Five Indian Wedding Customs That Are Nauseatingly Sexist

If we value equality, why do we put up with these customs that put women down at the very beginning of a marriage?

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Women
4 min read
(Illustration Courtesy: <b>The Quint</b>/ Susnata Paul)

Whether it was this rebel Bengali bride saying no to pay her ‘debt’ to her parents, or this brave father of a bride refusing to do ‘kanyadan’, last couple of weeks have seen the desi Internet celebrate these progressive changes towards wedding rituals.

As a kid, I remember how excited I would when I was invited to some wedding – between the clothes, the jewellery, the food, the music and dance, there was so much to look forward to.

I was particularly intrigued by the vidhis or the customs of an Indian marriage ceremony. I listened intently as my mother explained each one to me.

The ones she couldn’t, I would read up about it in a book, or rely on Google.

Perhaps it was this knowledge and awareness that gradually changed my awe into skepticism. I could no longer watch and smile when a bride stooped down to touch her husband-to-be’s feet, or when the groom’s mother stayed back at home, as the baraat left for the fun.

Wasn’t marriage about two individuals meeting halfway and forming a lifelong partnership? Then why was this balance so off between the two, right from the word go?

1. Kanyadaan

Of course, this tops the list. You saw this coming right when you clicked on the story. The bride’s father and the to-be-wed couple take part in this ritual, which literally means “giving the daughter away”.

As if she is an object, or even a head of cattle in the household to be given away in daan, that is, charity. No father can possibly see their child as an object of charity, right?

“Did you just say my daughter is charity?” (Photo Courtesy: Giphy)
“Did you just say my daughter is charity?” (Photo Courtesy: Giphy)

No wonder it’s the saddest, most emotional moment of a wedding ceremony. Think of any Kanyadaan related song and I dare you to NOT cry.

Seriously, why is anyone put through this?

2. Kashi Yatra

What can be more humiliating than giving your daughter away like she’s charity, you ask? I will tell you. It’s the ‘ritual’ of begging your future-son-in-law to go through the wedding.

An apparently fun-filled ceremony, mostly seen in South Indian weddings, it involves the groom’s sudden urge to pursue higher learning through pilgrimage, denouncing married life.

In. The. Middle. Of. The. Wedding!

So the bride’s father then has to convince him otherwise. Isn’t that great? Giving the man time to re-think his commitment to a conjugal life.

But, of course, the bride doesn’t get that second chance. The bride doesn’t need to go to Kashi to pursue her passion for learning. She shouldn’t need equal right to education, right?

3. Haldi

Sorry, everyone, for calling out what is possibly the most ‘fun’ pre-wedding ceremony – but Haldi is also sexist. It's also borderline gross, TBH.

Traditionally, it requires the turmeric paste, that the bride bathes in, to have touched the groom’s body. These days, most grooms just touch the haldi naam ke waaste. (Duh!!)

In some Bengali variants of the ceremony, however, the bride has to sit below the groom’s elbow, as the haldi water washed off from his hands trickles down on her.

Imagine having to take a shower in the same water someone else cleaned themselves with.

Looking beyond the glaring hygiene issues, Haldi is yet another wedding custom that puts women in a position of subservience.

4. ‘Pati Ka Aashirvaad’

Pati parmeshwar” is a pretty cliché phrase in our society. Saas-bahu serials should just patent it now.

The concept of equating the husband to god in the eyes of the subservient wife, is emphasised every time the bride is asked to bend and reach for her life partner's feet. Some Indian weddings even have the bride and her family wash the groom’s feet.

Sure, many of us touch our elder’s feet to show them respect and that may not be demeaning to someone, personally. But in a marriage, respect should go both ways.

I have yet to see a wedding where the groom touches his bride’s feet. So much for being ‘partners’.

Does the Dulha not need aashirvaad – or the bride not have the rights to bless?

5. Bidaai

I am not going to rant against the entire custom of a woman leaving her home, her babul, just to settle in with in-laws in a completely new environment. I’ll save that for another time.

This is about the part of bidaai, when the bride is supposed to pay back the ‘debt’ she owes to her parents for bringing her up. In some East Indian customs, the bride is made to say “I have paid all your debts”, as she throws back a handful of rice at them.

How does one ‘pay back’ years of love, care and time that parents spend in bringing their daughters up, is beyond me.

The whole idea of betiyan being paraya dhan needs to be challenged. They are simply their own. Marriage shouldn’t end the loving relationships that a bride shares with her family.

If reading this upsets you, be angry, not sad. Getting sad will get us nowhere.

Though we can’t help the fact that these customs were created at a time when society couldn’t accept women having an equal footing as men, the fact that they continue to plague our society should make us angry.

So be angry and ask if there is any room for these extremely sexist rituals in a happy affair like a wedding that is supposed to celebrate togetherness.

(This story was originally published on 17 June, 2017.)

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