Friday, April 12, 2013

Relationship vs Ideology

Patriarchy verses Pragmatism

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Women’s struggle against unjust social order is hampered by the customs and traditions as they are deeply rooted in our psyche. We feel a sense of commitment to fulfil them. Exactly a month ago my mother passed away and memories that haunted me many times revisited again. My aim of giving a glimpse of a bit of my life is because these stories form part of a majority of families and yet we continue to keep them under wrap. It is time we stand up and speak against such evils. I am sharing this article in hope that it will clear dilemmas of many others who pass through the similar situations.

Listening to Women’s right without mention of patriarchy is impossible in India yet the latter continue to be dominating our socio-cultural lives and therefore need a scrutiny of our system as why patriarchy is still dominate despite so much of ‘abhorrence’. Many times we ignore the vast reality that women too live in their class, caste, cultural, society and religious confines apart from being secular and non-believers. Even being secular and non-believer happens according to our family relations and we are loved not because of our high idealism but because of our blood relations. The fact of the matter is that it is due to the blood relations the war against injustice cannot be fought and women to fall in the relations as men and therefore most of the time violence against women become victim of those relationships where your biological things matter more than your ideological moorings. India’s denigration into an anarchy and chaos is because of this blood relationship as it is such relationships that decide right and wrong and there would be very few people who challenged these traditions and came out of it. Nobody goes out of them as they are very useful and powerful tool to save yourself whenever you are in trouble. Those who challenge these notions face isolation and are further ostracized in society.

My mother passed away exactly a month back at the home of my sister who took care of her for nearly 20 years. I had left home in 1987 and was wandering like a nomad for all these years from one place to another in the hope that someone would fulfill my need for education. The survival was difficult as when I lost my father, I was just 7 years of age and from that day it was a difficult journey. Anyway, that is another subject on a different occasion as at the moment I want to discuss about a different thing which concern women. Even when the life was very tough for us as we neither had agricultural land nor any house of our own and my mother was a simple housewife who has only primary qualification in the name of education. So working or job was out of question for her and yet she ensured that each one of us get better education. Despite believing in girls’ education, she remained traditional all her life and always felt that her elder son has not taken care of her. I was her younger son and she had stayed with me in Delhi for some time but never liked the place. It was difficult for her to digest that she was living with my sister which is not consider great. Even when my sister was taking proper care somewhere in the heart of my mother it remained that she is not at her home.

When she was counting her last moments a number of visitors continued to visit her. My brother who was living just 500 meter away from my sister’s home never bothered and we had to request friends to bring him to see her at the last moment. He had all excuses of not coming there. My sister-in- law never bothered about her and did not even think it proper to visit my sister even after the death. People could be so sick and low even in death reflect the hollowness of our society. I informed my sisters much in advance that my elder brother would never ever come to see my mother but would always be there once she is no more. You never care for the person when one is alive but once she is dead you are there to capture the space, show your ‘love’ and ‘respect’ for the departed soul. And that happened. He was not there when the end came. We were all sitting together, two of my sisters, me, my brother in law and two of my cousins from village when my mother breathed her last. As a courtesy, I called to my brother within five minutes which he informed me that he would be here in next two hours. He wanted to check where will cremation take place etc. and he arrived on his given time. As we were preparing to take the body for cremation, he sat with me and suggested that the last rite would be performed by him and the ‘puja’ should take place at his home as he is the ‘eldest’ son. He was off the view that people should not say anything which affects our ‘reputation’. It was shocking to see the hypocrisy but I was clear in this even when we have a 10 year gap between us. ‘What is wrong is the ‘puja’ is performed here at my sisters’ residence, I said. After all, it was my sister who looked after my mother and there is nothing wrong. In fact, it would be highly wrong if she is denied in doing so. Though my sisters have remained patriarchical despite their strength, here they remained adamant that they will not allow my brother to do the take Centre stage as ‘ideal son’. He never cared for her when she needed and was desperate to see her grandchildren but now he want to show the world how obedient he is? I was wondering the level of hypocrisy in our society that you never do anything for the sake of the individual but worried about your ‘reputation’ and hence more interested in symbols and not in substance.

For me it was a very difficult situation as an absolutely non believer I have no faith in whatever was being performed. I used to joke with my mother that she should not expect me doing her last right as per brahmanical traditions as I have no faith in them and there is no point in doing things which you do not believe. I do not do things for the sake of symbols or society. By the age of 23, I was in Delhi and radical thoughts have changed me. Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s life and writing became my guiding source and therefore all the rituals and religious values evaporated from my heart. I never participated in anything which was done in the name of religion and in fact boycotted all the festivals and traditional activities at home. And when the issue of marriage came, that was contentious but I decided that would also happen without a priest and any rituals. So, all these decisions made by me were tough and many of them were not liked by my mother but she respected my sentiments and values and was solidly with me. Therefore, it became important for me to understand the sentiments that my sisters wanted to follow and which is absolutely patriarchical in nature but they were adamant for me to shave my head and perform everything for the ‘peace’ of my mother as they don’t want my elder brother to do so. I wished if they could take the lead and do it. I asked them why don’t they come but they did not. Who will take care of people if they come to our place, said my sister. But it is clear women are pragmatic too many things. They said, if I were not here and it was a great relief for them that I stood with them for nearly 7 days, they would have done it themselves. I found it interesting as these are stories everywhere. Even women perform rituals at many places but that does not challenge patriarchy but it give them a window as most of our rituals are male dominated. Our mindset are developed that way only that even when women perform everything they would want men get the lead. May be, it has a lot to do with division of work where women feel they do take care of other cores and religious rituals are left to men. I disagree but I know women know that they too have to live in society and they look for security and safety, family and tradition and hence use these windows only rather than breaking the big iron gate of patriarchy which has locked them up. For that, parents will have to take a lead and sanctity of such performances will have to be questioned. It is difficult in the rural India where death ceremonies are ‘all boys club’ while women’s role is confined to showing ‘helplessness’.

