Some experiences in life really make you believe that it is best to accept life with its challenges and complexities. To argue the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of a happening, often doesnt provide solace.
Stay calm and work for your own peace.
Once again, the young and the old women are thronging the markets to get a mehandi on their hands and feet, to buy stuff like bangles, bindi, pots, traditional clothes, matching accessories and sweets etc. This marks the arrival of the festival of Karvachauth. Every year, women across India, especially in the North celebrate this festival with great pomp and show because it is day dedicated to their husbands. For those who do not know, Karvachauth is an occasion when women fast for the longevity of life of their husband. Most women who fast do not drink even a drop of water during the day till the time they see the moon and pray for their husband’s long life. On this festival women dress up traditionally, revere their husband, touch his feet and drink water through his hands.
The festival is sacred in India because of an old myth associated with it. It is believed that once in some state of India a newlywed queen observed this fast for her young bridegroom. But mistakenly she attempted to eat something before offering her prayers to the moon; as soon as she put the piece of bread in her mouth, she got the news of her husband’s demise. The queen got distressed and did not understand the reason behind his sudden death. An elderly lady then told her that this is the repercussion of her mistake of having food without worshipping the Moon God; the Goddess Karvachauth got annoyed at her action and so punished her by taking away the young king’s life. So on this day women solemnly observe a fast and attempt to please the Goddess Karvachauth seeking long life for their husband. Women gather in groups and recite such stories to each other to foster their faith in the purpose of this festival. They also perform other ceremonies that involve worshipping the Sun and other stars.
In our country since childhood girls are taught to sincerely observe this fast when they grow up and get married because not doing it can afflict them with the greatest of all evils i.e. the death of their husband. Often, the girls who are engaged or desire to get married also keep this fast with the hope of getting a suitable match for themselves.
Perhaps, it cannot be denied that religion provides solace in the hours of distress but at the same time having a blind faith in customs and pursuing them only because they are acceptable to the society, seems sheer stupidity! It is weird that women in our country believe that birth and death can be manipulated through practices such as fasting! Even the women who are independent and well-educated observe this fast in a religious manner because of the myth associated with it. They do not attempt to rationalize a bit about it and happily surrender to the tradition. No one pays heed to the scientifically proven fact that women have a tendency to live longer than men because they have a stronger immune system due to the benefit of having two X chromosomes (seehttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/02/why-women-live-longer-than-men_n_3696114.html for more details). Also, recent studies have revealed that in India women who are 60 and above are more likely to die as widows than the men of that age group. This is because widowed men usually get to remarry but this is not the case with women. In many parts of our country, till date remarriage is taboo for widowed women (See http://econdse.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/JD-Recent-Research-on-Widows-in-India.pdf)
Indian women need to realize that they are an “individual” and by virtue of that they too have an identity of their own; husband is a companion and not a governor or a ruler through whom a woman would be known and in whose absence, her life is meaningless! It is ironical that on the one hand we Indian women fight and yearn for equality with men; on the other hand, through such traditional practices we place men at the level of divine and become servile to them. We show them that however they may treat us, we (apparently are the idols of forgiveness and dutifulness) would always pray for their long life. This does not only reflect our mindlessness but also displays our meanness because Indian wives oblige their husbands by observing this fast (apparently for them) but if one ponders over the whole concept, it is palpable that wives do it for their own sake since they feel secure and comfortable with their husband around.
However, need of the hour is to understand that all of us are mortal beings and there is nothing that can control or predetermine our death. Acting in such ignorant ways is extremely regressive for our society because this way we are leaving a legacy of lifelong dependence for our girl child and thus pruning her freedom and dreams.
For the first time in my life, today I had an opportunity to witness Durga Puja, the prime festival of the Bengali community. The pujo pandaal was beautifully adorned with intricate craft work and on the one side stood tall, the magnificent idols of Goddess Durga and her family displaying the dexterous abilities of our craftsmen. I found myself lost in admiration of the aura of those idols that completely lived upto the mythological description of the Goddess. However, the religious fervor of the people around also caught my attention. Although heavy downpour had disrupted the whole event but as soon as the rain stopped, people gathered to participate in the sacred ceremonies (pushpanjali and others) that were conducted in a flawless fashion. The priests were men clad in saffron attire, they chanted mantras throughout the pujo and also made several offerings to the idols; the others stood with folded hands and closed eyes perhaps soliciting their well being. On the other side of the pandaal there were a variety of stalls ranging from food to jewelry items and other handicrafts. A stage was also made for orchestra and other live performances. The young section of the mob thronged these stalls and was keen on shopping while the elder ones confined themselves mainly to the puja and some chit-chat.
All of a sudden, a thought hit me hard and I started wondering about the ironical lives we Indians lead. On the one hand, we proclaim ourselves to worshippers of Goddess Durga who is supposed to be an embodiment of womanhood and power; on the other hand, in our society women are ill-treated, harassed and looked down upon. We firmly believe in a patriarchal set up and thus promote subjugation of women. In our country women are tortured and even murdered for raising their voice, seeking their rights and equality with men. It cannot be denied that in India women have made their way into politics, sports, civil services and other such domains but even then a large number of female population is oppressed on a daily basis. Moreover, the road is not easy for these women who have managed to acquire an esteemed position because the deeply rooted patriarchy poses a constant trouble to their choices and decisions.
