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Karva Chauth -- Glorified Gender Discrimination?

Dr Nitin Pandey

On 29th Oct this year, as every year since times immemorial, millions of women stopped eating and drinking with sunrise. Not even drinking water till they see the moon, in the hope that God will grant their husbands a long life; remembering how God mercilessly killed Queen Veeravati’s husband, because she mistakenly broke her fast before seeing the moon on that fateful Karva Chauth day, eons ago. That she was fooled into breaking her fast by her brothers, who were distressed by her falling health due to the fast, did not deter the Gods from killing her husband instantaneously, the moment she ate food. With such legends to learn from, which Hindu lady would dare not to “celebrate” the great day?

Not many of us know that the “festival” as a day of rejoicing to celebrate the relationship between a newly wed bride and her new found friend, in her husband’s house! In olden days after the marriage ceremony, another ceremony was held to sanctify a new friendship between the bride and a girl in the husband’s house, of her age. This girl was supposed to serve as a confidante of the bride, since in those days means of communication were limited and a new bride could not talk to her family easily. This relationship was celebrated in Karva Chauth, with gaiety and happiness, almost “like Diwali”. How fasting and the sacrifice for the husband, crept into it is not clear, but as other distortions like the Caste system and Sati, this distortion also crept in, along with numerous stories like Queen Veeravati’s mentioned earlier.

Most of us do not support gender discrimination. Stories of women being discriminated against in life upset us and we go out of our way to applaud women achievers like Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams. Yet how many of us can say we have never discriminated against our daughters or daughter-in-laws! Has there never been a time when we have not done something for them which we would have done for our sons? How many of us have requested our wives or daughter-in-laws not to fast for ourselves or our sons? And if we believe that fasting by wives increases lives of husbands, why do we not encourage fasting by our sons for the long lives of their wives? We expect a woman not to drink even water for the whole day, while we eat and drink merrily in front of her. In some families the lady is expected to serve food to others, while some even expect pregnant women to undertake the fast. If this is not Gender discrimination, what else is it?

Unfortunately, the print media, television and films, have gone head over heals in glorifying it. Starting with “Dil waale dulahinya leygayangi” movies and television serials have portrayed the fast as a necessary certificate of a wife’s love for her husband. Newspapers do their bit by publishing glorifying photographs of women staring at their husbands through a “chalni”. Colorful advertisements wish the readers “Happy Karva Chauth.

The hullabaloo surrounding the “festival”, builds enormous social pressure on women to conform. Such is the sales pitch of the “festival” that even a few Christian ladies have started keeping the fast! No one talks of the number of women who fall sick trying to conform to an outdated tradition. Being a doctor myself, I can vouch for the number of women who come on the day with vomiting, dizziness and low BP. Last year a lady aborted, after being denied even water by her mother-in-law. This face of Karva Chauth is never projected in films or the media. If smoking and degrading women is banned in films, why is glorifying Karva Chauth not dealt the same way? The icing on the cake is the presence of “Happy Karva Chauth” cards in the market this year. If Sati had not been banned by the British, I’m sure the markets would be flush with “Happy Sati” cards as well. It is time to do a Sati on Karva Chauth!

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From: Shalini Patwal
Too true. How can skipping a few meals extend the life of your husband? I don't get it. But I can perfectly understand the logic behind sati - a custom to save lawyer fees on divorce and alimony payments!

From: Shruti
how CUTE of you sir....why ain't all men are like you.... "Happy Sati" lol..

From: Neelam
Interesting to know about Happy Karva Chauth cards. Hindu religion does not have a hell/heaven concept - its Karma lead mainly. This image of a vindictive God punishing non believers is very un-Hindu in its translation. Discrimination on the basis of Gender is wrong. Being someone who does it to others is I think only slightly worse than allowing people to get away with it.