The shops are flooded with colourful glass bangles, beautiful sarees and bright vermillion powder, indicating that the festival of Karva Chauth is here. While etymologically, Karva Chauth means the fourth full moon of the Kartika month, the significance of the moon transcends its unique astronomical position on the day. The festival of Karva Chauth, however, evokes two extreme perspectives among women in India, one that considers it just another patriarchal convention trying to define womanhood in terms of a “faithful” or “devoted” wife, while for the other the day symbolises eternal of love and trust. To understand what this age-old festival means in modern India, we reached out to millennial women and asked them why they choose to or not to celebrate Karva Chauth.
Read on to know how do today's young women perceive Karva Chauth:
“Karwa Chauth perpetuates Patriarchy”
Whatever is the idea behind its celebration, Karva Chauth cannot be severed from its patriarchal traditions. Besides, the decorations, rituals, ideas of love and eternity, become the garbs regressive patriarchal norms that tend to define women in terms of a wife. Many women fail to see beyond the myths of Karva Chauth, perpetuated to uphold the purity of marriage, and understand how they normalise 'Patriarchy'. SheThePeople came across young women who are aware of this hypocrisy inherent in Karva Chauth and deny right away to be carried by it.
Muskan Nischal, 21-years-old MA English student at Delhi University and a full-time content writer at Vidyamandir Classes says, “Karva Chauth as a day of celebration is nothing but an extension of patriarchal norms that are designed to keep the identity of women only in relation to that of men. Even though we might say it's a choice, but, over the years, it has become a ritual followed blindly by every new bride who keeps the fast for the long life of her husband. To look at it closely, it is irrational and illogical, the reason speaks for itself. To look at it closely, it is irrational and illogical, the reason speaks for itself. Plus, it furthers the complicated notion of seeing women as the one who needs to sacrifice for the benefit of the man.”
Karva Chauth is the exact representation of portraying that man is hierarchically superior to a woman and other sexes. The illogical superstition of long-life also makes the festival senseless. Awareness needs to be spread across the nation to open the eyes to the reality of this delusional festival
Questioning the entire concepts and stereotypes of the custom of Karva Chauth, Anushka, a full-time content writer at Aditya Mahavidyalaya Academy in NSP, says, “Karva Chauth is a Hindu festival of married women, who fast for their husbands' long-lasting life. It is an epitome of patriarchal customs and women's subjugation as 'second sex'. We need to eradicate this custom from society because Karva Chauth is the exact representation of portraying that man is hierarchically superior to a woman and other sexes. The illogical superstition of long-life also makes the festival senseless. Awareness needs to be spread across the nation to open the eyes to the reality of this delusional festival.”
Speaking in a similar context, Riya Wadhwa, 21-years-old English Honours graduate from Delhi University says, “I find the whole concept of Karva Chauth flawed and beyond comprehension. It is a deep-rooted sexist ritual which is excessively romanticised for Indian wives. In the name of love and devotion, women are expected to pedestalize and worship their husbands to ensure their longevity and do not think twice before giving in their “manufactured consent.” Even if we for once, presume that this regressive ritual will make the husband “immortal,” it still is based on a huge gender divide and renders the whole notion of equality futile as a husband is not expected to fast for his wife's longevity. Karva Chauth is one of the many examples of patriarchal impositions on women's choices.”
In the name of love and devotion, women are expected to pedestalize and worship their husbands to ensure their longevity and do not think twice before giving in their “manufactured consent.”
Pulling out the thread of patriarchal myths that perpetuate the subjugation of women and divination of men since History, Ashima, 21-year-old MA English student at Delhi University says, “Karva Chauth, a Hindu festival usually meant for the women who are married, is often seen as sacred. The myths associated with the festival seem redundant to me because married women are imposed by society to fast and do the rituals. If they don't, they are questioned by society. While some women believe in Karva Chauth as a prayer for their husband's prolonged life. In my opinion, the festival in itself is an initiative for treating men as superior and subjugating women. The ideation of praying for husband's life and health reminds me of the Devadasis in the classical literature, a practice still present in the society. The festival encourages patriarchal discourses by pedestalizing men. But the question is why only men are affiliated to Divinity? I think one should not hold up such irrational beliefs in life.”
