Saturday, November 3, 2012

Karva Chauth...is it only about love?

Every year 'Karva Chauth' (करवा चौथ) is celebrated, mainly in northern parts of India. I don't know when this ritual has started but it must be very old, I guess it must have started centuries ago when political situation in Indian subcontinent was very unstable and there used to be frequent wars, men used to take part in many of these wars or travels (for business) and in those days all these things involved great amount of risk and uncertainty, so this ritual must have started to wish men good luck for their future journey and safety. This festival has been glamorized by many movies and TV serials, so now it has become popular in many other parts of India also. I am not against any festivals or celebrations, they are nice and very good way to get together, relax and have fun and there is nothing wrong if people want to have fun and enjoy. But if we look carefully it's not that simple and I am not doing this as an intellectual who is trying to bring issue of gender equality in each and everything. Many people like me are blamed or criticized for bringing topic of gender equality or superstition or organized religions almost in each and every issue we face, we do this because all these issues are so interrelated that we can't help it and I hope this post will explain why I am discussing this particular festival as an example (please remember this is just an example, the post is not only about this particular festival), a ritual which looks very harmless and simple can have deep effect on psychology of people.

Now let's look at this festival of Karva Chauth, where wife fasts whole day (in many cases without drinking even a drop of water) for the prosperity and long life of her husband and in the evening after some rituals they get gift of their choice from their husbands and eat only after seeing face of their husband, this festival is exclusively for married women whose husband is still alive. Festival looks very benign and many people think it's full of love and devotion, what's wrong in fasting like this? Fasting is part of many festivals, Muslims also do it in month of Ramadan. Actually nothing wrong in fasting, wives definitely have right to wish for happiness and long life of their partner. The festival looks like very harmless ritual, beautiful way to express love and dedication by wives for their husbands (but notice that in traditional format of festival husbands don't fast, it's not a big deal but just a noticeable difference). Perfectly fine as long as it's voluntarily, without any obligation, but does it happen like this? In most cases the answer is 'No'. According to me fast should be performed by both because I believe respect and love in any relationship should be mutual, but rarely I see this. I have also seen many mother-in-laws (including my own mom) calling their daughter-in-laws day or two days before such festivals and reminding them that they should keep that fast to make sure that their son's welfare and longevity is not jeopardized (and there are quite few festivals like this, they differ in names but the ritual is same, wife fasting for husband's well being, there is no festival which I know where husbands fast for well being of their wives)  and believe me guilt feeling if they don't do this is very strong, as if they missed a crucial dose of some life saving medication or something.

This post is not a criticism about the festival or traditions or culture but it's about the mindset which gets perpetuated in the name of festival, traditions, etc. Unmarried women and widows are not allowed to participate in this festival, I can understand about unmarried women but I wonder how widows in family must be feeling about this festival. As I mentioned this festival is supposed to be for welfare and long life for husbands and it seems that many wives and mothers believe that it's necessary to do this fast to achieve this goal other wise something bad might happen, and because of this fear many try to follow this ritual even during sickness, poor health or during pregnancy even when it might affect their health, many women get praised for doing this in adverse conditions for their dedication, love and total respect towards their husbands. So the question comes to my mind, is it only about love and dedication? or is it fear of loosing that person or something bad might happen if that ritual is not followed (superstition)? I also see many women who suffer physical and mental abuse, many who are abandoned by their husbands for other women or for whatever reason observing these type of festivals for welfare and longevity of their husbands, does this makes any sense? this reminds me of Stockholm syndrome, I am sure something like that is going on here. I am sure this festival is about total surrender but I have doubt if love is very much part of it or not.

I know that every issue has positive and negative sides, there are many families where this festival must be fun and nice way to celebrate, they may not see anything wrong in it (even exclusion of widows), I am fine with their stand but for me this is not right. I am against any festival which forbids participation of certain section of society just because of their gender or martial status (widows), rather I believe that concept of widows being barred from participating in many rituals or considering them as a bad omen must have started from traditions and festivals like this, imagine how they must be feeling when all these women are celebrating and they are not allowed to participate just because their husband is dead, just to remind how unfortunate they are, it's a cruel joke played on them. I am not saying that married women should not express their love or should not celebrate just because few widows are around, no that's not what I meant, everyone has right to express their love and respect for their partner but why not to include all women and men in these type of celebrations, if necessary change the format of the festival, make it where all (irrespective of gender or martial status) can express love for their partner or friend, living or dead shouldn't matter. If it's about love, dedication, etc. then does it matter if that partner is alive or not, male or female?

Many people who know me also know that I am not very big festival fan but when I participate in any family function (like any festival or marriage) I want to have fun and for me fun is when everyone can participate in it, just for comparison when I see festivals in USA like Halloween, thanksgiving, valentine's day, etc where everyone can participate there is no age limit, gender or martial status restrictions (may be for marketing purpose, but they are open for all) why can't we take this very good thing from them  and include in our festivals any way we are copying many other unwanted things which we don't need in India for sure so why not take some good things also. But I know that it's not easy to change these rituals and many people may not like my comments and suggestions, they will think this post as one more attempt to bring issue of gender equality and criticize grand old traditions, I am fine with all this criticism but I feel to express my opinion about this even if there are many who don't care about this issue.

 Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Links:
1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karva_Chauth
2. http://hinduism.about.com/od/festivalsholidays/p/karwachauth.htm
3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_syndrome

3 comments:

  1. http://festivals.igiftstoindia.com/karwa-chauth/origin.html

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    Replies
    1. may be the original idea was nice and relevant for that time but as usual we messed it up and didn't update with time..same old story..repeated many times..

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  2. I added these lines at the end of third paragraph after publishing the post,
    "I also see many women who suffer physical and mental abuse, many who are abandoned by their husbands for other women or for whatever reason observing these type of festivals for welfare and longevity of their husbands, does this makes any sense? this reminds me of Stockholm syndrome, I am sure something like that is going on here. I am sure this festival is about total surrender but I have doubt if love is very much part of it or not."

    these examples are not hypothetical, they are from my neighborhood and some are from my own extended family and I really feel surprised by cultural grip (or hypnotism) under which these people live...

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