Everyone at some point in their life dreams about buying their own house which is a space of their own they can call home. As a child I was lucky to have experienced some really good living spaces and different houses. Even after getting married, in my in-laws house, everything was ready-made. So if the space to live in was readily available, why then did I think of having my own house? This thought of ‘owning a house’ in itself has many practical and emotional aspects attached to it. Of the many contributing factors behind that thought were, my upbringing, the people around, the environment that I grew up with, personal and social experiences are just to name a few. 

Apart from the basic needs like food, clothes and shelter, the need for having my ‘own house’ became a non-negotiable necessity for me. Besides owning a house also serves as an arrangement for retirement, a saving of a sort for old-age and even a wiser option for investment. Hence after a few years of substantially earning and saving adequate money, a thought of aiming for financial independence nudged my mind.  Instead of spending money here and there and like any other person with an innate practical outlook of a better life, even I thought of making an investment into my own property. 

What do we mean by the feeling of having one’s own house? As a woman, this imagination of ‘independence’ in the patriarchal society seems heavily burdensome and challenging. So to test me then, for if I can take on the challenge for such independence, to find out what ownership of space means without the ‘socially approved scaffolding of men’ like father or husband..

One of the emotional reasons behind this was that after marriage I always thought of having our own small home. I could decorate every nook and corner of my home the way I want. What do we mean by the feeling of having one’s own house? As a woman, this imagination of ‘independence’ in the patriarchal society seems heavily burdensome and challenging. So to test me then, for if I can take on the challenge for such independence, to find out what ownership of space means without the ‘socially approved scaffolding of men’ like father or husband, I thought of putting myself together with strength and courage to take a plunge as the determined, well headed and strong-willed women that I always thought of myself to be. 

In India, a girl rarely or barely feels to ‘belong’, irrespective of the caste, class or another prominence the family holds. For merely the sake of it, she gets the sense of ‘being a part of’ both her maternal house and in-laws, but it’s hard to figure out which one truly nurtures her and that she can warmly call of her own. Once married, even the maternal home starts treating her like an outsider. Although by law, she can claim her right to the property inheritance, the reality is quite a run from pillar to post with beyond facing the heat from her own siblings. What a petty and a sad thing it is to fight with your own blood for a piece of property!. At in-laws, the story shows quite a contrast. The queen without the ‘Tiara’ and a basket full of glorious titles like the Goddess and an Angel; all but false and fake! None of the important matters ever invite her, rather she is kept out of the ‘internal decisions’ and her ‘outsiderness’ is made quite apparent. At any instance of misunderstanding or a fight, she is asked to pack her bags and leave to her maternal house. Finding a married woman who has not gone through it all is a rarity if not mythical. Financial independence of women, even of an exemplar kind is not very well received.

Most of the financial decisions even today are still made by the men in the family. They are the supreme at home and even adamantly hold that in the eyes of the prospective bride to be, who dreams of a man who shall ‘provide’ and ‘care’ for her.

The times as they all say, are dragging and changing but are far from bringing the contrast. Most of the financial decisions even today are still made by the men in the family. They are the supreme at home and even adamantly hold that in the eyes of the prospective bride to be, who dreams of a man who shall ‘provide’ and ‘care’ for her. And hence sadly for many high standing and well achieved women, it calls to bow down to the authority of their men at home while he takes all the crucial decisions about everything including those women and their life. The fear of failure upon any decision constantly grapples women like the blood in their veins when they are around their men. So they step down and stay back ‘giving it all’ to their ‘better’ halves. No wonder not many women are usually thorough with their knowledge of rights or the financial information around property ownership or anything else of a sort. 

As for me, when I decided to buy a house on my own, I chose not to put down the financial or emotional burden on my life partner. I told him that I shall solely be taking the financial responsibility and buy the property on my credentials and take out a loan on my name. He did not object and as if he had, I would have done any different! So my journey of securing a suitable home loan as a standalone ‘woman applicant’ began. Based on the online assessments and eligibility criteria, I had well figured my budget and so had a clear idea of the amount that can be sanctioned. My decade-long career and knowledge in finance gave me confidence, as it all came handy in tackling all the minions of troubles in this process.

I faced back to back, never-ending hurdles in the process of getting the loan approval as I went along. Any and all my interaction with the banks or other institutions were suppressed with stronger sidelining of me for my partner i.e. my husband, with the belief that he would know the ‘business’ far better than I would as a woman.

Despite it all, I faced back to back, never-ending hurdles in the process of getting the loan approval as I went along. Any and all my interaction with the banks or other institutions were suppressed with stronger sidelining of me for my partner i.e. my husband, with the belief that he would know the ‘business’ far better than I would as a woman. People adamantly chose to speak to him over me as if I would not understand any of the processes, documentation or any of it. They all took it for granted that it is indeed my husband who is buying the property whenever he accompanies me to all the meetings and that, as his wife, I only have to sign on the documents as and when needed or asked. I never felt bad that my husband was being given all the importance in the process but it did make me angry when I could see their discriminatory attitude towards me as someone who would ‘definitely not know’ or understand any of the processes as a woman. 

