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Daughters Are Not Objects : Does The Practice Of Kanyadaan Serve Any Purpose?

Posted: November 18, 2014

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With changing times, rituals must change too. Does the practice of Kanyadaan (where the daughter is ‘given away’ to the groom’s family) serve any purpose in today’s society? 

Marriage: an institution that is universal and defines human society, saving it from promiscuity and randomness. Its definition and importance as a practical and logical set-up to function as a seed of family is undeniable. These aspects of marriage are absolute, but what poses itself as a question is its setting in the Hindu society and culture, and its undisputed continuance.

Hindu marriage, with its rituals and ceremonies of the Vedic age, was relevant in the social circumstances of those times. Girls were married off before attaining puberty, and hence the ritual “Kanyadaan”. The responsibility of a girl was completely transferred to the family she was married into. A couple used to have many children. Hence, there was a social, moral, and economic balance within families, coupled with an emotional sensitivity that was of give and take. Daughter-in-law for a daughter.

We proudly glorify Vedic times and practices, but when it comes to marriage, rather than just glorifying, we are keeping the system intact. Vedic practices have this unfortunate fact associated with them, we forgot the good ones and kept the ones that are redundant.

Vedic practices have this unfortunate fact associated with them, we forgot the good ones and kept the ones that are redundant.

Marriage seems to be a customary and typical matter, other than being the very purpose of life. People write a lot about it, read a lot about it, think of it at various levels – social, economic, cultural, religious, but I find very few instances where people question its setting in the Hindu society. Denying it, and thoughts of changing it, are awfully rare.

Hindu marriage, its rituals and ceremonies, are debatable for various reasons but in this article I would be taking a key ritual – “Kanyadaan” and citing my apprehensions about it. As I mentioned earlier, Kanyadaan as a ritual was justified in the times when girls were married off at a very young age. She was gifted away by the father and he was considered to be free of all the sins, of the present life and those of the earlier ones. Fine. A condition to justify the pain of separation.

Logic? The groom was considered Vishnu and the girl the prime offering that can be made to God. Objectifying women has not been rare, and making her a gift is nothing to be surprised of as well. But what surprises me is the fact that this ritual is still in practice, unquestioned.

Changing times, unchanging rituals

Times have changed. The No-son norm is not uncommon. As feminists, we are liberal, talking of family planning, equality, rights of girls to food, clothes, education to share in property, everything! At the same time we are radical, taking of males to be the source of trouble, patriarchy to be the root of evils. But how frequently do we talk of establishing the balance? How frequently do we target the fundamental cause of inequality? That is marriage in the Hindu setting, in particular, the rituals that in the present world serve no practical purpose but have a strong moral and emotional element still attached to them.

The role of girls has changed tremendously. Household chores and child-rearing are no more their only duties.

The role of girls has changed tremendously. Household chores and child-rearing are no more their only duties. They are getting educated, contributing to family finances, taking care of their parents. Then what is the logic behind still continuing with the rituals like Kanyadaan? I strongly believe, and urge every girl who finds herself out of her traditional roles, who sees herself at par with males, that she must question these rituals, Kanyadaan in particular.

Because, this is the ritual that leads to patriarchy, defines patrilocal residence, reduces a girl to the status of a gift, which no longer belongs to the owner. There is a strong need to say no to its practice.

Many girls with whom I have talked about saying no to such rituals during their wedding have given me these reasons of not doing so:

What difference does it make?

We are anyway going to fulfil all our duties as daughters. But that is the question in the first place! If it does not make any difference than why to practice? ‘why not gracefully wear the wedding ring and complete the legal requirements of marriage ( court marriage is a good option, with later celebrations with family and friends, or taking marriage vows is not demeaning as such)?

Our families won’t agree!

A fair enough reason. We do not want to do anything that disturbs our family. But looking at the larger picture presents us with something entirely different. Parents and families earlier were not happy with their girls moving out of the town for education or job. But now they are. Earlier they could not even think of questioning dowry. But now they do.

Let’s go a bit far into history, abolishing sati system, widow remarriage etc. could not be even thought of as socially possible. Now we think of them as social evils, something we can’t even imagine the existence of, and label them as inhuman. But they were socially accepted practices earlier. People questioned them, worked relentlessly so that they could be undone. Similar is the case now. There is some initial resistance that society presents and that has to be overcome. What it needs is courage and a heartfelt desire.

What is wrong with these rituals?

This was what the article was about. I am genuinely elated that girls talk about their rights, like to stand up for them and try to prove that what they ask for is not overestimated. They prove that the change in their position in society is in turn helping the society itself to change for better. An equitable and fair society is desired and required. Questioning and shunning these rituals will serve a very strong purpose of taking away the religious and moral sanctions that come in the way of providing ourselves with the social settings that we know are logical and justified.

I talked with my parents about changing these rules for myself and I was not surprised to see that they completely agreed with my reasons. In fact, they were happy to find out that I feel the same about these rituals as they do. They too find them redundant, serving no purpose.

I talked with my parents about changing these rules for myself and I was not surprised to see that they completely agreed with my reasons.

I talked with guys about how they feel about questioning and changing these norms. Again, I was not surprised to find out that they were very positive and find these rituals superfluous and unnecessary. They were happy to accept that they have no particular desire to engage in these rituals while marrying the girl they’ll be sharing their life with.

As the season of weddings is approaching, I would urge every girl reading this article to marry on her own terms, in a way that suits her logic and presents her with the most graceful way to enter into this relationship which is the single-most perfect synonym of equality.

Pic credit: image of vidai via Shutterstock

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