India they say is a land of contradictions. I would say that Indians are a people who epitomise contradiction. A nation of souls who often seem to be living with their two feet on different paths. It’s almost like each of their lives is a film that has two different sound tracks. They say, believe, and often do things that are diametrically opposite to one another. Nowhere is it more apparent to me then when it comes to caste and inequality. Let’s take an example of a reasonably well educated upper caste Indian. Chapters and chapters have been spent educating him on what the caste system is and how atrocious it is. For all intents and purposes he has understood how horrific a system it is and how the upper castes have oppressed the lower castes for centuries. But that very same person who appears to have imbibed this lesson fairly well, still participates or attends a Thread ceremony/Upanayana/Janeu and sees absolutely no contradiction between what he or she has been taught and their actions!
He doesn’t realise or maybe doesn’t care enough (it’s more likely to be the latter) that the thread he wears is not just any old thread, worn for style in myriad colours.
No Sir, it’s not!
What it is, is a symbol of upper caste Brahmanical oppression. It’s a symbol worn by the oppressor that distinguished him from the oppressed. There was a time, not so long ago, when the sight of that thread was enough to send lower caste people scurrying about so as to avoid putting their shadow on him. It would be laughable if it wasn’t all so horribly true. I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that all this about shadows and not touching unfortunately and sadly isn’t really in the past for a bunch of our countrymen.
The irony here is that people, both men and women, happily attend & participate in this ceremony with a clear conscience, never once stopping to think about what it really means, never questioning.
Scary true fact; when you don’t question the status quo your brain finally addles and dies. I’m serious, it’s true!
Contrary to all the positive spin that people try to give it these days, by liking it to the system of first Holy communion amongst Catholics or the Bar Mitzvah among Jews, we must recognise that this is inherently different. It’s definitely not the same. Those are rituals that are done to initiate a Catholic or a Jewish person into their faith. However this, the Upanayana, is done not to initiate the young boy into Hinduism but into his Brahmanical roots. I hope you didn’t miss that I said boys and not girls. Yes, it’s only the lucky boys who get to wear the thread. It’s supposed to mark the start of a period of learning sacred texts and more for.. yup you guessed right again, for only the boy. Girls can just go stick their heads in an oven was the underlying premise there I presume. These boys everywhere in this world, really seem to have the luck of the devil.
So what this whole rambling rant is about is why people who otherwise appear completely “normal” or I would go even so far as to say “liberal” or “educated”.. why even those people are unable to see the inherent contradiction in carrying out and participating in a ritual that is not only deeply casteist but is also deeply sexist. I’m sorry but my teeny tiny brain just cannot understand this.
When asked point blank, I have noticed that often the reasons are; It’s just a ritual or it’s a family thing or they’re doing it to keep their parents happy or the worst one “It doesn’t mean anything”.
For purposes of this article lets just leave the “it doesn’t mean anything” because I really can’t comprehend why on earth anyone would do something that doesn’t mean anything to them!
To the rest, I ask, when will you stop doing something you know to be wrong just because your forefathers did it? When will your own will and intelligence come into play? And the deeper question; Will we understand and accept that our forefathers might have perpetuated a deeply divisive sexist system but the choice whether to end a flawed ritual is in our hands.
“My parents did it”, is not, and can never be a reason to do anything in life.
Sidebar: All our ancestors including our parents have done things that we might think twice before doing today, and I am guessing our kids will do the same with us. It’s that wonderful thing called Progress.
For example if our grandparents had just done what their parents had done, then my friends let me tell you that they might not have participated in the freedom struggle and you and I would still be second class citizens living in British India. Think about that for a minute. I think we can all agree that that wouldn’t be fun.
To my mind the best way to move forward is to recognise that everything in life must be repeatedly questioned and if something no longer make sense then it must be left behind.
And this holds even more true if that thing, in this case the sacred thread, is a symbol of a system that is soaked in pain.