With that pressing agitation, I mentioned it all to my husband once. And after that, in every single meeting, he made it clear to the processing executives and officers that they should speak directly to me since I am the only one who would be going through the process, taking on the home loan and buying the house on my own. Not both of us as a couple. The worst of my frustration came while going through the bank loan process, or I would say it could just be that I may have drawn it all upon myself unknowingly. And I believe the root cause of this lies in my professional work background. I work for an NGO which works on gender equality. We work to help boys change their attitude towards women and girls and to raise them to be gender-equitable and thus reduce violence and discrimination against women and girls. Being a part of such an organization, my diligence towards gender equality comes naturally. Neither do I discriminate against men as the ‘other’ nor do I take any advantage of being a woman. I am not claiming to have yet completely transformed into a gender-equitable person, but I am surely getting there every passing day with high hopes as it is a long process. And as a result during the bank loan process, I sincerely maintained that my husband does not have to face the roughs of it all, against his will become a part of my dreams-chasing of owning a house, just because he is a man and he is ‘expected to’, and he in fact always supported me on that thought for that stand I took. 

“..Sorry but we cannot take a risk of offering such a big loan amount to a woman” or “why do you want to take this risk alone as a woman? You won’t be able to handle it on your own…”

When we started applying for a home loan, many of the banks straight away refused my loan application for being an NGO employee. They look at NGO profiles to be unstable with a non-certain nature of income, that does not tick their boxes of secured borrowers. Even though an easy way of covering the entire risk for the loan amount through liability insurance was always available with the bank, which I would have gladly agreed for, they insisted that I consider applying with a co-borrower, in all likelihood my husband, a man, who in their eyes was more risk-taker than women. This in a way was absolutely against my idea of taking on the risk independently with all my own capacity, and eligibility. All my arguments of why and how I can manage this as a woman were tossed back at me with a few, “Sorry but we cannot take a risk of offering such a big loan amount to a woman” or “why do you want to take this risk alone as a woman? You won’t be able to handle it on your own” kinds of statements. They insisted that if it was my husband co-borrowing, then in case of consequences, it would be easier to recover the money from him. Well, I do understand that a bank would argue for having a co-borrower keeping the recovery of money in mind, but why does it again and only have to a male, a father or a husband? I simply don’t understand that! Why is there so much of a stress on having a man to support it all? The more difficult it was all getting for me, the more my persistence to do it all by myself grew! Seeing my strong revolt against providing any co-borrower for the loan, especially my husband because I didn’t want to force him, a few senior managers that I decided to approach, even stretched it further to the point of asking me to lie of having been separated from my husband, for justification. Why do women face all these unnecessary hurdles despite no such procedural or official requirements on paper? Why does a man have to be involved in all financial matters? What if he does not want to get involved? So then just because he happens to be a father or a husband, he is forced to take up this risk and responsibility against his will. Why? What if this man that banks ‘bank on’ so much turns out to be the most irresponsible. Is it then justifiable that a woman takes him as responsible co-borrowers? Just because they are men? I mean there is no beginning or end to this logic! 

Even today when I look around, I fail to understand why women need to be owned by men? Why can they not exist by themselves? Can they not be financially independent and do business and dealings of life by themselves? Why should any of it draw suspicion? Is it not unfair that the status of the relationship gets questioned for authenticity when a man is seen not being involved in financial matters pertaining to a woman? And how do you prove the authenticity of love and the relationship anyway? Why should you? All such pressing questions along with disturbingly upsetting reasons for rejection kept adding up my anger against the whole system. 

And after almost 4 months of dragging my feet through this system, a shining ray of light pierced through the dark clouds and fell upon me. One of the banks finally approved my loan application with my mother as a co-obligant and I could further complete all the legal processes of purchasing the house.

And after almost 4 months of dragging my feet through this system, a shining ray of light pierced through the dark clouds and fell upon me. One of the banks finally approved my loan application with my mother as a co-obligant and I could further complete all the legal processes of purchasing the house. Even though it took me, almost two more years after this, to put together the down-payment for possession, I managed it somehow. While going through this entirely tough and challenging process, I constantly received strong backing from my well-wishers, loved ones and friends. Their help and support turned into my motivation throughout the process. My husband strongly held my hand and walked with me on many of those shrill trails of emotional downfalls. It’s true they say, the good and the bad are two sides of the same coin because even while going through the rough patches of those two years, life showered on me with a few good experiences and learnings. Eventually, after a long wait and struggle of going through the process, my dream of owning a house came true and I got the possession of my house. Like a cherry on top pleasant news came through just the day before the possession. I received a phone call from the bank sharing a surprise of receiving a government subsidy through the prime minister’s housing scheme. And this was it! Felt like it all paid off so very well in the end. 

On the very next day i.e. on 5th January 2020, I alongside my husband went to get the possession of our home from the builder’s office. While signing on the possession letter, documents and then looking at my nameplate, as it proudly shined on one of the letterboxes on the society wall, brought me tears of joy. They filled my moment with pride, happiness and sense of achievement against all odds and certainly washed away the pains of the past two long years. That nameplate held high my self-respect, my capability as a woman and now my ownership to my rightful place for which I would never have to fight with my own loved ones and the place where I come back to relax and rest at any time, any day, any moment of life, whenever I need as my own. The day I truly became the ‘proud owner’ of my house. 

Priyanka Patil, Senior Accounts Associate, Equal Community Foundation