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As a modern woman and a married Indian feminist, it is my right to question redundant traditions and beliefs, that cause much grief in a woman’s life!
I was reading about the significance of the tradition of fasting for male members of the family. Many may argue that they do it for love but I have failed to understand – how does a starving woman prove her love for her man?
The idea to do a pooja for my husband’s long life and prosperity has always bemused me. A tradition so devoid of rationality is celebrated with full fervour by women in the northern part of India for karva chauth. The traditional patriarchal set up does not allow much space to women like me who identifies herself as agnostic and feminist. At a young age I had questioned the existence of god and to my horror I was asked to do these male centric pujas and aartis after my marriage.
My refusal did send shock waves to many. The shock waves further multiplied when my husband stood by me against everyone’s wishes. I signed up for an equal partnership in our marriage and I will never do anything which makes me question my integrity.
As much as I can try respecting the choices some women make, I fail to understand why they are so critical of the different choice I make as a woman.
I came across well educated women writing articles on feminism possibly to grab attention, advising me on observing these traditions for respecting the elders. When I questioned them and intended to have a logical discussion on the subject, the answer was that modern women might not believe it, but a woman is a carrier of family traditions!
I did not want to get into this circular argument and decided to stitch my lips.
I now feel that my non-Brahmin spouse was never asked to wear janiau (the sacred yellow thread) which Brahmins wear. If marriages are about amalgamation of cultures, why do women become carriers of the traditions of their husband’s house?
There are moments when I question the existence of god but to seek an answer I will never ever make my husband the god. As much as we keep referring to ancient scriptures and traditions about women being goddess, we never let her become a human being with choices and have right to negate.
A curious (and truly innocently asked) question from friends and family baffles me, “how do you feel married when you are not observing any traditions meant for a married Hindu woman?” The simple logic that I married for love and companionship is a distant thought for them as the core of marriage is traditions and culture. I have understood that gender inequality is the foundation on which the culture stands.
Agnostic feminists, men or women, find themselves screaming in the vacuum about the redundancy of these traditions in their lives, their voice never making a slightest dent in the ossified patriarchal mindsets. I asked many of my male friends, “how do you feel about observing these traditions?”
Many of these modern cosmopolitan men do not approve of these traditions but they do not even oppose it.
A seemingly educated investment banker friend of mine told me that his wife does all this male centric pooja for him which he disapproves of, and he will never let his daughters get into this when they get married. This got me into a pensive mood. If a man can’t discourage his wife from fasting for him, how would he ever dissuade his daughters from observing these rituals? We can’t change our children’s lives if we don’t lead by examples.
Some others have started keeping the fast with their wives and the day is being celebrated as an Indianised version of Valentine’s Day. It may seem like equality to many. However the point to note is that a man still has a choice of not fasting but a woman is seen as an outcast if she refuses to fast. A tradition or culture which does not allow dissent or excludes women who have staunch opinions is a deterrent for the growth of the society as a whole.
A profound questioning on the genesis of these traditions has made me realize that inequality is the forte of many traditions. A woman as sister, wife or daughter carries the burden of honour and is the trophy of her husband. She starves for her life and he pretends to protect her honour in a society serving the needs of morons like him. A fragile starving woman giving a much needed massaging to the ego of a man is a goddess of sacrifice. Thus a woman doing anything but sacrifice is not feminine.
Diversity in womanhood is still unthinkable for many and they still stick to a parochial definition of the feminine which patriarchy has described. Family members also appreciate this arrangement as the man feels powerful and patriarchal notions are strengthened further.
These traditions make us recall the polarity in gender which is supposedly help to strengthen the relationships. These traditions make women realize that women will always bear the repercussions if they don’t observe the traditions where male is a human equivalent of god.
What I find truly laughable is that men get these status and incentives just by having a chance combination of XY chromosomes during fertilization.
Patriarchy has defined gender roles in the most unnatural, dim-witted and obnoxious way. It does not allow even men to question patriarchy by designing such lucrative incentives without any hard work. While a husband who returns home drunk faces minor repercussions for his behaviour, a woman is expected to keep thirsty for the longevity of the same man.
Any cogent argument on the subject will make us unlearn a lot of social conditioning which has cemented these deep prejudices. The problem is willingness to even accept the irrationality backing this culture. While the colours and festivity associated with these traditions may fill you with joy, I urge you to pause and think about the fundamentals of these traditions.
During one of these festivals last year, I happily belched after a sumptuous meal in a restaurant where I stop by often for regular munching; I fond some people grinning and waiter asking me, “aapka vrat nahi hai aaj kya?” (Are you not keeping fast?) Mind you, as a woman, paying bill is not enough; you have to answer the tough question. I thought of giving a long lecture but I just said, “No. Bill please.”
