Saturday, November 10, 2001
S T A M P E D  I M P R E S S I O N S

Time to rethink traditions
Reeta Sharma

CUSTOMS, traditions and conventions evolve and change with the passage of time. I think it is time we brought in some changes in the way we celebrate both Raksha Bandhan and Karva Chauth.

Obviously, there cannot be a society which does not suffer from aberrations, human disorders, criminality and various other kinds of abnormalities. Though India today is passing through a period of degeneration, it is still carrying a humane face enriched with kindness and nobility. We are able to maintain this solely on the strength of our faith in human bonds, which get strengthened by innumerable festivals and customs like Rakhi and Karva Chauth. The bonding between brothers and sisters that exists in India is almost non-existent in the West. But it is time we analysed these bonds a little dispassionately.

Rakhi is a very touching festival as long as you view it the way it was celebrated in the centuries gone by. There were no clashes of interests, no insecurities and almost no greed for possessing material wealth and properties. That world was full of love for sisters.


Every kind of security was provided to them at their parental homes. When these sisters got married, there was no question of their getting divorced, separated, deserted, etc. Even when subjugated by various conventions and traditions, they still lived in secure homes and were provided for as per the status of the family concerned. The ground reality today is that sex ratio of women is rapidly falling in every state of India. The families kill unborn and born girls because they do not want to invest in their rearing and later meet the expenditure on their marriages and dowry demands. Over the centuries, festivals like Rakhi have also played a role in undermining the existence of the girl child, besides unwittingly instilling gender bias in the minds of both the sisters and the brothers.

The festival reinforces the thought that only brothers, irrespective of their age, are capable of providing physical security to their "vulnerable" sisters. Hence, sisters tie rakhi on the hands of their brothers, who in turn take a vow to protect them. But in the modern era, situations and concepts have changed. The idea of providing physical security to the sisters is not only unrealistic but also irrelevant. This beautiful festival should be preserved but with certain improvisations. It is time to change the vows and introduce more realistic concepts, which while building the bonds between the brothers and sisters should also be more realistic. Instead of Raksha Bandhan, it should be called Piar ka Bandhan. I think, both brothers and sisters should tie rakhi on each other's wrists and take a vow: "We will love each other, stand by each other in times of crisis and share happiness of life along with the responsibilities towards our parents". It is heartening to learn that many modern-day husbands are also keeping a fast along with their wives on Karva Chauth. Although the percentage of such husbands is only miniscule, it is indicative of future trends.

It should be viewed with concern that even today in large sections of the Indian society, men are being groomed to think that they are superior to women. Even educated women do not pause to think whether they need to continue with the practice of observing fast on Karva Chauth. If a wife can fast for the long and healthy life of her husband, shouldn't she also be showered with similar concern? It is strange that there is no voice questioning the glamorisation of Karva Chauth in Hindi films, TV serials, print and electronic media, wherein wives are shown placing blind faith in their husbands. Viewers and readers are being denied the real picture at the ground level, wherein promiscuous men are separating, deserting and divorcing their wives without any sense of guilt. Women welfare cells and courts are filled with cases of husbands cheating or deserted their wives and children with the full support of society, includes their parents, relatives and friends. To believe that such cases are rare would be a folly, both on the part of women as well as society at large. It is important to remain abreast with the changing times and realities of life.

Only last week, one Jaswinder Kaur knocked at my door. She said that Satya Pal Dang from Amritsar had directed her to get in touch with me. Personally, I revere the Dangs, both Vimlaji and Satya Palji. Fighting against injustice, the couple takes every case to its logical conclusion. The case of Jaswinder Kaur speaks volumes about the psyche of the Indian woman, which gets affected because of subtle subjugation in the name of traditions, conventions and customs.

Even though her husband had begun beating her just 15 days after her marriage because his mother and chacha were disappointed with the "inadequate dowry", Jaswinder believed that her marriage to the man was forever. Four months later, she was thrown out of the house with a bruised body. She was then carrying a child in her womb. In her father's home she still continued to believe that her husband would come running for her when the child is born. That their bond would grow. That after all she was his wife - the life-long partner. She religiously fasted on Karva Chauth and prayed for the long and healthy life of her husband, who had inflicted injuries on her pregnant body. The birth of the child neither excited her husband nor her mother-in-law nor the chacha. Showing more interest in her salary, they wanted to know how much she had earned in eight years before her marriage. They also wanted to know why she had not brought the two-wheeler that she owned to her in-laws' home?

Do I need to say that the number of Jaswinder Kaurs is not small? Also that the sanctity of marriage cannot be established by just blindly accepting and following certain rituals on Karva Chauth but through mutual respect for one another. I strongly believe that improvisation is required to instil self-respect and self-esteem among women. While we should cherish and preserve these festivals because they unfailingly build a certain emotional bond, the concepts have to be changed.