India is one of the most unsafe places for women to live in the world. Despite all the development, modernisation and globalisation, cases of crime against women are constantly rising. Sex-selective abortions, sexual assaults, acid attacks, domestic violence, eve-teasing are some of the most alarming issues prevalent in every part of India.
The situation of girls or women is worse in rural areas. They are forced to follow weird and bizarre rituals set by ancestors, which have no scientific explanation and are harmful in many situations.
We all know that a male child is the first and last preference of many parents. Women are forced to give birth again and again until she conceives a male child, which often results in the mother’s deteriorating health. Their obsession with a son is so extreme that they are willing to kill their daughter. If by chance, the girl survives, she is given a list of dos and don’ts. A long list of instructions she should always follow.
As soon as the girl starts menstruating, restrictions and myths double. A girl on her period is not allowed to touch anyone, cook food, go to school, visit any religious place or temple, take a bath, wash or cut her hair, and the list is endless. One of the most ridiculous myths I have ever heard is that if a girl on her cycle catches sight of a boy, she will get pregnant. I mean, I didn’t know boys can shoot sperms through their eyes.
Over 27% of girls are married below the age of 18, even in 2020. Child marriage is still practised in some rural areas of India. The marriage of a girl implies a huge financial crisis for poor parents. The bride’s parents are expected to clear the bills of all wedding expenses, plus dowry, plus gifts for the couple (TV, fridge, car). All of this makes them vulnerable and many times forces them into a debt trap.
The new bride has to follow some very shocking and outrageous marriage rituals. The worst of them are virginity tests. These tests are not performed by professional doctors or in hospitals through scientific methods. The bride’s virginity is usually assessed by the groom’s relatives through bizarre methods.
One way of testing a women’s virginity is by making her hold her breath underwater until a person completes 100 steps. They call it paani ki dheej (purity by water). Yes! I know it’s traumatising. No matter how pure the women is, she will probably die anyway.
Another outrageous ritual is agnipariksha (trial by fire). This is not the one performed by Sita in Ramayana. In this version, the bride has to carry a red hot iron in her hand and walk. Those who are not able to do it and leave the rod midway are considered impure (Trust me! I’m not making this up).
Sometimes they place a white cloth on the newly married couple’s bed and check for bloodstains on it the next day. If bloodstains are visible, the bride is a virgin. These are just a few; there are many more inhumane and disturbing stereotypes people believe in and follow.
The bride is now expected to be an ideal wife all her life. Serve her husband and relatives, run errands, bear children and complaint of nothing. Even after her husband’s death, she has to abide by the rules of a widower.
Another list of instructions is handed to her. No jewellery, shaved heads, eat bland food, no vibrant coloured clothes. They say that widows have 3 options. Marry their husband’s younger brother, burn with their husband (that is sati and is illegal) or lead a life of self-denial. None leaves much of choice for women, does it?
These problems remain hidden from our sight and are in desperate need of attention. We should try to address these age-old issues before directly moving towards our modern-day issues.