Be aware that this is a rant in its most perfect sense. I have not given references, but to my knowledge, the ‘facts’ contained are true primarily because I do a lot of reading up on things like this, and because the examples I have used are real. The only reason I have not revealed names or how I know these people is for the sake of anonymity.
People talk a lot about gender equality – and most people you’ll speak to nowadays say that they believe in gender equality. I’m not sure to what extent this is true. It is like saying you care a lot about the environment, but then you leave the fans and lights on even if you’re not in the room.
Beware that what I will say after this might sound blasphemous, but being a woman myself, I’ve started questioning the so-called ‘feminism’ and gender equality people preach. First let me make it clear that I am not talking about skewed ideas of feminism people have. I am not saying that all men are evil and that they should never be happy. All I am talking about is giving women ‘equal rights’ as men, and giving them the same opportunities that men get – which is what real feminism is about anyway.
In India, Hinduism has played a big part in shaping the way of life. Because Hinduism is the dominant religion, the large minority religions such as Islam and Christianity, have also been affected by some of its traditions.
The treatment of women in Hinduism is a very debatable topic, with some scriptures raising the status of women to those of goddesses. Hindus pray to goddesses and the supreme God ‘Om’ is neither male nor female – representing equality. In the Rig-Vedic times, women were apparently considered equal to men, had property rights, could be educated, and could be priestesses as well (according to some scriptures). I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the case, because in Hinduism, both male and female gods are revered. The male gods are also effeminate, showing a preference for femininity. However, read some other scriptures and see how women were put on the same level as beasts and inferior beings. Women were also deprived from property rights and inheritance. They were meant to be mothers and that was considered to be their ultimate goal in life. Then came the Islamic invasion of India and many fundamentalists of Hinduism say that these methods of suppressing women were a direct result of the invasion. But that’s all hogwash. Sure the purdah system came after invasion, but the rest of it was there before it.
So it looks like over the thousands of years of its existence, Hinduism changed drastically, and what may have been equal rights for women (I said ‘might’) suddenly became a method of bondage. The worst form of bondage is perhaps marriage.
I told you I was getting into a ‘blasphemous’ debate, but if you want to read further, do so at your own risk. These are just my opinions.
Hindu women have been told for centuries that they belong to a different house and are ‘pariah’ (strangers). That means that once they get married, they will forever belong to their husband’s family. Their bond with their own family is cut and they become the member (I’d like to say ‘property’) of their marital family. I’m still disgusted to see how this ‘philosophy’ is preached on TV serials like it is the most righteous thing to do. Why do such few women question these?
Ask most women and they will think it is a completely acceptable thing. I do not blame them because this has been so deeply internalised by them. They expect to marry a man, change their surname (or in some places in India, their first name as well), become a part of their husband’s family, accept their in-laws with open arms, and sever bonds with their birth family. You might probably think at this point – ‘well what’s the big deal? This is common practice in Hindu families’. Well sati (suttee), or widow burning, was a ‘common practice’ a long time ago as well, but that did not make it right.
I’ll tell you what the big deal is. A lot of men do not understand why this is difficult. Men grow up with their parents, so do women. Men then go to work, so do women nowadays. Men get married, so do women. However, men don’t leave their houses to join their wives and in-laws, but women are expected to. Does that mean that men are more attached to their parents and women are not because eventually they know they will ‘go to another house’? No it doesn’t and it is UTTER NONSENSE.
Some marriage rituals in Hinduism stink actually, and though I am Hindu and I believe in God (a genderless God), and consider myself spiritual, I do not agree with many customs and rituals. Consider this, some Hindu marriages forbid the mothers of the bride or bridegroom from attending the wedding. There is a pre-wedding ceremony in some parts of India where the bride’s brother goes to invite the groom. This is never done by sisters though. Why? Oh because she’s a woman! There is also another ridiculous ritual in which the bride’s father asks the bridegroom to forgive 10 mistakes of his daughter. The bridegroom could be the worst person in the world, but his mistakes are forgiven because he is after all, a man. Am I taking rituals too seriously? I know they are symbolic, but they also pave the path for certain beliefs.
