Bengalis are noted – and often hated – for their ways of thinking. They talk politics, eat meat and fish during Durga Puja, and bring up women to be feisty tigresses. And, these tigresses question everything and break norms.
Hindu Bengali women breaking wedding norms. What’s the big deal?
Take for example Nandini Bhowmik, the first female priest in Bengal, who officiates Hindu weddings, and that too, sans the ritual of Kanyadan. Bhowmik, a professor of Sanskrit at the esteemed Jadavpur University, performs weddings along with priestess Ruma Roy, and vocalists Semanti Banerjee and Poulami Chakraborty. She ensures that the bride and groom understand the meanings of the chants by explaining them in Bengali and English.
Recently, a Bengali bride took the internet by a storm; she shunned an outdated tradition called Kanakanjali, and refused to put handfuls of rice in her mother’s Anchol to pay off what she owes to her parents. She showed no hesitation in telling the guests that the “debt” of parents cannot be paid off. In fact, she refused to cry, and told everyone that she would keep visiting her parents.
Just as the discussions about the not-so-docile Bangali bou began to die down, something else came to our notice. Feminist writer Asmita Ghosh tweeted about a Hindu wedding ceremony that was officiated by female purohits. The father of this bride refused to perform a Kanyadaan.
I’m at a wedding with female pandits. They introduce the bride as the daughter of <mother’s name> and <father’s name> (mom first!!!). The bride’s dad gave a speech saying he wasn’t doing kanyadaan because his daughter wasn’t property to give away. 🔥🔥🔥 I’m so impressed. pic.twitter.com/JXqHdbap9D
— Asmita (@asmitaghosh18) February 4, 2019
As expected, this didn’t pass without some backlash. Many defended the ritual, saying that it is the renunciation of rights and is seen as the hardest thing a man has to do in his life because a daughter is considered precious. Of course, they completely missed the point, failing to understand that marriage shouldn’t lead to a woman’s complete dissociation with her parents. Nor is she a ‘thing’ that can be “given” or “gifted”, but a whole human being who remains a daughter even after becoming a wife.
So, why is this news-worthy?
Surely, these are not the first instances of such weddings where the brides, grooms, and their families have changed or eliminated old rituals. As priestess Bhowmik confirms, Rig Veda mentions female pandits performing weddings without the ritual of Kanuyadan. People from Maharashtra and Kerala are not unaccustomed to non-Brahmin priests solemnising weddings. Many common Hindu Bengali women have refused to conform to regressive rituals like Kanyadaan or Kanakanjali. So what’s the big deal?
The fact is, every woman who questions the rituals instead of following them blindly deserves to be applauded. No woman who stands up to patriarchy should be deprived of the limelight. And, the more we talk about these, the more women find the strength to shun such rules that treat them as objects or detach them from their birth parents. Even the Supreme Court agrees that a married woman is responsible for the maintenance of her parents.
Many people attempt to prove these little rebellions as acts of hypocrisy, by questioning the presence of a pandit altogether or having a haphazardly followed Hindu wedding. They have forgotten that it is alright to want a wedding with the Hindu mantras, the pomp, celebration, and people, and yet take the first step in keeping sexism out of it.
We must talk about and celebrate these Bengali women – and every other woman – for breaking wedding norms that they didn’t agree with. Who knows, maybe others will realise, too, that there’s no need to quietly accept laws and rules that they are not comfortable with. If they feel like they can’t insult their parents by trying to pay off the debt of giving them a life, it’s ok to refuse. If they think it’s not ok to be passed on from father to the husband with the renunciation of the rights of the father, they do not have to go through with it. Rituals have been changed and manipulated to suit patriarchy before. This time, it’s a step to suit women.