Is Savitri Brata Regressive?

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The tug of war between tradition and modernity has been a feature of all ages. Contrary to popular perception, it is not always a generational face-off. People of the same generation too differ widely on issues of culture and tradition as this columnist found out during a day-long debate on social media over whether the observance of Savitri Brata, the Odia equivalent of the Karwa Chauth celebrated in north India, is regressive. On a day when millions of Hindu Odia wives fasted and prayed for the long life and well being of their husbands, there were quite a few, both men and women, who termed it an anachronism in the modern age and listed the rituals associated with the celebration as yet another instance of the subjugation of women. An avid Facebooker even bragged that dissuading his mother and wife from performing this regressive ritual is among the ‘few good things’ he had done in his life. Someone else exhorted women to eat whatever they feel like, even chicken if they so fancy!

But for every naysayer, there is someone –  male or female, young or old, rustic or city slicker – who holds an entirely different view. The latter would bat for tradition and argue that celebrating Savitri goes a long way in deepening the bond between husband and wife. A highly educated and working woman I know dismisses the charge that it is a regressive, patriarchic practice thus; “If Savitri is regressive, then every festival we celebrate is regressive – whether it’s Shivaratri , Ganesh Puja or something else. Culture and tradition do have their place – and not just in our society.”

But the same argument, if made on social media, would in all likelihood invite a deluge of opprobrium as Raveena Tandon found to her consternation when she was trolled and called all kinds of names for making a case for Karwa Chauth a few months ago. For many who pride themselves on their modern, egalitarian and gender-neutral credentials, such rituals are a sign of obscurantism, which they believe is holding India back and preventing it from taking its rightful place in the comity of modern, forward looking nations.

Then there are the fence-sitters and the duplicitous lot who would change their view depending on the place, time and occasion. If it is a gathering of the anti-Savitri Brata brigade, they would rant against the sheer illogic of a fast by the wife giving the husband a longer life and then come back home to a warm welcome by their fasting wives. There are also those who would celebrate the festival with all its attendant rituals but chuckle to their buddies that they are doing it for the new saree and other goodies that come with it!

In this highly polarized tradition Vs modernity debate, it is not easy to take sides because there are strong arguments on either side. This columnist, therefore, is also a fence-sitter of sorts. For all his egalitarian worldview formed over decades, he loves the special attention from the wife on this day. But at the same time, he has absolutely no problems with those women who choose not to celebrate Savitri Brata and spend it like any other day – partaking of normal food.

Those who observe Savitri are not necessarily more virtuous than others who don’t. Conversely, those who don’t have no business ridiculing those who do. As someone said during a long debate on the issue on Twitter today; “To each his own.”

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