Skip to content

Because Your Husband is Your Supreme God!

October 22, 2013
indu1

Photo by Lady Tetsu

by Rita Banerji

Today all over India, married Hindu women merrily starve themselves of food and water, from sunrise to sunset, to ensure that the gods will give their husbands a long and healthy life.  At sun-down the women view the moon through a kitchen sieve before they break their fast. This is the festival of Karva Chauth.

And here’s the reason behind this festival in a nutshell:

 A married woman is called Sumangala [The fortunate one; the bringer of good luck].

A widow is called Amangala [the unfortunate one; the bringer of bad luck].

In fact the widow is considered such bad luck that she’s shunned from wedding and other ceremonies, barred from certain temples and places, just in case her ‘bad luck’ rubs off on other people.  Till a few years ago, the families would just do away with this ‘bad luck’ by burning her alive on her dead husband’s funeral pyre – a custom called sati.  There still are occasional incidents of ‘sati.’ But by and large, the families just throw the widows out onto the streets after usurping their property.  There are two towns in central India where more than 40,000 such widows live in conditions of absolute poverty![for more click here]

Yet what perhaps is more amazing is the great excitement with which women – even modern, educated, professional women, continue to embrace this festival! In fact it is like a fashion statement among the high profile celebrities with Bollywood actors sending out wishes on social media!

India’s modern, gizmo crazy market is happily marketing this misogyny.  There’s a new application for smart phones that busy, professional women can use in place of a sieve if kitchen-ware is not handy in their executive offices during office hours!

The businesses also realize they can bring in more sexist revenue by expanding their customer base.  Since girls watching their mothers starve for their fathers think it is such a fun and attractive tradition, why don’t they just start early?  Like this article suggests “A  lot of girls fasting for their boyfriends will be switching to the app – it’s easier to tell your mom you’re clicking the moon than saying you were fasting for your next-door neighbour boyfriend.”

Yet, there are no issues with being a widower. His family immediately gets busy finding another bride for him.  There are also no issues with brides being abused, tortured and killed in the thousands for dowry.

Where lies the root of this misogyny?

 I believe in the heart of the Hindu religion.  There is no other religion on earth, that puts a man at par with god!  A Hindu woman is told by her religion: “Your husband is Parmeshar [the Supreme God.]”

The Hindu scriptures known as the ‘Laws of Manu’ have this advice for women:

 A girl, a young woman, or even an old woman should not do anything independently, even in her own house. In childhood a woman should be under her father’s control, in youth under her husband’s, and when her husband is dead, under her sons’. She should not have independence.  A woman should not try to separate herself from her father, her husband, or her sons, for her separation from them would make both her own and her husband’s families contemptible. She should always be cheerful, and clever at household affairs; she should keep her utensils well polished and not have too free a hand in spending. When her father, or her brother with her father’s permission, gives her to someone [in marriage], she should obey that man while he is alive and not violate her vow to him [even] when he is dead.  A virtuous wife should constantly serve her husband like a god, even if he behaves badly, freely indulges his lust, and is devoid of any good qualities […] It is because a wife obeys her husband that she is exalted in heaven. 

© The 50 Million Missing Campaign. All Rights Reserved. To cite, please see ourcopyright guidelines.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Rita Banerji is an author and gender activist, and the founder ofThe 50 Million Missing Campaign to end India’s female genocide.  Her book ‘Sex and Power: Defining History Shaping Societies, is a historical and social look at how the relationship between gender and power in India has led to the ongoing female gendercide.  Her website iswww.ritabanerji.com She blogs at Revolutions in my Space and tweets at@Rita_Banerji

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: This photo is by Lady Tetsu who is a  supporting member of The 50 Million Missing Campaign’s Photographers Group on Flickr which is supported by more than 2400 photographers from around the world.  To see more of each of  her works, please click here.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. October 22, 2013 6:11 pm

    Although My husband has no issues about me keeping this fast or not and at times I try to introspect too. But yes as I read this article I realised I do this because everyone else around me has been doing this ever since I was a little girl and so not doing this would be like overstepping a tradition, though modern women like me bend the rules to make the fasting more humane and healthy and also spouses generally are looking for a more equitable relationship. lets hope things would change for the better in future.

