On the occasion of Teej, while I was still annoyed that why such regressive customs exists even today, I observed something different. Despite the day-long fast, my mother looked so excited and happy while my father was equally supportive, as he fed the dinner to her last night with his own hands so that her Mehendi is not spoiled.
My mother also helped the housemaid, who was observing the fasts too, but was out on work. The mutual understanding and compassion between them was visible, as they both shared their work, helped each other and lightened the mood with leniency and laughs.
To celebrate Teej or not: It should be based on women’s choice
Yes, my mother, her maid, or any woman for that matter, shouldn’t have to observe such outdated customs in the first place. But their happiness and excitement emulated a sense of freedom and ownership in life rather than oppression. This made me wonder- is it right to criticise women who choose to celebrate Teej? While the fast may seem regressive, if women do it out of choice, then shouldn’t we be more accepting of the practice? Wouldn’t it be just another form of oppression if we force women to quit Teej even though they don’t perceive it as anti-feminist? Rather than judging women who have faith in this tradition, why can’t we change the way we perceive these festivals? Why can’t Teej be all about the choice and happiness of a woman and love between couples? And not patriarchy?
Women are redefining festivals
Religious customs since always have been a feminine domain and used by patriarchy to restrict women within the four walls. But today, the definition of these customs of subversion is gradually changing into a new narrative of women empowerment. Women are no longer celebrating Teej as a patriarchal custom but as a means to assert their choice and happiness even if it lies in observing the fast for their husbands. They are even defying the harsh customs and misogyny that the festival originally signified. The rules say every woman should observe the fast, not eat or drink and sleep throughout the day. But today women are creating their own rules. They are free enough to decide if they want to observe the fast or not, go out to work and consume the food before going to bed, or to stay up all night. They weave the fast around their lifestyle, instead of it being the other way around. Women are redefining Teej as a special occasion to celebrate their love and bonding with their husbands rather than being oppressed by it.
Teej as a space for building sisterhood
Besides, Teej also becomes a space for building women solidarity and sisterhood. On this day, women come together to not only celebrate the festival but also support each other based on the common experience of body and life. We need a similar sisterhood in society and especially at workplaces to make them inclusive of all women. The work policies and environment should be considerate of the experiences of women even if it is about observing such fasts.
Dear women, make an informed choice
Not all women who observe such traditions are necessarily oppressed but being inconsiderate of their choice makes us oppressive, even if we call ourselves feminists. If it is her choice to believe in it, let us respect and value it. Important is that she does not conform to the regressive and misogynistic beliefs that the festival entails. She should be aware of the patriarchal beliefs behind Teej and then make an informed choice.
If she chooses to practice Teej, it should not be about sacrificing for the husband’s welfare but about prioritising her own welfare by not compromising with beliefs and agency. The spirit to celebrate the festival should be about asserting what a woman thinks about it whether or not she wants to incorporate it in her life. We can rather aim at changing the perception of such festivals, than questioning the choice of women who have faith in them. Let us not make Teej and karwa chauth a basis to divide women. But a medium for women to assert their choice because feminism, after all, is about the freedom to choose, believe and practice.
Views expressed are the author’s own.