Some people follow all kinds of traditional practices, justifying them by claiming that our ancestors were genius and would do everything for the best. Apart from cultural nationalist, sexist and casteist people who would hold such beliefs for reasons which I’ll explain later, even well-meaning people have fallen into this trap of pseudo orthodoxy and are proud of it, which is a disturbing trend making my perpetually low BP shoot up in anger.
I had gone to this religious gathering last week where the following event compelled me to write this blog entry. At the event, people were impressing each other by stating orthodox rules. Food was served on plantain leaves. At this point, I’d like to tell that I firmly believe in Indian food and medicinal sciences because I’ve been offered good reasons for the same by practitioners of siddha and ayurveda medicine. But serving food to people in a clockwise order and serving food at a certain place on the leaf and nowhere else was absurd.
I was asked to serve food to the guests; obviously, only females were engaged in this activity. I swallowed my wave of rationality and being a left handed person, started handling the cutlery with my left hand to serve food. I was immediately asked to shift hands. When I explained that I’m a left handed person and I can’t handle the cutlery otherwise, one of them suggested I get used to working with my right hand; another asked me not to serve food and leave. I was extremely disturbed, both as a left liberal and a left handed person. I started showing my anger to my mother when she reminded me that the function was not happening at my place. I realized many things at that point.
I was reminded of the theory of ‘sanskritization’ propounded by M N Srinivas, which suggests that ‘castes placed lower in the caste hierarchy seek upward mobility by emulating the rituals and practices of the upper or dominant castes’. Similarly, there is a social hierarchy which places the more orthodox people at the top of the ladder. In religious gatherings of people belonging to upper castes, every minute detail is observed with fear of being ostracised by them. The tradition itself is not important; it is merely used by people as a channel to get more acceptance into more orthodox circles. But the latter would never accept them as ‘one of us’. Irrational as the concepts of untouchability and purity/pollution are, they would probably assert their assumed superiority because they follow these norms best.
Had my age and gender been different, I could have spoken out against such behaviour and not fear being branded as a spoilt brat. Traditions are perpetuated by being enforced upon women. The burden of culture rests on the character of women belonging to that culture. I refuse to follow anything that I find problematic, because being called a spoilt brat is way better than unconditional surrender.
I agree that some Hindu traditions are based on science and rationality. But let us remember that not all traditions come from the same origin. We have no way of knowing whether a tradition is really scientific or beneficial to us; the tradition might just be an immoral practice which has crept into the system. Some would vehemently defend the idea of following all traditional practices because there must be some rational idea behind them which is good for us. Trusting something blindly and assuming it would do only good for us doesn’t seem like a very rational thing to do.