  2. October 22, 2013 8:24 pm

    I am a English woman and I would not fast for anyone especially my husband as I think it is superstitious nonsense,seems to me its to belittle women and make husbands more superior to them,also about widows thats disgusting treating women like this,I am surprised there are women left in India if thats how they are treated,I wouldnt let my husbands family chuck me on the street without a fight with laws,Also burning on the funeral pyre,what hell for women,I think these outrageous beliefs should be in history books not now,are we not suppose to be civilised,Even Indians in my Country act better than this I am sure..Women should have rights wherever they are,but I do not like some ways women in England or some countries are as they are sometimes rather tarty or dress provocatively and wonder why they are attacked,there are some disgusting magazines around or tv or striptease which I think should be outlawed…but women shouldnt be treated like objects and easily replaced or tortured or killed because of men..

    • November 1, 2013 7:37 am

      So you think women who dress ‘provocatively’ deserve to be attacked? As if this justifies rape? Do you think men are incapable of controlling themselves and will rape at the slightest hint of flesh? The only person responsible for rape is the rapist, being drunk or wearing a short skirt or walking down a dark street is not an invitation to be raped. Women who wear burkhas get raped, clothing has nothing to do with it as rape isn’t about attraction, its about power, control and hatred of women.

  3. October 22, 2013 9:34 pm

    Reblogged this on ELANA – The Voice of the Future.

  4. October 22, 2013 9:35 pm

    ???

  5. Pooja Jindal permalink
    October 22, 2013 9:53 pm

    I feel that the major problems of educated class is ignorance and fear. They don’t want to involve theirself in anything which is different then their present lifestyle or present tradition. I mean, they are happy to enjoy the fruit of the struggle done by their ancester but themselves don’t want o move further. Second problem is fear. They are afraid of so called God so much that they don’t want to even listen to bad thing about the customs they are following.

  6. Edgar Nissen permalink
    October 23, 2013 12:37 am

    But are You his Supreme Goodess? Does He fast for You?

    This sexist tradition is unaccepetable in our time, and should be ended, or evolved into a gender neutral act of love and devotion from both man wife.

  7. ravi permalink
    October 23, 2013 2:28 am

    Rita,
    Hats off to your analysis and your boldness in exposing the truth.
    How I wish, our “educated sisters” learn from analysis.

  8. October 23, 2013 3:09 am

    I really do love this article!
    I kept the fast today but I will definitely think twice about it once I have children, I do not want them to feel it is mandatory- I just did it because I wanted to. My mother-in-law didn’t even fast. I really enjoyed today but I guess I am in a different position growing up in a Christian family, I did not feel I had to do it.

  9. October 23, 2013 11:56 am

    Reblogged this on REVOLUTIONS IN MY SPACE: A BLOG BY RITA BANERJI.

  10. female foeticide permalink
    October 23, 2013 1:26 pm

    ma’am you have written such a beautiful article…hope this serves as an eye opener to all those ladies who blindly follow these tradition…in a country like India where anemia is widely spread amongst the ladies,these rituals make sure that they remain weak for rest of their lives…and thereby depend on their husbands/sons forever.its a sad thing to know that educated ladies also believe in these traditions.

    • October 23, 2013 7:16 pm

      Thankyou so much,your comment it is appreciated very much,I just hope that the women in India unite against this terrible tradition..

  11. October 23, 2013 6:42 pm

    Reblogged this on Flip It Right Side Up.

  12. Luhar Sen permalink
    October 23, 2013 8:19 pm

    Dear Ms. Banerji, I agree with many of your observations in other posts and thank you for your efforts to make our society more gender sensitive. I, however, feel that in this article, it was misleading to equate a practice like Karwa Chauth, which is not even as popular as you make it to be, with “misogyny” and suggest that this “misogyny” has its roots in the “heart of the Hindu religion” (if it ever existed as a religion). The article seemed to have more the objective of targetting the Hindu philosophy, by broad generalizations and selective quoting, rather than arguing how or why Karwa Chauth infringes upon the rights and dignity of women (I hope I am wrong).

    In the first place, it is not made clear in the article that the Chauth is voluntarily undertaken by some women out of love for their husbands and that they are not being forced to do so in any way. Therefore, it is a little malicious to suggest that this has parallels with a deplorable custom such as Sati, or paint a picture that women “starve” during the Chauth, when in reality, they are fasting for a chosen personal belief, just as many women (and men) fast in other religions during certain times.