Why not both men and women do the fast of Karwa Chauth? A constructive change
While it is one thing to personally reject Karva Chauth right away for being inherently gendered, it is another to uproot the festival completely. Religion and faith have a stronghold in the lives of people. It is not an easy way to just stop people from believing in something. Rather, looking for a progressive change within the belief would be a better alternative. If Karva Chauth is gendered, rather than eliminating it, it can be changed by involving supportive participation of both the genders. If Karva Chauth is a symbol of love, it is for both men and women.
"While some women believe in Karva Chauth as a prayer for their husband's prolonged life. In my opinion, the festival in itself is an initiative for treating men as superior and subjugating women."
Upholding people's spirituality and beliefs connected with the age-old festival of Karva Chauth while hoping for a gender-neutral way of conducting it, Kirti Mittal, a 21-year-old BALLB student at Symbiosis Institute of Law, Noida, says, “So when we hear about Karva Chauth- the first thing that comes in mind is the fasting for the whole day. There are so many spiritual aspects attached to this tradition. People mainly believe that women fasting for a day can bless their husband with a long life. I personally feel when these sorts of tradition don't hamper the social structure then there is no harm in following them.”
Recalling her childhood impression of the gendered Hindu rituals, Niharika Singh, a 21-years-old B.SC student at Banaras Hindu University, says, “Karva Chauth is the festival of love and affection between married couples. In this festival, women fast for their husband for their long life. But I always had a question since my childhood that why don't husbands fast for their wives. Why only women are subjected to all these rituals for their husbands (Karva Chauth), children and brothers. Personally I don't like any custom or practise that is inherently gendered. In some families, women bearing the day-long fast are expected to do household chores while their husbands don't even bother to help. They think it is the wife's duty. If we start striving for equality in each and every sphere, then no man will think that it's only a woman's job. Karva Chauth should be for both men and women.”
Further, Vanika, a 22-year-old student from Ansal University, Delhi, says, “I think the festival itself promotes patriarchy. Women are expected and obliged to fast for their husbands no matter how much they suffer - even if their physical health cannot support it. On the other hand, men are not supposed to do the same. Some even ask their wives to cook delicious meals for them. Although some husbands (very rarely) fast, that too only in the early years of their marriage.”
If Karva Chauth is gendered, rather than eliminating it, it can be changed by involving supportive participation of both the genders. If Karva Chauth is a symbol of love, it is for both men and women.
Focussing on Karva Chauth as the symbol of love, Sushma Buswal, 21-year-old MA English student at Delhi University says, “As an atheist, I don't believe in the myth of Karva Chauth...But people who believe in it are in love. One can say, that when people are in love they believe in every possibility or impossibility and that love can change everything. Not being in love, I believe that such a thing doesn't exist, but I don't know, maybe not sure about future...”
Karva Chauth a space of “women solidarity”: An empowering narrative for women
Embarking upon a completely new perspective of Karva Chauth, that does not hamper its traditional values and simultaneously builds a strong narrative of sisterhood that overturns patriarchal traditions, Rhea Hans, a 21-year-old English Honours graduate from Delhi University, says, "I think that Karva Chauth is a beholder of patriarchal regimes. And the fact that a regressive practice like this which makes women fast to elongate their husband's lives forwards the culture that assumes woman to be the sacrificing figure, who uncovers her fierceness only to protect/help her husband but never for her own self. From my own personal experience, I have seen women in my family pampering themselves more than ever during the period of Karva Chauth. While it again is conditioned but at the same time cannot be just deemed as that, because while the festival is centred around the phallus, it does also organize spaces where women come together to pray (in what I would also like to call as solidarity). It owns a scope of the overturning of the tables, which even though has not happened till now. But one must keep hope.”
Indeed, women have a firm and clear perspective of Karva Chauth. But, the impending question remains that how far the will the perspectives take us? Can Karva Chauth exist in isolation from the regressive patriarchal beliefs? Or is the custom itself inherently flawed and simultaneously ingrained too deep to fathom?
Rudrani Kumari is an intern with SheThePeople.TV.
Also read: ‘Let Men Fast Too on Karwa Chauth’