The case of Nusrat Jahan has upset mainly the young, idealist, zesty and nationalist minded Bengalis much concerned with the pride and dignity of their culture, little realizing that it is the Renaissance and not the Sati that defines Bengal. Unfortunately, unknown to themselves they are sounding more like Radhakanta Deb than Rammohan Roy. This is sad because only a few days ago, in their opposition to the Hindu right wing politics, they swore that they would not support Ram (Ramayana and the icon of the right wingers) that sent his wife to the pyre but the Ram (Rammohan) who saved women from burning. The conservatism and the misplaced idealism that the young are showing in the reactive statements in the Facebook. The young and idealists say that Bengali women’s role models should be Dr Kadambini Ganguly (the first woman practicing physician of Bengal and presently the subject of a television serial), Arundhati Bhattacharya (retired head of State Bank of India) and even Mamata Banerjee (Chief Minister of Bengal) rather than the wanton and willful Nusrat Jahan, who for this generation seems to be an embarrassment for what they read as loose sexual integrity. Nusrat’s case may produce landmarks judgements around the question of ownership of rights over children and change the nature of marriage significantly, which may have an enormous impact on the future of women. This is because, for more women to become Dr Kadambini or Arundhati and even perhaps Mamata, Nusrat Jahan is the preliminary step!!
Nusrat Jahan is a Bengali film star known for playing roles with striking silences and for respectable banners. She is moneyed, propertied, famous, and beautiful; in short all that makes for a heavenly maiden. With such endowments, she strategically converted her cultural capital into a political capital by joining the ruling Trinamool Congress, married a Marwari Hindu businessman, had an exotic wedding in Turkey and threw a reception for the political galaxy in Kolkata. She dressed as the copybook Marwari bride, won a Lok Sabha seat, and penned down her status as being married. A couple of years down the line, once confirmed of her pregnancy she suddenly did the unthinkable, namely refused to accept the paternity of her husband for her child. Men usually do this, the Hindi film from down the line is full of tearful girls saying, Main tumhare Bacche ki ma bannewali hoon …which the cruel man denies making the woman into a hapless unwed mother and so on. In the classics, Dushyanta threw a pregnant Shakuntala out and in the Uttar Ramayan, Ram banishes Sita knowing fully well that she was pregnant. Denial of paternity is a man’s prerogative. Interestingly, Nusrat has done it this time. She has shown the behaviour of Ganga who denies Shantanu of children born to them, sets them afloat in the river and then finally when he claims Bhisma, Ganga herself disappears. Nusrat has followed this motif, namely denied paternity to the child in her womb to her partner in marriage and to reinforce her decision, denied marriage. The facts must be seen in their correct order. Nusrat does not deny marriage and hence paternity of her husband for the child, she denies marriage to deny paternity to her husband.
Nusrat’s legal stand is since she married in Turkey under the Islamic laws of that land and never registered her marriage in India, her marital status under the Indian law stands null and void. She remains married alright under the Turkish law, where her husband has no rights over her because she has spent her own money all along, namely wedding and honeymoon expenses, residence after marriage and other paraphernalia. Since the husband has no monetary obligations towards her, the dissolution of the marriage under Turkish law is a mere expression of her will and Indian legal system has no scope for intervention.
Men and women have different kinds of burdens in their lives; men are encumbered with the worry of having to earn a living and endure enormous pains in pursuing boring and uninteresting subjects that may help them get jobs. Women are torn between independence of careers and its loss in marriage. Both are unemancipated beings but the nature of their unfreedoms is different. A man must go on without ever stopping for a breath, women are forever pulled in two mutually opposing directions, marriage, and work. The low participation of women in the workforce in India, which is among the lowest in the world is also due to the demands of the Indian marriage and family on the woman. Many Kadambinis, Arundhatis and Mamatas lurk unfulfilled in public life because of their incarceration in housekeeping. Feminist literature is never tired of placing woman’s biology that manifests in the sociology of marriage as being contrarian to the organization of work and which is why it is construed that marriage pronounces the end of careers for women and deprives the society of her talents and contributions.
Marriage as in having a sexual partner and the childbearing responsibilities may not be the reasons. Marriage becomes contrarian to a woman’s achievements because it is patrilocal and patrilineal, which means that a woman moves into another household, lives off her in laws and hence produces children which belongs to the man’s family. Marriage is thus a change not merely of location but of identity where one becomes the member of another family and alien to her own. We may say that women are still so especially important for parents even after marriage, but these are laxities in the sociological rules and not their essences. In essence, the sociological rule of marriage means that a woman is transferred in body, mind and will to another family, which has control over her earnings, property, and children. The patrilocal laws ensure that the property of a married woman on her death will first go to her in laws while patriliny ensures that the child belongs to the father bearing his name. When banks and schools ask for mother’s name, we know that this is charity in accommodating a simple recognition and not really a transfer of rights to the mother. The pull of the marriage away from the career is the pull neither of sex nor of childbearing but of patrilocality and patriliny. Nusrat’s decisions have thrown out patrilocality and patriliny from her biological process of childbearing and the sociological commitment of handing over the child to a man who in plain sight is her husband. In simple words, once the woman is free from having to go over to another family, become a part of that and hand over her child to them, and instead continue to live in her own family with the child, who bears her name, she becomes free of marriage just as a man is. That freedom for a woman would make the man free of his yoke too in having to pull the household along, provide for three generations and make savings for the next. Freedom of one would lead to the freedom of another.
Nusrat is thus speaking of freedom from patrilocality and patriliny which helps a woman reconcile her biology and sociology to her individuality. Since the irreconcilability of marriage and career has made women stay indoors most of the times, the reconciliation of the two for her might help us see more women liberally participating in the workforce with creative energy and productive force. Hence, to be a Kadambini or Arundhati or Mamata, better not to rely on good husbands and liberal families, but to have the rules changed for you. This makes Nusrat as the preliminary step towards these role models.