I am a firm believer of our traditions – but only those that humanize us; those that help us live peaceful and contented lives; and those that are good or the family, for women and for our environment.
But the reality is that all our old traditions cannot be good. They may have been applicable at that time, but now they have turned rotten. So why can't we shed them?
For example – dowry. It grew in a time when there was a need to safeguard the future of girls by giving them streedhan. But today, streedhan is no longer the security for a girl that it was meant to be. It is something that avaricious parents of boys have turned into a curse. In the early times, having many children was the norm. Life expectancy was low, there were many childhood illnesses that only the really sturdy children survived, there were wars in which many were killed. So having many children was a natural safeguard for keeping the generations going. The main occupation was farming or trade. So the more helping hands the better. But now, having more than two children is considered foolishness, a sign of being uncivilized. Two children who are hale and hearty, who are studying, whether they be two boys, two girls or a boy and a girl are ideal. Today, there is no distinction between boys and girls. If girls are equal to boys today, then even boys are seen doing things that were traditionally female domains. Both are equal. Girls are donning police uniforms and boys can be seen in chef hats in hotels and restaurants, even making a name for themselves in the fashion industry. Children should have the freedom to do whatever they want, be whatever they want to be and study whatever is their inner calling.
We need to evolve. Whatever old traditions that are no longer in the interest of the community, the family, the individual, should be discarded. Some old beliefs have been overturned by science. As the frontiers of knowledge expanded, several of the things we believed turned out to be impossible. Our grandmothers would say that the first milk of a new mother should be discarded because it was thick and yellow. But when doctors examined it under the microscope, guess what they saw? They discovered that this was extremely healthy and helped boost the immunity of the child for life. Every mother needs to feed her child this milk. Similarly, traditionally, whenever anyone would get burnt, the first reaction would be to not pour water, but put a thick cloth or apply flour so that it does not blister. But that is old school and incorrect. It is good to put cold water and allow a blister to form. Because the cold water, the blister and the water in the blister keep the body cool and do not let the internal organs burn. The water in the blisters acts as a natural antiseptic and prevents the skin from getting infected.
Many such customs, traditions and superstitions can be quite harmful. The purdah system. Keeping fasts even when you are unwell. Breaking a block of jaggery on a girl's back when she has a brother. Segregation and isolation of girls and women when they are having their periods. Taking loans to organize feasts for the poor when an elderly person passes away. Showing off on weddings after borrowing money. Starving children and pouring milk on a Shivling when Shivji would be equally happy with two drops of milk in a bowl of water. Won't God be displeased to see precious milk rotting in drains? He would certainly be unhappy because that milk is symbolic of the share of the calf of the Kamdhenu cow. You can give the milk to your children, to poor children but wasting it like thing, literally down the drain is a crime.
But the worst traditions that people follow are when in times of sickness, they go to witch doctors and charlatans for tantra-mantra and jhad-phoonk. Even today, people go to witch doctors in case of snake bite. When a snake bites, it is best to tie the place near the bite with rope or cloth to ensure that the venom does not spread to the rest of the body and rush to a doctor. During childbirth, it is best to rely on an experienced midwife or doctor. Do not go to untrained dais.
Another rotten custom is to consider widows or barren women inauspicious. Widowhood is a matter of fate and not being able to have children is a physiological phenomenon. Often infertility is not because of the woman, but rather the fault lies with the man. So, why should the woman be considered inauspicious? In many places such women are even considered to be witches. It is common to see them being tied up, beaten or attacked with stones. This is criminal – both legally and in the eyes of God. We need to evolve from such thinking.
We need to move ahead with the times, then only will our villages becomes strong; not if we keep regressing.
These days even WhatsApp is being used to spread superstitions. All kinds of rubbish is being spread. Often this nonsense takes on communal tones, aiming to spread disharmony. Spreading hatred for people of other religions. We should never believe them.
Religion is a very personal affair – it is within us, within our temples. Outwardly, all humans are the same. All are children of this earth. Everyone has the freedom to believe his religion is the best – but within his home. Once you step out, there is only one religion – that of universal brotherhood.
So let us discard everything that is rotten – customs, superstitions and anything that is not in the interest of humanity, environment, children, women, animals, this earth. Let us end the darkness of superstition.
Tamso ma jyotirgamya – meaning, let us move from darkness to light.
The green paths of our villages take us towards becoming better human beings. We should become examples for others – that such-and-such village is an epitome of peace and communal harmony. Hope it is your village that people talk like this about.
(About the Writer: Manisha Kulshreshtha is a popular Hindi writer born and educated in Rajasthan. Her upbringing as an army child made her footloose and her travels enriched her soul. Honoured with several awards and fellowships, Manisha published seven collections of stories and four novels. Manisha is a Senior Fellow with the Cultural Department and is working on a travelogue -- Meghdoot Ki Rah Par. Her works have been translated into Russian, Dutch and English. Her work has afforded her the opportunity to travel around the world.)