Women Not Allowed.
That’s the slogan that most women have heard for centuries. Women Not Allowed. In voting, dargahs, male clubs, temples, sports, in schools, the army, the list goes on. But we’ve fought them all and recently with women entering the 400 year old male bastion of Shani Shingnapur temple, we’ve finally been able to let the world know that women cannot be banned from any place.
But what happens in our own society? Aren’t we banning women from certain auspicious things in our own way?
Recently I was part of a group that was discussing a sixteen day puja where every day the woman following the puja had to give a certain amount of fruits to different women every day. I mentioned a young mother’s name and immediately I was shot down by a friend who said, “No! No she’s a widow. It doesn’t make sense to give to her. It won’t count.”
I was shocked. She was a widow for no fault of hers. I asked why it was so inauspicious to give fruits to her.
“Because a puja is about culture and giving and receiving blessings. What blessings would a widow be able to give?” Widows were meant to stick together and do pujas. Not mingle freely with married women. They were a bit of a curse.
The conversation went on to have a heated discussion where I vehemently opposed this thought but no matter what I could not change the other person’s view point.
Many weeks later I was invited by a friend for a religious function. I was surrounded by couples and their children and I was the only divorced woman there. This was the first time I was invited for an auspicious occasion. I brought a big present and greeted my friend happily.
But I overheard, “What is she doing here? Isn’t she divorced? What blessings is she going to give the girl? To live her life independently and not think about the welfare of her husband or family?”
I finally understood why I haven’t been invited for so many other occasions. It wasn’t because I didn’t believe in the rituals of India (most of which I don’t) it was because a divorced woman or a widow wasn’t really welcome in a group of happily married couples. I was and the widow was –
In a country where tradition, rituals, customs, sanskars hold such an important value that they overtake logic, reasoning and feeling, how can women ever be allowed into sacred territories. The Varanasi widows weren’t even allowed to play Holi.
There is something suspicious about divorced women and widows. It’s like in the olden times when a woman wasn’t allowed in the kitchen because of her menstruation. She was simply not holy then.
We’ve chosen not to be holy today by not sticking to a marriage or not remarrying after the death of a husband. But then if your husband has died, you’re already besmirched with a tag that the woman is unlucky! So for her to even date, find happiness, remarry and be invited to an auspicious occasion would take a herculean task of overthrowing old patriarchy, deep rooted chauvinist notions and already formulated stone clad judgements on her character. God forbid she doesn’t wear white and actually dresses up, has a drink and a smoke once in a while, it won’t be the men who will be shocked, it will be other educated, liberated women!
As a divorced woman, in this evolving society there are a few people who understand your choices. Just a few. But then to be a successful, independent, arrogant, funny, woman who is living life on her own terms is frowned upon. She is kept away from the husband at all costs.
Recently I needed to call a man to help him with a business proposal that I thought would be good for him. I stated to his wife, “Can you please ask him from my side? I don’t have any husband’s numbers.”
She replied, “Good good. Don’t keep only.”
So I realised that until we divorced women and widows state it, women will not be allowed anywhere. There are only 5 ways we can break the inauspicious curse:
1. To all wives out there – no matter how handsome and successful your man is, we don’t want him unless he wants us. And we will never make the first move. We have too much self-respect to do so.
2. All women are equal. Just because you have a husband and family doesn’t mean that we’re lesser than you. Give, invite, welcome, accept, understand and love each woman equally and you’ll get that back from a dynamic woman as well.
3. Don’t look at women from your high seated perspective. One day you might be one of them.
4. If you don’t want the blessings of love, nurturing, experience, abundance, security, intelligence, dignity, honour, and respect to your home, child or function, don’t invite a widow or divorced woman. Because that’s what she will bless you with!
5. Please keep your views to yourself so you don’t pass it onto your children who will be laughed at for being regressive and old fashioned if they do the same tomorrow.
Hopefully we won’t need to resort to high voltage activists to change the thinking of women in our society. Hopefully the realisation shall come from within.