Reorienting Teej Towards Women Emancipation
Teej has remained one of the biggest festivals of Hindu women. The festival allows women to take a break from the rigorous daily chores and spend some quality time with their family members and relatives. Clad in red sari and expensive jewellery, women observe Teej with great fervour and enthusiasm. They prefer singing and dancing to forget their sufferings and get refreshment. In fact, the Teej songs have been a powerful means of venting out ire and dissatisfaction against the society which has historically treated women as second grade citizens.
Having said that, the way of celebrating Teej has become controversial in recent time. The four-day festival has turned out to be a month-long occasion, especially for city women, to flaunt jewelleries including their attires. Moreover, the practice of eating ‘Daar’, a traditional ritual of enjoying delicacies the day before Teej, has lost its essence with increasing adulteration and extravagant behaviour. In other words, the impact of the ideals of modernisation has adversely affected the sentiment of Teej. Typical songs and dances that reflected the misery of women during Teej are becoming obsolete.
The origin of Teej is rooted in the Hindu mythology pertaining to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. According to this myth, during the Satya Yug, Parvati observed a strenuous fast to get Lord Shiva as her husband. What’s really interesting is that she was able to attract the unprecedented attention of the Lord because of her unflinching commitment to get him at any cost. From that time, it has become a popular festival in which the married women fast or should fast ( sometimes forcefully) for the long life of their husbands. Those who are single often spend the entire day without drinking even a single drop of water in the hope of getting a perfect husband like Shiva in future. The notion of ‘fasting for others’ has made Teej a festival of suppression than that of liberation.
Instead of celebrating Teej for one’s longevity and happiness, women have been observing it for their men and children. But one needs to ponder whether it’s a choice or compulsion. For instance, how many of our grandmothers and mothers will admit that even though they have been facing problems while fasting, they can simply avoid it? Moreover, the mythical stories associated with Teej, which they have been hearing from ancient time has been imprinted in their minds in such a way that they can’t think of not observing Teej in this fashion. With their low level of awareness on gender equality and women empowerment, will they even confess that Teej is adding woes to their sufferings rather than making them happy? However, wives of the new generation take this festival as an opportunity to get relaxation from the monotony of work. Some of them have even abandoned the practice of staying the whole day without eating anything, and taking milk, fruits and water to replenish the nutrients in their body is becoming common.
Thus, the discourse of Teej has been limited to conservative religious beliefs and challenging the orthodox practice has been difficult for women. In many cases, the women have been compelled to fast at the cost of their health. While the husbands exercise freedom without even realising the need of the same for their wives, wives tend to dance with an empty stomach primarily for them. Thus, the idea of liberation is paradoxical. How can women be considered free when their festive mood is constrained by a host of factors that entrench the patriarchal domination? Why should women be a victim of subjugation for the eternity of men?
The importance of women’s independence and respect for their individual identity has not been adequately contemplated in our society. Although gender equality and women empowerment have gained greater currency in various public forums, the sheer reluctance of the major actors of the patriarchal system to implement it has aggravated the issue of women. We are living in a society in which the male head of a family, who publicly states that any form of discrimination against women will be unacceptable, constantly exhibits discriminatory behaviour towards women in his own family. In other words, the perception of males towards females is still a traditional one that has been shaped by the patriarchal structures and its institutions.
Therefore, there is an urgent need of reorienting the Teej towards achieving women’s sense of individuality and freedom. Allowing them to observe the festival in their own convenience would require the male members of the society to think differently and provide them meaningful independence. Apart from this, it is high time that the men showed their readiness to share the household burden and responsibilities which have traditionally remained the sphere of women from cooking food to rearing children. Emancipation of women would require men to accept them as equal partners and make them feel that they are an integral part of the family and society.