As the only daughter Pooja Priyamvada performed all the last rites of her father. She says, “A common but absurd reason cited against married daughters performing the parents’ last rites is that their Gotra changes at marriage so how can they perform a religious ritual for parents.” Here is her story:

My father struggled lifelong with the conflict between his scientific personality and education versus his traditional upbringing full of rituals and religious beliefs.

I realised it years later that his parenting was revolutionary as me his only child in the early eighties in small town Shimla wasn’t brought up by him “like a boy” but just as a strong and independent girl who wasn’t expected to become like a boy to be equal or more.

Ironically the same man who had raised me thus (in the pre-internet days and no parenting magazines or books) had a few of his patriarchal mental blocks too. The man who talked to me freely about menstruation and helped me learn how to use tampons and later taught me to have ‘only safe sex‘ when I was dating, was not sure that I would be able to perform his last rites as his only child.

The man who talked to me freely about menstruation and helped me learn how to use tampons and later taught me to have ‘only safe sex’ when I was dating, was not sure that I would be able to perform his last rites as his only child.

Conventionally in Hindu families, it is the eldest/only son of a deceased who performs the last rites and in the absence of a son the next male kin, i.e. father, uncle, brother, nephew, cousin sometimes even son(s)-in-law step in to perform the funeral rites.

During my teenage one day, my father took me to the Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi early morning and we witnessed a cremation from afar, sipping tea, and he asked, “You scared?”

I was intimidated by the breaking of the skull using a long bamboo pole ritual but said, “No, why? Just curious.”

On our way back he said as matter of fact, “Someday you will have to do that for me.”

I just nodded.

Years later when I was married and my parents’ health started failing I saw a doubt lurk in their minds and so I suggested having a legal agreement where they both grant only me the right to perform their last rites. That thought I think sealed the deal for all of us.

A common but absurd reason cited against married daughters performing the parents’ last rites is that their Gotra changes at marriage so how can they perform a religious ritual for parents; also the popular perception that girls are weak, they would get scared, cry and howl and would not be in their senses to perform a sombre ritual.  My logical revert to that – What if I marry/divorce/marry multiple times? I would always remain my parents’ child as much as any son does. Also, there can be brave girls and weak men, no?

My logical revert to that – What if I marry/divorce/marry multiple times? I would always remain my parents’ child as much as any son does. Also, there can be brave girls and weak men, no?

My father passed away on 6th March 2015 in Shimla, it was Holi, a misogynist festival we both hated. I made arrangements for the cremation making calls on the highway all day. The next day in spite the raised eyebrows and gossipy whispers I was the sole “karta” at his cremation and all other rituals that followed. To add to my detractor’s woes, I even got my periods the same day, but thanks to my father’s upbringing I was not deterred by any stupid notions of impurity regarding menstruation to prevent me from doing anything that was required.

Not just male relatives who felt sidelined and offended, even my mom who as a married daughter was not allowed to even touch her parents’ dead bodies or accompany them to the crematorium was apprehensive, to say the least.

I did what needed to be done while people shamelessly kept recording videos of the “unusual spectacle”, I was told later. The death certificate protocol as expected didn’t have any female relation mentioned in the column – relationship with the deceased, they had to click on ‘son’ in the drop-down menu and later change it in the print to daughter.

The death certificate protocol as expected didn’t have any female relation mentioned in the column – relationship with the deceased, they had to click on ‘son’ in the drop-down menu and later change it in the print to daughter.

Later in Haridwar during the immersion of the ashes rituals also the priests were visibly intimidated by a sombre, almost stoic daughter ready even to get my head shaved as expected while performing last rites for a parent, but I was told it wasn’t mandatory, they just took a small tuft of hair.

My message to families with a single girl child or only girls, please don’t deny your girls this right, and to families with kids of both genders, show gender equality where it really matters, at this last bastion of patriarchy.

Pooja Priyamvada is a poet, award-winning blogger and tea lover. The views presented are the author’s own.

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