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The Kanyadaan ritual epitomises many of the problems with marriage in India today, where ‘girls’ are seen as the property of one family, to be handed over to another.
Let’s travel back fifteen years. I was getting married to the man I loved. I was elated; in fact, ecstatic. The wedding preparations were fun. And, since in Bengali weddings there is not much of ‘lena’ and ‘dena’ (give and take) there is nothing really that can cause the eyebrows to rise and give one those last minutes jitters. So, it was all within the limits of sanity.
I would also like to say this without any qualms that I was least a feminist then. I didn’t understand all this much. For me, it was enough that I was getting married to him, and there was no unnecessary fuss around the marriage; that was good enough to roll the ball. But, even with all the naïveté that I was wearing on my sleeves, ‘Kanyadaan’ was a word that irked me throughout. It’s just that, I never said it aloud. I never had the courage to delve deep into it because it was something that I have been hearing all throughout my life. “What is new anyways, probably I am just being cynical”, is what I hushed my voice with.
Yesterday, an article that I came across on social media took me back these many years, somewhere with a sense of elation that ‘I was not all wrong’. The first priestess of West Bengal, Prof. Nandini Bhowmik solemnised several marriages without ‘Kanyadaan’ as she felt it was absolutely regressive and nothing less than objectification of woman. And, how true is that?
The word ‘Kanyadaan’ is where I believe most of the problems in a marriage start – ‘Kanya’ the girl, and ‘Daan’ the ‘donation’. Now, when a father does ‘kanyadaan’ of his daughter during the wedding, what he is actually doing is relinquishing all his rights on the girl. And, it is also perceived that, “now you no longer belong to us, and your husband’s home is where you will be staying fixed, henceforth”. It is then, an open invitation to violation, false virility, and utter sexism from all corners. Or I should say that the whole norm of ‘kanyadaan’ is patriarchy at its best.
Giving away your daughter is just wrong at so many levels. The whole idea of marriage itself gets botched up when you end up giving up on something or someone. I have often heard the term ‘paraya dhan’ which means ‘someone else’s property’ being used for girls. Now, how corny is that? In many places still, getting a girl married is the prime responsibility of the parents, and the girl is taught that this is what she is born for. And, so after the wedding, everything falls like a pack of cards with no respect, no acceptance, no dignity and no sense of worth. Don’t you think the word ‘daan’ is in so many ways responsible for this?
This step by Prof. Bhowmik is the call of the hour. If we want the institution of marriage to work seamlessly and don’t want it to be a redundant entity like it is becoming today, we need to see it in a new light. We all need to understand and work on the fact that it is a union of two people who demand respect and dignity on an equal footing. No one is giving away their daughter. And at the same time, no one is obliging the another by accepting the daughter as their daughter-in-law. It’s time we change. It’s time our parents change. It’s time some norms changes too. And it’s high time that society changes, on the whole.
Editor’s Note: The term ‘girl’ to refer to a young woman has been used here by the author in the sense in which the word ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ are used as synonyms for ‘bride’ and ‘groom’ in common Indian usage.
Image via Pixabay