What is the definition of a good wife? One who stands by her husband even or, rather, particularly when he’s been caught out being naughty with another woman/women. Not just because a popular American TV serial says so but because this is what we see in real life too.
By that reckoning, Ritu Kumar, wife of sacked Delhi Women and Child Development Minister Sandeep Kumar, apparently seen on video in compromising positions and now accused of rape, is a very good wife indeed. “My husband is innocent, I stand by him,” she has been quoted in an interview to India Today.
There is, it seems, no question of her husband having misinterpreted, somewhat too broadly, his ministry’s brief. No, he has, according to his dutiful wife, been “falsely implicated”. The charges were part of a “political conspiracy against her innocent husband”.
Thus spoke actor Shiney Ahuja’s wife Anupam when her husband was accused of raping their maid. “It is a frame up,” she had declared to the media. “My man is innocent. He has been framed.”
Of course, both wives were specifically denying the charge of rape levelled against their respective spouses, which only a court of law can prove or disprove. In Shiney Ahuja’s case, the court did find him guilty but his wife still insists on his innocence. Maybe he is, maybe not. Courts are not infallible. Maybe Sandeep Kumar, too, is not guilty of rape, whatever the court findings.
But it is not the court of law the wives are addressing by their public declarations of support. Rather, they are appealing to the court of public opinion by generously handing out character certificates to their questionable husbands. He can never do such a thing, says Mrs Sandeep Kumar, echoing exactly what Mrs Shiney Ahuja had said a few years ago. Because they are good husbands too.
According to India Today, “Last year on International Women’s Day, March 8, the AAP minister thanked his wife Ritu for ‘sacrifices’ she made for him and added, ‘Main roz subah inke pair chhoota hoon’ [I touch her feet every morning]. This statement of his received a thunderous applause from the audience in the Delhi Secretariat auditorium.”
While Anupam Ahuja told The Times of India after her husband had got bail and they were appealing his guilty verdict, “I was in New York for three years... When there were articles in magazines about our break-up, I was breaking karva chauth via a webcam with Shiney. Even today, on my birthday and my daughter’s, he does a nirjal vrat [water-less fast]. That’s the kind of husband and father he is.”
If that does not make them model husbands, then what will? But, amidst all the various facts, rumours, gossip, innuendoes, statements, evidence that swirl around such cases, rape or not, one thing does come through. Some extramarital sexual act did occur. And both wives are readily condoning that, at least in public.
Of course, they are not the only ones to do so. Many women find that zero tolerance about marital infidelity sounds good on paper but not so realistic in practice. They may admire Lady Sarah Graham-Moon who slashed her philandering husband’s suits to pieces and distributed bottles of his expensive Chateu Latour wine on neighbours’ doorsteps in London, but when it comes to their own, more wives forgive their errant husbands than otherwise.
Marriages have their ups and downs, it is said, you can’t only think of yourself, there are the children to consider, you have to take a holistic approach, see whether the pros outweigh the cons, look inwards, affairs are a symptom — not a cause, men wouldn’t stray if everything in the marriage was ok – the reasons for not breaking up are high-sounding, endless and, usually, demeaning to women.
Yet, forgiving seems to come naturally to females. Even when the entire torrid mess is played out openly, in the glare of the media. Even when the wives are perfectly capable of leading a full life without their significant others. Former IMF boss and French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s very accomplished, very rich wife stood solidly by him, making sure he wanted for nothing, when he was accused of rape by a maid in a New York hotel.
It took Hillary Clinton’s closest aide Huma Abedin’s husband to be publicly shamed three times for kinky sex before Abedin could bring herself, this 30 August, to kick him out, at long last. Even while the latest issue of Vogue, in which she portrays her husband as a devoted father and their marriage as a true partnership, was hitting the stands.
As for Hillary Clinton, well, few women have been more publicly humiliated than her by her husband’s peccadilloes, yet she has stood solidly by her man and is now such a feminist icon that stellar feminists like Gloria Steinem are saying it is the moral duty of all American women to vote for her and strike a strong blow for women.
True, how husbands and wives work out their problems, or don’t, is none of our business. A woman has every right to forgive her cheating husband if she wants to – even if we are unable to fathom why. Let them have it out behind closed doors and we’ll be none the wiser.
But sticking it out and seeing it through is one thing. It’s the public utterances, the press conferences, the fire-spitting defences on TV, that’s so bewildering. Could it be that the wives of these public personalities see the public agony as one more role for them to play in the great charade of “a happy marriage”, that it is their public duty to do so?
How wonderful it would be if one of the wronged wives of these larger-than-life characters would just tell her erring spouse he was on his own? The parade of shame was just on him. That she could be a good wife without defending him in public come what may.
Better still, someone should tell them, the best way to get rid of a problem is to get rid of the problem. That being a bad wife for a change is good for them and all women everywhere.