Namita Bhattacharya Broke Many Taboos By Lighting Vajpayee’s Pyre

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao
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Namita Bhattacharya

It is a rarity even today, for a daughter to perform the last rites, but that didn’t stop Namita Bhattacharya from breaking this taboo. This foster daughter lit the funeral pyre of her father and the former Prime Minister of our country - Atal Bihari Vajpayee. For thousands of years, performing the last rites of a deceased family member has remained the right of the male heir. Fathers, brothers, sons and husbands are the ones who get to perform the last rites of their beloveds, while women till very recently were not even allowed on the cremation grounds. Not many women get to carry the bodies of their loved ones on their shoulders. That right too is reserved for men.


Namita Bhattacharya stood tall and lit her father’s funeral pyre amidst state honours, with world media watching. The image embodied what every daughter feels for her deceased parent. It is my right to say goodbye. It is my right too, to light the funeral pyre, as I am a part of him in flesh and blood.

The final journey of our former Prime Minister was telecasted live on television, on regional and national channels alike, sending this powerful image to every home and every mind. Everyone in India viewed this image wide-eyed.

Yesterday, they didn’t see a woman trying to challenge patriarchal practices. They didn’t see a modern Indian woman rejecting age-old practices. All they saw was a daughter silently mourning her father's death and sending him on his final journey.

The practice of sons performing last rites of parents is one of many reasons why conservative families desire a male child. Who will perform my last rites - give me a proper final journey to ensure they attain moksha, is a question many parents in India take seriously even today. Many couples still feel that they need to have a son, so that someone can give them a proper farewell.


  • Bharat Ratna and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s last rites were performed by his adoptive daughter Namita Bhattacharya.
  • In a country where patriarchal practices forbid women from performing the last rites for their parents, it sent a powerful message.
  • As Bhattacharya lit her father’s funeral pyre, she broke so many taboos in the most poignant ways possible.
  • She spoke for the daughters of this country, that it is their right too, to give a final send off to their parents.

Women and girls are deemed unfit to perform this last duty toward their parents simply due to their gender. No matter if it is they who cared for them in the old age or realized all their unfulfilled dreams. This last duty, which brings a spiritual closure to a child, still eludes them due to social taboos.

Bhattacharya's picture has put across every daughter’s point of view as poignantly as possible. I hope that after seeing what Bhattacharya did, no daughter will be refrained from lighting the funeral pyre of her parent. Because this ritual is more than a duty. It is that one last chance to be there for and with your parents. Something most daughters, who spend the majority of their adult lives away from their parents, cherish very much. After all, the love that daughters feel for their parents in no measures lesser than what sons do.

Picture Credit : ANI

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee Atal Bihari Vajpayee funeral Namita Bhattacharya