During a wedding, there are various rituals that are performed. One is called the ‘kanyadaan’ or giving away the bride. Again this is done by the father, not the mother. This is solely because of patriarchy and nothing else. What this symbolises, and I’ll spell it out, is that the bride once belonged to her father’s house, but now she is going to her husband’s house. It’s like passing on property. ‘Hey son-in law, I’m now done with taking care of my daughter. She’s your property now. Keep an eye on her and make sure no one steals her away.’ In another custom, the pundit (or the priest) chants slogans which change the ‘gotra’ of the bride. Gotra is a difficult concept to explain, but the best way it can be described is ancestry. So once a woman gets married, her line of descent changes into that of her husband’s.
The last custom is probably the worst one and is called ‘bidai’ or ‘separation’. This is an episode right out of some daytime melodramatic serial, where the bride cries her heart out, and so does her family, because she is now a ‘pariah’. I know I should not call it melodramatic because it is a very sad time for the bride and her family, but my point is, why it is even necessary? Aren’t a girl’s parents always her parents? Will her marriage change that? Why should it change that?
Nowadays in most cases, marriage is not the first time a woman leaves her house to live elsewhere. Many girls now pursue higher education, and live for years away from their parents to study in universities. There is no crying session like during the ‘bidai’ when women leave to study or work. Women also take up jobs and have to live away from their families. Though they do not live with their family that time, it does not make them outsiders (yet). They are still considered to be part of their own family. So why all this bidai nonsense? It’s only because the bride is expected to go away to her in-laws’ place forever. Unfortunately society still dictates what it thinks is right and what is wrong.
I remember that after a number of my acquaintances got married, they described ‘bidai’ as the worst, but ultimately necessary and unavoidable part of their marriage. What shocks me is why no one questioned why it was even necessary. These acquaintances did not come from villages or from very traditionally rigid families either. But what has been engrained in the psyches of women and men cannot be changed that easily. I know a lot of people will raise their eyebrows at me for saying all these things because they are our ‘tradition’. But don’t forget that ‘tradition’ was invented by a bunch of people, not by some divine force.
Just like wedding rings symbolise union in Christian countries, sindoor (vermillion) and a mangalsutra (marriage necklace), symbolise that a woman is married. To me they symbolise bondage and imprisonment. What’s there for men you ask? Nothing. A man can go around without anyone knowing he’s married, but a woman cannot be seen without sindoor or her mangalsutra or something bad will happen to her husband. A man wears nothing to ensure that nothing bad will happen to his wife though.
This reminds me of a story my mum told me once. During a wedding, a cat was making a big ruckus, so people tied it up so that it would not create havoc. When the wedding guests came, they saw a cat tied and thought it was a custom. Therefore for every wedding in the village, a cat had to be found and tied up. (By the way, this is a fictional story and no one ties up cats during weddings. However, it gives a good idea of how rituals and customs come into existence).
My guess regarding the mangalsutra is also similar. I think that during some long-gone period in time, a man was leaving to go to war, or maybe to another place, and his loving wife was very worried about him. So he told her to wear a black thread around her neck as a memory of him. They must have been superstitious and made up their own little emotional custom. However, it soon became common practice, and then became part of Hindu tradition. Makes sense right?
Recently I read this completely disgusting article in a newspaper, talking about how demanding brides-to-be have become nowadays. The author goes on to discuss the ‘strange’ demands some brides made, including not wanting to stay with their in-laws, and wanting to give their salaries to their own parents. Another strange ‘demand’ was the girl wanting her husband-to-be to relocate to where she is working.
If you think about it properly – why in the world is this strange? Men have in the past made their demands clear: they want a docile woman do does not speak much, who can cook well, who is pretty. But once women ask for things, it is strange, because women should not ask for anything, right?
