A recent advertisement travelling in WhatsApp groups about Kanyaadan created some controversy in social media. Those who do not know Kanyaadaan, it is the ritual (some consider it as one of the basic tenet of Hindu marriage) of handing over of the daughter during Hindu marriage ceremony. Someone is commenting on the advertisement that the Kanyaadaan is not giving of an object as shown in the advertisement but giving of gotra by the father, the burning of father’s gotra and the man accepting the woman in his gotra in the presence of fire. Hindu groups have objected saying, they mock the Hindu customs and of course Hindu sentiments.
Since a Bollywood actress portrayed the main character it is said that Bollywood consistently ridiculed Hindu customs. Bollywood does not do for other religions so systematically. The woman commenting on the advertisement requests that at least once the drawbacks of other religions be reflected in advertisements. It is said that Bollywood should stop, because Indian day to day customs and every details including clothing were defined by sages (Rishi’s) that geared towards Enlightenment.
For me Bollywood is only is a mirror of the society. The basic tenet of Hinduism is dynamism; which means it is not static. Supposedly there is no beginning so definitely no end. I am sharing an incident of the dynamism of Hinduism. Recently 3rd July 2021 my sister Dr Neela Mukherjee’s husband Shri Gopal Mukherjee passed away around 2.30 p.m. Their son started from Delhi by car at that time. He possibly could not reach before nightfall. COVID times have created a lot of flexibility. The Panditji said that there is provision in scriptures for the wife to light the pyre. So four men, including two friends of the son carried Shri Gopal Mukherjee, and my sister did the required duty of lighting the pyre for her husband. The son did the last completion of rights when he reached. Few Hindus can even contemplate this as a possibility. Mandira Bedi lighting her husband’s pyre was splashed all over the social media. The openness by which the Panditji did and the Mokshadham (the crematorium in Rajasthan are generally named in such a manner) person calm acceptance of the situation is a proof to the dynamism of Hinduism. I am not going into the intricacies which banned (and still ban) women: wife and daughter (both could be in plural number), to even visit the crematorium. The son was given right to do this as he would carry the legacy of family and of course have right over property.
I was born in a family with one set of Hinduism and married into another. As a woman since my father is supposed to have given me gotra, caste and religion which would be possible to transfer to the husband, I have not carried baggage of these identities and remained a woman only. Around thirty years ago, when my niece was in class three or four, she had a lesson on religion. I was staying with them. She came to ask me with the innocence of childhood, Boro (that is what she calls me) what religion do you have? I answered, I do not have any. She persisted, But, you have to have one. I answered her, No my little one, I am a woman and I do not need one. For an essay on woman she started with ‘My aunt is a woman’! With this identity I give myself the right to question and share my questioning with due respect to all who think differently.
My understanding of Hinduism is vast. When I had been to Lahore I would stay in Uzma’s home during holidays as I was not interested in going around even in the beautiful city of Lahore or around Pakistan. Uzma has three brothers, all would ask questions about Hinduism and that is when I would speak about this vastness. They would listen attentively and say I am lying. I was reading a book of religions so I handed it to them to read for themselves. Even in India only patriarchal notions of Hinduism is promoted. Buddha’s spiritual Guru of Materialism, is Ajit Kesakambli, an unheard Hindu nor do the Lokayata and Charvaka get written about.
I am surprised that people cannot see Kanyaadaan as limiting. Knowledge to me even though it does come naturally in many Indian languages, it also just as naturally gets translated to English. Kanyadaan if translated to English for those who do not know Hindi is — gifting the daughter. The South Asian society is so very patriarchal that even the literal meaning of the word, let alone the action, stinking with inequality and injustice is not visible. If it is related to the concept of gotra burning by father and the husband inviting the wife in his gotra, it still stinks. Do people never think that women give birth to children so whatever gotra human being should have, it ought to have come from mothers. I feel whoever made this custom must be so insecure about his identity that he needed to ensure that women should never have anything to call their own. I am knowingly using a male pronoun as most known brahmanical scriptures have been originated by males. I am sure women would have written but the writings must not have survived or these writings must have royally been ignored.
19th Century Social Reforms were laden with the burden of uplifting women’s status. The British made the people in this landscape defensive by pointing out that the status of women was not upto their standard! No one raised the question that they should look in their own collars. This is a literal translation of a Hindi proverb ‘apne garebaan me jhaanko’! I am tempted to put a smiley emotive symbol (emoji in WhatsApp language)! Oh well! Anyway I am addressing the issue as it made a mess in the process. The nationalist historians went overboard to promote a golden age of women’s status which was tainted by Islam coming to this subcontinent, a convenient scapegoat so the patriarchal issues were left intact to be followed till date. It is always one step forward and two steps backward in the process of change. All who like the status quo, basically do not want to make the effort towards change, start raising hackles in the name of traditions being completely blind to the inequality inherent in rituals such as ‘kanyaadaan’ and wrap it not only tradition but also Hindu religion! Incidentally I am born in a Hindu family, I also happen to see loopholes in the brahmanical traditions! In the same way for the same reason I can see the dynamism in it. Thankfully neither has the power to make me blind to inequality and injustice. Just to keep the social order intact I am unable to see any reason whatsoever to maintain the status quo and make attempts to change this. If women priests perform this ritual it will not become sanctified. The very act of giving away a human being is wrong, by whatever name for whatever reason. Just like slavery, involving buying and selling of human beings, is wrong, the giving and taking of a human being is wrong.