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!

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11 Responses
  1. dr.antony Says:

    I would say the word is unkind.

    The court's use might have been inadvertent.After all,every one uses the word , and listeners understand the meaning.
    Some practices were there since long, and it even carried some respect if the man involved was the king himself or so. It is rumour that the king used to go to the house of the woman who appealed to him, and then they were given the name'Thnkachi",and along with came respect an wealth.

    Times have changed.Practices remain.We are just getting offended without reason.

  2. Sunitha Says:

    The status of the woman who is a "keep" does not change if its called by any other word. Most often, its the woman who is blamed and stigmatised. Its ironical that the offical wife has no hesitation in blaming the "keep" for wreaking havoc in her marriage .... but is quite tolerant towards the betrayal of her husband who is supposedly her companion and partner.

  3. Usha Says:

    DR.Antony: If the term is offensive we need to address the underlying unkind practice and not just relabel it and make it sound ok.

    Sunita: You are so right. I have noticed that too.

  4. Hip Grandma Says:

    the 'other woman' syndrome was quite common till the early 20th century and the man in question was bound to pay for her upkeep and was therefore his kept. It was like dining out occasionally and women did not seem to mind as long as it did not interfere with their rights as the wife. even if she did mind the older ladies of the household hushed them up having experienced the trauma themselves.

    The live in relationship between two consenting adults is different. Very often the couple agree to the arrangement on a trial basis planning to walk out if it does not work. People are afraid of commitment and responsibility that is part of a marriage deal. 'Keep' does sound derogative particularly when a supreme court judge says it. as if the relationship does not deserve any respect. i for one feel that a person's choice ought to be respected even if not accepted.

  5. hillgrandmom Says:

    I agree with you HG. There is a very definite distinction between the chinna veedu woman and a woman in a live-in relationship and certainly the latter can never be called anybody's keep.

  6. Usha Says:

    Hipgran, Sue: The case in question was not one of a live-in relationship. It was a classic case of a man taking a second woman and then leaving her refusing to pay her maintenance.
    I am not equating live-in arrangements with cases such as this one. That is a totally different choice and people in such a relationship are independent, aware of their rights and i wonder if they will ever need to court seeking maintenance from their estranged man.
    The cases I am talking about involve women who are dependent and many times exploited by their patrons. These are definitely cases of the man 'keeping' them and then'dropping' them.

  7. Sangitha Says:

    Words pack a punch. And while the people in the picture have chosen to do something I would personally not, I don't think judging them and name calling will solve anything. Society with all the allowances it gives to bigger evils like caste or gender discrimination should be the last one to hold anyone in contempt!

    I don't think disrespect to a woman is okay in any way, shape or form. Whoever she is. You have got to admit that there is a negative connotation to the word.

  8. Usha Says:

    Sangi: I don't think the judge used the term with any moral value attached to it. They just used a term that has been in common usage in society for this kind of co- habitation.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    I think the main objection against the use of a term was, it was not 'Legal Language'. Legal Language has to be totally without judgment.

    The word should convey only what it means literally. Right, wrong, honorable, shameful should not be implicit/indicated/hinted at/etc. It has to be precise.

    Like we say 'Illegitimate child' not 'bastard', or 'sex workers', not gigolo or whore.

  10. Usha Says:

    IHM:I suppose I understand what all the noise was about now that you explain it this way. Co-habitaion outside matrimony might probably have describe it better. mmm

  11. Unfortunately, all daily soaps are made on this concept. Until I watched such movies or serials, it was hard for me to digst this extra marital affairs. The first one was that Shanti/Swabhiman when I was just into college. Cheap thing. South Indians movie made on this are hit, so doesnt this convey a incorrect msg? The most crappiest dialogue from a movie I heard. Woman can share anything with another woman except her Mat(Mat could be replaced with Kurlon Mattress as well) :-)