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Women And The Religious Mantle

Posted: September 21, 2012

Folks get all huffy when I express an opinion on regressive practices followed by their religion until they realize I am equally rejecting of mine. More so, perhaps, for somewhere within me I hold an admittedly irrational belief that Parsis, with their greater access to education and more global lifestyle, should know better. And of course they don’t.

The lines are usually pre-drawn and clearly demarcated. Men vs. women, young vs. old, believer versus non. And I think it is a right shame women are considered more susceptible to irrational/supernatural/spiritual/mythological beliefs than men to the point where they become upholders of ritual symbolism, charged with the brief of preserving and perpetuating it, a task most take on only too willingly.
I will admit it. I am deeply disappointed when I see women “like me” (meaning those I perceive to have had a similar education and upbringing) following traditions not because they believe, not because they’re remotely interested in their significance, but because they should and must, no questions asked. When otherwise positively engaged contributors to society who have the temerity to call themselves modern succumb to the pressures of childhood/social conditioning, convenience and feel-good fluff and turn back the clock for a day (or nine).

How does it hurt, you ask? Not at all, if you live in a vacuum. Not at all, if your existence doesn’t affect another soul on the planet and your actions don’t influence their thoughts and decisions. If you live under a rock, by all means, starve, chant, tie a squillion threads. But chances are, your world is peopled and your actions will influence a generation’s beliefs up or down (strengthen, upward and sow, downward).  In India, the lines between the social and the religious are shaky, at best. For the most part, there are no lines. So when a woman rebels against the religious, she is, in effect, rejecting a social role as well. And that upsets the apple cart, the apples being social order, familial expectations and the propagation of cultural mores to future generations.

Most men I have had this conversation with have readily admitted that while they may not actively seek it, they anticipate(d) that their spouse will be more rooted in religion and socio-cultural rituals than they are, merely by virtue of her gender. Put bluntly, a fearful-of-the-forces, superstitious mother will rear exactly that kind of daughter who will appease the powers that be by enacting her Good Wife/Daughter in law/Round-peg-in-a-pre-carved-slot role.

What alarms me is the easy expectation of women’s acceptance and execution of irrational beliefs, a foregone conclusion that with the exception of temple priests, mysterious religious power is the domain of the woman. And it appears that women encourage and abet the perpetuation of such myths because it grants them greater agency in a still largely patriarchal society. Clearly in the minority, I continue to shake my head in sorrow at this mantle that many among my gender grab with both hands, plonk on their head and look as pleased as Punch about.  Such a shame, really.  Especially when heads can be put to far more helpful uses.

Pic used from Pixabay

Dilnavaz Bamboat manages communications and social media for a Silicon Valley non-profit. She is

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  1. Religion is one of the primary reasons that women are bond in shackles today.! The meaningless practices and beliefs have created this fear psychosis in mind which doesnt let her think.!

  2. Dilu, my love. As usual, a brilliant piece. Need I say I agree wholeheartedly?

  3. I totally agree!! Typical Indian man wants his spouse to be ultra modern yet be very religious. And most often times doesn’t seem to understand the difference between religion and orthodoxy!!

  4. ” In India, the lines between the social and the religious are shaky, at best. For the most part, there are no lines. So when a woman rebels against the religious, she is, in effect, rejecting a social role as well. And that upsets the apple cart, the apples being social order, familial expectations and the propagation of cultural mores to future generations.”
    Very well written

  5. Rinzu: I’m sure not all practices are meaningless. Equally, I’m not sure many women care to differentiate.

    The Mad Momma: Thank you. You needn’t, but it does help to hear it . 😀

    Pavni: Regardless of what men want, it’s time women did themselves a favor.

    SmittenwithwordSmita: Thank you.

  6. No doubt, I agree and have rebeled [might be too strong a word for what I did] against some such mores/customs etc, but still would be interesting to hear examples you had in mind. Sometimes simply putting the origins of the practice in the context of the social milieu, beliefs etc of the period should be enough to drive sense into followers. Then they can decide if to continue with it simply for aesthetic reasons or not at all.

  7. Does not have your ease with words or clarity of thought but was reminded of this. http://typoqueen.multiply.com/journal/item/3/Haldi-Kumkum

  8. MyGlassroom: I intentionally steered clear of specific examples, since I wanted to view this from a more overarching perspective, and people sometimes tend to get tied up in nitty-gritties if particular examples are used. Unfortunately, origins of practice aren’t given much thought, although you would think it would make sense to do that, right? 🙂 Thanks for the link!

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  10. As someone who was born Parsi and inculcated into the Zorastrian faith, which I have since dumped along with all other faiths, I saw this a lot. Women were supposed to carry the thalis with all the symbolic stuff at all weddings, navjots, jashans etc. In addition, they had to deal with all the baggage associated with the female menstrual cycle. Most did it because they assumed it was their lot. Unfortunately, it hasn’t changed too much and that is hugely depressing.

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  12. Interesting post and equally interesting comments. I see it all the time that most of us confuse religion and rituals. Rituals r just the way to express once faith whereas religion has everything to do with spiritual upliftment. It’s ignorance that is cause of all confusion. It’s ignorance that we r placing more importance on these rituals ( some have out lived their importance and use and r causing more problems than solutions) and conveniently avoiding the lessons associate with them. Grudgingly performing these rituals because of the fear of elders or society aren’t going to win any one any brownie points from almighty. At the same time being interested in once spiritual journey should not earn labels from peer ( ultramodern\ behenji) Every one should be free to explore their way to spirituality. For some it may be rituals, some will prefer religion, for some it will be knowledge. As long as one is free to do so and it is clear what our goals are.

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