Does our great five-thousand-year-old civilisation has matured traditions? Tradition is the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation or the fact of being passed on in this way.
These traditions are like fruit. Fruits must be eaten, consumed; otherwise, they will get spoiled or rotten. But we forget that to begin with some of these traditions are despicable and are not like a ripe fruit! Like fruit, traditions become rotten if not changed with time.
I was reminded of a friend who died a few years back, all of a sudden. He was in the early 60 s, and his wife was in the late 50 s. It took its own time for things to stabilise in the family. The sudden death had changed many things in the family, but they were financially comfortable. Life for the lady changed drastically, socially. From Mrs, her title changed to the widow for the society. On one side, she was grieving, and on the social side, things became topsy turvy! In India, all through the year, there are a lot of festivals. Suddenly she realised that people stopped inviting her for celebrations because she had become a widow. The first change expected of the widow is that she should not put vermillion or कुंकू (Marathi custom of putting vermillion) on her forehead when the husband dies. It is supposed to be a privilege of married women or unmarried women. But widows are not supposed to follow that custom. By the way, the lady was running one company as a professional, so honestly, she did not care.
The custom explained above must have started ages back, and continues in most homes, irrespective of the lady’s stature in the society. When and why the tradition started is difficult to predict. But in olden days, a lady without a husband was a liability to the family, and she had no rights. Widow marriages were taboo. In fact, in certain areas in India, the wife would jump into the burning pyre of the husband’s body (many times she was pushed into the pyre). The unfortunate tradition known as Sati was prevalent until about 200 years back.
Opposition to the practice of Sati by Christian evangelists, such as Carey, and Hindu reformers such as Ram Mohan Roy, ultimately led the Governor-General of India Lord William Bentinck to enact the Bengal Sati Regulation, 1829, declaring the practice of burning or burying alive of Hindu widows to be punishable by the criminal courts. These were followed up with other legislation, countering what the British perceived to be interrelated issues involving violence against Hindu women, including Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act, 1856, Female Infanticide Prevention Act, 1870, and Age of Consent Act, 1891. Despite government laws, Sati practice was reported in certain parts of Rajasthan even in the 20th century.
The origin of patriarchal society must have begun from the days when humans started farming. The male body has always been more massive and robust than the female body. But the female body is designed for the most important and the most stringent function in our lives, the childbearing. Females have been mentally and even physically stronger than males in some respects! I am sure that most of the males won’t even think about giving birth themselves!
Males would perform functions outside the home, and the females would manage home and children. Somehow this got converted into a thought process that males are strong and vital, and females are weak and not so important in the society. But history had forgotten that human life expectancy was low in olden days when these traditions started. The real strength or weakness of a human is known past the age of 50 or now maybe 60!
Now consider my friend’s wife, overall situations have now changed. People live longer and healthier. The age of 60 is now new 50, and people keep on working, living normal lives. They drive, they go to the gyms, and they work professionally or run businesses. They travel locally and internationally. For people residing in cities whether you are strong or not hardly matters; people want to be healthy to work hard and enjoy life. In rural areas, though there is a lot of physical work still needed, things are slowly getting mechanised; so, the strength is not going to be so important over some time!
With such changes in society, why our so-called traditions should not change? When a spouse dies, it is tough and challenging for the remaining spouse to manage life. So, should our traditions try to help them back to normalcy or should we follow old methods to make their life difficult? Traditions are nothing but a way of life, but when the way of life changes, traditions also should be changed. There are no written rules in our religious scripts that after the death of the spouse, certain things should not be done. Death is life’s process, like birth or falling ill. It is like migrating to some other place in their own country or a different country. The difference is that this migration is permanent. We don’t see or meet that person again, ever!
I read one interesting story. Times of India, ex-chief editor Dileep Padgaonkar died some years back. His wife organised a party for Dileep’s friends and family a month after his death. Dileep had suggested that she should invite people and prepare food, and serve drinks that he preferred. I am sure that these people must have really liked the idea suggested by Dileep. In some parts in the UK, if a person dies past the age 80 after living a healthy life, the family throws a party called Golden death party!
People’s thinking is changing, albeit slowly. Our friends now openly discuss falling terminally ill or dying. What does this mean? People are trying to modify the way we live, the traditions! Some of my friends have already told their children about their sickness in old age. They have said that there should be no mechanical intervention like ventilator support!
On the similar lines why the widowed wife of my friend should not be invited for festivals, celebrations and functions? Is it a crime that her husband died? Why do we treat death with deference? Why are we afraid of death? Yes, death is the final adieu to life. Death is the last life process but should it be used to make living difficult for those living? It is a matter for those living to decide how to tackle the situation and manage things. Death should not be used to cut off the living from society! It is a personal matter for that family; tradition should be to take death in stride! I am very much aware that handling sudden demise of young people is tough!