Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel, Water, realistically presents the circumstances of women and, in particular, widows in 1938 Colonial India. It exposes the gender inequality and double standards that govern that society for no other reason than that is what tradition dictates. Sidhwa presents complexities in her characters, which make them very human and very real, and the widows’ reactions to each other and to the world outside of the ashram create a feminist message. Water poses the problem of gender inequality in India by presenting a realistic and typical situation, and it allows the readers to draw their own conclusions while experiencing the intricacies of the Indian culture.
The most obvious example of inequality or mistreatment of women is Chuyia’s situation of becoming a bride and soon after a widow at age eight. By becoming a widow she is forced into the ashram and into isolation from the rest of society. This is a situation that is common in India due to the fact that tradition dictates “a woman is recognized as a person only when she is one with her husband” (Sidhwa 14). It shows that society views women as worthless unless they are under the control and service of a man. Furthermore, this tradition means that women are married off as soon as possible as to secure their future and purpose in life, while men are able to wait longer to marry. In Indian culture, men are worth more than women, and the novel shows this fact by contrasting Chuyia’s marriage situation with Narayan’s situation. Chuyia has no say in who she must marry because she is female, and her marriage is entirely dependent on her father, who marries off six-year-old Chuyia to a forty year old man. Even though Chuyia’s mother tries to stop the marriage at such a young age, her father refuses to hear her argument and says, “A woman’s role in life is to get married and have sons. That is why she is created: to have sons! That is all!” (Sidhwa 15). Not only does this say a lot about the child brides, but it also presents the dominant role of the men in society as Chuyia’s father gets to make the final decision and the mother has absolutely no say in her daughter’s life.
In comparison, Narayan is permitted to choose his own spouse, and he is encouraged to wait longer until marriage. After Narayan tells his mother that he has found his bride by himself, his mother quickly accepts the idea of him choosing a woman: “Bhagwati’s expression softened, as she gazed upon her son. If he loved the girl so much, she would love her too” (Sidhwa 167). Sidhwa includes this scene between Narayan and his mother to depict the double standard that remains between males and females. Also the novel shows the leniency towards a man’s time to get married: “My father says, ‘Childhood is a time for play, not for marriage’” (Sidhwa 148). By juxtaposing these two very different situations, Sidhwa allows the readers to draw their own conclusions about the inequality between the sexes.