    In the second place, if it is offensive that Hindu philosophy says one’s husband (man) is Parameshwar (meaning an attribute of God, and not God as such), the same philosophy also boldly says that the wife (woman) is Devi (Godess/ Supreme itself). No other faith has invested so much in elaborating the female (or even gender-neutral) principle of divinity – seen not only in the worship of the Godess as the Supreme itself, but also in the articulation that every male deity is incomplete without his female consort – as Hindu philosophy. True, there is (and has always been) a disconnect between these lofty principles and actual practice – especially with increasing levels of violence today in society – but as far as the religious traditions are concerned, the exceptions have been just as remarkable, whether it means having women priests, saints, or having women specific festivals and places of worship. The Manusmriti is certainly not an emblematic text of Hindu philosophy, and although misogyny exists in a big way in Indian society, I am not sure how much of it can be attributed only to this treatise that very few even know about.

    It is my humble suggestion that it would perhaps be more positive to raise the level of awareness of people on how Hindu philosophy has accorded an equal, nay, sometimes even higher, status to women, and how much disconnect there is in today’s times, rather than indulge in sweeping generalizations that portray as if the heart of the entire Hindu philosophy (religion) is one that encourages “misogyny. I believe that the fight, which I am also wholly supportive of, is one for the rights of women, whether in India or elsewhere, whether Hindu or not, to lead a life of dignity and equality and not one of sanitizing “religion”.

  13. October 23, 2013 10:06 pm

    Rita, I appreciate your views, but they don’t necessarily echo those of every Indian woman. I agree that the tradition behind this festival is deplorable and totally outdated in today’s context, but the festival is not. For many women, including me, it’s just a day when you celebrate your love for your partner. I could do it on any other day or in a different way, but doing it in a community way is just more fun. So mocking the festival or the sentiments behind it is not the best thing to do.

    • October 25, 2013 4:26 pm

      Sunayna,I am not sure if you was commenting to me but I was not mocking,I respect traditions if they are what someone wants to do,just some seem forced..thats all,no offence..

  14. Jimmy permalink
    October 23, 2013 10:10 pm

    As such, every tradition can be seen from a skeptic’s eye and therefore trashed. People may have invented these traditions at an age and era where men were the providers and it was a way for women to convey love and respect for the one who provides and pray for their longevity because men are the ones slogging outdoors and in the olden days, lost lives more easily in battles, etc. Here, I hardly see sacrifice, but more as a way to pray to keep the providers alive so that they continue to provide for the family. Where is the advantage to man in this? Being seen as a provider alone, and sans emotions, is a misandist approach actually. In today’s generation, I’ve come across a lot of men who have become so sensitive to their women observing this festival and have started joining them by keeping a fast too. In fact, I came across an extreme case of a boy going on a fast for his girlfriend who recently dumped him for another guy. Those are real stories! But can you stomach them? No! because it doesn’t contribute to the fashion of bashing men, you see.

  15. TMJ permalink
    October 24, 2013 1:18 pm

    This nonsense is not followed in south India where there are numerous Hindus. This is just followed in Norht India where superstition and caste system are still pretty strong

  16. October 25, 2013 4:23 pm

    I like and respect traditions if they are fair,but not when it makes one gender worse off than the other,if it is done wisely and no one is forced then its up to the individual,as I said before that over here there are somethings what people do or dress like i do not approve of,but as long as I am not involved or forced then I do not have to see it,unless I go to some places where it happens.If an Indian female or male wants to fast for religious reasons or for another fair enough,but do not think that its right if it is forced,fasting can be good for you and cleansies all the body,but overdoing it can be dangerous to your health,like I do not think that little girls should be married to older men when they are still a child its disgusting and they do not have the body to have sex or have a child,but this still happens in certain places,they are forced too,out of tradition and respect for there families or because the families are poor,its like selling your child its wrong,also another about the dowry and females are treated like scum by either the husbands or the family..the men think they can burn or torture and also there families too,what I am saying that not all traditions are good ones,there were some to let men do what they want and to keep women in line..I believe that all women should have respect for there bodies and for others and teach there children respect for others but sadly not all in england are very respectful in fact its downright nasty sometimes with murders and disrepect ..but we have to try and make the world or our country better…for our and our childrens sake,please respect one another,as Jesus said those without sin cast the first stone..glad to say that not all Indian men are bad to there wives as most men are not all over the world,there are always the majority..