 When I came to Delhi in the 1990s with lot of rough ideas and do ‘something’ the radical thoughts had taken deep roots. May be because of my sufferings at the very personal level, I developed a hatred and I repeat hatred towards the brahmanical ritualistic traditions. There are various facts and I can claim I saw the dirty middle classes of Delhi, their hypocrisies and felt it is the values that they live in. I was compelled in my thought to convert. I felt everything is better than these brahmanical values. I attended theological classes, also got influenced with Islamic beliefs later. Many thoughts used to come in my heart but when I went deep inside no religion could attract me as free minds like me would find it difficult to adjust in those fixed atmosphere and realize that I could better serve humanity with my secular values. That way, the influence of Ambedkar in my life was tremendous and I owe to his writings and life which changed me.

Today, I feel that my secular values allow me to do what would have been impossible in any other way if I were a convert to any other faith. I decided to carry out what my mother wished. I did attempt to complete her wish by following all dictates of those in family. I felt and rightly so, I am a non-believer, a humanist but she was not and I cannot deny that relationship between us was that of a mother and son which is not based on much ‘ideologies’ but on relations. A mother would always defend her children come what they and will pray to protect them from evil eyes. Should our ideologies be that rigid which do not even allow us to perform the last rites of our parents? I have always opposed rituals and traditional practices but we know we cannot change our parents as they came from a certain sets of principles but we can always guide our children.

It is a coincident that a friend of mine in Delhi lost her father in the same week of March. He was a scientist and had already donated his body to the medical college. The daughter and mother fulfilled the last wish of the father and with heavy heart donated it but the relatives were not happy. Even when this friend of mine is a ‘God fearing’, she followed what her father wished and that is an excellent example of respecting the wishes of parents.

There were lots of issues which came in my mind when I performed those rituals for my mother which I never believed yet in ultimate analysis I felt I owe to her a lot. She gave me birth, suffered for me and at least for her sake and for my own sake, I felt it obliged to fulfil her last wish and I have no regret in performing those things against my own conviction. There is no bigger ideology or conviction than to fulfil the wishes of parents when they are no more.

There is also an appeal to all those who believe change should begin. Despite various changes, the marriage and death ceremonies in our society are pathetically patriarchical. It must go. Parents should encourage even daughters to take responsibility and the women should not shy away from taking up those jobs. One of the major reasons for crave for sons is the fear of last rites and its linkages to ‘punarjanm’. Let us build up a structure where girls get the same opportunity and not become show pieces perform the  task of ‘weeping’ and ‘crying’ on the dead bodies like helpless creatures. But it is not the rural folks where these patriarchical values dominate but also in our elite institutions. If you happen to be a girl and have to look after your parents or husband or any male ward at the hospital and if he is serious, the first thing doctors ask for is who is your Guardian? I mean a friend of mine faced this in Delhi when her father was admitted in AIIMS and she was the elder daughter and no brother. She was looking after her father but when he became serious they were all the time asking for the male member as they wanted to talk about the condition of the patient. It is story everywhere but then we will have to break these cycles through social renaissance as well as institutional reforms.

We must promote the idea of equality between genders from the very beginning. These rituals are absolutely paternal and big jokes and we must inculcate the spirit of humanism so that people look for alternative other than performing these rituals and investing huge amount of money afterwards. It is shame that many times we do not spend a single paisa on the person who need it and then give huge amount of money to Brahmins in his/her name when the person is no more. We must get rid of such hypocrisies. They are emotional blackmail of a system which continues to exploit us even today. It is time for us to get out of them and prepare our children to respect human being particularly their elders show your differences with them but at the same point of time do not develop a hatred towards your parents for ‘not doing’ enough for you. The question is why we should depend on them for everything. It is time the social structure change and for that we will have to start the process from our homes with humanist values and scientific temperament. It is also important for women to understand that being pragmatic is great but accepting illogical values and sticking to patriarchy out of compulsions or in the name of traditions would be dangerous and has harmed the cause of women and human rights world over. It might be possible that the ‘patriarchical’ society ‘respect’ you and acknowledge and appreciate those ‘work’ yet the larger cause of women is defeated. Let us not make values out of things which hurt women and make them suffer further in the name of traditions. My mother suffered all her life for those values and having seen them, I would only say that I would not adopt pragmatism as my way of life, instead even if I am out of that social system, boycotted, ostracised  I still feel, I am far better in my humanist and freethinking world free from those prejudices.

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