Written by Aarti Olivia & Editor-in-chief Ravneet Vohra
Oct 30th this year is the date Indian women from around the world observe the festival of Karva Chauth, an occasion rooted in ancient mythology that bears the cautionary statement: fasting for your husband will safeguard him against imminent death. However, with all the recent reports of rape and abuse, how are we losing focus so easily and why are we not paying enough attention towards the most pertinent issues, treating women more as human beings.
”the Union Minister of State, V.K. Singh, who likened the killings to the stoning of dogs: ‘If one stones a dog, how can the government be held responsible for this?’-Rucha Chitnis, Meet the Indian Women Trying to Take Down “Caste Apartheid
Here’s 11 Things Indian culture perpetuates that are designed to hold women back (and we need to stop doing right now)
1. Stop worshipping men: Until Indian women, mothers, sisters, mother in laws, aunts and grandmas stop holding their Indian men & boys in such high regard, they won’t stop disrespecting us. It is this blatant disregard for women and girls that give men a free pass to rape, pillage and brutalise
2. Stop feeding the patriarchy Upholding patriarchal values in Indian society has oppressed women to stay right where they always will be in Indian culture -at their men’s feet.
3. Stop belittling our longevity Would it not make more sense for men to start fasting for women first because who’s going to wash his feet, make his dinner, look after his kids, take care of his family if she is unwell or terminally ill? The longevity of a woman’s life is ignored, even though she is the true pillar of the familial unit.
4.Stop controlling us Our life decisions are not ours alone. Ever. As daughters, as wives, as daughters in law, as a mother. From the moment a girl is brought into the world, she has little control over pertinent matters such as, who she wants to marry, if she wants to marry, choice of vocation, having children, having a son to carry on the family line (like that can be controlled?)
5.#WomenSupportingWomen -Women need to be more supportive of their daughters and daughters in law, rather than upholding antiquated notions of womanhood. Mothers were once daughters, and they know the struggles of accommodating to patriarchal standards. Why then do they allow their daughters or daughters in law to walk in those same footsteps?
6. Stop worshipping outdated traditions There is a lot of criticism about those that participate in Karva Chauth. It is after all a sacred Hindu custom, that has no relevance in society today. Through the years I have had many people try to convince me to participate, ‘’It’s so fun, you get to wake up before sunrise and eat, and then not eat all day, or drink all day, all in honor of your husband and then break your fast by looking at the moon, looking at him, touching his feet and he gets to feed you” Where is the fun in that exactly? Oh, you get a gift too #weird. It has also become an emerging trend for mothers in law to gift their daughters in law baskets of fruits, nuts and drinks to sustain themselves in the hours before observing the fast. Some husbands even take the day off from work to stay in with their wives, while others gift them saris and jewellery to adorn themselves with. But still I do not see how any of this stops feeding into the mindset of submissiveness. To quote Twinkle Khanna
“9 p.m.: Dressed in our finery, we gather on a friend’s terrace to look for the moon. As banal as I find most rituals, I am still swept away by the moment. A dark night, five good friends, sparkling with our bindis, zardozi and red outfits. We are giggling and taking pictures. Suddenly, someone spots the hazy orange outline of the moon, and we are now dragging out our men, laughing as we borrow things from each other’s plates, a strainer, a coconut barfi, a flower, laughing as we borrow things from our past . . .”
Is this really moving with the times? How suppressed and disrespected do you have to be as an Indian woman to enjoy a day of fasting and hunger induced giggles?
7. Stop putting a woman’s health last A number of pregnant women participate in this festival, even though it should not be expected of them. Gynaecologists advise pregnant mothers against taking the fast since it even prohibits the drinking of water. I shudder to think of some families that impose this upon their expectant daughters/daughters in law. The implications of this are dangerous and may lead to hypertension, gestational diabetes and other complications. Some expectant mothers, however, are resolute about this and to them I say – your health and that of your unborn child’s comes first.
8.Stop calling it Indian Valentine’s Day Karva Chauth simply feeds into the hype for a festival that is fast being commercialized as the Indian Valentine’s Day. How utterly ‘romantic’, a day of going without food that may bring on mental instability, low blood pressure, heartburn, and even gastritis. Oh, but it’s for the ‘greater good’. The greater good of who exactly? Some husbands go along with the fasting and so it is declared a couples’ bonding experience, but I fail to see the romantic angle here. How unbearable is a hungry person to be around? Multiply that by two and you have all out war, on the one day that is supposedly a sign of love.. There are other ways a couple can celebrate the abundance they are fortunate to possess and the love they share and as much as you may hate me for saying this, fasting will not do it. Try eating something, taking a shower, and putting on some sexy underwear to get the romance going? Better still how about just being whomever you are? Bizarre notion I know, but seriously you can do it….
9. Stop perpetuating the cycle Widowed women are left out in the process. To quote Rita Banerji’s article, Because Your Husband Is Your Supreme God!
“And here’s the reason behind this festival in a nutshell:
A married woman is called Sumangala [The fortunate one; the bringer of good luck],
A widow is called Amangala [the unfortunate one; the bringer of bad luck].
In fact, the widow is considered such bad luck that she’s shunned from weddings and other ceremonies, barred from certain temples and places, just in case her ‘bad luck’ rubs off on other people. Till a few years ago, the families would just do away with this ‘bad luck’ by burning her alive on her dead husband’s funeral pyre – a custom called sati.”
10. Stop making Bollywood movies about downtrodden women – this has added to the romanticism effect of the festival. Celebrities such as Aishwarya Rai Bachchan celebrate it while her husband Abhishek Bachchan admits to not believing in the tradition. Bollywood movie scenes where wives observe this fast are glamorised and shown as a fun-filled occasion. While the lives of unmarried women, widowed women and single mothers are still regarded in Bollywood movies with taboo and skepticism, even when there are movies that challenge these ideas such as Mira Nair’s Water.
11. Stop encouraging young girls to get involved in misogyny More unmarried girls and brides to be are getting in on this. To quote Rita Banerji’s article
“India’s modern gizmo crazy market is happily marketing this misogyny.”
She refers us to an article from the Times of India no less that targets the busy working professionals among us to uphold this archaic tradition.
“Since girls watching their mothers starve for their fathers think it is such a fun and attractive tradition, why don’t they just start early?”
Plenty of future daughter in laws also make this annual sacrifice to appease the ‘Gods’ that are their future in-laws. Since the Pati (husband) is Parmeshwar (God) then of course his parents are too.
All in all, each to their own, but one thing’s for certain is that Karva Chauth should be a day where we celebrate everyone, each other, our companionships, loves and friendships. We should have a party because we want one, not because we think we have earned it.
Featured Image: Flickr userPranav Bhasin via Creative Commons