Spring Cleaning 2018: Indian Traditions That Need To Go

India is a home to 1.324 billion people distributed across 26 states, celebrating 26 different cultures, festivals, and traditions. In such a diverse nation that has dedicatedly celebrated its unique heritage for 71 years, there are many rituals that might make your eyes pop. Today, we’re counting down the top 5 bizarre Indian rituals that are either unhealthy or simply outrageous! 

1. Abstinence for Widows 

Widows have borne the brunt of their husband’s’ death for centuries now, starting from the age-old tradition of Sati, where the wife was required to jump into her husband’s pyre. While society has matured enough to gauge that a woman’s lifespan doesn’t have to depend on that of her husband, there is still a lot of pressure placed on women after their husband’s death. For instance, in several parts of North and Central India, women are required to only wear white and sometimes even live in ashrams. While this tradition is also slowly phasing out thanks to the increasing number of progressive households, people are still unwilling to compromise on one restriction: abstinence.

Like the other traditions that have been mentioned, abstinence too is practiced with the idea that a widow should mourn her husband’s death for the rest of her life. An additional caveat that comes with this clause, however, is that these wives are considered ‘bad luck’ and abstinence protects other men from associating with it so that they can enjoy a longer life.  

While this tradition might have made sense at the time, there are so many things wrong with it. Let’s start with the fact that the wife is considered a source of bad luck even though she had nothing to do with the cause of her husband’s death! Perhaps he died of a tumor that’s been in him since before he was married, or maybe an unfortunate accident that took place miles away from his partner. No situation justifies placing blame on the wife and prolonging an unnecessary survivor’s guilt complex! Even if the woman voluntarily chooses to abstain, it is her choice and does not give anybody the right to brand her with poor luck. 

2. Women Cannot Practice Last Rites 

A long-standing patriarchy, Indian society has not progressed to allow women to conduct final rites for dead members of the family. People believe that women are quite soft-hearted and empathetic, and this could increase their attachment to the death and make it a hard experience for them to handle. The second and most popular excuse for almost every ritual in Hinduism is that menstruation is a hindrance. Some also believe that this was a way of keeping females from claiming property from dead parents.

This has proved to be quite a problem for many families with female only children but is slowly improving. For instance, more people are realizing that menstruation is a clinical process that is only considered impure because the direction of flow of energy in the woman’s body is different from that being created in a ritual. There is no evidence to support that this is necessarily wrong and might have been conducted under this guise of offering women rest during a painful time in the past. Now that times are changing, and women are able to argue that they are just as capable of keeping their emotions in check to honor the dead, they are getting a chance to participate in final rites rituals too. 

3. Aadi Festival (Tamil Nadu) 

Legend has it that in the Karur District of Tamil Nadu, the British wanted to build a railway track across the temple and villagers were against it. Around this time, 187 coconut shaped stones were dug from around the premises and the British decided to use them to test the devotion of the devotees. They challenged the villagers to break the stones on their head and agreed to divert the train track if they succeeded. Unexpectedly, the residents did succeed and the railway was diverted while the temple still remains.

To this day, on the 18th day of the Tamil month of Aadi, devotees from all over flock to the Mahalakshmi Temple in Mettu Mahadhanapuram to allow priests to smash coconuts on their heads as a symbol of good luck and health. However, the tradition today is leading to skull damage, causing stunted growth in children and several nervous disorders in adults. While the tradition started off as an attempt to save their temple, it is no longer required, or healthy today. This is a classic example of an Indian ritual that has not transcended time and continues to celebrate uninformed and blind ideas of faith that do more harm than good. 

4. Made Snana

This is a tradition practiced in most South Indian temples, where devotees roll over the plantain leaves on which they finished their meal. It was initially a symbol of casteism, as it was the lower caste peasants that were required to roll over the plantain leaves on which the high caste priests, Brahmins, had eaten. It was believed to help the lower caste population absolve themselves of ailments and health problems that they couldn’t treat due to lack of access to medicines. However, this issue is far from wanting to promote the health of the lower castes. Instead, it was administered with the intention of showing people their place in society and enforcing the wrong ideas about caste supremacy.

In today’s world, this neither serves a purpose nor has any relevance. Casteism has been eradicated from most of India and there are no other medical reasons to uphold this tradition. In the state of Karnataka, the practice was even banned in 2010 but brought back due to protests from the Malekudiya tribe in 2011. As of 2013, the state has filed the ritual as a blind belief and is a part of the Karnataka Prevention of Superstitious Practices Bill. More liberal leaders are also recognizing that this is promoting the wrong ideas in society instead of aiding progress. 

5. Female Foeticide 

Feminism has never been a strong suit for India, which is further demonstrated by the fact that three of the five rituals on this list disadvantage women. Several states in the north have skewed female to male ratios. Rajasthan has even been hailed as the reigning perpetuator of female foeticide. Despite being illegal in India, abortions of girls is still a raging problem. A social stigma against female children has been inculcated and preserved for various reasons: the high dowry costs associated with marrying of a female child, the perceived impurity arising from innate female physiological processes, the fear for female safety in a world that endorses male aggression. These are only some of the feeble reasons upholding outdated and unethical practices such as foeticide. Don’t we think it is time to revisit the premises of these acts and establish a new social order- one that is more humane, ethical and just?
Maintaining the practice of female foeticide is only further reiterating the insidious notion that men are somehow superior to women and that women are comparatively meaningless, which incidentally is the underlying principle behind gender discrimination, rape, and abuse- the very things parents are preemptively killing daughters for in a misplaced bid to protect. Moreover, practices like dowry are also illegal and rare. Therefore raising a female child should technically cost the same as raising a male one, so why are we subjecting our girls to the ‘made-up’ costs of society, and then punishing them for it?

Finally, the inchoate opinion that women are impure because they menstruate has stifled females in society for years, and yet nobody can find any concrete evidence to back such beliefs. So until there is concrete proof that shows women are inferior because of the nature of their reproductive systems, society needs to stop perpetuating these biased beliefs.
[Picture Credits: https://themalefactor.com/2014/07/06/why-india-needs-feminism-bullshit/]

None of the above-mentioned traditions are reflective of the current socio-cultural context, and why should we have to sustain something that is blatantly anachronistic when everything else, including why and how we live our lives, have changed? Technology shouldn't be the only thing that is progressive, modern and more efficient in our world. Blatant anachronistic behavior aside, how are we justifying the distorted logic behind any of these traditions? Collectively, the human race needs to embrace socially conscious attitudes, for this is what distinguishes us from being passive and apathetic observers. If the rationale for something fails to justify current behavior and action, it must change. 

Something that was relevant and necessary 50 years ago is not necessarily relevant in today’s context. It fails to make even more sense when our current world offers a treasure-trove of information that can be used to facilitate better approaches. All events, actions, and behavior are contingent on the standards of their time, and if our standards have changed, so should the things we do.

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