India is a land of diverse religions, beliefs and festivals. But they are rooted in the old traditions when women weren’t considered as a free individual but as subordinate to their fathers, brothers or husbands. They were expected to conform to social standards that deemed women as service providers, home-bound and sacrificial in nature. But today since women empowerment has been changing the equation in the society, achieving equality and compatibility among different genders, is it okay to believe in the old, patriarchal and misogynistic traditions? Is it okay to celebrate festivals that denigrate women? Maybe we cannot do away with celebrating festivals completely because, honestly, we enjoy it. But we can eliminate their patriarchal roots by being aware of it and defying them. So here is a list of festivals, not an exhaustive list certainly, that are patriarchal and misogynist.
Festivals that impose gender roles on siblings
Celebrated all over India, Raksha Bandhan is a festival that is rooted in the belief that a brother is a protector of the sisters. Sisters tie a thread on their brother’s wrists as a symbol of the promise that the brothers will protect the sisters from the world. This not only undermines the independence of a woman who cannot take her own responsibilities but also emphasises a narrow idea of masculinity.
By this listing, we do not aim to hurt the sentiments of people who believe in these customs. But only to help such people to be fully aware of what they are believing in.
This is yet another festival celebrated by sisters for the welfare of the brothers. Sisters perform puja and pray for the longevity, welfare and prosperity of their brothers. But why should it just be a woman’s responsibility to worry about the brother’s welfare?
This is celebrated in north India mostly and by sisters who pray for the welfare and longevity of the brothers. In a specific custom, the sisters tie their strands of hair with branches of jhur plant, pour water on it and pray for a calm life of their brothers.
Celebrated in Tamil Nadu, in this festival sisters pray for the welfare of their brothers in a way similar to Bhai Dooj. Just why can’t brothers too conduct prayers for their sister’s welfare?
These festivals not only prioritise the wellbeing of the brothers but also indoctrinate girls with the idea of sacrificing one’s own individuality for others’ welfare from a very young age.
Festivals that reinforce the idea of marriage and vidaai
Diwali is celebrated mainly for its idea of togetherness, lights and exuberance. But in North India, there is another custom added to the festival that makes it very problematic. The custom of Gharonda is performed by daughters in the family who create a miniature model of their house and worship it. The idea is that the daughters are the Lakshmi of the house and the source of happiness and prosperity in the family. However, she can do the custom only till she is not married because, after marriage, she takes away her luck to her husband’s family. Isn’t it unfortunate how young girls are made to believe from a very young age that they will have to leave their families later in life? Why should young girls grow up listening about marriage and vidaai rather than learning about the importance of their choice in what they want to do with their lives?
Widely celebrated by the Hindu religion, it is often seen as a festival that upholds woman power. But, the 10-day festival is also rooted in the idea that Goddess Durga is a married woman who comes back to her parents’ house for a few days when she is treated and worshipped like a queen or goddess. But on the tenth day, she has to leave and go back to her matrimonial house. This again imposes the binary of how after marriage, a woman’s real house is her matrimonial home At her parental house, she is treated with utmost love and care with the belief that life in the matrimonial house has to be harsh.
Celebrated in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the festival involves women worshipping Goddess Gowri or Parvati who comes back to her parental house for one day. And so she should be treated with love and worship so that she feels happy and leaves for her matrimonial home the very next day.
Festivals that enforce parental duties on mothers
It is a day-long fast observed by women mostly in North India for the welfare of their own children. But men or fathers do not observe this harsh fast making it only the woman’s responsibility to worry about the child’s welfare. It is rooted in the idea that the parental duties that are homebound are the mother’s responsibility only while men take care of the financial aspect of bringing up a child
It is a four-day-long festival of fasting, without water, bathing in Ganga Ghats and observing other rigorous rituals. It is celebrated in North India, mainly in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and parts of Gujarat. The festival is celebrated to thank the Sun God and his sister Goddess Chhati for granting life on earth. While other communities celebrate it for the welfare of the family especially the offsprings. It is also mainly observed by women. But what makes the festival less patriarchal is the fact that men too observe this fast, based on their choice.
Festivals that perpetuate the belief that a wife should sacrifice herself for the welfare of the husband
Widely celebrated in all parts of India, Karwa Chauth is a day-long fast observed by women for the long life of their husbands. This reiterates the idea that in a marriage, the welfare of the husband is more important. The married woman is expected to sacrifice her identity and serve her husband.
Another festival celebrated in North India where women observe day-long fast for the welfare and longevity of the husband. What makes it a little different is the fact that it also celebrates a supportive female friendship. The story behind Teej says that Parvati was helped by her female friend in absconding from her father’s house as he was getting Parvati married against her choice. And the two friends together reached in a jungle where Parvati finally convinced Shiva to marry her.
This festival celebrated by Muslims is patriarchal in the sense that not all Muslim communities allow their women to go to the Eidgah and masjid. Their primary duty remains to cook food for the Dawat while men go to the mosques to offer namaz and greet each other. In general, also, Muslim women aren’t allowed to lead men in offering namaz which is an important part of not only the festivals but their daily lives also.