In all the changes that are roiling India, we hadn't heard about pallbearers being women — but newly elected Amethi MP Smriti Irani has changed that. On Sunday, she lent her shoulder to Surendra Singh, her close aide who was shot dead days after Irani won against Rahul Gandhi and became the new representative from Amethi.
Grief-struck and pale with the strain, for Irani, this was clearly no photo moment and no image of her in this manner has been posted on her social media.
Yet, the moment was remarkable for what Smriti Irani did was breaking through centuries of repressive traditions of sexism.
The whole idea of women being barred from mourning their dear ones is totally outdated. No matter how progressive we become, women till date are not allowed to be part of their loved one’s funeral.
Isn’t this sexism?
No scripture in any religion debars women from being part of a funeral procession — it is we who have made such rules for ourselves.
Ask your local priest and they won’t provide a convincing answer as to why women are not part of last rites. Rules like women should stay back because they have to look after kids are so old-fashioned. These are only topped by ridiculous notions like women not being able to bear the grief, close-up.
When a funeral procession happens, it is generally relatives, friends, neighbours and unknown people who hold the casket. Why not your own loved ones?
Smriti Irani being a pallbearer is the start of a good fight to ensure women get equal rights in every sphere, including this, the most profound.
Women in Mahabharata had the right
You will be surprised to know that in the Mahabharata, women were part of cremation ceremonies.
Women were not barred from going to funeral processions in the Mahabharata. (Photo: India Today)
In the great epic, the dead body of the grand Bhishma was covered in fine clothes and flowers, the body fanned by Kaurava ladies. In reality, there is no rule on women’s presence at funerals — this is simply another limitation placed by patriarchal society.
What about other faiths?
In Christianity, women are allowed to attend the funeral service of their loved ones. They are part of the service — but they don’t hold the casket which is generally done by men. Among Muslims, generally only the men take a dead body to the graveyard; the women stay behind.
Here's hoping Smriti Irani's courageous step forward will break down this barrier for many women.