I’m Not Against Fasting, But Why Is It Always Women Keeping The Fast For Men? Why Not The Other Way Around?

During Navratri anyone can keep a fast, irrespective of gender. Sadly, in most other cases, it's always the woman fasting for the well-being of men in their families. 

During Navratri anyone can keep a fast, irrespective of gender. Sadly, in most other cases, it’s always the woman fasting for the well-being of men in their families!

Fasting forms an important part of our Indian culture. Most Indian fasts have a religious or spiritual inclination.

There are various fasts which anyone can keep. We have festivals like Navratri, Janmashtami etc where people irrespective of their gender fast to appease the god/goddess. There is a fast in Jain customs called the Paryushan Parva where both men and women fast. It deals with spiritual aspects of cleansing your body and soul. On the other hand, there are many fasts that are just pushed down on women in the name of ‘long life of family and husband’.

Fasting for a good husband, then keeping a fast for husband’s well-being!

I would like to flag it out there that I am not against fasting but the point that I am trying to make here is forcing women to fast because of social obligations.

Karva Chauth is one such fast, mostly followed by women of the Northern part of India. Married women fast the entire day for the longevity of their husband. Another fast for husbands is the Vat Savitri Puja which is mainly observed in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Orissa and Maharashtra.

Pua Jiuntia is a well-known festival in Western Odisha, where mothers fast to invoke the grace of Lord ‘Dutibahana’ for the long life and prosperity of their sons. The Chathh Pooja where the mother or the elder woman of the family fasts and performs elaborate fasting, pooja etc for the welfare of the family.

I can’t even count the number of times people have told me to fast and do the ‘Solah Somvar’ for a good husband then. Often at times, I have also seen mother’s prepping their daughters with fasts so that she can do these fasts properly for her husband when she gets married.

I guess I can say that I am not the only one who has been asked to keep a fast.

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Even in faiths where everyone keeps the fast, the pressure falls on the woman

The idea that a woman needs to fast for the goodwill of her family is conditioned deep  into our thinking. If a woman doesn’t fast, then she faces comments like oh my God, you don’t respect the marriage tradition, and you don’t respect your husband, and you don’t want him to live a long life.

The surprise over here is that often these comments are made by other women. The social conditioning is so deep-rooted that women themselves become the flag-bearers of this patriarchal tradition.

In Islam the fasting period is called Ramdaan and lasts a whole month. It does not have any gender restrictions or obligations on women to fast for long life of men.

Still there is some gender disparity with respect to menstruation. Issues of not sharing of household activities during the fast and the brunt of all work coming on the lady of the house while she is fasting is also there. The amount of pressure and work on women in the house is doubled to an extent.

Fasting with one’s own will is  justified, but asking a woman to fast just because of traditions & customs is not!

One of the primary solutions to fight any issue related to patriarchy in our society is to look at issues from a cultural and religious aspect. It’s important to reanalyse the age-old customs and traditions made by men that are ingrained in the culture.

Also it’s high time we include the topic of sharing workload in our households. So that it doesn’t become more taxing for women to strike a balance between fasting and the gendered roles that they have to play in the household.

Traditions that oblige women to fast for the welfare of family and husband oppress women further. Fasting with one’s own will is completely justified but asking a woman to fast just because of traditions and customs is not. Assuming that it’s a wife’s responsibility to fast for her husband is misogynistic and exploitative.

It’s high time we move beyond such customs that glorify the husband being a ‘devta’  (god) and a woman should be the ‘pativrata’ (devoted to husband).

Image source: Ye Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai 

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About the Author

Nishtha Pandey

I read, I write, I dream and search for the silver lining in my life. Being a student of mass communication with literature and political science I love writing about things that bother me. Follow read more...

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