RASHMI OBEROI | 14 FEBRUARY, 2019
Why should a marital status make such a difference to a woman's life?
Don't you think it is time for us to ponder on questions that revolve around social stigmas and work towards modifying our rituals, thought processes and mind-sets to be kinder and more inclusive?
I have had many friends speaking to me about these issues – a few have been deeply hurt by societal norms that are not justified. The pain and shame has left scars on many that probably may never heal.
Whenever it comes to rituals and women, it hasn't gone very well for the latter. While different societies treat women differently, in most parts of history and even in the current times, women have been long oppressed and dominated in the name of rituals, customs and traditions.
Sadly, they have often been subjected to merciless torture and agony as well. Women have suffered and are continuing to suffer in the name of some extremely oddball customs.
Indian weddings are a beautiful and soulful affair – yet tedious at times. Outdated ancient traditions and ceremonies are not going down well with the single/divorced/widowed women and understandably so. In keeping up with the times, shouldn't some age-old wedding traditions be done away with by now?
Some of these sexist traditions are not just unfair, but downright insulting. So it comes as no surprise that women all over are protesting age-old traditions and rituals that are not only derogatory but also regressive.
I am happy to see that weddings are now starting to get progressive… That is exactly what happened recently at a wedding ceremony in Kolkata which was conducted by four women priests. And these holy women were not the only thing special about the wedding. In a yet more progressive move, the father of the bride refused to perform the 'kanyadaan', which symbolises the act of 'giving away' one's daughter as a gift to her husband and in-laws. In 2017, a Nagpur couple made headlines for having a wedding sans the patriarchal custom. Even last year, the image of a single mother from Chennai performing 'kanyadaan' for her daughter at her wedding went viral. Change is inevitable and must be accepted without hate and malice.
Customs that treat women as objects are not acceptable. Neither are those that boycott single/divorced/widowed women from performing rites and rituals. How does it matter what the ‘status’ of the woman is… Is she only empowered or has a right if she is married? That is strange…and so condescending.
I wish more people realise that tradition is not beyond questioning and change. After all most of them were conceived in a patriarchal society and have been made convenient for men. It also makes me wonder why men don't add the wife's family name after marriage and expect women to change theirs. Why is the other practice normal and not this? The ‘why’s’ don’t stop!
Over a period of time, we have been witnessing women protesting against dictatorship in places of worship. They are no longer silent and their voices of dissent are justified. While some men have the balls to back gender equality, others pretend to for the sake of it while the rest would rather not even touch the topic of gender discrimination because for them it doesn’t exist in their vocabulary.
But, behind the curtains of feminism lies the dark truth of oppression by male-dominated society. This society silently works to manipulate the social order into believing that God created the difference between the two sexes and by the holy rule, we must abide by it blindly.
We now have two sides: one where the male-dominated society lays out directives debarring Indian women from performing certain rituals; and the other side that appreciates them when they take a stand against the same directives and stands by them in wanting change.
Life has always been a path of thorns for a single mother, a divorcee or a widow, especially in India where you are considered unlucky and inauspicious to perform rituals and ceremonies.
Personally, I have broken all rules and stigmas, performing rituals that I have wanted to irrespective of the ominous looks from the holy men and the hushed tones of relatives. I have been to the funeral ground when my grandfather passed away… I have participated in all the ceremonies as a single mother and claiming my stake as a parent before I got remarried… I took part in all the rituals when my father-in-law passed away, including those that apparently only ‘men’ do.
My intention here is to question why we blindly follow whatever has been written in stone through centuries. Why some women are considered an outsider in the eyes of a ‘culture’ which functions on baseless dogma troubles me. Did anyone ever stop to think about how much these negative stereotypes might affect their emotional strength and mental health? I am not writing this piece to seek answers – I am writing it to make change.
I've had female friends face insults when they wanted to do the last rites of a parent—only because women are not supposed to do so. On what basis? I have observed how our customs honour only married women.
Why should a marital status make such a difference to a woman's life? It does not for a man. Why must a woman be married to be respected and socially included in festivities, especially by other women? Can we not be more inclusive of all women? The answers are hard to come by, but even worse, the questions are rarely heard either because we choose to blindly continue along the prescribed path.
It is heartening to see that Indian society is now gradually progressing towards a modern India. I salute all those single mothers who raise their children facing all the difficulties and social stigmas bravely and I salute all those who are working hard towards initiating a change in the society. We need more strong women… Amen!