Work, Women and Rituals: The Bitter ‘karwa chauth’

By: Sulagna Chattopadhyay
In this age of religious assertion, it has suddenly become important to turn ritualistic – something Hinduism repeatedly fought against. Consumerism and religion, the new adhesive, bind women more than ever. Celebrating abhorrent traditions such as Karwah Chauth, defeats the purpose of incentivizing women's work and their consequent emancipation.
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Work, Women and Rituals: The Bitter ‘karwa chauth’

So what if women work? She may head her department, be the most reliable corporate manager, or constitute the pillar of a bureaucratic mission – she remains a woman and there it all ends. Even for herself!

The blur between the within and the without is lessening say our armchair activists intent upon providing women the much needed ‘emancipation’. Money they say is the source of all good – good food, good medicines, good sanitation, good homes and almost all the good that we perceive as important in our lopsided consumeristic world.

“My kid is well, so I could come to office today,” quipped a friend of mine. Kidcare, you see, is ‘female’ in content and mother’s on call can hardly be replaced by busy fathers. Perhaps women are wives first, mothers next and once every other societal need fulfilled, useful in the capacity of ‘work’. Crores of rupees are earmarked year after year in the name of women and girl-child empowerment. Is then, the better half of India’s population truly attaining empowerment? Sadly enough, no.

The number of jobs she undertakes has definitely increased – rightly alluded to as the ‘double’ or ‘triple’ burden of women, but the right to live on her own terms has hardly been achieved.

The perception of a woman still lies in a traditional mould.

A homemaker is entrenched firmly within the folds of the family fabric–her demands, likes and needs subservient to the wishes of the whole.

Standing alone, against or apart to what she has grown up to believe as part of her, is indeed difficult to achieve. There lies her integral weakness – the need to fall in line.

So then, should we address economic emancipation for women at all? The divide between within and without will never merge if women themselves continue to uphold womanly virtues and wifehood as the basis of good lives.

The tube culture with incessant advertisements punctuated by bits of soap, shows make-belief dolls marketed in traditional moulds. Even the ‘gender neutral’ news channels do not want to be left behind and deliver stories about durables and beauty products during much hyped festivities. And, women seduced by it all, give in to the tirade, all too easily.

The absurdities of TV channels surmount all. Moolah in unprecedented surges is better than any sensitization you see. So interviewing the bindiwallah,churiwallah, mehndiwallah and so on, on the occasion of a brilliantly packaged karwa chauth, is indeed pertinent to the country’s well-being.

It is hardly a cause of concern that perhaps only a few good women would be left behind in the foeticide driven India to perform this feudal ritual of karwa chauth (karwah meaning pot) in another decade or so. Foeticide alarms of course only ring in the corridors of moth bitten academic records, where dowdy intellectuals pour over useless papers and scream themselves sore over the deafening din of popular Hindi music. Ignore these armchair doomsday foretellers–what do they know about women emancipation?

In this age of religious assertion, it has suddenly become important, however educated, reasonable or well-read you may be, to pour it all out in public. Consumerism and religion are new age quick fix adhesives. Guess where that leaves ‘work’?

Of all traditions, karwa chauth  may be the most abhorrent – for the very reason that it celebrates the subservient role of women. A tradition associated with the northern part of India, its romanticism promoted through Hindi movies, the tradition’s lineage traced to the warring tribes that inhabited these regions in the yesteryears. Yet, when women should give it the ‘bra-burn’ treatment, they uphold it quite contrarily.

The culture of ‘work’ is not worth publicity, or promotion. If celebrities and popular figures were roped in to talk about how good, dedicated and honest work would better your lives, a sea change in attitude could be achieved. Yet, karwa chauth is so much more appealing. Women pan-India are falling prey to this brilliant packaging–the very woman who would stand for candlelight vigils to seek justice for rape victims and societal discriminations, make docile submissions at the foot of their partner during the repungent karwa chauth.

We perhaps need to stand up for eulogizing ‘work’ first, extolling the virtues of ‘women work’ next and showing deep regard for religion, relegating it to the domains of the home – never beyond.

The government could do so much to change the mindset – by roundly putting a ban all religion related promotion. We can perhaps put our heads together to urge a policy that will change the ‘work’ equation to one that favours woman. The examples are many. A woman cannot be forced, extracted and singled out from her family and urged to stand alone. She just will not do it until the situation is beyond endurance. It would steal her support system – something she has learnt to depend on since childhood.

So now, the common denominator should be the family with the primemost focus on the man of the house – not the woman.

Indeed very few policies in our country have broken the family barrier–that too without desirable results.

Family planning programmes, even today, is viewed with suspicion and disdain and many leaders completely circumvent issues related to the family in fear of losing precious support. So who then will bell the ‘family’ cat and the man within?

The initiative lies with us. As conscientious readers let us address the man to do his bit, so that women find the strength within, to break-free.


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