I’ve been trying to process my thoughts around the origins of Hindu festivals for days now. I come from a Hindu family and have been initiated in the yearly festivities ever since my birth. Rakhi, Karwa Chauth, Teej, Bhai Dooj... Many of these festivals are celebrated in the guise of assuring women - that they will be protected. With an obvious power attributed to men, placing the baton of charge in their hands. I feel these festivals symbolise and internalise patriarchy. They are a convenient way to whitewash the reality and stature of women in India, of strengthening the position of a man in the society and an indirect way of telling women that you will always need someone to protect you, in the form of a man. A brother, a father, a husband and so on. The same brother who might not have a single ounce of respect for you. The same father who perhaps beat you when you were little. Or the very husband who believes your place is beneath him.
Until a few days ago, I doubted that there were chances I’m being critical of such joyous occasions. But then, I attended a session on Feminism & Patriarchy by Kamla Bhasin. Her views strengthened my belief on how deconstructing an age-old ideology will sound uncomfortable to the mind, but it’s all the more important to let it out. To make that noise. To be that killjoy. Deride the norm that lets a particular gender enjoy a position of supremacy. She mentioned, a family is the primary school of patriarchy. Look around and see if equality exists in your family?
This year, as I slipped two crisp pink-coloured bills in my wallet after celebrating Raksha Bandhan, I too became a party to this system. I didn’t gloat about it on my social media this time though. But the chastising rush of the greatness of the day on social media didn't stop. Women thanking brothers who offer to promise lifelong protection to their sisters. Men flaunting their wrists with many Rakhis tied to it. One post said, “I thank all my protectors”, with a photo of that girl standing with love and pride with three tall men. Keep scrolling, I told myself with a cringe on my face.
Little did I know, there was another cringe moment coming my way. Thanks to COVID-19 and its induced loneliness, I’ve been on Hinge since April. I was talking to a lawyer. He pinged asking how my day was and I, in all honesty, responded that it’s usual and added another sentence that said - “I’m not really into this concept. The more I read, the more I understand that all this is a facade”. And then started a Whatsapp text debate. It hovered around gone are the days when someone was stopped from condemning a festival to taking a different defensive trajectory altogether. Telling me to drop my surname as that’s a mode of classification and I must be against it too. I kept responding with all my calm. None of it offended me. It shocked me, yes. Not offended, yet. I ignored his ignorance. But then, came the long-established argument of biology. That men are stronger and the society constructs a way of utilising that strength in a ‘positive’ manner, in the form of the festivals.
If he had put this to me a day before I attended Bhasin's session, I wouldn’t have answered it with clarity. Tracing back to what I learnt, she explained that no one denies that men and women are biologically different. We are. But biology or nature doesn’t define hierarchy or suggests in any way how that strength of a man has to be utilised. We form our meanings out of it. We as a society have interpreted it.
He kept talking about sports and how fun it is to watch men play a sport instead of women. I kept imploring him to explore why women have not been put into sports since childhood? Why do men take more interest in football than women? Where is all this attention of women diverted to? The lawyer was upset. I was not enjoying it either but I still wanted to understand the thought process of this young Indian litigating professional.
I prompted him to look at the roles. Identify the gender stereotyping that’s conditioned ever since a child is born. A boy who has been playing since the age of 10 going to nationals and a girl who realised her dream was to play football when she turned 18 and got to play nationals in the women’s team are two scenarios we need to weigh against each other.
I’m not bashing him. He could see through what I was trying to convey. Because if another non-litigating male in my life understands that all these Hindu festivals are patriarchy 101, then he sure can as well. It will take a little longer for upper-class north Indians to come out of denial. According to me, this concept needs to be uprooted. And while many voices have come forward in the past and have spoken about it, it needs to be resounded.
I would like to share some of my favourite words by Kamla Bhasin:
Kareebi dost jo humne zindagi mein paaye hain
Veh sabhi naariwaadi darwaazo se andar aaye hain
Ab jaise bhi hain, naariwaad mere hain
Ab oh hai raat inse, inhi se sawere hain
Ab hum dono taa umr saath nibhaenge
Jab ek hu main zinda, aap hume saath saath he paaenge.
Riti is an alumnus of BITS Pilani and currently works as a Business Development Analyst at a global IT services organisation.
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