Breaking Stereotypes: The non-sanskaari Indian bride

By Manleen Bawa

A typical Indian wedding scene begins with the bride slowly entering to the sound of melodramatic and emotionally stirring music. She maintains her coyness throughout the excessively time-consuming ritualistic proceedings and leaves weeping, lamenting the tearing apart from her parents and home.

Challenging rigid patriarchal norms

Across disparate geographical locations and over centuries, women have been subjected to a violent imposition of a certain ‘natural’ code of conduct. Glaring parallels between Victorian morality and twenty-first-century Indian tropes of femininity reflect the cultural and historical entrenchment of the patriarchal social order. Dictating the ‘proper’ behavioural expectations of brides in order to uphold the ‘respect’ and ‘honour’ of the family has been a common pan-Indian historical practice.

But Amisha Bhardwaj decided to ditch this orthodoxy, snap out of the traditional role of the bride and write ‘her own script’. In her bridal video “Indian Destination Wedding | Bride getting ready | Huahin Thailand” by CoolBluez photography, she is seen dancing to Sia’s chartbuster ‘Cheap Thrills’ while getting ready for the wedding. In a myriad of small ways, the viral video deconstructs the image of the archetypical Indian bride and changes the social landscape by challenging social and gender stereotypes.

Who is a ‘good wife’?

Prancing around in her bridal blouse and shorts with her arms decorated with the chura presents the perfect amalgamation of tradition and modernity. Amisha’s choice of the attire she dons in the video is an assertion. It is a celebration of the confident and modern independent women she identifies herself as.

This met the ire of those deeply-rooted within the patriarchal structure which dictates the kind of clothes a ‘bride’ or rather a ‘sanskaari’ girl should wear. Many also targeted the Western cultural force which has supposedly had a ‘corrupting influence’ on young women. Apparently, decency is equal to being fully clothed, which in turn is directly proportional to a woman’s good character. Without that good character, it is impossible to make a good match between the bride and the groom. This is the reasoning behind this relentless quest for quantifying the character of women.

By conflating morality with matters of religion and spirituality, it becomes an unquestionable natural given. The high value accorded to religiosity in our country further curbs dissent and what is prevalent becomes the inflexible norm. A ‘good wife’ was supposed to be a sati savitri representing chastity and purity. She was supposed to be the perfect embodiment of the Madonna figure. By codifying the unsaid gender roles, it was apparent that women had no control over managing the affairs of their own lives. Relegated to the domestic realm with little or no contact with the outside world, their individuality was effaced and subjectivity eroded.

If you’re happy, then show it

The wedding day marks a flux of sentiments and emotions. The stereotype demands the bride to play the submissive woman completely unaware and uncertain of her future far from home. Conventionally, displaying signs of visible happiness is seen as disrespectful in many ways since shyness, coyness, and embarrassment is supposed to be their cloak of protection from the outside world.

In the 1894 Fall Issue of The Madison Institute Newsletter, an article titled “Instruction and Advice for the Young Bride” clearly reflected the mindset which laid down manuals for governing female demeanour. It explicitly and unapologetically warned that the bride-to-be should show no excitement on the wedding day as it prescribed that, “Some young women actually anticipate the wedding night ordeal with curiosity and pleasure! Beware such an attitude!” Citing reasons such as to prevent marriage from turning into “an orgy of sexual lust”, it described the precise manner in which a bride must behave at all times including during sexual encounters.

In the Indian context, the question of ‘family reputation’ comes into play because marriage is not just a union of two individuals, rather of two families. This elaborate social affair that requires the woman to play the role of the conscious and hesitant bride at the mercy of the dominant male, was shattered by the Amisha’s flamboyant video that showcases the expectant feelings of the bride.

The freedom to ‘choose’ is liberating

In her own quirky approach, she transforms the woman from a passive recipient to an active agent. Shooting a chirpy video with an upbeat popular contemporary soundtrack indicates a transgression of gender roles and responsibilities. It has been a welcome progression of feminist thought by nonsanskaari bahus to shatter the clutches of the hegemonic patriarchal ideology and find roads to self-expression. The conformist female has given way to a woman capable of making life decisions independently.

This is, however, not to say that being rebellious is desirable since that would fall back on the very foundation that every ideology is built upon—normalisation. If someone wishes to embrace the demure persona of the bride because it is what they are comfortable with, it should, in no way, be taken as a sign of giving in to oppression. The foundational idea is the freedom to choose to be whoever one wants to be. If one chooses to be expressive, especially in a patriarchal institution of marriage, it sends out a powerful message of female emancipation.

Taking on stereotypes, one step at a time

Amisha is not the first bride to make the leap; many other Indian women have displayed that strength of character on various occasions and taken matters into their own hands. A woman in Kanpur refused to get married in a house which did not have a toilet; a 27-year-old Keralite woman decided to pass up on wearing gold jewellery on her wedding day, which is seen as an integral part of Kerala weddings. These individual stories of resistance are a source of inspiration as they denaturalise historical traditions and customs.

Digressing from what is considered and accepted as ‘normal’, breaking the mould and carving a new path to tread will dismantle the entrenched patriarchal system. And these women breaking down the rigidly well-defined order of things, one stereotype at a time, are showing the way forward.

Featured Image Source: Pixabay