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Mandira’s Decision To Do Husband’s Last Rites Is Inspiring, But Did Anything Truly Change?

Posted: July 3, 2021

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Mandira exercised her right to send off her partner the way she chose, and has inspired many; but will it intrinsically change anything in brahminical patriarchal?

Mandira Bedi cut a powerful figure leading the funeral procession as the karta-dharta. A role that ritualistically belongs exclusively to the oldest male progeny. Savarnas believe that moksha is attained and/or the ancestors are pleased only when the male heir sends them off on the onward journey, knowing that he’s there continuing their lineage on earth.

Mandira, the empathetic mother that she is, did not wish to subject her small son to the somewhat gruesome task of cremating a man who had been his father till the day before.

Mandira’s grief and strength was palpable

I feel happy for Mandira Bedi, that she stood her ground, exercised her right to protect her son and to send off her partner the way she chose. Her grief and her strength were palpable and one couldn’t help feeling moved. And maybe she even inspired other women to send off their loved ones similarly, equal to sons. In a country where the male heir is a prized acquisition, it seemed like a revolutionary move on part of women like Mandira Bedi and Diya Mirza who was pregnant at the time of her marriage and chose to have a woman priest performing the rituals.

But equality between men and women is not the only thing to fight for and if it is, it is a very limited one in our country. Feminism is not about aspiring to become like men or demanding equality within the very narrow constraints of the gender binary.

But should we support a ritual that is about brahminical patriarchy?

Who is the primary Oppressor here? Religion and brahmanical patriarchy. The same religion that is extremely oppressive when insisting on small boys performing the rituals of death at an age when death itself is an abstract concept.

And yet, that Mandira or Diya can do these things itself is a privilege of socio-economic-geographic location. The crematorium workers will still remain the lowest, most oppressed of castes and the priests will still remain brahmin. No revolutionary movement there. It doesn’t matter if you remove kanyadaan and think you are a great reformer when the oppressed castes are not allowed to have a fire at their rituals.

An upper caste woman can do these revolutionary, yet tokenistic things, look badass, have the title of feminist of the year conferred onto to them and give Ted Talks on dismantling patriarchy. But nothing will change for anyone other than themselves. In another part of the country perhaps even in Mandira’s home state of Maharashtra, a marginalised woman would be brutalised/killed for even attempting this. We all have to ultimately fight to dismantle religion in its entirety and not ask for these concessional, incremental changes. Let’s not ask to do oppressive rituals, let’s end these rituals.

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