Today is Karwa Chauth. Every married woman worth her salt in North India is fasting today for the welfare and longevity of her husband. My mind is riddled with a lot of questions and I dare not raise it to the believers, which most people are, for fear of being ridiculed and mocked at.
- WHY THIS GENDER-BIAS? The first question, that pops up in my mind, is why is it that only the woman has to fast. Why is it that the husband is not required to fast for his wife’s well-being? Is it that a woman needs her husband more than the husband needs the wife? Is it because she is financially dependent on him? ...or is it because her importance is linked to his existence and traditionally speaking, she as a widow is a persona non grata in the society? So she would better fast, pray and invoke all the Gods to ensure that the husband lives long. I am not against wishing well-being for the spouse which every married couple would always desire, but against the gender-bias attached to this particular festival. Here I admire some of the new generation men who also fast along with their wives for the mutual welfare of each other.
- WHY SUCH A RIGID FAST? Another question that comes to my mind is why is Karwa Chauth fast the most rigid? Most fasts are observed with certain specific restrictions only, e.g., Lord Shiva gets pleased with no salt intake on Mondays and Santoshi Mata is happy if her devotees do not touch sour stuff on Fridays. But in Karwa Chauth, not even a drop of water is permitted the whole day. What are women required to prove? Is this some kind of a test for them to prove their love for the Pati Parameshwar? If it is a test, why do we have to go on proving year after year, decades after decades of our good intentions for the husband? The practice of putting a woman under test (Agni Pareeksha) was prevalent in ancient times in Satyug also when Sita was asked to step into fire to prove her clean status.
- WHY FAST ONLY FOR THE WELFARE OF THE MALE MEMBERS? The third question which is raising its head is why is it that the woman alone is expected to fast for the well-being of the male members of the family, first for her husband on Karwa Chauth and then four days later, on Ahoi Ashtami, for the well-being of her sons ? Why is there no fast prescribed in the religion for the well-being of female members of the family, daughters or daughters-in-law? However, some balanced mothers do fast now for children and not just for sons. The answer comes from an age-old saying that a woman is dependent on her father in childhood, on her husband in her youth and on her son in her old age. She is neither independent nor is she expected to be independent ever.
- RATIONALE OF THE PROCESS? Another thought in my restless head questions the sanctity of offering water to the moon. Now all scientific explorations have proved beyond doubt that the moon is also another planet like any other planet and there is no mystery or romance attached to it. What is the sanctity of looking at the moon through the sieve and offering water to it from the “Karwa” (an earthen vessel especially prepared for this purpose)? The story of Karwa Chauth also does not explain the rationale for all these activities. It only speaks of a girl whose brothers out of their concern for their fasting hungry sister on Karwa Chauth misled her into believing that the moon had arisen by showing her a lamp from a distance so that she could take her dinner and how it jeopardised her husband’s life. The story does not enlighten you on the origin of the fast; it only talks about what can happen if one does not fast as rigorously as one is supposed to, thus instilling fear factor in the minds of gullible women.
I may be sounding eccentric to many of my readers who believe in the KarwaChauth fast, but that’s the way I look at it.