Palmo Dawa Tamang
Teej, the traditional Hindu festival celebrated with great
enthusiasm, is once again upon us. The sights and sounds of the vibrant
festival has filled the bustling markets, digital social platforms, and lively
conversations. However, beneath the surface of this seemingly joyous
celebration, there exists a complex tapestry of gender dynamics, woven over
centuries, that calls for our scrutiny. This article endeavors to delve into
the multifaceted dimensions of Teej and assess its role in either perpetuating
or challenging the patriarchal system, driven by the discussions held among my
colleagues, classmates, neighbors, and women who has been following the ritual.
Teej: product of patriarchal system
"We all participate in something larger than ourselves, something we didn’t create but that we have the power to affect through the choices we make about how to participate." (Johnson: Patriarchy, The System). This statement holds especially true when examining Teej through a gender lens. Teej, deeply rooted in tradition, is a product of this patriarchal system. It is upon us to recognize our role in this system. The system is running us all (Keen: patriarchy, the system) as said in the statement we act to fit in the system, the patriarchal system, which have significant influence on individuals and society as a whole that it is deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness and culture, deeply ingrained in shaping our behaviors, attitudes, interactions and thought process. It emphasizes the need for critical analysis and efforts to challenge and dismantle these systems to achieve gender equality and social justice.
Teej finds its roots in Hindu mythology, celebrating the day Lord Shiva accepted Godess Parvati being impressed by Parvati's unwavering love and dedication for him. Parvati's Nirjala Vrata, a fast without food or water, symbolized her commitment. Imitating her devotion, Hindu women in Nepal observe this fast, praying for their husbands' longevity and family's well-being, while unmarried women hope for their dream husbands. I have always pondered why women has to fasts for their husband and how their fasting is connected with the health and longevity of their husband’s life.
Yes, Teej has evolved, but the main change is in the way of fasting. These days women drink juices if their bodies ask for it, but the main story behind celebrating Teej is the same - the story of Parvati’s dedication to Shiva. The center of attraction for the day is “HUSBAND/MAN.” The central theme of Teej revolves around the devotion of wives to their husbands, often portraying women as submissive and self-sacrificing. This reinforces traditional gender roles, placing women in a subservient position while prioritizing the husband's well-being and happiness.
It’s time to understand that it is a product of the patriarchal system: patriarchy subordinates and oppresses women at various levels and intensities (Walby, 1990). It has deeply penetrated in the society and individual that we enjoy the festival and rituals as the process of a natural phenomenon. During Teej, married women fast from dawn to dusk without consuming food or water, with the belief that their strict fasting will ensure the longevity and prosperity of their husbands. This practice promotes the idea that a woman's purity and commitment to her husband is inevitable and that she can even endure physical hardship for him.
Let's examine the various interpretations and claims regarding Teej:
Some say Fasting is good for Health: Yes, Fasting indeed has well-documented health benefits, and there is no debate on its significance. However, Simone de Beauvoir's assertion that "one is not born, but rather becomes a woman" highlights how traditional practices may inadvertently reinforce hierarchies with men in the position of power, casting women as second-class citizens. Patriarchy, as a system, has subordinated and oppressed women at various levels and intensities (Walby, 1990). The fasting rituals of Teej might unintentionally perpetuate this hierarchy, raising questions about the messages we convey to our daughters regarding their societal roles.
Fosters sisterhood and solidarity: Some argue that one of most significant aspects of the festival is the gatherings as "Dar" Parties”, organized by women themselves or related institutions. These gatherings provide a platform for women to share their lived experiences with one another. In this sense, Teej nurtures a sense of sisterhood and solidarity among women, which can serve as a powerful catalyst for challenging patriarchal values and dismantling gendered roles. However, have we leveraged this sisterhood to bring about meaningful change in women's status, challenging prevailing patriarchal values and norms?
Teej grants women the freedom to express themselves for a day, allowing them to sing away their disappointments and sufferings. Yet, this raises a critical question: Are we seeking approval from men even for the freedom of speech? Who assigned us the day to freedom of speech? The historical marginalization of women and their dignity being contingent upon male approval makes us question the essence of true liberation. Teej celebrations should be scrutinized to determine whether they inadvertently reinforce patriarchy or genuinely empower women.
Another perspective posits that Teej offers a space for women, often victims of a patriarchal structure, to express their anger, anxiety, and suffocation accumulated over the year. However, it leads us to ponder: Is it healthy to condense a year's worth of frustration into a single day? Perhaps, instead of reserving our voices for one day, we should strive for open conversations about these issues every day to promote continuous mental well-being.
It is essential to engage in open discussions about whether Teej is a product of the patriarchal system. Traditional Teej may inadvertently reinforce this system rather than challenge it for women's equality. Teej exists within social relational contexts that significantly shape and perpetuate gender systems Ridgeway according to Correl, unpoacking Gender System. To effectively challenge patriarchy, we must critically assess these beliefs and their impact within social contexts, recognizing our roles in shaping or perpetuating this system.
Teej is often accompanied by campaigns raising awareness about oppression and advocating for women's rights. While these initiatives are commendable, campaigners and activists seldom critically analyze the festival itself. It is crucial to consider how the celebration of Teej might inadvertently strengthen women's subordination, prompting us to rewrite the scripts of Teej to address contemporary issues more effectively.
Teej reflects the complexities of gender dynamics within our society. It serves as a mirror, showcasing both the strengths and weaknesses of our collective efforts toward gender equality. As we approach Teej once again, let us use this opportunity to engage in constructive conversations, challenge stereotypes, and work towards a future where women can celebrate their liberation without seeking anyone's approval.
In conclusion, Despite attempts to modernize Teej, the core message of women's devotion to their husbands remains largely intact. This perpetuates the idea that a woman's primary role in society is to be a dutiful wife, prioritizing her husband's well-being above her own desires and needs. It is a festival that embodies complex gender dynamics. It serves as a reminder that our traditions and celebrations can both reflect and influence societal norms. Teej, as a product of the patriarchal system, requires a closer examination. It's up to us as individuals to shape, re-shape its meaning and impact on our lives. Let’s re-write or write a new script that fits the contemporary society that emancipates women and creates the society with equality and justice.
(The author is a social activist with specialisation in GESI and she can be reached at email@example.com)