Purdah

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Now that it is more than two weeks after this incident happened, I can now safely talk about it in the web. Lately I have disclosed this blog to my network, and I don’t want the person in question to find him being talked about in the public. Actually it is not he that I am going to talk about. Just using his case as a backdrop for today’s post.

Hua ye ki this guy (a colleague) appeared on a TV marrriage show…obviously to showcase his marriageability. But he flunked on two points, or did he?. First he diplomatically answered that if the bride’s side wants to give something to the girl, he won’t object. To this the girls at my office were very furious. How can he talk about dowry? That too on national TV.

Second (and the backdrop of my post) he said that his prospective wife will need to do purdah whenever there are elders at home. His parents lived in a different city and would come once or twice in an year. He had said this and everyone was like…hey he is so conservative.

And I was transferred into flashback when the same purdah or ghunghat had become a issue in my family.

A cousin brother, much elder than me, got married. The girl, a city bred, was never used to purdah. For the first few weeks, she was excused from this tradition on the ground that she was a nayi bahu. But the liberty was not for long.

One day my masi called mother. “Do you know she wouldn’t take ghunghat even before her father-in-law? I don’t know what to do?

Then someone talked sense to the girl. It’s difficult to challenge such age-old traditions. So she took the easy route. She practiced purdah whenever there were people from outside. At home, she continued her old habits. Masi agreed to this adjustment. At least partial victory for her.

By the time my elder brother got married, purdah system had become quite an obsolete custom. Yes, bhabhi had problems with touching every elders feet. How can I, without knowing who the other person is? She had point. But again a tradition was being challenged. So I talked sense to her. Why not touch their feet than enter into a conflict with your mother-in-law; my mother? She agreed, although the reason was a bit different. Each time she touched an elderly woman’s feet, the woman would compare her to her own bahu who didn’t practise the tradition.

My latest bhabhi would have wanted to keep a ghunghat, but cannot. It doesn’t stay on her head. Even during her marriage, it didn’t stay up there and her mother had to finally fasten it with a clip.

Coming back to the present now. Did you know the guy was a big hit on TV? According to a friend of his, his inbox was full of messages from prospective brides. Strange na, that girls are sending proposals to him although he was so conservative in his thoughts. Or because he wanted to find an easy way than challenge age old traditions.

Read about yet another tradition and a story assiciated with it at:

Chuttak

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15 thoughts on “Purdah

  1. It doesn’t stay on my head either! Even chunnis don’t stay on my shoulders! I hv to pin them up to the kurta! Eventually just gave up wearing suits & switched permanently to jeans n tops!

  2. I am surprised by some women folk getting angry at his comments… not that I am pro him or anti him, but more often than not the people from girls side insist on doing this and doing that. Knowing this from experience and a lot of similar conversations, though I cannot put a blanket statement around this topic.

    About the ghoonghat, I think its just a matter of respect, at times forced and at times felt… Its an adjustment that both the girl and the boy (including his family) should do to ensure that what remains a tradition stays respected and is not done just for the heck of it without any sense.

    While today’s women is modern and ambitious and wants to move as fast as anyone else, its nice to see examples of women who value the tradition and work towards getting a balance in married lives.

    • I agree with u when u tell that we shun traditions just for the sake of looking modern. Remember shahrukh in kkhh where he secretly comes to the temple lest anyone in his group comes to know. it happens in real life too. and people have this habit of accepting traditions that suit them at a particular point of time.

  3. I find the societal behaviour of purdah very similar to that of ragging. “Because it happened to me, you must go through it as well. Why should you be spared?”. It takes one person to break the system and thus allow generations below to have freedom of choice. I think this is true with any tradition that dis-empowers a person. They either try to break out of it or live with it and pass it on to the next generation.

