Shared initiatives to bring in social change – 22 Sep 2010

A newly married woman was questioned by the aged father of her friend whom she was visiting briefly- ‘are you are Christian’? She said no she was not and was a Hindu but why was he asking. He said simply- ‘you are not wearing the bangles and nor the ‘sindoor’! She was actually plainly dressed in a salwar-suit. She just laughed if off lightly but the remark got stuck in her head. She became conscious of herself and her dress but could not decide what to do. She  experienced some discomfort in her head. She was a working girl with modern ideas but at the same time had a strong commitment to the institution of marriage. Her dress sense had nothing to do with her ideas on marriage she argued in her head! She declined to wear the traditional symbols of wedlock which she found cumbersome in her daily routine and did not think it mattered much. It did not bother her husband either and they were both content being them-
selves. But society would make a comment here and there, now and then…always….

Take another example. ‘Of what relevance is the fast of ‘Karva Chauth’ today’, moaned Sameer. He further added that about his wife ‘she fights with me all the time, does not trust me, abuses my parents and talks of divorce at the drop of a hat and then does the fast for me!’ ‘These rituals have no meaning today and women should stop doing them actually and just learn to be what they are’. There was a strong point there I agreed with him. Even many happy wives may not feel like doing the fasts and the traditional rituals any more. Women are throwing tantrums on many counts I would agree, for bringing changes in their lives. And rightly so, the changes need to take place.

The dressing scene has undergone dramatic transformation. The earlier reluctance to wear anything but the regional attire has given way to comfortable clothing. In the past two decades of my stay in Nagpur I have witnessed the mass of women accepting the Punjabi salwar kameez as their daily wear which was a taboo earlier! Many men would want their wives (and girlfriends) to wear and dress in so-called western attire and reserve the traditional wear to religious
festivities. It’s practical and hassle free. It’s easier while driving two or four wheelers, it’s easier while carrying loads of shopping and it’s safer when you have to run for your life!

Preserving one’s cultural heritage is a pleasure and a must I agree. It gives the person a social and psychological identity. Our social and religious practices are unique and rich in the world. But there are some concerns here that I will mention- one is, in the process of evolution we need to modify or discard some cultural practices which have become irrelevant to the modern mind. Secondly, some festivals celebrated only by women help in reinforcing the traditional values by glorifying the subjugation of women, the exact cause women are fighting against.

Sameer is right in pointing out the irrelevance of one such festival of ‘karva chauth’. The woman is qualified as an engineer like her husband and earns equally or more. She therefore rightly considers herself equal to her husband in every way and he respects her too and they love each other. Come ‘karva chauth’ and she has to fast for his welfare, accept him as a superior being and touch his feet to seek his blessings! They both feel embarrassed at the ritual but she indulges in it with a laugh and he loves the kick he gets out of it! It ends there and they get over it. The woman enjoys her holiday from
work if she gets one and loves the festive mood with other women. A mildly nagging thought does not leave her mind though. Why should she submit to the husband – why doesn’t he also do something good for her too? He could also show some concern for her welfare.

The irrelevance today of such a concept makes the ritual lose it’s appeal to a modern educated working woman who stands on her own feet and supports the family equally. It might as well be discarded by women who want to do it. The initiative however has to be shared by both the sexes if change is to be brought. The husband and the wife have to be mature enough to agree to the change. Deep rooted cultural compulsions are difficult to root out from the psyche as they cause guilt and distress unless one has strong convictions and a desire to evolve further.

Published in The Hitavada Womens World – 22 Sep 2010

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