By Kamla Bhasin
In early December 2013 I received a call from Swaraj, a Karnataka wide network of women’s groups, fighting against violence and all forms of discrimination against women, to invite me for a function to felicitate six rural women who have challenged the oppression of widows in their families and villages. They asked me to speak on Patriarchy as a Superstition. I was amused by this formulation and asked them why this topic. They said the government of Karnataka was planning to bring a new law against superstition and they want patriarchy to be declared a superstition and outlawed. I smiled whole heartedly and said, WOW. What a great idea!! Once again I marveled at the wisdom of working class rural women. I wondered why in spite of such wisdom of rural working class women, so many media people think feminism is an urban phenomenon.
As I started thinking on this topic, I was convinced that patriarchy is indeed just a superstition with no basis in reality or in the law s of Nature. Actually, so many other man made systems like caste, racism etc. are nothing but superstition. The word for superstition in Hindi is Andh Vishwas., blind belief. Superstition is something which has no basis. It is illogical. It has no basis in natural law. Yet superstitions can be as powerful as patriarchy or caste system in spite of the destructive nature of these blind beliefs. One can once again see that if we repeat lies all the time they become the truth. Mother Nature gave women the special responsibility and power of carrying new life and caring for it by breastfeeding. Because of this I suppose, Nature made women biologically superior. For millions of years women and men lived together as equals. Because of their special power, women and Nature were worshipped all over the world. Then suddenly, a few thousand years ago when humans developed private property and weapons to control Nature, animals and other human beings, man created systems of class, caste and patriarchy. From equality human beings moved in to all kinds of inequalities and hierarchies mainly because of the development of private property.
Let us look at patriarchy more closely. Post patriarchal religions created all kinds of superstitious beliefs like Eve was created from Adams rib, Brahmins were created from the head of Brahma etc. Natural laws were put on their head. Men, who are unable to create from their bodies, were declared to be the Creators, the heads of households, the inheritors of private property and family names. Hinduism said only sons can do the last rites. Jainism said only men can achieve Nirvana. One lie after another repeated for centuries. Because they were lies, they had to be repeated everyday through rituals like karwa chauth, mundan for boys, kanya daan, father giving away the bride amongst Christians, four marriages and more property for men in Islam and I can go on and on.
As to the power of these rituals, even I did not wash my hair on a Thursday until I was 24. In our Punjabi community Thursday is called Veervaar, or brother’s day. We were told if sisters washed their head on this day, something bad will happen to their brother/s. Since I loved my brothers I followed this superstition until Feminism dawned on me. Of course there was never a day on which my brothers did not wash their hair for their love for me.
I think the time has come for us and our leaders to think and decide if we believe in our Constitution or in the superstition of Patriarchy or Caste. We cannot believe in both. Therefore, it is indeed time to remove these superstitions from our personal belief systems, from our families and communities and then declare them illegal. If we accept and respect the Indian Constitution, then words like Pati, Swami, Jajmana. Mijazi Khuda (all words for husband in different Indian languages), even the word husband which means controller, manager, domesticator (remember animal husbandry?)should be illegal and abandoned. Practices like Kanyadaan should be illegal and abandoned. Unless we do these things in our personal lives the Constitution cannot be implemented. This is why we feminists say the Personal is the Political.