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Shaming women who observe Karva Chauth does not serve any purpose because all it does is make people defensive and defensive people tend to dig further into their own beliefs.
I knew Karva Chauth was around the corner when my social media feed started filling up with photographs of mehendied hands, and I braced myself for the sappy posts and the acrimonious debates that I knew would follow. I was not disappointed.
Every year, I find a vast majority of my female friends to be firmly on one or the other side of the Karva Chauth debate. There are friends who undertake the fast, dress up for the evening puja and post photographs on social media. And there are friends who write long, fiery posts denouncing the custom as patriarchal and anachronistic. Both these groups of women often end up clashing on social media, and there seems to be little common ground between them.
And every year, I end up reflecting on what my stand is. This year was no different.
Of course it is. It is a fast undertaken by women for the well being and long life of their husbands. Tradition does not require the man to undertake a similar fast for the well being of their wives, so it is certainly one sided.
A few younger couples, inspired no doubt by Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, both keep the Karva Chauth fast, but that doesn’t change the fact that the genesis and intent of the festival is patriarchal. There are women who say that Karva Chauth is really a celebration of sisterhood, that it is a day when women get to dress up and pamper themselves, but when the purpose of the festival is to celebrate gender imbalance, that cannot be used to absolve the festival from being labelled “patriarchal”.
This is a harder question to answer. Karva Chauth, as is much else, is a matter of personal faith. A woman who has grown up seeing the women of her family celebrating Karva Chauth is conditioned into believing that this is something that women do for the welfare of their husbands. For them, keeping the fast is akin to paying an insurance premium, and they are willing to do that for the sake of their husbands.
Personally, I do not think we have the right to force them to change their belief, especially since their actions are not causing direct harm to anyone else.
Certainly not. Many women who consistently and vociferously speak up for women’s rights, have been called “false feminists” and have been shamed for observing the Karva Chaut fast. This in my opinion, this goes against the spirit of feminism. Like it or not, we have grown up in a patriarchal world, and have been conditioned to think and act in ways which go against true gender equity.
Most of our religious rituals (by our, I mean Hindu, but it is applicable to most religions) are intrinsically patriarchal. Across cultures and religions, women are “given away” in marriage. Hindu women are dissuaded from performing funeral rites. Women house owners have spoken of how difficult it is to find a priest even to perform a housewarming puja in the absence of a male partner.
As feminists, each of us, in our own way and at our own pace, challenge these age old beliefs and seek to change ourselves and those around us. There is no such thing as a “perfect feminist”; each of us is an “evolving feminist”. Shaming women who observe Karva Chauth does not serve any purpose because all it does is make people defensive and defensive people tend to dig further into their own beliefs.
There is however, one aspect of Karva Chaut which most people who observe it do not consider- Karva Chauth is not inclusive. Only married women are allowed to observe Karva Chaut. A woman who might have been keeping the fast and performing the puja for decades is prevented from observing the festival when she loses her husband.
If indeed, as some say, it is a celebration of sisterhood, does a woman cease being a ‘sister’ when she loses her husband?
In order to prove that the festival is not patriarchal, some women claim that the fast is for the entire family, not just for the women- if that is the case, does the family cease to exist when the husband passes away?
Karva Chauth is not, of course, the only festival which is not inclusive. In fact, most Hindu festivals discriminate against women who have lost their husbands. But this is one aspect of the festival which the women who observe it should think about- do they want to be a part of something that is blatantly discriminates. Yes, as feminists, we believe in the right of women to choose. But inclusion is as important as individual choice, and the festival fails on that count.
At one time, in Bengal, only married women were permitted to participate in Sindoor Khela, where Goddess Durga is fed sweets and pampered on the last day of Durga Puja before being symbolically sent back to her father’s home. The ritual has now evolved to include not just unmarried women and divorcees, but also widows and transgender women. Today, Sindoor Khela is genuinely a celebration of Sisterhood, even though it too is rooted in the patriarchal tradition of sending the woman back to her marital home. If one festival could evolve, there is no reason why others should not, as long as those celebrating them are mindful.
Natasha works in the development sector, where most of her experience has been in Education and Livelihoods. She is passionate about working towards gender equity, sustainability and positive climate action. And avid reader and occasional read more...
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