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Karwa Chauth – Why Observe the Fast?

Before I started writing this piece, I decided to find out what Karwa Chauth means to modern Indian women, what shape it has taken in 21st century India. A quick search on the Internet was eye-opening. Karwa Chauth or Karva Chauth revealed itself to be the most debated tradition amongst netizens what with dozens of newspaper and magazine articles, opinion pieces, tweets and movie clips. But one thread remains common among most articles - the opinion that Karwa Chauth is a regressive tradition and it normalises patriarchy. It puts the husband on a pedestal and undoes any work/progress that married women may have made towards a demand for an equal relationship in their marriage.

Most authors ask the question of whether it is justified to ask working women to wake up at 4 am, eat a small meal and stay hungry and thirsty throughout their workday right till late evening when they finally get to break their fast. They ask how women should balance traditions, family expectations and feminist ideologies. Should they give in to keep the peace in their married homes? Should they honour age-old rituals that they have grown up seeing their mothers perform? Or should they let their education and common sense dictate that janam janam ka saath is nothing but a Bollywoodised commodity?

These arguments are for another day because the tradition continues to thrive. It is completely safe in the hands of the modern Indian woman who performs all rituals with gusto. Of course, each woman's motivation for performing the ritual may be different. Let's take a look at some of the most common ones.

Tradition

Some women observe Karwa Chauth for traditional reasons. It is an ongoing tradition in their families and all new brides who become part of the family are required to observe the fast. The daughters-in-law perform the rituals handed down to them by their mothers-in-law because it has been a part of their growing-up years too. Therefore, this festival is no different from Holi and Diwali. No doubt religion and ritual have a stronghold on the lives of most Indians.

Personal Choice

Some other women make a personal choice to observe the Karwa Chauth fast. All the feminist discussions in newspapers and the web are in sharp contradiction to the ground reality. In reality, many women appear to be embracing a practice that has never been a part of their tradition. Spurred by Bollywood representations, what was once a custom observed in parts of north India, can now be seen in many other parts of the country. Patriarchal representations of happy domesticity are rarely questioned by girls and young women. It is the coolness factor represented in Bollywood hits like Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam that wins their hearts. Always easy to drive audiences to the cinema with romantic notions rather than with truth and common sense. Added to this are the Karwa Chauth parties in kitty groups, housing societies, and clubhouses. Who doesn't like a day of playing dress-up?

Marketing

Just like any other traditional festival, Karwa Chauth has a marketing angle that has been lapped up by brands. Media is flooded with ads of everything ranging from kitchen gadgets to fine jewellery that can make suitable gifts for the wife. After all, why should Diwali have all the fun? Why give up this opportunity to post some cool pictures on social media and flash a fancy lifestyle with expensive gifts.

That being said, another variety of marketing is at play too inspired of course by Bollywood again. Our Hindi movies have made it cool for the husband to fast for his wife. What better way to assuage one's conscience and view oneself as being better than a mere receiver of patriarchal benefits? Why, a reciprocal fast of course!

Doubtless, there are other reasons - both personal and socio-cultural - that keep this festival alive. But it is safe to say that Karwa Chauth has a bright future in the hands of young India.