Why Does The Onus Of Following Religious Rituals In A Family Often Fall On Women?

Letter To The Indian Society, women religious rituals

I have often seen my mother excited, exhausted and worried about the rituals and traditions that she has to observe. Has the dia been placed in the right position? Did we conduct the puja at an auspicious hour or not? Will, she will be able to observe certain fasts and rituals appropriately during the lockdown? If not, what will the consequences be? It would have been fine if these worries were a result of her choice to be a religious person. To each his, or rather, her own. But that’s not the case for my mother entirely, as she once told me, “I do it also because I am the bahu of the house and I am responsible to preserve the family culture.” She assumes it as her responsibility to protect the family from God’s wrath.

But why are women alone responsible for perpetuating these customs and rituals? Why are they solely held accountable for shielding their loved ones from “god’s wrath”? If it is all about the family’s well-being then why aren’t they allowed to make financial decisions on everyone’s behalf as well?

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My mother often gets irritated when I object to the way she often places these rituals above herself, in her priority list. She retorts, ” I am not doing this for myself. I pray only for your father’s business to flourish and your good education.” Why do Indian women have this tendency to internalise sacrifice, whether in name of love or devotion? Don’t we all know that one woman will fast in the household on everyone’s behalf, whether her children or husband want her to or not?

I spoke to other women about it and almost all of them agreed that women have to compulsorily follow the family rituals. “It is only my mother who prepares for all the puja and makes sure that it is performed properly. My father doesn’t care about it at all, ” said Kirti Mittal, a B.A.LLB student. According to Tauseef, in many Muslim families, it is the mothers who force everyone to perform Namaaz. While Mamta Agarwal who got married a year ago revealed that her mother-in-law expects her to continue the rituals they have been following for ages. “She wants me to be religious and pray for the family. It is true that being religious is often a compulsion on women in families.”

Some people I spoke to, also said that their fathers are equally involved when it comes to observing such rituals. But the difference is that for men, being religious is seen as a choice, on the other hand, for women it becomes a measure of their love and devotion for their family. Every woman is expected to do at least some rituals for the sake of the family. In fact, women who don’t believe in rituals are criticised for not just lacking spirituality but also for not caring enough about their family’s health and prosperity.

Patriarchy expects women to be bound by household duties and never participate in the decision making roles of the families. By making women internalise that decorating the deities and observing fasts even if they don’t want to are her primary duties, patriarchy reaffirms their limits of empowerment. It tricks them into believing that they are incapable of taking up the responsibilities that are important but traditionally male-dominated, but can still make a difference to the fortunes of the family by following certain rituals and observing fasts.

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I am not rejecting the need to perform one’s religious duties, as it is a personal choice (ideally), but the inequality perpetuated through the allocation of religious responsibilities in a household cannot be ignored. Observing rituals out of faith and devotion should not be an exclusively feminine or masculine domain. A woman shouldn’t be forced to perform these rituals if she doesn’t want to. These duties should be equally shared by the husband.

A woman’s contribution to the family’s welfare goes beyond offering prayers and observing fasts. She is capable of earning money or managing the family’s finances. But she can do all this and much more only when she has the power to choose, and agency to decide what she wants to do and what she does not.

Picture Credit: Feeding Trends