Are you single?
No, I am married
Oh, then you are a Muslim though you don’t really looks like one or are you Christian?
Nope, I am a Hindu and so is my husband
Then no mangalsutra, bindi, toe ring, kum kum(sindoor). Why is that? These modern girls, they forget the significance of these rituals.
Does this sound familiar to you if you are among those married women who is found sans (without) these adornments?
I recall an incident couple of years back when I was not married and my Mom and I went on a trip to Singapore, an all girls trip it was. There was an elderly couple travelling with us in the group and on seeing my Mom without any mangalsutra or bindi, the elderly gentleman asked her the same questions that I played out above, except for the last one, which I bet he told himself silently.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against wearing these nor am I trying to propagate any such message. I have all the respect for our customs but I fail to realize why a woman is always bound by these, and men just walk scot free.
There comes the feminist did I just hear that! Well I firmly believe in equality of the sexes and cannot really tolerate any kind of biases. If that makes me a feminist, it’s a tag I am proud to carry.
So these jewels and adornments which are a symbol of a married woman and one should happily wear them as a mark of respect and love for your spouse, I wonder what does the husband on his part wear or do differently as compared to unmarried men or widowers which will make one look at him and say- “now there goes a married man”!
I recall the newly married me, completely besotted by my better half and still in the high of the my new life who went about religiously wearing all these everywhere, even on western wear at office. I did wish to wear some fashion jewellery for just one day, take off the toe rings which got stuck in my shoes and caused so much of discomfort and not wear the sindoor which somehow dint quite go well with my pleated skirt and blouse. Then I had to travel for 2 months to Hong Kong and my bag was full of western wear. I did not carry my mangal sutra as I did not wish to carry any gold when travelling and I also took off the toe rings as it had already caused enough damage by ripping off a part of my favorite pair of shoes and was now bent on doing the same to all my shoes.
2 months later when I was back, I thought about it. Was I not married any longer just because I did not wear these? Did something unfortunate or untoward happen to my husband when I did not wear these? Was our love any lesser? In fact the daily Skype chats and the longing to see each other had strengthened our bond even more. This does not mean I discarded my ornaments and pledged not to wear a bindi or kum kum, I did wear them when I felt like. I wore them when I dressed up in Indian attire, I wore them when I draped a saree and I wore them on pants too at times. But on days I felt like going bare neck or wearing that beautiful neckpiece I had just bought, I would go with it. My husband is equally liberal minded and I never faced any issues at home.
The same cannot be said of people outside my home,
I have always wondered about so many of our customs which have been practiced since ages but these are so male centric and plain regressive. A custom that’s followed in our weddings is that the bride to be washes the groom’s feet and seeks his blessings, in some places I have seen the bride’s parents or sister/brother would do the same. Yes I did it too and it’s always a topic which my husband chides me about and I always say- I wish I would have refused, I was so naive. This custom is so male dominant and practicing a custom like this even before the marriage takes place, is against the principle of equality, the foundation on which a marriage should be based. He jokingly tells me this is the only time in our marriage that he could get this out of me so he would want to have life size poster of this on our wall. And he also tells me if this makes you feel a tad bit better that you were spared this , in earlier times women were asked to drink the water after washing their husband’s feet. And I go yuck!! I am in awe of people who put their foot down and refuse to follow such rituals. I know of a groom who firmly refused to have his feet washed by his wife. We need more like him.
Not just this custom but have you seen what happens when a husband passes away. We no longer have sati ( a custom where a wife was made to sit on the burning pyre of her deceased husband) but the customs we follow are still weighed down against women. The wife is brought out adorned in green /red bangles and mangalsutra and bindi. A widow breaks her glass bangles by holding her hands together and banging them in the front of her deceased husband. Her sindoor and Bindi are rubbed off and the mangalsutra is taken off. All this in the presence of so many people.
What happens when a married woman breathes her last? Does her husband go through any of these, even a fraction of it? The pain of losing a loved one is the same for a woman or man but why do we make a mockery or public display of the woman becoming a widow while we chose to let the man grieve in silence.
When my grandfather passed away and the last rites were bring performed in his ancestral home, my grandmother refused to take out her Mangalsutra front of the crowd and said she preferred to do it within the confines of her room. Her wish was respected by all and honored. I was happy to see this change.
As we strive towards a more balanced society where men and women are treated equally, we need to revisit many of our customs which were created generations ago keeping in mind the patriarchal society where women playing a secondary role. Looking at the changed scenario we really need to ask ourselves if these make sense rather than blindly following them and passing them on to our children. So let’s pause and ask ourselves this vital question and if it makes sense let’s go ahead, else it’s time to rewrite the rules.