Blog post categorised under ‘Women’s safety in India’ series.
Research suggests that stories are one of the most powerful tools to make an ever-lasting impression on a subject. We use story telling to teach our children about moral values, the right and wrong behaviours, the importance of good social behaviour and even how to handle emotions. I still remember the Panchtantra books that I devoured in my childhood. I loved reading books like ‘Sinhasan battisi’, ‘Tenaliram’, ‘Vikram Betaal’ and the TV programs based on these short stories taught so much about our moral values.
In the very same way, story-telling has been used since many generations to pass on our traditions through time. Stories are the best medium to create a picture of believable circumstances, stories of people just like us, stories of the sin and their consequences and stories of the prayers and their magic. And when the stories have been around for many many years, its hard to know if they are based on true incidents or not.
Today I want to touch on two festivals celebrated in northern India’s Hindu community that are strongly centred around stories. They are Karvachauth and Ahoi Ashtami. In the former, wives keep a day long fast for long lives of their husbands and eat only after they have offered prayers to the moon. In the latter, mothers of boys keep fast for long lives of their sons and eat after offering prayers to the stars. During both festivals, the fasting women have to read stories. These stories try to highlight the importance of these festivals by telling that if these fasts are not kept, the husband or the sons will die or suffer bad health. It is clear that these stories are inculcating fears in the minds of readers, playing an emotional game and convincing them to keep the fasts.
But my main problem is beyond just the festivals themselves. It is the stories and what else they teach our societies. These stories teach that only male members’ lives are worth anything. No body talks about the importance of girls and women. And because these stories are linked to religion, people do not question them or the origins of such stories. When these stories are read every year in front of our children, we are teaching our girls that they are worthless and we are teaching our boys that they are almost gods! While we celebrate married woman and the mothers with sons, we also make widows and son-less mothers feel like failures. Is that really right? My moral compass says no.
In my own way of denouncing these prejudices, I decided to celebrate Ahoi Ashtami festival by keeping a fast for my daughter. She is my only child, now 11 years old, and I have celebrated this festival since her first year. May be other mothers will know from my example, that their daughters deserve equal love and respect. Hopefully more mothers will fast for both their sons and daughters and ditch those old stories to make their own stories of equal love and happiness. These changes are necessary to change the mindset of our societies that do not give equal respect to females.
And by talking about the perils of these stories, we can also impact the men.
After my presentation on this women’s safety in India in December’18, I was so pleasantly surprised and touched by the comment made by one of our audience members, an Indian gentleman in his seventies. He said that after hearing my piece, he finally understood why his wife never celebrated the festival of Karvachauth. That night I slept so well, knowing that I changed one person and lives of so many around him. Thank you, sir.
I hope you enjoyed my story 😊.