Losing a loved one is the most traumatic experience one could face, and every individual has their own way of dealing with it. Unfortunately, rigid customs, rituals and traditions make it even more difficult for the families, especially the women.
Mandira Bedi’s decision to perform the last rites of her husband filled me with tremendous pride.
While there have been conflicting opinions and views about this act, there is nothing but a lot of admiration that I carry for her. Of course, she is not the first one to be performing the rituals which are traditionally seen as the male heir’s right. In the last decade, more women are coming forward to take part in the last rites–be it lighting the pyre, carrying the ashes or even immersing them. There are daughters who have lit the pyre for their parents. And even daughters-in-law who have performed the rituals for their parents-in-law despite the sons being alive. Wives have bid adieu to their husbands.
Even though there is a certain section of the society which frowns upon them, the change is happening. The wheels of change have been set in motion.
While the world was applauding Mandira Bedi for smashing patriarchy, there are many, like my friend Fareeda* (name changed on request) who are unrepresented. The following parts are her voice. Because of certain reasons, she prefers to remain anonymous.
Though she remains unseen, I sincerely hope she is heard and felt…
Our fights are the same as of Hindu women, our demands aren’t that different. But that’s where the similarities end. While you can openly protest, and approach the court if a particular temple doesn’t allow women; we can’t do that.
You can complain about ghoonghat, or sindoor, or the fasting rituals. But I can’t voice my dissent against any of our rituals or customs as it would be blasphemy and might endanger me and my family.
Even, our women are not allowed to visit graveyards. Though there is nothing against this mentioned in our Holy Quran. Even Prophet (PBUH) permitted his wife to visit tombstones and pray. We don’t have heroes like Mandira Bedi who dare to go against the clergy. We lack sheroes from within our own community.
For ordinary women like us, there are shackles which can never be broken.
For centuries, silence has been seen as the greatest virtue of Muslim women. Society has conditioned us to embrace meekness as a sign of good upbringing. I wish someone would break that barrier, and release us from the age-old customs which make us weaker. Patriarchy is universal, and we all are victims of it. Yet, our sufferings are not highlighted.
When I lost my father, my sisters and I were not permitted to go to the graveyard. We had to bid our farewells from within the walls of our ancestral home.
I know you are wondering if I am so suffocated. Why don’t I do anything about it instead of searching for a hero?
It’s not that I won’t, but I can’t!
Women like me are not free, and brave; yet…
We have a long way to go before we can dream of an equal world. A world where our voices are not silenced. A world where my daughters won’t be invisible, unheard, and unfelt.’
Fareeda’s story is not hers alone. There are countless other Fareedas waiting to step out of the darkness which holds them, and ties them down.
Why do so many of us act indifferently towards our sisters whose voices need to be heard? Are their woes and sufferings any less than others?
Patriarchy does not rest within the walls of a particular religion or caste. It’s time to embrace universal sisterhood, and help our fellow women rise and shine. Irrespective of religion or caste.
A version of it was first published on Women’s Web.