It is tough to question culture and we are conditioned to apply logic only in a professional set up. While questioning and logic can provide numerous incentives to us in the professional lives, if applied in our personal life may come at the cost of ostracization, seclusion and in some cases harassment. Our culture has also taught that we are disrespectful if we disagree. We fail to recall that dissent has saved many civilizations from decay by helping in growth and evolution.
As a ritual for ensuring longevity of our lives, my husband and I go for regular health check-ups. A tradition which we started when we started living together helps us in monitoring our health better. While my husband has pushed me to successfully finish a couple of marathons when I struggled with hypothyroidism, I can proudly take the credit of helping him bring down his cholesterol level by following strict diet with him.
Image source: shutterstock
Priya Tripathi identifies herself as a feminist, bibliophile, survivor and a runner. She believes her
This is such a refreshing post by a certified feminist (in my opinion)! As my young daughter says -“soooooooo cool” ! I so am glad that everyday women like us are finding our true voices and going against the tide.
When a river flows it often stays its course. But when mountains rise to block its path, it will cut a path through or it will rise and flow over it. But when a river is in spate -no force can dare stop it…
Thanks Sonia. Really encouraging. The debate on feminism is so nascent in India and we all need to stand united with each other.Hi fi to your daughter. Yes we are the rivers who hit the mountain till we pave our own way.
>>She starves for her life and he pretends to protect her honour in a society serving the needs of morons like him.
you go girl!!! loved every bit of this article. generally I end up agreeing with only half of a feminist’s post precisely because they end with – hey all of this is patriarchal BS but it’s for our own good that we follow it. what nonsense! if we do not stand up for what we believe in, how will the future generations change?? even if it’s just a bit of rebellion(like refusing to wear sindoor on the forehead as a mark of broken hymen), I will say no and live by my words.
Thanks Mahe. Yes, be the change you want to see in the world. Before you expect anyone to stand by you, learn to stand by yourself. This what I believe in.
So this is an interesting bit of trivia there, Mahe! Is the sindoor really a mark representative of the broken hymen?! What rot we come up with in the name of tradition!
@Priya – really well written article.
I personally feel PROUD to be a Woman. I enjoy following the traditional rituals. Its actually fun. Fasting do not mean inequality among man and woman. I personally don’t agree comparing Karva Chaut with Valentine’s day. India is known for its Traditional Rituals.
Mamata, you have the freedom to decide to follow the rituals. But let it be your choice on whether or not you decide to do it, not the society making you do it, or someone else telling you not to do it. I don’t think the author is prescribing not following the rituals. She is only talking about giving women the freedom of choice on whether or not to follow it.
U totally nailed it Priya. It’s like someone has written my heart out. I feel great to know people like us exist and raise their voices against inequalities and refuse to follow the stereotype.
Thanks Natasha. That is why we all need to write to reach each other and realise that our voices stand together.
Loved it! So well expressed Priya! Will love to see more such articles from you.
Thanks. Appreciation from friends means alot. Also a lot of it is drawn from our conversations.
This is very nice article, making some very astute observations, but also some very loaded comments. Every culture has some rituals, and many make no sense at some point. However, with time most get replaced with something else, but rituals nevertheless. There are rituals in university and colleges of convocation, graduation, etc. with no value to learning, and who cares about those caps and gowns, especially in hot weather of India. But, most people carry that on with fervor of the family. The operative word is that people (men and women) should feel free to follow whatever suits them. I had never heard of karva chouth until I saw in movies. People ape movie culture readily, both men and women. Equality is very important to every segment of a society, but equality should not confused with sameness. There are huge physical, biological, psychological, and social differences between men and women, and these need to acknowledged and appreciated. Ignoring them is equal to put one’s in sand to wish them go away. By the way, here is a hilarious comedy about husband wife culture in India, including comments on karwa chauth – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0kiDY2izIk. Enjoy!!
Thank you for the appreciation. However your empty rhetoric confuses me. How is social and biological construct of woman allows her to starve(without water) for a man? This construct should allow her maternity leave and not ‘karwachauth off’. This country has debated alot about maternity leave bill but karwachauth seems so natural. Aping a culture does not make it right and here I assume we want to talk about right things to bring change. Since you did not know about it before seeing it in a movie, I can totally pardon your ignorance on not understanding the issue too. My suggestion would be to hone your theoretical knowledge on feminism and possibly be a good listener when women raise issues. Do not make it sound like a trivia.Many like me do not enjoy sexist festivals and jokes. Do not paint India in one stroke of brush. We are diverse and this is the point I was making with respect to womanhood too.
