Why Karva Chauth has made a mockery of Indian women
Such traditions tie its women to their traditional roles of being mute passive bystanders in their own lives.
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Karva Chauth or KC as it is popularly called today is enjoying a resurgence like never before. In its modern avatar, it is a loud kitschy affair that has successfully re-invented itself from being a regressive display of moral pageantry to a romantic ideal. So when you think of Karva Chauth today, you think of couples fasting together, women declaring that it’s their prerogative (in order to prove they are not regressive) and expensive gifts that tie the whole thing together neatly.
As a society, we celebrate a woman’s right to choose, whether it is her life partner or her traditional values, it is something that she must decide alone. But is it really? Not to rain on this lush pageantry of romance, but the idea of fasting for the long life of one’s husband reeks of the patriarchal diatribe that dictates an Indian woman’s life in which a husband is at the centre of her nucleus. Her sun. Without whom she will forever be lost in her orbit. But all this is often lost in the uber glamour of KC today, which as a festival is seeing a mega- resurgence due to the fact that it is being marketed as the "desi" Valentine’s Day. For women, it is now a day of fasting for a reward, a win-win situation for couples who do not really get to enjoy romance every day, thanks to the Indian joint family set-up.
This toxic romantic materialism of Karva Chauth is something that marketers and popular culture have strived hard to achieve. From jewellery brands, to FMCG products, to what we watch on screen, we consume ideas that promote this ritual, often selling it as an indelible experience of marital bliss and romance.
This popular culture drives the Indian economy to articulate what constitutes Indian tradition. In 1983, historians Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger came up with their ground-breaking theory on “invention of tradition,” which explains how the many practices that are considered traditional are, in fact, recent inventions, deliberately constructed for material gains. They go as far as to argue that the invention of tradition occurs most frequently during periods of "rapid" social change to establish or symbolise "social cohesion or the membership of groups, real or artificial communities".
Image: PTI photo
This romantic makeover adds no value to the lives of women in a country that is still struggling to break free from the socio-religious liabilities that most of the women have to bear. A country which is still tied to the values of marital rape and female foeticide and a work-force that is still far from being gender neutral. In such a country, traditions such as the Karva Chauth tie its women to their traditional roles of being mute passive bystanders in their own lives.
In its materialistic subtleties, Karva Chauth is a reward for bearing the burdens of tradition and that too only by a lucky few.
Step away from the city and into the heart of a small town that is bedazzled with festive lights for some perspective, where the loudspeakers from a nearby temple blare sermons for women on the importance of being tied to their home and hearth. Imagine them nodding in acquiescence as they wait for their men to bring the world to them, unaware that there is a life beyond the "Laxman Rekha", which is individually demarcated for them.
Imagine them decking their homes and then themselves, patiently making their way to offer prayers, the newly married ones exchanging stolen glances, their faces glowing with anticipation, the rest in the calm quiet monotony of practiced rituals.
Now imagine their men, a lot of them absentees, a picture of irreverence, their eyes glazed over, standing impatiently to get on with it. Grudgingly indulging the keepers of tradition. If some woman is lucky, she will get a few bangles, perhaps even a trip to the market, the rest will go home and cook, finish their chores and revel in their marital status because that’s all that they really have to their credit.
I am with a 25-year-old widow on the evening of Karva Chauth. She doesn't lift her eyes off the ground, but I know she wants to. Once in a while she glances at a passing figure and then quickly darts her eyes back to the ground. She says she fasted every year for seven years straight, but her husband died anyway and her life has come to a standstill since.
I ask her if he was kind to her, and she says, "No, but at least I had a life, now I might as well be a ghost. I am like the dead."
We silently observe the tableau of women going to and fro looking for the moon, many are beaten by their husbands, very few enjoy genuine affection with their partners, but they still carry on, fervently praying for their lord and master to whom their destiny is tied forever.
I think of women some 500km away, basking in their social media via live updates, enjoying their roles as bearers of tradition and celebrating their love for being morally upright and being rewarded for it in the form of expensive jewellery, clothes, vacations and an envious lifestyle.
I wonder if it would still be as charming today without the materialistic rewards of patriarchy to hold it together.