Haritalika (Teej) is a cherished festival, particularly among Hindu women, celebrated with great fervor. According to Hindu scriptures, Goddess Parvati undertook a rigorous fast to win Lord Mahadev as her husband. Today, women continue to observe this fast, whether for their husbands’ well-being, spiritual devotion, or personal desires. Teej symbolizes the strength of intimate relationships, providing a platform for sharing joys and sorrows for women. Nowadays, Hindu women, both in the country and abroad, celebrate Teej as an important festival.
Opinions about Teej, however, vary among women. Some emphasize its connection to their husbands’ longevity, while others view it as a sacred tradition or a means to foster unity among women. There are a few exceptions who consider Teej is exclusively for married women. But festivals should never be bound by limitations; they must be inclusive and welcoming to all. It is crucial to avoid prescribing rigid rules for beliefs like these. How can we justify imposing specific requirements? Our upbringing in diverse religious, cultural, and familial backgrounds shapes our unique perspectives. Using our viewpoints for our convenience is nothing but a display of our ego.
In this context, I share an instance of broad-mindedness exhibited by my mother-in-law. Twenty-three years ago, it had only been two years since my husband passed, my son was playing outside on the day of Teej. He saw women dressed in vibrant attire and insisted that I do the same. His innocent request evoked both pain and fear within me. My mother-in-law, who was observing all this, explained that Teej is a festival celebrating love, belonging, trust, and relationships, not just with husbands but with all our loved ones. She emphasized that it did not mean I should abstain from observing the festival. I saw a septuagenarian challenging societal norms. Her words filled me with pride as her daughter-in-law. With her encouragement, I not only embraced the occasion but also strengthened our bond, all while witnessing the joy on my son’s face. Sadly, such open-mindedness is often rare even among younger generations.
For social change, we must extend our empathetic thinking to all sections of society. By doing so, we can offer not just sympathy but also promote equality through small gestures. I recall another incident that took place 22 years ago. On the eve of Teej, Dr Shiva Paudel offered me a gift. It surprised many since it was unusual for men to offer gifts to women on Teej. Seeing glass bangles and bindis of vibrant colors in the gift box, all of us were shocked and surprised. But he emphasized that women had every right to adorn themselves as they pleased and encouraged us to make the change ourselves. His words displayed immense respect for women. While there were other educated women advocating for women’s rights, their perspectives differed. From that day on, I proudly wore colorful bangles and bindis and initiated a ‘red campaign’ to encourage other single women to do the same.
We often talk about women’s rights but struggle to broaden our perspectives. In many Teej programs, with some exceptions, even the educated elite struggle to welcome others with open hearts. What’s even more disheartening is that these elites readily participate in other social justice initiatives, highlighting the discrimination. When will society overcome these divisions? How can we facilitate change? Perhaps by adopting the ‘red campaign,’ single women can assert their right to live with dignity, just like any other member of society. Yet, societal divisions still inflict occasional wounds. Perhaps you can experience change when you change your perspective to foster equality. It’s time to reframe your mindset.
(Kabita Pandey is WHR’s Chairperson)