Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why only women have to fast ?


The festival of Teej has started. It is celebrated mainly in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Teej chiefly means that a married woman keeps fasting for a whole day and fervently prays that her husband lives for a long period of time. In villages, women gather in groups and sing songs. They receive gifts from their in-laws. Many fast by eating only fruits and drinking plain water through the day. They are not allowed to eat anything that is salty. While some women, like my mother, do not eat or drink anything all day.

Every year, on the eve of Teej, my mother gets up at 4am in the early morning. As per ritual, she drinks tea and eats some spoonful of curd. She can also eat some slices of cucumber. Apart from these, she is not supposed to eat anything. She consumes curd and drinks tea at 4am even when she is not hungry or thirsty. Then when the day starts, she cannot eat anything. She is not supposed to drink even water. Low on energy, she still works the whole day. A housewife never has a day off. She makes breakfast, lunch and dinner for her family. She washes clothes and goes to the terrace to dry them off under the hot sun. When the maid-servant comes, my mother looks after her for an hour so that she would do her work properly and wouldn’t run off leaving half the work behind. If some guests come, she has to again work extra in the kitchen. By twilight, my mother feels very thirsty. Only thirsty, she says. She will never complain about being hungry. By night, she becomes very weak and feels too tired. But she bears it all with her mouth tight shut. 
She breaks her fast only the next day in the morning.

When I asked her, why she couldn’t start fasting by eating at least fruits like so many other women, she replied in the negative and explained her helplessness. She was just 18 when she got married. Today she is 43 years old and still fasting each year. Her mother-in-law (my grandma) does it still and her mother-in-law did it till she lived. So the family ritual goes on for every woman in the family. Nobody has dared to break the tradition yet and nobody will ever. They feel too guilty to even think in that manner. At least my mother lives in a city which is a boon for her. Back in my hometown, women living in rural areas have to fast and work more than my mother on Teej. They have to take care of joint families on an empty stomach all day. And they do not dare to raise their voices. They just cannot.

Why do so many married women, like my mother, follow such strict fasting rules? Even when they are literates? Why do only women have to fast on every such occasion and not the men? Women fast to have a longer life for their husbands. What about a woman’s life? Who fasts for that? No one! And if this really was the case, why doesn’t every single wife in the foreign country also fast? Wouldn’t they want their husband’s lives to increase? And anyway, where is it written that fasting by somebody will lead to increase of someone else’s life? It’s not a scientific fact nor is it written in our constitution.

As per my knowledge, fasting does have some benefits to the human body. But it is a personal choice and should be done when a person is healthy. A sick person is not advised to fast. A person can fast by eating fruits and drinking milk. And such fasting will only help the one who does it. Not to someone else. But it’s different for women like my mother and grandmother. They are forced to do strict fast by rules and traditions made by the society they live in. No matter if they are sick or ill. They have to fast and during fasting, they do sometimes become sick. They curse but suffer silently through all the pains and stresses. Men fast too sometimes but for a different cause. Take for example Anna Hazare and Arwind Kejriwal fasting against corruption. The actors in saas-bahoo serials also fast to show their love for their wives/actresses on cameras.

The only time I didn’t eat (close to fasting) was the time when I was chasing a deadline for an unfinished assignment.  I skipped my breakfast and missed my lunch too. And the result? I fainted so badly that my best friend had to half drag and half carry me. Only after splashing some cold water on my face did I come back to my senses! So I know one thing. I cannot live without eating something once every three hours. But here’s the catch. My mother is not a rebel and has never raised her voice. But she has vowed to never impose such traditions on her future daughter-in-law. Whatever she suffered from, she would never allow it to pass on to someone else when it comes in her power! Kudos mummy, I am very proud of you! So what’s the motto for the day? Eat, pray and love!!
               

22 comments:

  1. wow..u hv stringed togethr the words very nicely!! There hv been oodles of times wen I hv too wondered abt the same thing..
    But honestly,now times have really changed..my own granny-in-law tells us to eat fruits n milk while fasting..she says God does not want u to torture ur bodies...
    Also, I feel most of the females are now breaking the rules which do not have any logic left in today's world..

    http://shilpikarnani.blogspot.in/

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    1. Thank you for dropping by. Today's women are more open and smart in cities.
      But still this type of strict fasting is prevalent in rural areas.

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  2. It is difficult to force people think out of the set customs but things are changing rapidly.

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    1. Yes, things are definitely changing a lot now.
      Thank you for your feedback.

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  3. I do work on caloric restriction and it is proven scientifically that fasting has many health benefit. I am certain all religious rituals are ment for both the sexes but over the year men became too reluctant to follow. I think Mother-in-law is responsible for strict adherence of daughter-in-law but do not aks to son.
    http://bipedagainstcorruption.blogspot.in/

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  4. Thanks for going through the post and commenting on it.

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  5. We have these huge debates in our family gatherings. Where all the men of our family literally fight tooth and nail to convince our women folks not to indulge in fasting. But no one listens. It's deeply embedded in their value system.

    I agree with 'Knowmics' when he says that mothers in law are somewhat responsible. Because I remember as a kid my granny used to carefully supervise the fastings of my mum. Though my mum is much less rigid than my granny, still fasting continues in our family.

    Well thought out and articulately represented write up Snehal. It felt very nice to read it.

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  6. Thank you Anupam.

    I too agree that mothers in law are responsible to some extent. If they stop enforcing such kind of fasting on their daughters in law, the ritual will eventually end.

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  7. This,I have been asking my mother since the first time I acknowledged,she is not going to eat today for us.
    I asked ,Why you?
    She said,"Because i am your mother"

    Your post is thought provoking.Nice one

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  8. I never do fasting because I never believe in the concept..Nice article,keep writing

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    1. Thanks Ankita.
      I will never do it myself because I don't believe it either!

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  9. the time is changing and so is the modern woman, i just hope all these orthodox customs that affect women would soon be existant only in history books and grandma tale

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    1. Hope so as well. Thank you for sharing your opinion.

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  10. It isn't like only women fast. In jains, everyone fasts. especially during the "Paryushan" where we drink only boiled water from 9am to 6pm and eat nothing. :)
    And daily, we never eat before sun-rise and stop eating after sun-set.

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    1. Thank you for sharing the information and commenting on it.

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  11. i have always felt long back women started this tradition of fasting and is being carried out by generation after generation , i wonder if it was superstition or manipulations ..no offence am a woman too.

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  12. Oh I have similar views on the same! here also we celebrate teej! Yes these fasts should not be a compulsion on anybody. Let the people decide if they want to stay hungry for the men or eat well to look beautiful for them ;) :D

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  13. This post reminds me of my mother, who fasts quite a lot, and often through the day. Whereas, I cannot even skip a meal! It's really amazing what women achieve, yet, sadly, they are quite oppressed, especially in our society.

    Btw, thanks for stopping by my blog.

    -- Lucas

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for sharing your experience Lucas.

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