WHEN we think about weddings, we often think about traditions – many of which could do with a reboot in this day and age of women’s equality.   We’re happy to report how some Indians are smashing the patriarchy while continuing to celebrate their love, traditions and cultural heritages. Just a couple of months ago, in January, a Muslim couple in Mumbai had their nikah solemnised by a woman Qazi. While it was an easy decision for this modern couple, arrived at after reading an article stating that women could also be Qazis, finding a female Qazi proved to be the more significant undertaking. Fortunately, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (Indian Muslim Women’s Movement) have trained a number of women at their Qazi Training Institute, Darul Uloom Niswaan. Despite there being no scripture preventing women from becoming a Qazi or performing a nikah, it has been a male-dominated role for centuries.
Asked why she decided to buck tradition, Maya, the bride, said: “It feels nice to give another woman a platform like this, which ideally should be easily available to her anyway. It has been empowering for her and me, both.”
While still a rare practice due to pervasive paternalism, this wasn’t the first nikah performed by a woman in India, and hopefully it won’t be the last. Likewise, priestesses with Shubham Astu, the female Qazis’ Hindu counterparts, chant shlokas (verses) and sing songs at traditional wedding ceremonies in a reformed Hindu ritual. Shubham Astu aims to “reintroduce the culture and heritage of India to the younger generation sans the orthodoxy, ambiguity or inequality”. In a new, evolved script for Hindu weddings, these Sanskrit scholars introduced “a simplified interpretation of the ancient scripture in three languages – Sanskrit, Bengali and English”. As part of this reimagined script, the priestesses did away with kanyadaan – a lasting by-product of patriarchy, in which a man gives away his daughter as though she is a possession. One father made news last month for rebuking this tradition at his daughter’s ceremony. Dr Amlan Ray explained his reasoning: “Contrary to common belief, … a wedding without a kanyadaan is not a new thing and is already mentioned in scriptures. Rig Veda mentions eight wedding ceremonies – only one of which, the Brahma wedding, includes this ritual. Most modern weddings come under the Gandharva marriage category, in which bride and groom know each other before marriage, and the marriage can be between different communities and castes without any barrier, and without the practice of kanyadaan.”
One of the other main tenets of Shubham Astu’s new script is the equal participation of the bride and the groom in the ceremony – the bride no longer being a passive observer. While the weddings are still rooted in tradition, they are liberated from the rigid structures devised by pandits past.
In another bold move, rather than ridding the ceremony of the conservative kanyadaan practice, one Indian mother challenged stereotypes, performing the rite herself. Raji Sharma, embraced the traditional Hindu ritual but as a single parent wanted to play a larger role in her daughter’s wedding that would have traditionally been filled by her husband. So the family found a priest who understood their family’s situation and would perform a more modern version of the custom. The bride was happy with the transformation saying: “We took the best out of its [India’s] rich culture without being bound by customs that are discriminatory.” A strong-willed Bengali bride went viral this wedding season when she challenged the norms and stereotypes during her Kanakanjali ritual. Customarily, this act portrays a “crying bride” leaving her maternal home after throwing rice to her mother in a gesture that she has “repaid all her debts”. This bride instead retorted, “you can never repay parents’ debts” and heartily smiled for cameras telling her parents goodbye but that she’ll visit frequently, whenever she likes, because it will always be her home. These families prove that you don’t have to forgo your culture and heritage to buck the constraints of outdated patriarchal traditions developed within cultures rather than by religious leaders. So, man or woman, find your space and speak up as an advocate or an ally to help change the conversation for all women.
If you wish to celebrate your wedding by giving back, you can start a wedding fundraiser here. 
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