Friday, October 23, 2015

Haldi-Kumkum: discriminatory tradition which needs major reforms.

Haldi-Kumkum is a tradition or social gathering event celebrated in various parts of India by married women during festival season. It seems historically it was started as a occasion to give an opportunity for married women to interact socially. This sounds quite logical, because in heavily male dominated patriarchal society where women seldom used go out of home unless and until they have to there may not have been many opportunities for them for social interaction with women of other families. So it makes perfect sense to have some function like this where women can gather in relaxed environment and interact with each other socially and discuss about topics of their interest. So why the heck I am calling this gathering discriminatory? Is it because men are not invited to it, am I trying to bring gender discrimination here? Absolutely not, one can have male social gatherings as well as female social gatherings, there is no question of gender discrimination as long as one gender is prohibited to have similar thing just because of their gender. So this is not about gender discrimination but about discrimination within the same gender. I witnessed this discrimination as a child, but that time I din't realize that this was a discrimination as I thought it was a part of our culture. So about what I am really talking here? If you check about this function widows are not invited to this function, now why are they not invited? because their husband's are no more so they can't be a part of function where basically having alive husband is celebrated. I am sure most of readers know that in Hindu tradition only married women put kumkum on their forehead and widows are not allowed to put that mark on their forehead. Basically that mark denotes that woman's husband is still alive,  no such mark or symbol is required for males to indicate whether their wife is alive or not. Actually I was told that if widows are invited to such function it can bring a bad omen for all other married women in that function that is why they are not invited, it seems somehow all those married women also might get widowhood, it can spread like some sort of contagious disease. Another reason might be where being alive husband is celebrated these widows might feel bad that their husbands are no more, so to spare them from this sorrow they are excluded. But if this is true then isn't this gathering supposed to be a social function for women or was it supposed to be just a celebration for having a alive husband? Both cannot be correct, if it was supposed to be a social function then there is no reason why widows should not be allowed to be a part of it. Actually not many years before widows used to be excluded from many of these so called auspicious occasions, things are changing slowly now but this tradition was there and is still practiced by some even today.

As a child I never realized that anything was wrong with any of these traditions. I was too naive and ill informed, I observed these things silently with many questions in my mind and no one around to answer them. I saw widows like my maternal grandma (we used to call her nani) wearing really simple clothes and participating in very limited functions. Actually I saw both my grandmas (nani and aaji)only as widows, but my nani lived much subduced or simple life than my aaji, may be because she had only a daughter as her only child but my aaji had 5 sons. I never realized back then the reason behind lack of colors in their lives. I also never felt anything wrong about it as I never knew that these women also have right to live life like other married women around them. I was trained to believe that it is part of our culture and tradition, so I accepted widowhood as something these women have to live with rest of their lives. It was their bad luck or misfortune and their family or society can't do anything to change it. But fortunately this ignorance didn't last long, slowly I realized that many of these traditions were plain discriminatory, misogynist and part of patriarchal culture. I also realized that not only men but women are also equally responsible in following and propagating these things and since then I question and oppose any such ritual or tradition which is discriminatory or biased in any way. I am glad that some people are questioning these things and some are even modifying these traditions to make them more accommodating and non-discriminatory. Both things are necessary, it is not true that getting rid of these traditions all together is the only solution, one can modify them, remove the discriminatory rules or rituals and keep on practicing them with same devotion and conviction. For example raksha bandhan is celebrated in our home in very gender unbiased way where brother and sister both tie rakhi to each other. I hope this ritual also goes through some major reforms and women start inviting all women irrespective of their martial status. This will be real social gathering and real interaction, having a living husband should not be the only criteria.

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

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


  1. I think this is because most of the traditional 'women-only' celebrations have been for marital bliss or procreation - Haldi Kumkum, Mangala Gauri, Vat Pournima; there could be many more. May be it's because traditionally women have only been seen as 'procreators'. No doubt, procreation is vital for survival of human species. But it just does not end there. However, for the traditional cultures, I think it just ended there. Well, in today's age we see lot of widow remarriages. But the question remains : are remarried widows allowed in such women-only celebrations ? And if yes, then to what extent ?

    - Ravindra Vidhate

    1. Thanks a lot Ravindra for sharing your views on this topic. You have raised some very interesting points, I also have no idea if remarried widows are allowed to such functions or not, my guess is they are as after remarriage they are officially married so no more a widow so I guess they can be a part of such function. At the same time we need to question such discrimination and change the perspective of society. If women are just looked as 'procreators' then we need to change that view. It might take time but we need to do it and women themselves have to play a key role in that process.