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The 'outlaws'


Sisters-in-law are bold, spicy and can make or break a home
SHARAD GUPTA | Issue Dated: May 13, 2007
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The 'outlaws' “Marriage is a school and you don’t get prizes without going to school”, wrote Virginia Wolf in her famous novel, Night and Day. One of the coveted “prizes” of marriage, besides the wife of course, is sister-in-law – the most colourful relationship in a married person’s life. Any reference to a sister-in-law evokes interesting feelings. A sister-in-law can be a spouse’s sister, wife of one’s brother and one’s spouse’s brother’s wife. Wife’s sister is desired, longed for a relation and often a cause of envy too. Literature, especially Hindi and Bhojpuri, has dissected this relationship. While the wife’s sister is considered sweet, the husband’s sister is often salt and pepper. For a married man, his wife’s sister is a source of spice in his life. “It is a very delicate and sensitive relationship and one needs to draw a line to keep it healthy”, says Dr. S.N. Bhaumik, a psychologist who has been counselling people on relationships.

The much maligned relationship, however, is of a woman with the wife of her husband’s brother. They are often blamed for family splits. Differences between wives of the Ambani brothers (Nita and Tina) are often cited as a reason for the split in the Reliance empire. Former Union Minister Maneka Gandhi has never been comfortable with her sister-in-law, Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

“Coming from different backgrounds, coexistence is not easy for wives of two brothers in a patriarchal society”, says Lucknow-based sociologist K.M. Seth, “Differences often crop up on trivial issues and comparisons widen the rift.” He cites it as the prime reason for exponential growth in the number of nuclear families. Sharma’s was a big, happy joint family, till he got his three sons married. Differences started simmering among the three sisters-in-law, eventually leading to a split. “How could I have carried on with daily insults and discrimination? Distance enhances affection and love. Now when we meet after a few months, there are no ill will or feelings of recrimination,” says Lata Sharma, the eldest of Sharma bahus.

Likewise, things came to such a pass in the Mahajan family that wife of late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan was not even on talking terms with his younger brother Pravin’s wife, Sarangi for years. But, it’s not always the case that sisters-in-law are blamed for breaking families. Surendra Chaudhury, an octogenarian patriarch, feels the weakening hold of elders is making the youngsters rebel. “We have been a joint family for over a century because we respected our elders. Nobody in my family questions my decisions. I am not a dictator and take a decision keeping the interests of the family in mind”, he told TSI. Families with a strong patriarch figure may be more stable but those with a strong sister-in-law (elder brother’s wife) too are known to be more cohesive. What of sister-in-law in future? If nuclear family is the future, she has no place!
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017