    • This is where I tell that it is women who have ensured that all the exploitation to women lives on for centuries. Had they decided that they would not let it happen to their daughters and daughter in laws, these customs would have died long back.

      but personally i don’t think purdah is as bad a custom as dowry, widows living the life of an ascetic etc. just as you cover other parts of the body, you cover your head. not that big a problem.

  4. hmmmm…. in my family only newly wed girls are expected to cover their heads. After some days, the atmosphere is more relaxed. Nobody expects a girl to observe purdah but yes touching the feet of elders is expected. Personally, I don’t see what possible problem a girl can have with touching feet of elders, it is a mark of respect. I would be ready to give that respect to any elder regardless of whether I know him/her or not. And it is totally my gain if I do that, I will get blessings and some affection.

  5. @ Nikita – the problem only arises when there are difference in customs. E.g. in my mom’s family, nobody touches anybody’s feet. So I have grown up hugging people to show affection (elders as well as youngsters). Touching feet has always been considered unnecessary and hugging was promoted because it meant we were all equal. Nobody is big or small. Now if I had to get married in a family where I had to touch my husband’s and his family members’ feet, it would just feel wrong.

    I appreciate families who follow this tradition, but I would just not fit in, coz my values are different. And thats’s where the issue arises.

  6. @Alpana:
    In my family, unmarried girls never touch anybody’s feet. Infact during Navratras, elders of the family touch the feet of young unmarried girls as we are considered synonymous to the Goddess. Once a girl is married, the transition is immediate and effortless. All married girls touch feet of elders in both families.
    Probably we see all married women at our home touching feet as a mark of respect, and that’s why we are more prepared for it. But I still believe that even if someone has never seen it before, it’s not that big an effort.
    My ex-boyfriend was a Catholic and we had plans to get married. (Things finally did not work between us, but that’s another story.) When he came to know of this culture in my family of touching feet of elders, he said he would have no problem doing it although he did not believe in it. I know nobody in my family would have expected it from him, but he was very comfortable with doing something he had never done before (and which was also not a part of the faith that he followed)
    So, I guess anybody can fit in, if they want to 🙂

  7. This whole business of touching someone’s feet and doing purdah simply to show you were brought up right just doesn’t make any sense to me. I hated the whole touching of the feet business when I was a kid and I still do. I will only do it to people dear and near to me when I sincerely mean it and noone else. And purdah is something nobody on God’s green earth could force me into. And I dont think my refusal toward both of these customs makes me any less of an Indian girl, and it bears no measure toward the morals I have. It is the person you are deep down inside that makes up your morality and it definitely is not determined by how you behave in order to please people around you. Dont get me wrong, I have nothing against people who choose to do purdah or touch people’s feet because that’s what they believe in. More power to them for standing by what they believe in. But to do these simply to please others is hypocritical.

    • I think we look at these traditions as something that pushes us downwards. That’s the reason we come out so strongly against them as Vagabond now and Alpana earlier. It would be better if we just see this as a tradition. Then it will not look so very difficult to follow.

      • Unfortunately, I cannot follow tradition without any reason. Same reason why I can’t follow religion either. I believe that questioning beliefs and mindsets leads to intelligent discussion and removal of unnecessary (if not backward) practices. So even if you don’t think of touching feet as downward (which I do, really. it’s a way of acknowledging hierarchy in a way.), it is of no use as a practice, except for keeping egos happy. I don’t see why that should be encouraged.

  8. @ Alpana – I didn’t mean to offend you. I am sorry if you felt it that way.

    About the traditions, I just don’t want to be revolutionary in challenging each and every tradition. You see, revolts are not silent. Pain, backlashes, etc are some of the aftereffects.

    I have this problem with being a revolutionary. Its an okay thing about questioning beliefs and mindsets. But how much is too much? Do we always be raising flags against one thing and other?

    I think why to unnecessarily hamper peace and rather follow the traditions. It’s not out of respect for the tradition or the person always. This way neither my ego is not belittled and if the other person feels happy, good, because I don’t have anything to lose.

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