Who's Afraid of Karva Chauth?

Published: October 30, 2015 16:39 IST

For the first six years of my marriage, I kept Karva Chauth (a custom in North India where women fast for one day of the year praying for their husband's long lives). Truth be told, I kept it more for my mother, who I felt would have a heart attack if I didn't.

My poor husband suffered too, since feeling guilty about the biwi not having any food and water, he would fast as well. But well, then came our firstborn - and there was no looking back. Soon, from tolerating a festival I had grown up seeing, I started scoffing at women who kept the fast, and turned into a firm member of the club of "Oh you keep the KV fast, c'mon, yaar, you are educated."

Till today - when a senior editor and colleague and friend spoke to me about choices and belief. Her view was simple: "I keep it because I want to, no one forces me to do it. It's one big party at home, and really, Manika, I love my husband. If he lives longer - even 1 percent - because of this, what's the harm? If nothing else, it's a test of willpower and detox.''

So is it as simple as that? Is it really about choice, or is it years of conditioning and cultural programming that we fall for?

According to mythology, Karva Chauth was originally followed as a ritual signifying the relationship between the bride and her in-laws. How it transformed into a fast for her husband is unclear, but that's what it ended as - a day of fasting, in some cases without water, for the man you love and marry, and then finally breaking the fast at the first sight of the moon.

But does keeping anyone hungry ever strengthen any bonds? What's to say that a woman who has been hungry all day wouldn't just simply go ballistic and take her ire out on the man who is she is fasting for?! "No" say the women who say it's a belief .

Well. those who observe the ritual say they are made of sterner stuff and it's a festival. After the fast ends, the whole family eats, drinks, plays cards, so what's not to enjoy, they ask. As the heavy wedding saris come out of the trunks, the jewelry from the lockers, the hand henna is applied and Karan Johar's Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham is played on a loop (Karva Chauth has never looked prettier!) And do those women partaking feel compelled to defend, "I keep Karva Chauth but I am not regressive."

Or is it, as an anti KC activist put it: Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish?

What happens when there is so much peer pressure that young unmarried women start doing it in the hope that perhaps it could help them find a good husband? What about in small-town India or villages where choice isn't an option for women? What about illnesses? If a woman chooses not to observe the fast, do her family or friends feel she doesn't care enough for her partner? And most importantly, why don't the men do it? Let's make it equal.

Lots of questions and no easy answers. This is one of those arguments where for and against have to agree to disagree, and hope that if you are doing, it is because you want to and not because you are coerced into it. Resentment and hunger are not good companions, after all.

As I end this hugely-crowd sourced article, a male news editor beams and says "I just got a Karva Chauth message".

It reads: Congratulations to all husbands for renewing their annual life insurance.

Manika Raikwar Ahirwal is Managing Editor and Editor (Integration) with NDTV.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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