Mandira Bedi lost her husband Raj Kaushal on June 30, 2021. The 49-year-old filmmaker passed away following a cardiac arrest. There are several images doing rounds on social media where Mandira is seen partaking in the last rites of her husband. She is carrying an earthen pot which is broken during the cremation ritual.
The pot is filled with water and the person who lights the pyre takes the pot around the deceased. It is kept on the left shoulder of the person performing the rites; he stands facing south and throws the pot backward so that it breaks into pieces.
The breaking of the pot is symbolically considered as the breaking of the existing relationship between the deceased and the one who lights the pyre. This ritual is usually done by the male members of the family.
Many women in traditional households are still not allowed to be a part of the last rites. Only the male members of the family accompany the body to the cremation ground, typically led by the eldest son or father.
It is a belief that the son is the bridge between life and death and once mortal life comes to an end the son performing the last rites helps the deceased attain eternal bliss and helps them break free from the cycle of birth and death.
This tradition is mentioned in the Garuda Purana (The Garuda Purana is one of 18 Mahāpurāṇ of texts in Hinduism). However, it doesn’t prohibit women from performing the last rites. In olden times, the daughters could assume the role of the son but over the year’s men assumed the responsibility. We could blame it on patriarchy or the inequality of the sexes.
Mandira defied the age-old customs by carrying the bier; she walked every step with her husband right until his last journey. Isn’t that what true love is? It is more powerful than any tradition in the world.
While she is not the first woman to do the same, many women set the precedent before her. Ordinary women who will never be known but who were brave enough to take a stand and change norms for their loved ones.
Every time I see a woman breaking barriers I feel happy and proud inside, she unknowingly breaks the barrier for other women too. The obsolete narrative is changed one woman at a time.
Every woman deserves to partake in the funeral of her loved ones if she wishes to. Women love their husbands/parents no less than men, they take care of them and fulfill all the responsibilities diligently and with all their heart then why this discrimination? Why is she seen as an outsider in the last rites?
Many a time’s women stay back at home while all the men head to the crematorium – some men who are not related and some who are acquaintances; while the woman who has lost her world doesn’t get a chance to accompany her loved one in their final journey.
Lately, there is a wave of change and women are participating in cremation rituals like their male counterparts.
In 2018 we all saw our late prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s last rites, he was accorded a state funeral and his foster daughter Namita Kaul Bhattacharya lit the pyre.
Another example is Nita Godambe, a widow from Maharashtra who performed the final rites and lit the pyre of her 100-year-old mother–in–law with the gram panchayat members guiding her.
Mallika Sarabhai bid an emotional and befitting farewell to her mother and Padma Shree Awardee Mrinalini Sarabhai by dancing gracefully in front of her mother’s body at the dance floor of the Darpana Academy which she founded in 1949.
Her mother was one of the greatest classical dancers in India had and she spent her life promoting classical dance. I don’t think there could be a better farewell. She lit the pyre of her mother along with her brother
In Beed, Marathwada, four daughter-in-laws Lata Navnath Naikwade, Usha Radhakishan Naikwade, Manisha Jalinder Naikwade, and Meena Machhindra Naikwade carried the body of their mother-in-law to the local crematorium.
They insisted much to the disbelief of many people. While they walked they were followed by their family, friends, and neighbors including women. It was a first for many passers-by who had never seen anything like that happen before, many of them joined the funeral procession.
One of my friends lost both her parents to covid last month. She is the only daughter and her parents were her world. She fought with her relatives and her uncles for the right to perform the final rites. She was stubborn and she stuck to her ground, there was no one her parents loved more than her and by all means, it was her right and duty to give them their last farewell.
Diya Mirza who got married recently had a woman priest solemnize her wedding, she also said no to kanyadan and Bidaai. The first thought when I saw her picture was, ”Damn! Why did I not think of this and do it for my wedding!”
What is common between all these women? They all fought against patriarchy, regressive beliefs, and conventional roles that women hold. Another common thing is that – they were all criticized, trolled, and shamed.
It is the 21st century and here we are still trolling women and bringing them down when they are already at their lowest. This is nothing but an extension of the harassment and ridicule women face every day by society. It is an attempt to silence women and reinforce gender stereotypes!
Women are breaking barriers, demanding equal rights, and shattering age-old patriarchal beliefs. Though many people will give out various reasons why it is not right or not acceptable if we scrutinize each reason many have no base or backing.
Women today are coming to the forefront and standing shoulder to shoulder with men. They are aware and realize that they have equal rights as men and deserve equal representation in society. They don’t think it is wrong to question and abolish these age-old beliefs.
Even the women staying in villages and small towns who are not educated have the power to reason it out. It is just that many times their voice is crushed by society and when that happens we need to be their voice.
Let’s all support them and pledge to amplify their voices! We’ve come a long way as we can see a positive change in society but we still have a long way to go. Let’s build a world where women and men both have equal rights and opportunities. Let each one of us contribute towards it!
Change begins with us! Doesn’t it?