    • October 25, 2013 4:28 pm

      Exactly. And this this tradition really is about defining women are “objects” for men’s use. The only women who are worthy of esteem in society are the ones whose husbands are still alive. But if her husband is dead, then she’s is in Indian terms “a husband eater” and must be shunned, burnt alive or driven out onto the streets. Not only does she had no esteem but is blamed for “killing” her husband and therefore does not deserve to even live! And women who pray on this day for their husbands to live, are basically hoping that they won’t meet with the same fate as widows. Women who uphold this tradition don’t understand what a terrible statement they are making against their own sisters who have been widowed in this society.

  17. Appu Srva permalink
    December 20, 2013 2:33 pm

    Hi Rita madam… I really love your articles. This article is also true to the very end. Would you please write an article on stereotyped jokes on girls on social networking sites.? What can we do to stop that senseless jokes?

    And I really loved the article written by you on Hritik’s statement regarding his divorce. You are 100% right. If he truly loved her, he wouldn’t blame his wife. There is no need to tell the world that it is his wife, who decided to end the relationship. I’m very happy for Susanne for getting rid of an idiot.

  18. Tom permalink
    January 18, 2014 6:09 pm

    Rita, as far as I understand you, your line argument goes that since old Hindu scriptures see a low value in women and girls this trickles to ground level even today. Please allow me to ask a question: how many of the average Indian actually have read the laws of manu or similar ancient text to the full? I have the feeling that its actually very little. Therefore I would not put an over effort in blaming the scriptures (who are by and large a child of their times) rather than tackling the general lack of awareness.
    I feel this is important as only if you understand (and see) the reason behind things you are free to decide otherwise. Hence your quest to inform people via this blog is a laudeable one.

    I would second your position based on own experience because when I started my quest to immerse myself in the distant (Hindu) culture some two years ago, the only information source that I had were my Indian friends who despite beeing super smart hardly ever had any deep rooted interest in digging out the foundations of their own culture (which admitedly is hard because of the inbred taboo and which is why I use a different culture as a proxy to understand my own). Hence even if they had read something it was allways only abridged and critical versions of the texts. What I like about Hindu culture is that there is still a underlying and alive reason beyond many things that you can see in everyday life. I might not like all of the reason but its nice that back somewhere in time someone thought about these things and tried to make sense of them and that these roots have not completely lost there meaning. Therefore comming to the point: I am reading Ganguli’s version of the Mahabharata and I am incidentially now in book 13 in the chapter where Bhisma is telling Yudhistira (among other things) about the role of women in soceity. Some of the stuff there is strange other things outridgioulsy appalling. I mean I have friends who read the “centre right India” blog and often see Islam as one of root cause and main threat of all the misery in India today. And they rightfully claim and bash some of the Islamic traditions beeing misogynik such as the general freedom of the women there, the right of men to have 4 wifes, childbrides and so on but as you pointed out there is somewhat a blindspot for the gender misgivings in their own culture. You can probably understand how utterly shocked I was to read somethings like this in said chapter about women: a Brahmin man is entitled to have 4 wifes (Kshatrya 3, Vaisha 2 and Shudra 1 – each one for every cast that is equal or “below” their own), a man of 30 years should marry a 10 year old and a man of 21 should marry a 7 year old girl, that there are four types of marriage and that the Asura one (where the husband in spe abducts the wife) leads to hell (of abductor) but not so if he can “convice” the parents of the girl afterwards that they give her to him (after having paid and legalised the abduction via a dowry/bride price – or possible after accepting the fact at knifepoint), there are things that suggest by diction and association that a women in their period are equally low than a dog (as Dakshina who is touched by both goes to the Rakshasas), last but not least it says that: a woman is like a cow always looking for new pastures. I don’t know about your experience but unless the women in the last 2000 odd years have changed dramatically thats actually and generally understood the part (and motivation) of us guys… However I would not condem the scripture as a whole because its a child of its (ancient) time and as the Mahabharata is a source of most everything you can find inspiring and uplifting ideas there, too. Some of them contradict the very things that I have mentioned before and so its up to everyone to be aware, understand and decide which of the traditions still have a value and whose one wants to follow today.

  19. September 22, 2014 4:36 pm

    Reblogged this on Thoughts And Views That Matter! and commented:
    Because Your Husband is Your Supreme God!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: