I was watching a Tamil talkshow known as Neeya, Naana (You or me) and it got me thinking really deep. It was about the struggle of Indian widows and widowers, how they continue living without their better half.
I lost my Dad when I was 19. It was a bitter pill to swallow but I had to swallow it, like it or not.
At the instant of my Dad's demise, my Mom stopped wearing pottu and kungumam (bindi and sindhoor also know as tikka or vermillion and comes in all hues of red. Hindu married ladies wear those on their forehead and on the parting of the hair in front. It is a sign of a married Hindu woman. It serves as the red light in traffic lights which carries the message that a lady wearing sindhoor on her head is taken and any guy intending to woo her to pull the brakes. It is also said to lengthen one's husband's lifespan. Unmarried Hindu ladies, maidens and girls wear only bindi in a variety of colours and shapes, a round dot being the classic shape.), adorn her hair with fragrant flowers and the discarding of the thali. (Thali is also known as mangalsutr and is tied around a lady's neck by her husband on the wedding dais on their wedding day. It signifies commitment and possession. Yes, you heard me, POSSESSION. I hate this concept of Hindu marriage. Wearing the string like a tethered cow. Again, the presence of the string signifies that she is taken and putting a stop for wooing)
So it goes.. My Mom renounced the wearing of brightly coloured silk sarees. Instead she began wrapping herself with dull and drably coloured sarees. She stopped wearing the pottu and sindhoor and also adorning her hair with flowers. Pottu got replaced by a dot of sandal wood paste and a streak of vibuthi, (Hindu holy ash streaked on forehead to reflect piety)
To my eyes, my Mom looked beautiful and wholesome with the crimson pottu and sindhoor. The sudden renunciation of both attributes pained me and I am sure it pains my Mom more because each time she looks at the mirror, the fact that her husband is no more would be reminded to her.
I tried coaxing my Mom to wear at least a black or a maroon pottu but she would not hear of it. She conforms to the Hindu tradition outlined for widows. I have no idea of who founded such biased guidelines because a widower doesn't have to renounce or wear anything that describes a hallmark of a widower so I am absolutely certain that these attributes devised for an Indian Hindu widow is the creation nation of misogynists whose aim is to subjugate women.
Not stopping at that, widows are considered as a bad omen and they are not allowed to stand in the front lines of auspicious functions like weddings, engagements and whatnot. The same is not true for widowers; they are given the same respect they got when they were married.
I Googled up widow and widower translated into Tamil and the following is the result.
- Widow = மறுமணம் செய்து கொள்ளாத விதவை
Translated literally into Roman characters, it sounds like this, 'marumanam seithu kollathe vithavei.
It means a widow who has not remarried. The word vithavei itself means widow and is the most used term to call widows.
Now let's look at widower and witness the missing link.
- Widower = மனைவியை இழந்தவன்
Translated literally into Roman characters, it sounds like this, 'a man who has lost his wife'
That is it. There is no one word to describe a widower as a whole like 'vithavei' But, I do not know whether other Indian languages have a term for it. I am speaking as far as I know.
Unfair, isn't it and to think such Dark Age mentality exists in the modern world is beyond sad.
Indian widows are looked upon with a jaundiced view and are subject a subject of scorn. While a widower remarrying is acceptable, a widow remarrying would stir up rumours and grapevine. What is tragic is, it is women, more often than not, monger gossip, adding salt and spice as they go about carrying tales.
The moment an Indian Hindu widow considers or even speaks of remarriage, she would be presented with aghast looks and gasps as though she has called an apple orange. In extreme cases, she would be called prurient, forgetting that marriage is not all about sex; marriage is contained in companionship and life support mostly.
An Indian Hindu widower is free to remarry. Not a soul would question him.
About a century ago, in India, there was a practice known as 'sati'. A lady whose husband is no more will be cremated together with her husband's dead body, alive. It didn't matter if she was 8 (in cases of child marriage) or 80. When British colonized India, they put paid of this savage ritual but it still exists in some remote parts of India.
We are in the 22nd century. Technology has become an integral part of mankind, yet such outdated practices are still observed. Yengge poyi muttikeruthu? (Where should I bang my head?)
Sati was ridden off but many Indian Hindu widows are ambulatory corpses, their happiness, carnal desire, respect, recognition and self esteem, repressed and seized savagely by so called 'tradition'.
All this demeaning suppression of widows are purely unwarranted and uncalled for. Their pottu, adornments, and happiness die along with their husband. Who has the right to say this is how widows should dress and this is how they should behave and this is how others should view them?
There is a ritual observed once a lady's husband dies. She would be adorned like a bride then have all the semblances of a married woman stripped off her violently and the tragic thing is, women do it and they are known as professional mourners.
Here is a video demonstrating how it is done.
In India, it is even worse. Here is a snippet of Oprah witnessing the Indian widow stigma in India.
Thousands of widows, of all ages, from all over India have made the holy cities of Varanasi and Vrindavan their home. Every year they are joined by hundreds more
.Many of these widows are here because they have been driven out from their homes and they have no place else to go. They live in terrible poverty, generally begging for alms on the streets or singing at temples for a measly meal.
Many of the younger widows are forced into prostitution. They wear white, the only color widows are permitted to wear, and their clothing becomes a source of discrimination for them, much like the yellow star for the Jews. Even today, middle-class educated Indians shun the presence of widows at certain ceremonies like weddings, because they are thought to bring “bad luck.”
For centuries widows have been socially ostracized in India. Sati was a practice where widows would be burnt alive on their husband’s pyres. Even after sati has been legally banned, there continue to be isolated incidents. In western India, there are temples that glorify sati, that the government of India does not dare take down.
While it is not that extreme in Malaysia, some semblance of widow discrimination is extant, like the stripping of the thali, flowers, the smashing of colourful glass bangles and the rubbing off of the pottu on her husband's death service and the restriction of not to wear them in the lifetime she has got ahead. The lady is already in untold grief and this ritual only orders more sorrow for her, not consolation. The very purpose for a funeral is for commiseration for the bereaved, not rubbing their loss in. This rite only adds salt to a raw injury and stereotype women.
When my Mom was about to be subjected to the heartbreaking ritual during my father's funeral, I stirred up a hue and cry, forbidding the damn women from laying a finger on my mother. I made so much fuss along with my siblings, that the priest finally gave in, the ritual, aborted.
Likewise, us the younger generation of educated, progressive Indians should call for the abortion of such redundant, partisan rites and conforms that are irrelevant to these times.
We should be able to draw the distinction between which cultural rites that we should stick to and those which belong to the dumpster of the present. Garbage has more value than such practices.
Culture should be ever evolving, not ever devolving or stagnant. If one is adamant to live in the past risks his or her present and future's advancement. I mean, what kind of human being could eschew a woman who has lost her husband who is their mother, aunt, sister, niece, cousin etc? Surely an ass.
The overall aim of life is to be as happy as we could be and no one has the right to steal the happiness of others. Hindu Indian widows deserve the felicity they had in their maiden and married days. They should flaunt their pottu, wrap themselves in gaily coloured sarees, adorn their hair with flowers and make themselves look beautiful. It is a basic human right and those who think otherwise are nothing but sadists.