A few days ago there was outrage over a Supreme court judge's use of the word 'keep" to describe the relationship between a man and a woman in a relationship the contract of marriage. An upset additional Solicitor general Ms.Indira Jaisingh condemned the usage and asked:
"How can the Supreme Court of India use the word 'kept' in the 21st century against a woman. Can a woman say that she has kept a man?"
It is true that the usage would shock the educated and independent women of today as they are not dependent on a man to 'keep' them or provide for them.. If they enter into a live-in relationship with a man it is for reasons other than needing a man to provide for them financially. In fact, it is only women with a high sense of independence who seem to prefer this kind of an arrangement over a married relationship.These people probably do not care to define their relationship in any terms - partnership or live-in or cohabitation.
On the other hand there is this vast other India which is totally patriarchal where the malice of men 'keeping' a woman been in practice overtly and covertly and we have all come across instances of the same. Inexperienced, helpless women taken by wealthy, influential men under their wings gradually settling into a relationship with these men . They are well provided for and protected and even enjoy a degree of respectability because of their association with the influential man but still they are not their wives. They are “andha veedu’ or ‘chinna veedu’. or simply WOH. Many temple dancers of South India have had wealthy patrons with whom they have been involved emotionally and physically without being married to them. It was probably necessary to get into this kind of arrangements for several reasons. In some cases it was not possible for the man to marry the woman because of distinctions of caste, class etc. In some cases it was also because the man was already married and could not legally marry another woman without divorcing the first. In most other cases it was because the man wanted both the women and this arrangement was convenient. In these cases both women were dependent on the man for their respectability; ironically their respect depended on a philanderer who by this very act should have been deprived of any respectability.But in a patriarchy, men get away with a lot.
Such arrangements are not uncommon even today especially among the disadvantaged sections of our society and the women involved in these relationships are entirely dependent on the man who ‘keeps’ them. These women lack education or self confidence and are not capable of fending for themselves. They do not have a family whose support they can count on. And because they do not have any property rights these women have sometimes been known to manipulate their men into transferring financial benefits to them depriving their wives and children. These relationships have been held in contempt by a society that holds marriage as a sacred institution. Since they want to secure the interests of the wife and children from a married relationship, they have refused to grant any recognition to these add-on relationships and the disrespectful and contemptible term ‘keep’ is just a reflection of the status that our society accords to these arrangements. So if we agree that it is not right for a man to cheat on his wife or use his power to exploit women, why do we want to dignify the ‘other’ relationship or sugar coat it with semantics? The contemptible term ‘keep’ simply symbolizes the contempt that society has for such relationships and perhaps will only act as a deterrent for women who may be tempted to get into such a relationship with a man? These are not’ significant others’ as they would probably not even find a mention if the man was interviewed, they are definitely not’ live-ins’ as the man lives elsewhere with his wife. The ‘other’ woman, 'Woh' , Chinna veedu, andha veedu –these terms are here to stay whether they are expunged from official documents are not. We can hope for them to disappear only when our women are educated and acquire financial independence and can tell the man to take a walk if they don't behave.
Until then I have no problem with the term ’keep’ to call a woman in such a vulnerable situation my only grouse is that the man who is at the bottom of all this problem gets away without any pejorative label – the CAD!
Labels: women issues