FEMINIST READING OF ARUNDHATI ROY’S (Part 3)

Posted by Kathryn Schwartz on December 17, 2013
Feminist

ROY’S (Part 3)

Women’s education, ambitions, yearnings and aspirations have no significance for the male chauvinistic society. They are supposed to play the role of a mother, daughter-in-law and wife. That is why they have been deliberately kept illiterate so that they can spend their entire lives in the service of the family. Ammu is such a victim of male dominated society whose higher education is an “unnecessary expense”  for Pappachi whereas his son Chacko is sent to Oxford for higher studies because he is supposed to be the future authoritarian figure who will rule over the next generation of women. Ammu’s education is interrupted. What can a girl do in this situation except remain confined to the house to do house work and wait for marriage? But the prospect of her marriage also appears to be futile because her father indifferent to her does not have enough money to raise a suitable dowry. Ammu becomes frantic. “All day she dreamed of escaping from Ayemenem and the clutches of her ill-tempered father and bitter, long-suffering mother. She hatched several wretched little plans”.

One day she gets a chance to spend a summer with a distant aunt in Calcutta where she meets a young man who proposes to her. Ammu accepts the proposal although she knows him very little, because she has no choice but to take that stranger as her husband. She thinks it better to get married to him than to return to Ayemenem. But very soon she realizes the futility of her choice. He appears to be an alcoholic and materialistic man who has no sense of self-dignity and self-respect. He does not even hesitate in making a present of his wife to the tea estate manager to save his job. The boss Mr. Hollick suggests that Ammu’s husband go on leave and “Ammu be sent to his bungalow to be ‘looked after’”. It comes as a shock for Ammu because of her sense of self-respect, and she instantly refuses to accept the proposal. Its consequences are devastating: “He grew uncomfortable and then infuriated by her silence. Suddenly he lunged at her, grabbed her hair, punched her and then passed out from the effort”. Her husband’s excessive physical and mental torture compels her to accumulate the courage to leave him, and one day when “his bouts of violence began to include the children”, she leaves him and returns to her parents where she is never welcome.

Ammu is such an unfortunate woman that fate also betrays her. She, after coming to her parents’ house, realizes that she is a nowhere woman. She feels a sense of claustrophobia. She escapes individual torture only to be subjected to collective torture. Baby Kochamma, Mammachi, Chacko and Police Inspector Thomas Mathew join hands to torture her both physically and mentally. She is constantly forced to accept her position in her parents’ house as a divorced daughter who marries a man outside her caste and religion. Even Ammu’s anglophile father Pappachi does not believe his daughter, because he does not deem that “an Englishman, any Englishman, would covet another man’s wife’’.

At the age of twenty-four she feels a sense of alienation in her parents’ house, because everybody in the family looks at her with askance glances. She is left with no hope in the future. As a divorced daughter she has no place in her parents’ house. In this connection it ought to be noted that Arundhati Roy’s mother Mary Roy won a public interest litigation case in 1986:She challenged the Syrian Christian inheritance law that said that a woman can inherit one-fourth of her father’s property or Rs 5,000, whichever is less. The Supreme Court ruling in her case gave women equal inheritance with retrospective effect from 1956. But actually no women go to court to claim this right. Everyone said, ‘You can’t have it going back to 1956 because the courts will be flooded with complaints.’ It didn’t happen. The churches had will-making classes. They taught fathers how to disinherit their daughters. It’s a very strange kind of oppression that happens there.

Although the plot of the novel is set in 1960s, much before Mary Roy had won the case of equal inheritance for women, according to Syrian Christian inheritance law, a woman can inherit one-fourth of her father’s property or five thousand rupees. But even that is not accepted by the patriarchal society. Ammu is deprived of that one-fourth of her father’s property. Baby Kochamma thinks that “a married daughter had no position in her parents’ home” and a divorced daughter “had no position anywhere at all” . To Mammachi, Ammu’s children are bothersome. She thinks that “what her grandchildren suffered from was far worse than Inbreeding. She meant having parents who were divorced”.

As for Chacko, Ammu has no “Locusts Stand I”.Though Ammu did as much work in the factory as Chacko, whenever he was dealing with food inspectors or sanitary engineers, he always referred to it as my Factory, my pineapples, my pickles. Legally, this was the case because Ammu, as a daughter, had no claim to the property.

Chacko told Rahel and Estha that Ammu had no Locusts Stand I.
‘Thanks to our wonderful male chauvinist society,’ Ammu said.
Chacko said, ‘What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is also mine.’

So Chacko is a perfect epitome of male chauvinism who dispossesses his mother from her own factory and disinherits his sister from her parents’ property.

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