I think very few people are comfortable to talk about death and issues related with it but this topic is not only related with death but mainly it's related with gender discrimination. It’s not that I am trying to link almost all topics on my blog with gender discrimination but many of these things are really closely related and understanding them in more detail might explain society's heavy prejudice towards women.
Cremation is an extremely important ritual for Hindus and people belonging to most of other religions. It is an ancient custom among Hindus to cremate their dead. Hindus believe it releases an individual’s soul from its temporary physical body so it can be reborn. If this process is not done properly, then it is thought that the soul will be disturbed and won’t find its way to its proper place in the afterlife and come back to haunt living relatives, so it has huge significance. After a person dies (male or female doesn't matter), it is understood that the lighting of the funeral pyre will be led by the eldest son of the deceased, if he/she don’t have a son then grandson, and so on but it has to be some male adult or child from their family.
One of the primary reasons that Hindus wish for a son is that only sons can carry out funeral rites which can give them mukti or moksha. It is possible to substitute another relative for a son but this is generally regarded as much less effective. Traditionally women have not been allowed at cremations because it is believed that they are emotionally not as strong as men and they might cry and can not handle the emotional trauma associated with this act. Women are not even supposed to enter the cremation area or even watch what goes on inside it. This includes close women relatives and family members of diseased person. They are allowed to help to lay out the body at home and some other rituals but carrying the body, gathering the wood and lighting the fire are all considered as man's work. One might wonder why was so, and is there any explanation for this or it is again example of gender discrimination? It seems there is some explanation for this, we all know that during early days of our civilization, fire used to be started by rubbing sticks or stones against each other. Therefore lighting any fire afresh used to be a difficult, time-consuming and laborious task and required a lot of physical effort and energy. May be that is why women were not allowed to do this job because physically there are weaker than men. This practice of a strong male (usually the eldest son) lighting the funeral pyre slowly grew into a custom, which over time became quite rigid almost like a law along with time too many superstitions also got attached with it. I think this is what led to the belief that the last rites for a parent or any person would not be acceptable to almighty God religiously unless the deceased's son or any other legal male heir had carried them out. This thinking put more pressure on the families to have sons while undermining the importance of daughters, even many Hindi movies used to have this emotional dialogue where person used to say to his/her son 'my son if you won’t be there then who will lit my pyre?' (बेटा, अगर तू नहीं रहेगा तो मेरी चिता को आग कौन लगाएगा?), and even by mistake also they don't say this to their daughters, so the prejudice remains even in movies and this belief is very strong.
So one can almost see a pattern in all these issues, most of these customs, rituals or some superstitions are something which started because of unique situation (social and economical) and requirement at that time (some thousands of years ago), empowering particular gender with certain status and responsibility and slowly it became rigid rule and a way to suppress other gender (females), it needs to stop somewhere and I think our generation has power and capability to do that. I am not saying that now make women to lit pyre and kick men out, this not my definition of women liberalization but what I am saying is give them an option, give them equal treatment, remove that prejudice and bias against them and then it will be women's choice what to do but at least let them choose, allow them to say no, but let it be their choice.
Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.
(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing)