I was an invitee at a wedding where the bride and groom were both highly qualified Indian-Americans. A group of Americans who had flown in from Boston for their friend’s big day were seated next to me, looking resplendent in ethnic Indian couture, keenly observing and soaking in the rituals. One young man from the group asked me which part of the tradition was most sacred and I explained to them that the tying of the mangalsutra around the bride’s neck by the groom, when the drums would beat louder, was the auspicious moment when they would be officially declared man and wife. Another young lady from the same group asked me about the significance and I said that the tying of the three knots of the sacred mangalsutra or the auspicious thread was symbolic of the marital bond for life. I also told her the three knots signified obedience to her husband, his parents and to God. She pondered for a moment and asked me,” Well, why doesn’t the bride tie the same for the groom? He also needs to obey her, her parents and God, doesn’t he? We exchange rings, you know”! I was struck by the simplicity, logic and relevance of the question. I explained to her that Indian society was patriarchal and that the man was the Lord and master in the relationship, besides being the bread winner.
I am no feminist in the classical mould, yet the question rankled. Gender equality is a distant dream in our misogynistic and feudalistic society where female foeticide is rampant, and abysmal sex ratios are becoming more of a rule than an exception in most states.
It was a proud moment for India when woman power was on full display at our recently concluded Republic-day parade, yet, can we call ourselves a civilized society till we are free from rapes, molestation, stalking, acid-throwing, dowry killing, female infanticide, eve - teasing and gender inequality ? Can we rid our nation of males who consider themselves the superior sex and for whom rape is a minor misdemeanour that “cannot be punished by hanging because boys will be boys “?
Tough laws, symbolism and platitudes do not empower women. Education has to begin at home where parents teach their sons to treat the female gender with dignity and, daughters, to respect themselves.