Priya Tripathi, No need to be judgmental on others as that is exactly the good point of your article. Your article is also loaded with your rationality of starving being imposed on others who do the fasting. The fasting in itself is not good or bad, it depends on a person. Fasting for husband may be bad, and I even agree with it, but that does not mean that others who think otherwise need to be demonized.
You have written a good article bringing a different perspective, don’t expect everyone to agree with you on everything you have insinuated by a patronizing attitude in pardoning and making suggestions. Be cool about comments, and try to expand your horizon from them. It would only help you making your points better.
It was an amazing post, a detailed one. something which every women goes through owing to the modern world and still being answerable to the orthodox family. Good read. thank you for sharing
Thanks Ankita. The tragedy is not all women realize how they have internalized patriarchy. It is difficult to even acknowledge the harm it has done. Another set of woman who will not have problems with this are the ones who are reaping the benefits. For instance, women free riding on their partner’s resources. For them it is a gesture of gratitude. Even sati was acceptable to many Indian woman but we could not have leave it as freedom of choice. There was some serious jolting done by the revolutionaries to make a large population even realize that it was wrong.
Brings to my mind a question- isnt feminism or the new F word a matter of ideology and evolving consciousness. The foremost ask of any social revolution is awarness of choicesand ability to make informed choices without fear or force?
I know many women who willingly (under no coercion)observe these rituals not as a sign of subservience or regression but as an expression of love, solidarity and other related emotions.
Fasts are good detox regimen for both men and women with immense medical benefits if done the right way!
Further, let feminism or any relevant social revolution celebrate the ideas of Freedom of making personal choices based on his/her own belief system and Tolerance- ability to coexist with alternate ideologies albeit incongruent to our own!
Shame that feminism is talked about in this derogatory fashion in present age and times. A ‘well informed’ choice could mean various things. Do you think a working woman in present age and time is ‘well-informed’ would still believe in observing rituals whose fundamentals are so patriarchal. Many of the ‘Kathas’ in these vrats say that your husband will die if you do not observe the fasts. If a 21st century woman pretends to ‘very well-informed’ and still believes in it due to some cultural inertia, she is definitely to be jolted. A country where around 70% women do not work (again out of ‘choice’, a regressive one according to me), how is it expected that they are ‘well-informed’? So even if you educate them in ‘theory’, their choices in life is still determined by patriarchal code of conduct.
Now coming to fasting, is there any religious scripture which has prescribed man to fast for a woman. Well I would like to call myself a ‘well-informed’ agnostic feminist.The health of housewives and married woman suffers the worse in this country. How does one justify not even drinking water the whole day in this age and time? Since patriarchy has attached incentives like a label of ‘good respectful woman’ as a badge to woman who believes in it, there are many who do it. I am not questioning keeping gender neutral fasts for Maha Shivarartri, ramazan or Janmashtmi. I call it a ‘choice’ to keep fast in such festivals even if I am happy to be an agnostic.
Now coming to coexistence and coercion, I was repeatedly given calls and follow-up calls to check if I am observing the fast or not. Even after categorically saying NO, I was again asked to observe some fast for husband the next month. Is this called giving a ‘choice’ or ‘coercion’? Also, if it is about love, it is just a married couple who decides how they want to express their love to each other and not extended family, relatives and outsiders. When a NO is not taken in its full glory from a 30 year old woman, probably as a society we are still not mature enough to consider woman as an equal. One will have to be really naive or pretentious to call it a choice. This is a pure toxic coercion, trespassing into someone’s personal beliefs and bulldozing.
Sure, i applaud your point of view and I rest my case. Kudos to the work you are doing 🙂
I love this post and the only reason I sometimes get confused is my reluctance to disrespect the elders. I am a feminist/equalist and an agnostic and I have made this clear to my in laws as well. No one has been able to dictate how I clothe myself or to wear sindoor or even jewellery ( I never really wore too much jewellery before marriage and do not prefer to change). Since men don’t look married, women shouldn’t either. I did have to be really stern while refusing to do those things and was never rude and they were understanding. But I do think that my MIL must have felt a little bad about it even though she did not express it.
Now come the teej/karva chauth kind of things. I absolutely detest the idea of fasting for your “man”. My MIL is a meek person who has been constantly marginalized in her family and has been taken for granted. She respects everyone, including me.
I don’t want to be yet another person who disrespects her by refusing to do everything she says ( I have already refused sindoor, jewellery and a few other things). I know that she has been conditioned to think the way she thinks, but that’s her reality. She feels that by asking me to do those things she is making me her daughter and an integral part of her family. I am 100% sure she has no malintention.
How do I make sure I don’t break her heart? I am a feminist but by marginalizing her further, am I really being a feminist? What should I do? Since this is a feminist forum, I am sure I can get some great advice.
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