The Breakthrough Voice 27th October, 2018
Bollywood, We’re Blaming You For This Karva Chauth Epidemic.

A solution for patriarchal longevity presented is one where wives will go one full day without food and water so that their husbands can live long lives, sometimes even defy nature. Popularly known as Karva Chauth. If this is an end-all solution, how do men keep themselves alive throughout the years they are unmarried? Also, what happens when its a cloudy night?

Karva Chauth is a religious ritual and a tool for social control that pushes married women into a role of subservience and pedestalises husbands. It is that age-old message repeatedly cycled where women are asked to make sacrifices for their husbands. Wrapped into that sanskaari packaging of  ‘tradition’ and ‘culture’, Karva Chauth exacts unreasonable standards and behaviour from married women by conditioning us into believing that men’s lives are more valuable than women’s and that women should want their husbands to outlive them.

When religion and market unite in this oppressive tradition, resisting Karva Chauth becomes an uphill battle. The advertising industry, media, social media and actors (sometimes all 4 in cahoots) band together to present Karva Chauth as a medium of prestige – complete with over the top jewellery, makeup and clothes. On this day, every year, the digital space will be ablaze with how every Bollywood star is celebrating this day. Consequently, Karva Chauth has now become a very profitable industry – making it harder to abolish this custom once and for all. 

Many of the popular mainstream Hindi films (especially in the 90s and early 20th century) upped their role in glamourising Karva Chauth, complete with flashy music and dance numbers and overwhelming amounts of heavy jewellery and lehengas. The heterosexual bond of love between wife and husband is further intensified with romantic background music and an entire day of fasting. Prior to this outbreak of Karva Chauth as celebratory, it was predominantly a  North Indian festival. Coming from an Assamese-Bengali family, I now have the misfortune of observing women in my community looking forward to and dressing up for an entire day of fasting for their husbands. 

When the films are not blatantly celebrating the main ritual, they depict Karva Chauth as a bonding moment between women while they starve themselves. With that being stated, here are 4 immensely popular Bollywood films that have glorified Karva Chauth as the all-encompassing life goals for married women (brace yourself for cringe elements in the videos):

1. Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam

This is a contrast between Karva Chauth by choice vs Karva Chauth without choice. Married or unmarried/social pressure or alleged free will – it is a duty expected of women. Also, after an entire day without food and water, WHERE are they getting the energy to jump around and dance?

2. Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham 

In a nutshell – you are worth absolutely nothing without a permanent suhagan. Also, the ritual is not complete without touching the husband’s feet and affirming his superior status.

3. Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge

Image source: The Quint

Could not find a video for this scene, so to sum it up: Kajol and SRK’s characters end us fasting for each other. For Kajol AKA Simran, it was mandatory. For SRK AKA Raj, it was an expression of unconditional love, but not compulsory for him, of course. Husband/soon-to-be-husband fasting is not subversion, it’s the multiplication of patriarchy when both parties are doing it. Reciprocal fasting by men need not be glorified – just eat your food instead.

4. Baghban

The education being imparted here is that a heterosexual relationship is incomplete without a day-long fast. Age no bar, but patriarchal sanskaars preferred.

The Bollywood film industry is enjoyed by and consumed by millions. It then has a duty to not promote and encourage misguided rituals. There is always the matter of choice, free will and our own agencies. However, simply saying ‘choice’ does not mean that it is an informed choice, neither does choice mean granted concessions. This is a dangerous rabbit hole to fall down. How can choice even be considered, when it is not a level playing ground to even begin with? Neither is Karva Chauth an institution that can be reclaimed by feminism. Just because a few feminists do it, it does not make the institution itself feminist. It is too steeped in patriarchal and religious power dynamics.


Featured image used for representational purpose only. Image source: india.com

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