Why you should ask ‘why?’

Blog post categorised under ‘Women’s safety in India’ series.

During my first year of marriage, my mother-in-law would proudly introduce me to various religious practices and the festivals that my new family followed. While some of them I had known about, there were some I had never heard about. I have always believed in understanding what I am doing because I cannot do something with complete conviction if I don’t know why I am doing it.

So, my mother-in-law was once explaining to me a particular festival that involved fasting by wives for their husbands. Ok. Not uncommon. Another festival for husbands, made successful by the fasting wife….. but hey that’s not the point here. The rituals also involved reading a story, like it usually does for some other Hindu festivals in India. So we read the story and at the end of it, I asked my mother-in-law, “this story was about two daughters-in-law and their interaction with this particular god. The only mention of a husband was about an alcoholic husband who beat his wife everyday and god doesn’t help in that case too. So how is this festival connected to a better life for my husband or a happy married life for myself?’  She said, ‘Now…. I don’t know. You ask too many questions! I never asked my mother-in-law anything! I did as I was told. You do so too.”

To this date, my question remains. I tried asking other people who follow the same ritual every year and none of them have been able to answer my simple question. They do it every year… and honestly, until last year I did too. But after every prayer I used to say, “God, I don’t have the faintest idea why we keep this fast, why we read this story and why we celebrate this festival. But if you exist and are listening, please protect my family nonetheless.” Does it help? Don’t know.

I remember that during my school days, our teachers and parents always said one thing when it came to Maths. They said, “Understand the fundamentals. Don’t focus on application. It will come automatically if you understand the reasons behind it.” If we can be so clear about the importance of fundamentals in  our studies, why do we forget the same when it comes to our traditions, our religions, our cultures?

We, the women, follow many traditions and rituals without understanding them at all, thinking that its just a harmless festival. We say to ourselves, “Why take risk? Lets just follow this and get over with it.” We continue to follow out-dated traditions that were made in a different time for very different reasons. With changing times, many of those reasons are not valid anymore. If we don’t understand why behind every what, we will continue those hollow traditions in the name of our culture. And these cultural practices encourage discriminatory practices against women in our societies. We need to change that… if not for us, for our children, especially daughters.

The idea is not to shun our customs, but rather to understand them better. Value and appreciate the good parts of them and discard the ones that discriminate against parts of the society. Without doing that, I am afraid we can’t create a better, inclusive and a just world for our future generation.

And this is why it is important to ask why.

I would love to know more about your own experiences and stories. Do share them in comment box below.

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