Actress and television presenter Mandira Bedi recently shattered the walls of patriarchy after she performed the last rites of her husband, director Raj Kaushal, whom she lost to cardiac arrest. A woman performing the last rites of her husband is not a usual spectacle in Indian society.
A society that has an unfortunate history of practising Sati immolation has very conveniently erased women from positions that demand mental or physical strength. In essence, Hindu religious codes act as moral codes for the larger Indian society that prohibit women in the traditionally male-dominated space of a funeral site.
Bedi’s attire while performing her husband’s last rites, a gender-neutral white top along with blue denim challenged the traditionally expected image of women clad in a white sari, who is expected to limit herself to a women-only group, thump chest and wail in different amplitudes.
Even in grief, #MandiraBedi broke shackles of patriarchy
'Bravo Mandira for breaking convention which says only male members of a Hindu family (husband, father, son) can participate in funeral rites,' writes @DeShobhaa https://t.co/hfWPkqhQNT pic.twitter.com/BBk2ITy0HE
— The Times Of India (@timesofindia) July 4, 2021
While Bedi was lauded on social media for smashing patriarchy on its face through her singular act of resistance, trolls weren’t far behind in questioning the need of all of it, when things could have been done the “right” way.
Bedi’s act counters just a tiny portion of what a female’s world entails in a society deeply entrenched with patriarchy. A society where even an individual’s process of mourning a closed one’s death is divided on the lines of the gender binary.
However, this one incident speaks out for something larger for us. It about women owning public spaces that are traditionally not expected of them. It’s also about the subtle sexism in the Indian traditions that have been normalized to an extent that it triggers the entire society when ruffled with even a little.
In February this year, actress Dia Mirza got married to businessman Vaibhav Rekhi. Her marriage stood out for her gender-neutral choices. She opted for a female priest to conduct and formalise her wedding ceremony. Moreover, the actor also denounced the customs of ‘Bidaai’ and ‘Kanyadaan’ that essentially mean shifting or transferring a woman’s responsibility to her husband.
The Hindu culture has taken immense inspiration from the ancient text Manusmriti. We have, over time, let go of many views it endorses, like the practice of Sati and child marriage. But Mirza, just like Bedi, finally questioned that part of our age-old traditions that are instilled in our minds since time immemorial and have found a comfortable home for themselves.
It is a small yet significant step towards unlearning something deep-rooted and deplorable. Or as Diya Mirza says, “It is time for women to own their own agency, their divinity, their power and to redefine what is old and birth what is new.”