However, it would be wrong to say that in our society men alone are the stalwarts of patriarchy because ironically, women have a larger role to play! Over the years, Indian women have experienced enormous male domination and subjugation which has resulted in their being evolved as beings adapted to such an environment. At present, most of the Indian women do not have any problem with surrendering themselves to the authority of a man who is their father, brother or husband. Since childhood girls are brought up in such a way that they are comfortable with leading a docile life. In fact, the females who complain or seek a change in the patriarchal mindset of people are looked down upon with contempt even by the women folk. In our society, females have fixed their roles (in allegiance to the men of the house) and those who lack in performance are severely punished. It is due to this that social evils such as dowry, female foeticide, female infanticide, dishonor killings etc. are successfully practised in India. Statistics reveal that almost 99% of the dowry deaths occur when mother in law tortures her daughter in law for getting dowry from her parents. Similarly, in some Indian states (viz. Haryana) female foeticide is a convention that occurs successfully under the supervision of the elderly women of the house.
However, the domination of women is only one filthy aspect of our society. The fact is that our society is a bundle of ironies. I find ourselves to be hypocrites through and through. Perhaps, someday education will enlighten our minds and we will be able to live as mere humans, not as men and women belonging to some caste, religion or category.
The staged version of the incident left me aghast. I was dumbstruck and dismayed thinking about what she would have underwent! My conscience revolted from within and my body simmered in rage. I witnessed the true story of an acid attack victim in Bihar. She was a beautiful girl with innocent dreams of being an academician; she knew little about the cost of aiming to live upto one’s dreams. She declined the proposal of the local rowdy guy chasing her for marriage and to avenge this denial he threw acid on her whole body while she was fast asleep in the night.
At present she is little more than a lump of flesh; her senses have given in to the acid, she cannot see and struggles to hear and taste and feel through her burnt body parts. But her pain and agony doesn’t end here. she battles for justice, appeals day and night to a dead system that has led the accused should roam around scot-free; she has the only appeal to see him behind the bars. Her struggle is not easy because of insufficient money and physical inabilities. Her father has spent almost all his modest income in her expensive treatment.
Acid attacks are a common phenomenon in india. In last three months, 56 acid attacks have been reported in the capital city! It is supposedly the most easy way to avenge a foul relationship or a grave insult. Men perform this heinous crime because they are confident of inflicting a lifetime punishment upon the girl without getting executed for it.
Last year, when a girl was brutally gang raped in Delhi, people of all ages gathered in numbers to protest. They were angry at the incident and apprehensive that their family women might also fall prey to such gruesomeness; there were strong appeals to change the law for rape in our country. People demanded death penalty for the accused. Although our police does not believe in getting their fingers on the criminals (because that disturbs their comfortable lives) but the immense pressure from the mob made them unwillingly take a step ahead in this direction.
The girl who was gang raped, died. But the acid attack victim (and many others like her) dies every day. There are only few who feel for the innocent victims and raise voice, the rest form the society that ignores and despises them. Perhaps in our country people deem the forceful loss of virginity as the only crime against women; for many women just need to have a protected hymen.
Is virginity to be understood only in biological terms? No! Apart from its literal meaning, the term connotes being ‘unscathed’ and ‘untouched’. A woman who is scarred both physically and mentally for her whole life (through forceful penetration or acid) is not a virgin and since that has happened against her discretion, justice should be given to her. In fact, a person’s face, appearance and way of conduct, is a part of her social identity; an acid attack crushes this identity completely and renders the woman a slave at the mercy of others. The society ignores her, avoids her, is scared of her because she looks ugly; she is no more taken as the person she used to be!
Marriage: an occupation for women in India
The thought is disturbing. Looking around I find that how even till date women in our country consider marriage to be an occupation i.e. something which would facilitate their living throughout. The manner in which a man seeks a job for himself, women at large yearn for a man who is making a decent amount of money and can take care of their expenses and in exchange they are ready to offer their husbands services like laundry, cooking, cleaning of the house, sex etc. Women view marriage as a respectable job that they wish to do all their life. Women believe that their domain is the house and of the man is the world outside. They take great pride in being ‘homemakers’.
The division of labour and oppression of women has been a common phenomenon in India. But surprisingly even in the current times when constant attempts are being made to eliminate such evils from our society, a large part of the women folk deliberately assent to a life of subjugation for themselves. Most of such females have been tutored by their parents to blindly obey the commands of their husbands and keep the other people in his family happy, even if that comes at the cost of one’s own happiness. There are also those women who consider themselves fortunate in spending the money of their husbands and are of the notion that females of a family work only in case of a lack of assets. Such women enjoy partying, splurging in goods that they have a penchant for etc. For them it is the best life a woman can lead.
In our country there has been a great deal of discussion on changing the outlook of men towards women but at the same time it is also essential that women should change the way they think about themselves. Women should become self-dependent before tying knots; deeming marriage to be an occupation renders it a relation between an employer and an employee where the former (i.e. the husband) has right over the workings of the latter (i.e. the wife). The relation of marriage is like a cart that runs better when its wheels are equal in size, neither outgrows the others. At the same time it is pertinent to not to undermine the achievements and strength of working women; like men, women too need to find their place under the sun and their contribution (in their respective sectors) is significant for the growth and development of a country. We need to understand that to become a sacrificing daughter in law or mother is not the mantra for the day. Today we need to be more dynamic and balancing in our approach; we can be good wives, mothers, daughters and sisters as well; all we require is some courage and confidence in our moves. Remember, the small steps we take today will take us to a brighter and better tomorrow.