUNG TODAY! Originally from Arunachal Pradesh, living in Delhi, she is the foster parent of 5 wonderful children She loves riding bicycles and running. She is Single. Not alone. ▫️▫️▫️ #HappilyUnmarried #SingleSeptember #SingleNotAlone #Single
Discourse being the first step to doing away with stigma, Majlis’ initiative is an immensely important one. What better way to show India that there is no shame in being single, than by sharing stories of those living life on their own terms, single but not alone. It’s a start.
Written by Additi Seth
Featured image credit: Majlis Legal Centre