Friday, March 27, 2015

The Last Bastions of Patriarchy

My father was a Hindu Brahmin by birth and an engineer by education and profession. So I presume this whole conflict between reason and ritual afflicted him all his life.

He was a liberal parent in so many ways, being an only child I was never brought up "like a boy" but as a strong and independent girl who didn't have to be like a boy to prove any point. But the same man who brought me this way had his patriarchal hang ups too. One of the major ones was regarding the Antim Samskar, the Hindu  ritual associated with funeral.

Traditionally the eldest son of a deceased has to perform the last rites and in the absence of a son the next male kin i.e brother, nephew have to step in, in some families with only girls and no male cousins even son-in-laws do the needful.

Till a few years ago both my parents were doubtful about me doing their last rites. So one day I actually asked them that to ensure that none of us comes between me and this natural right of mine ,lets have a legal agreement where they sign me and no one else this right to perform their last rites. That I think made it clear to them how resolute and prepared I was for this and that settled it forever between us.

It is also suggested sometimes that the inheritor or heir of the deceased has to perform these rites. Daughters traditionally were not allowed to inherit property especially once they were married off so it automatically ruled them out from conducting the last rites for their parents. A common reason being cited is that post-marriage the girl is a different Gotra hence not entitled to do the rites of her parents who now are a separate Gotra.

My logical answer to this conundrum is - What if I marry/divorce/marry multiple times? Wouldn't my Gotra and/or religion change as many times? But wouldn't I still remain my parents' daughter as much as any son remains his parents' offspring?

As a lot of our popular culture will testify, this masculine obligation is the oldest reason to want a son in the traditional Hindu family. It is believed that women are faint hearted and only do the weeping and crying, rituals and management generally falls to the men.

I see it as the most copious form of discrimination by keeping key religious duties exclusively a masculine domain.

If I could do everything else a son can then why not this?

Another subtle form of discrimination that I faced was how people perceive a girl should grieve. She should wail and cry, be weak, disoriented, shouldn't smile or laugh, look for support from men in the family.

I did not cry in public, no not even a single tear. I was smiling and laughing ,whatever came naturally, not because I didn't respect my father but precisely because I was being myself. My grief has no obligation to live up to any expectations.
I am not a weak woman, any one who feels uncomfortable or threatened by that, its their problem not mine.

My father passed away on 6th of March and on the 7th I was the "karta" in his cremation and all other Hindu rituals that followed. This act and public post is not to earn a few pats on the back as a lot of detractors have already suggested, this is not to prove that I am different or stronger.
Because actions speak louder than words ,it is a message for my mom who being a married daughter was not allowed to touch her parents' dead bodies or accompany them to the crematorium, for my six years old daughter whom I tell innumerable times that she is an equal to any other human being in every possible way, no less.
It is a message to families with a single girl child or only girls, please don't deny your girls this right.
It is a message to families with both girls and boys, if you are really dedicated to gender equality show it when it matters.

I don't know much about afterlife and so don't see how a girl or a boy doing the last rites affects that but I do see a lot of power going to our girls if this last bastion of patriarchal power is defeated.


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