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Trolls descended on the grieving Mandira since she didn’t wear the traditional garb of a grieving widow, and she also did her late husband’s last rites herself.
Mandira Bedi’s husband, Raj Kaushal died early morning on 30th June 2021. The 49 year old writer-director-filmmaker раssed аwаy after а sudden cardiac arrest. His funeral was held at a funeral ground in Shivaji Park, Dadar in Mumbai.
Raj is survived by his wife Mandira, son Vir, and daughter Tara.
Mandira is an Indian actor, fashion designer, and television presenter. She gained recognition playing the title role in the 1994 television serial, Shanti, telecast on India’s national channel, Doordarshan, and since then has delivered several strong performances on various mediums including being the anchor of the second season of the IPL in 2009, hosting the ICC Cricket World Cups in 2003 and 2007, and the Champions Trophies in 2004 and 2006.
Several of their friends from Indian TV and the film industry tweeted condolence messages for Mandira and Raj, and were seen with her at their residence and later during the last rites.
Mandira chose to perform her husband’s last rites herself, as opposed to the usual practice where the children (mostly son) or a male relative performs these. Unlike the usual widow’s white Indian attire, she wore a gender-neutral white t-shirt and jeans.
As soon as the pictures of Mandira doing the last rites emerged in social media and by various Bollywood portals, there began a vicious attempt to vilify her stance.
Some made nasty personal comments about Mandira, and several others suggested that she shouldn’t have done this, as it was a son’s or male relative’s ‘duty’.
There was also plenty of trolling on her attire, which of course, as we all can imagine, wouldn’t have been there if she had worn a white saree and shown herself to be the ‘adarsh Bhartiya naari’, and even tasteless remarks that called her publicity hungry even at this time.
I performed my father’s last rites in Shimla in 2015 and I know first-hand what kind of prejudices and harsh criticism one endures to make this change. People even gender your grief between the two extreme versions they have of it- not “womanly enough” or trying to be “like men.”
In these times when India is in the clutches of a regressive mindset that keeps calling for ‘conventional’ roles of women as dependents only, this action by Mandira does not just remain a personal choice, but a strike at the very pillars of a feudal patriarchy that tries to assert time and again that women must restrain themselves to kitchens and ‘soft jobs’.
Even in 2021 millions of Indians pray to have a son. The chief motivation for that being that conventionally and ideally sons can light the pyre of the parents. Women relatives are often not even allowed to attend or participate in the last rituals.
People cite all kind of weird reasons to justify this. Such as women are faint-hearted and won’t be able to partake in this grief so they can grieve at home, they must cry and faint but leave the logistics and rituals to the men. Others suggest that if women perform these rites, then the deceased person won’t get ‘moksha’.
Conventionally, only sons were seen as the successors of their father’s property. It was believed that the one who inherits the property of the deceased must lead their funeral procession. In cases when there were no sons, this ‘duty’ was passed on to other male members of their family, who then also became their heirs.
Several ordinary women, and women related to famous people in India have in the recent years chosen to perform the last rites of a deceased loved one. However, it is still viewed as an exception or an act of bravery or courage, and not as her right to do it. It is far from any normalization still.
If the choice is between letting a non-adult/ child perform last rites and an adult woman from the family doing so- any sensible person would say that the woman must do it. Last rites are usually performed just a few hours after a death and the Hindu rituals do involve some sights that could scare a child and scar them emotionally for life. Yet many families insist that a son must do it, even if the son is a toddler or just 5 years old. They fail to acknowledge or address the emotional trauma of this that can last a lifetime for a child.
Mandira’s son is just 10 and her daughter just about 5, so it was also mindful of her to prevent her children doing these rites, more so when she must be aware that this will be under the public eye.
Sadly, a majority of Indian society still refuses to see women performing last rites as ‘normal’, and not just men but even women say and believe that it is a male domain.
Mandira has always been a trailblazer, and even in this moment of immense grief and loss she has proven that change begins at home, sometimes through excruciating pain.
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Pooja Priyamvada is a columnist, professional translator and an online content and Social Media consultant.
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