Only men have parents? Don’t women have them too? Only men love their parents and feel obliged to serve them, but women don’t? All a woman is expected to do is to lose her identity (change her surname for instance), lose her family (leave her home), embrace her in-laws and consider them to be her new parents (while her husband will not do the same with her parents). Yet, we apparently live in a country that gives equal rights to women. What hypocrisy!
Then someone says ‘brides have become demanding’. How demeaning.
What is more disgusting is how some Indian men (I said some, and not all) say that women are making a big fuss about their rights because they now have all equal rights. What these men seem to forget is that a very small percentage of women live in urban areas – and this so-called ‘equality’ has not touched poorer parts of the country. Even in urban areas women are not equal. They cannot walk around without worrying about things like rape and molestation. They cannot go to work without feeling that there is some discrimination against them. How is this equality? What is even sadder is that a woman needs a man beside her to protect her from other MEN.
One of the prime virtues of a Hindu woman is her chastity. Like someone said, a woman’s chastity is not her personal decision, but that of the society. If a woman is raped, she is unchaste. If a woman loved someone else, her chastity is questionable. Maybe she would not make her life hell if she became unchaste, but society would. What about a man? In his case it doesn’t matter. He’s a man after all.
Other ideal virtues of a woman include silence. No one wants a talking woman. If a woman thinks too much, she is dangerous. That’s why in India (especially rural areas), you’ll find that many women do not speak when other men are around. They cannot express their opinions. If they do, they are shameless. I don’t see where the stereotype of the blabbering and dominant wife comes from. In most cases in India, it is the opposite. Why only in India? The US has some major cases of domestic violence as well. Some men exert their power over women in most cases, yet women are apparently loud.
I have met many women who have encountered sexist remarks in their workplaces. One woman had gone to receive her salary, when she was asked ‘why do YOU need money?’ I cannot think of anything more sexist than that – thinking that women do not need money because their fathers or husbands will take care of their expenses.
There must be worse cases of sexism in the workplace, but this is one such example I’ve heard of myself.
Society stinks as well – it really does. It is because of the taunts of society that a lot of women who undergo abusive marriages, cannot even choose to divorce their husbands. I know a very heartbreaking story where a woman was married off to a very abusive man. However, as her brothers (whom she saw as the only people who could help her) feared what society would say and how it would affect her (as in no one would remarry her), they took no action. She continues to be abused and suppressed. She grew up as a very docile person, and could not get herself to stand up against injustice. She also thought that a bad marriage with some kind of support would be better than no support at all. Had she been divorced, no one would have married her, and as she was not educated very well, she would not have been able to support herself. Oh yeah, this still happens in India by the way, for those thinking it doesn’t.
I’m not trying to criticise my country. I didn’t grow up in Indian society but once I actually returned to my country and saw these expectations, I was quite appalled. This is mere frustration being vented as a result of many things I noticed after coming back to India. I am not trying to make India look bad or anything, but what is wrong, is wrong. India has a very very very long way to go before it can make the claim that its women are treated equally. The only reason so many rapes happen and so many incidents take place because of sexism is because, ultimately, women are not respected in India. Men are raised to believe that they are superior, and their birth is celebrated in such a grand manner. Women are brought up to think that they are ultimately the property of some other house and that they must aim to give birth to sons.
On a happier note, things are changing in India, and a number of women are currently in big positions in the country. They are now policymakers, policewomen, activists, politicians, filmmakers, and so on. That’s a great step forward. But for one step ahead, we’re a million steps behind. Hopefully men and women, both, will understand that women are meant to be loved and respected, just as men are.
I just want to say a final thank you to all the men who are open-minded, really understand women and don’t make hasty conclusions about their rights. If there were more men like this in the world, it would be a much safer place for women (and men as well).
So I’m done with my rant.
I think I’m ready for death threats now.