By Veda Nadendla:
Being Hindu is alien to me, being Brahmin is a lost cause.
This was my WhatsApp status since last night. When people kept asking me why, or what caused this, I couldn’t think of any one reason to tell them. Instead, I was bombarded with a barrage of painful memories and incidents from two days ago making me realize that there may really be no God in that idol, but there will lie a lifetime of crushed hopes and prayers just waiting to tell you, “Haha! Gotcha!”
My grandmother lost her husband when my father was 17. I lost my father and my mother lost her husband to an unfortunate road accident four years ago. Four months later, my cousin lost her father and my aunt, her husband. Yesterday, this very cousin got married in a moving ceremony up in Udupi.
There was an undercurrent of tears and pride in everyone’s hearts; they missed the departed whole-heartedly and rejoiced in the new bride’s special day. During this joyous occasion, there were three ladies who were not allowed to participate in any of the ceremonies, for no fault of theirs. Not allowed by whom, you ask? Not allowed by the hundred- and thousand-year-old Hindu traditions that still rule our everyday lives as if they were proven like a theorem and written in stone.
My grandmother, my aunt and my mother are three women who suffer because of the disgraceful and backward remnants of our cultural heritage. If we inherited the seven steps around the fire and maang mein sindoor, we also inherited shunning widowed women because they are ‘inauspicious’. The question here is, who or what deems widows inauspicious and on what basis?
The woman is not allowed to participate in any of the wedding ceremonies, she is not allowed near the bride before the wedding ceremony, she is not adorned with the red and black bindis that all the muttaidulu are adorned with, she is not supposed to put jasmine flowers in her hair and worst of all, she is not allowed to give her daughter away on her wedding day; the very daughter whom she carried in her womb for nine months.
You must feel the eager bitterness seeping from my words into your thoughts, but my intention isn’t to poison. My intention is to question why we blindly do what the Hindu culture and religion blatantly demand of us. My mother is the breadwinner of my family; she single-handedly takes care of all our property and bank matters, shares and stocks, insurance and expenses. She earns enough to support my Masters program and my brother’s schooling. She is successful at her workplace, has raised my brother and me beautifully, and she is the ‘man of the house’. So why then, is she considered a pariah in the eyes of a ‘culture’ which functions on baseless dogma?
It will be correct to say I am a non-believer. This might even be a difficult read for a religious person. But I sincerely ask you: Where is it proven that a woman, whose husband has passed away in an accident, deserves to be excluded from her own daughter’s or relative’s wedding ceremonies because she may bear bad luck?
Who decided that she bears bad luck in the first place? Is it not enough that she suffers from the loss of her closest confidante and has to work doubly hard to maintain a similar standard of living? I do not complain about white sarees and shaved heads because those are perishing traditions, and I am happy to see that. Then why is it that this unfortunate discrimination still exists? Why is it that men who face widowhood are not compelled to follow similar dogma as women? Shall we call it patriarchy or karma? Or shall we just say that our Hindu religion is biased toward men?
My mother and I are still fortunate that she is a working woman and she has been successful in providing a comfortable living to my brother and me. What about those women who are housewives and are suddenly thrust into a world without their husbands, to fend for themselves and their children? Did anyone ever think how much these negative stereotypes might affect their emotional strength and mental health? We don’t even realize how much the word ‘widow’ must hurt them, and we go on referring to them as widows.
I don’t write this article to seek answers really. I write it to make change. One day, in the coming years, I too will get married, and when I do, my mother will be sitting next to my future husband and me on the peeth, and she will be the one to give me away. When I said this to my mom, she said no pandit will agree to such a ceremony. That would be a shame, because he would be lucky to witness such a wedding where you can just hear the melodious sound of baseless tradition breaking.