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On 30th of this month we are going to celebrate Karwa chauth , the most important and difficult fast observed by married Hindu women. Every year, Karvachauth, an annual one day ritual of fasting is observed by married Hindu women seeking the longevity, well-being and prosperity of their husbands.
Regarding the festival my mind is always riddled with a lot of questions. Before starting off, I would like to make myself clear that I have deep respect for Indian culture and traditions. However, there are some beliefs and practices which needs introspection.
The first question that pops in my mind is that why the woman alone is expected to fast for the well-being of the male members of the family, first for her husband on ‘Karwa Chauth’ and then four days later, on ‘Ahoi Ashtami’ for the well-being of her sons ? Why is this Gender bias? Have we ever heard about any ritual of man fasting for their spouses and seeking longevity in their lives? Why is there no fast prescribed in our religion for the well-being of female members of the family, daughters or daughters-in-law? Is it that a woman needs her husband more than the husband needs the wife? Is it because she is financially dependent on him? Is it because her importance is linked to his existence?
Actually there is nothing wrong in fasting as wives definitely have the right to wish or pray for happiness and long life of their partner. I am not against wishing well-being for the spouse which every married couple would always desire, but against the gender-bias attached to this particular festival.
Yes the change is happening as new generation men are also fasting along with their wives for the mutual welfare of each other. Some balanced mothers also do fast now for children and not just for sons on ‘Ahoi Asthami’.
OK, my personal reservations about this festival aside, but we need to realize through these festivals in subtle or unsubtle ways we are instilling gender bias in our children.
We are telling them that women need to pray for husband’s life as it is more important. Women need to sacrifice for families and men. Men living longer is more important than women living longer or healthier. I have observed that some young girls also accompany their moms for Karwa Chauth puja . Maybe in an unsubtle way this is a sort of initiation into womanhood as they can learn how to pray for husband’s health and prosperity. Also as blessings we hear phrases like ‘Sada Suhagan Raho’ , ‘Akhand Saubhagyawati’ and “ Dudho Naho Puto Falo” . When our children hear all this they indirectly learn about gender discrimination.
There is so much talk about violence in cartoons, access to social media for kids, exposure to technology and its effect on kids. So why is not considered wrong when a little girl is being told that she is less important than a boy. It is much more harmful than any non kid friendly stuff we routinely cry about.
I know I am not just ruffling a few moral feathers here but annoying a lot of people including my extended family. Customs, traditions and conventions evolve and change with the passage of time. It is time we open ourselves to introspection and recognize the fact that we are a gender biased society and that we must begin to focus on the values of gender parity in our homes.
I think it is time we brought in some changes in the way we celebrate ‘Karva Chauth” and some other festivals. While we should cherish and preserve our festivals because they unfailingly build a certain emotional bond, the concepts have to be changed.