17. That’s how many times I have watched the video of my parents’ wedding, my dream of having a similar “happiest day of my life” growing stronger each time. Indian weddings can do that, weave magic in a way few other nuptial ceremonies can. The festivities, the color, the extravagant rituals; it’s not hard to see why Indian weddings make people happy. As I write this, women across age groups watch wedding themed shows on national television and shed tears of joy.
But something changed the way I look at these weddings forever. And I finally mustered up the courage to share my views and possibly burst many a bubble. I don’t mean to offend anyone here, I merely think this needs to be discussed.
Many Indian wedding rituals reek of sexist connotations.
It’s true. Some are downright offensive not just to the bride but also her family.
Here’s how. In many south Indian weddings there is a ritual called “Kasi Yatra”, meaning “Journey to Kasi” which is regarded as a place of learning. During this ritual the groom is supposed to pretend to leave the “mandapam” i.e. the ceremonial venue in order to go to Kasi and pursue his interests in education and achieve other intellectual developments. The father of the bride is then expected to plead the groom to stay and marry his daughter, convincing him that she will be the perfect companion for him by giving him a family (by bearing his children).
Why isn’t the bride allowed to contemplate taking off from the venue to pursue her goals? Why is she expected to be okay with her father, her hero and her first love, pleading with a man to marry her, albeit metaphorically?
When my South Indian lawyer friend, who is a smart and independent woman, told me about this, all I could think of was how on earth could she be okay with this ritual; the same fiery girl, who had spent hours discussing with me how important it is for people like us to prove our mettle in a male dominated society like India.
After my friend revealed the Kasi Yatra ritual, I looked up other Indian wedding rituals and voila, there they were; condescending and looking down on the bride as if she were just a commodity, a means to propagate the groom’s family name. Who cares what her family name is.
In Maharashtrian weddings for example, the bride’s mother ritualistically washes the groom’s feet with her own hands upon his arrival at the venue. Why isn’t there a similar ritual for the bride? Some North Indian brides are told to change even their first names by their in-laws, in an attempt to be astrologically appropriate for the groom’s family. What about all those formative years she spent with the name given to her by her parents as her identity?
Meanwhile, some Bengali brides have to reach a whole new low, as a particular ritual included in the “bou bhaat” (literally translating into bride food) entails her serving food to guests and her new husband and then eating the leftovers from his plate.
Let’s not even go into the whole dowry issue because volumes have been written about it but clearly, Indians still think it is okay for a man’s family to demand cash and other valuables from the bride’s family in order to persuade them to “accept their daughter”.
“Kanyadaan” is another such ritual, the actual connotation being the father passing on the ‘responsibility’ of the woman to the groom, like she is just another mouth to feed, sans any potential or aspirations of her own.
These are not all, many of the chants and vows in several rituals imply that the woman is the bearer of children and her duty is to take care of the man and his family while his is to protect and provide for her.
I see my Facebook news feed fill up with wedding pictures from old friends daily, many of them forced to quit jobs and forgo plans of higher education to “settle down” (Yes, it still happens). Their vibrant and bold personalities washed away by the turmeric and concealed by henna and make-up. Their independence contained in the heavy “shaadi ka joda” (bridal attire) and buried under kilos of gold and diamonds.
In a country where the concept of love marriage is still a taboo and the menace of child marriage has still not been fully uprooted in the rural heartland, it seems a bit much to expect citizens to stand up against seemingly harmless rituals. But it is these rituals and their connotations that indoctrinate minds into believing the skewed things that they stand for. And I think it is time educated, urban families started to do away with unnecessary rites, just like the “obey” has been dropped from wedding vows by many in the West.
But the desired change is still light years away, and if by some twist in fate I am stuck in a great big Indian wedding when the time comes; I am forced to say this.
Mom and Dad, do not come to my wedding. I love you and refuse to see you bow down, plead and bribe someone to marry your daughter, whom you have taught to be independent all your lives. I cannot forget your lessons in the blink of an eye. Hence, you are not invited.
By: Jui Mukherjee