Women in India are traditionally good wives and mothers—family, society thinks so. Women also have an important goal in life to get married. But leaving that tradition, now a large number of women are choosing to be independent and single. The number of such women is gradually increasing in India.
According to a BBC Online report, more than 24 women attended a luncheon at a Caribbean lounge in South Delhi recently. The entire lounge was filled with stories, chats and laughter of the women present. All of them are living alone. They are all members of Status Single, a Facebook-based community group for single women in urban India.
“Let’s stop identifying ourselves as widows, divorcees or singles,” said Srimayi Pyu Kundu, a member of the group and a writer. We proudly identify ourselves as singles.’
In a country where ‘marriage’ is considered as the main goal of women’s life, if you are single in that country, you may have to collect many slanders. Unmarried or single women in rural India are generally seen as a burden on the family. Widowed women were exiled to cities like Vrindavan and Varanasi.
The women at that lunch, including Pew Kundu, are a little different. Most of them come from middle class families. Some of them are teachers, doctors, lawyers; Some are entrepreneurs, rights activists, writers and some are journalists. Some of them live alone, some are divorced, some are widows. There are many who are not married.
The number of single women living in wealthy urban families in India is increasing day by day. They themselves are becoming financially independent by working in banks, jewelry manufacturing firms, consumer goods companies and travel agencies. There are movies and web series in Bollywood about single women. Bollywood movies Queen and Piku and the web series Four More Shots Please have been made about single women. These women-only movies and web series have also been commercially successful.
Last October, India’s Supreme Court ruled that unmarried women have the same right to abortion as married women. Through this ruling, the country’s top court recognized the rights of single women.
Yet Indian society’s attitude towards single women remains as rigid as ever. Piu Kundu said, it is not easy for wealthy women to be single. They see each other in the same way. He said, “As a single woman, I have been a victim of discrimination and humiliation. When I went to get a flat in Mumbai, the members of the housing society wanted to know whether I drank or not and whether I was physically fit to have sex.’
Pyu Kundu said, once he met a gynecologist. The doctor also asked unsolicited questions about personal matters like the neighbors. A few years ago his mother advertised on a matchmaking site. He also met someone after seeing this advertisement. That person wanted to know within the first 15 minutes of meeting, is she a virgin or not? She said, single women are asked this question regularly.
According to the 2011 census, there were 7.14 million single women in India at that time, which is more than the combined population of the UK or France. Analyzing the 2011 data with the 2001 census in India, the number of single women has increased by 39 percent during this period. In 2001, the number was 5 crore 12 lakh. The completion of the 2021 census is delayed due to the corona epidemic. Pu Kundu said, now the number of women alone will cross 10 crores.
Many have cited several reasons behind the rise in the number of single women in India. Some say that the age limit for marriage has been increased in India. This means that a large number of single or unmarried women in the country are just past their teenage years or in their early 20s. And among the number of single women there is also a large number of widows. This number has increased as women live longer than men.
But Pew Kundu says a large number of women are not single because of circumstances, many women are now choosing to be single on purpose. It is an important matter. He said, “I have seen talking to many women, they live alone by their own choice. They reject the concept of traditional marriage. Because, it is a patriarchal institution, which perpetuates injustice and oppression against women.
Pew’s mother suffered a lot of discrimination after becoming a widow. Pew said, ‘I’ve seen growing up, how a man makes a woman partnerless; How women are marginalized in our patriarchal society. She (mother) was unwanted at the time of cousin’s marriage. He was told to stay away from the bride as the shadow of a widow is inauspicious.’
Pew’s mother remarried at age 44. He fell under the wrath of the society. Everyone started talking insultingly. Pew said, “These things have had a profound effect on me. I once believed that marriage would bring us acceptance, remove all my darkness.’
Pew fell in love twice. But he was subjected to physical and mental abuse in both those relationships. Neither relationship moved forward. At the age of 26, he got married. He did not do that marriage again. Pew said he once realized that in a traditional marriage, a woman is subordinate to a man. He can’t. So no more married.
An ideal relationship will never be based on culture, religion or community; Rather, Pew commented that it would be based on respect and recognition.
India still has a patriarchal society. In this society, 90 percent of marriages take place under the active supervision of the family. Here women can hardly say whom to marry, stay alone or not at all.
Bhavana Dahiya, 44, a life coach in Gurugram near Delhi, has never married. He said, ‘We can be a point in the ocean. But there is that point. The more examples of women being single, the better. Traditionally, the family discussed husband’s job, plans and children’s school. There was not much discussion about women’s likes and dislikes. But now this situation is changing.