Wednesday, October 23, 2013

'Karva Chauth'...love or discrimination wrapped in love?

Every year 'Karva Chauth' (करवा चौथ) is celebrated, mainly in northern parts of India. I don't know when this ritual actually started but it must be very old, I guess it must have started centuries ago when 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 because of lack of proper communication methods, many life threatening diseases and other dangers, so this ritual must have started to wish these men good luck and safety for their endeavor. In recent times this festival has been glamorized by many movies and TV serials as a ultimate symbol of wife's love and dedication towards her husband, so now it has become popular in many other parts of India also. I am not against any festivals or celebrations, these occasions are useful to get together, relax and have fun and there is nothing wrong if people want to have fun and enjoy. But if we analyze the situation carefully it's not that simple and I am not doing this to drag 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, at least I do this because all these issues are so interrelated that I can't help it and I hope this post will explain why I am discussing this particular festival as an example (this festival is just an example, the post is not only about this particular festival), this is the case of a ritual, widely accepted, glamorized and celebrated, which looks very harmless and simple but it can have deep effect on psychology of people following it.

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. The 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, and there is nothing 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 or pray 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 also 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 practiced voluntarily, without any obligation, not forced on by all married women either by social or family pressure, but does it happen like this? In most cases the answer is 'No'. According to me if it's about love and respect, this fast should be performed by husband and wife both because I believe respect and love in any relationship should be mutual, but rarely I see this happening. 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 some fast to make sure that their son's welfare and longevity is not jeopardized (and there are quite a few festivals like this, they differ in names but the ritual is same, wife fasting or doing some prayer for husband's well being, there is no festival which I know where husbands fast or pray for well being of their wives). The social pressure of this is also tremendous, believe me the guilt feeling some women get if they fail to 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 all the festivals or traditions or any 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 which claims to celebrate love and dedication. As I mentioned many such festivals are supposed to be for welfare and long life for husbands and it seems that many wives and mothers literally believe that it's necessary to do all these things to achieve this goal other wise something bad might happen, and because of this fear many try to fast even during sickness, poor health or during pregnancy or under circumstances when it might affect their health, many women get praised for doing these things in adverse conditions, they get hailed for their dedication, love and total respect towards these traditions and their husbands. So the question comes to my mind, are these things 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 at the hands of their husbands, many who are abandoned by their husbands for other women or for whatever reason observe these type of festivals for welfare and longevity of their husbands?? Does this makes any sense? Is it sign of Stockholm syndrome? or they just do it because of social pressure, they don't want to feel left out? I am sure something else going on in these cases, why you want to pray for your abuser? I am sure this festival is about total surrender but I have doubt if love is very much part of it or not.

I also know that every issue has positive and negative sides, there are many families where this festival must be fun and nice way to get together, they may not see anything wrong in it (even exclusion of widows). But 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 is one of the worst form of discrimination and it 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 (or even wear a make up like married women) just because their husband is dead. Do they do this just to remind how unfortunate they are? It's a very cruel joke played on them by society. I am not saying that married women should not express their love or should not celebrate just because few widows are around, rather everyone should have right to express their love and respect for their partner so why not to include all women and men in these type of celebrations? If necessary then change the format of the festival, make it where all (irrespective of their gender or martial status) can express love for their partner or friend (living or dead it shouldn't matter). If it's about love, dedication, etc. then does it matter if that partner is alive or not, male or female, married or not?

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 (this all is for marketing purpose, but at least they are open for all) why can't we take this very good thing from these festivals and include in all festivals in India any way we are copying many other unwanted things from west so why not to 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 label this post as one more attempt to bring issue of gender equality and criticize grand old traditions, I don't care about all this criticism but I feel festival like these (and there are many) encourage gender discrimination and start installing feeling of inferiority in women from young age.

 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 
4. Karva Chauth...is it only about love? (link for more or less same article published on blog in Nov 2012)

4 comments:

  1. People will be prone to blaming you for bringing topics like gender bias in each and every post. But can you help it, Vinay? Or, can we, for that matter? If an honest and unbiased cross-section of a few rituals reveals gender bias or superstitions at their very core then it is the naked truth, and it would be incorrect on anybody’s part to deny or ignore it.

    Be it Karwa Chauth or Haritalika Teej or Vat Pournima or any other similar festival, it’s always the woman praying for the longevity and well-being of man. I have not yet come across any festival where men have fasted (or practised any other ritual) for the well-being of women. And was the practice of sati any different? It was not a festival, of course, but it far surpassed all ‘sanctities’ attached to the woman-praying-for-the-man rituals. No wonder, it had to be legally banned. Widows have clearly been the most unfortunate of the entire lot.

    I hope people see through all this gender bias prevalent in our society.

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    1. I can not agree with you more on all the points which you mentioned in your comment. I second your thought that people try to see through all this gender bias prevalent in our society. Thanks a lot.

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  2. I am sharing a comment posted by Mr. Madhusudan Attaluri on same post when I posted this on my blog on Speaking Tree website,

    Link: http://timesofindia.speakingtree.in/public/spiritual-blogs/seekers/self-improvement/karva-chauthlove-or-discrimination-wrapped-in-love#commentlist

    Vinay Ji, Pranaam.

    A lovely blog. Humility in expression and delicacy in heart makes the blog a precious one. I support your views from the bottom of my heart.

    We have a Brahmin family to our next door. The family consists of a widow mother, her son and daughter-in-law and their son. The knowledge, compassion, love, humility and forgiveness of that widow mother is a personification of mother's love. My wife being a home maker available all the day at home. The Brahmin couple, both are employed. Only when all the members of family left home for their duties, mother comes out to see the Sun. With 100% affection and unconditional love she greets my wife and chats for a while.

    The pity is we observe the total seclusion for her at home. Her son very indifferently expresses his anger if she comes before him when he is going out. The grandson, need not tell specifically. After all he is his son. The daughter-in-law is too intelligent and smart. She maintains distance with her so that nobody points out her attitude. Mother once expressed that her stay at Old Age Home (for some time she was kept thereat) was happy. She enjoyed freedom and friendship and sharing with inmates. Being Brahmins, the couple feel pride for their elevated status of community they very sparingly talk to us just to maintain the neighbourhood.

    I always believe that the family is flourishing only by the grace of that mother's love and affectionate blessings.

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  3. vinay and calstrophobe i agree on your points. i am a maharashtrian and have always wondered why women go round the banyan tree on vat pournima and not men do the same for us.

    good post.

    deepa

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