Tradition!

Kirthi
Posted October 16, 2016 from India

When I was 12, I watched the Fiddler on the Roof for the first time. A song in the film caught my fancy: “Tradition!” it was called. To the uninitiated, the song was a take on how life was governed by these unwritten rules that all of us followed in every step, and attributed that these rules were, well, tradition. The word interested me doubly so, now: I thought it was an incredibly Indian thing to say that something was “tradition” and “traditional”. One particular line the character, Tevye, sang: “Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years!” drew my attention.

I spent some time after the movie, building a list of all the times when I had heard the word tradition in the Indian context. And here’s where it got doubly interesting: nearly all my entries centered around “traditions” that were spelled out for women to follow. I had many questions for the people in my family that enforced these traditions, and expected the rest of us to follow them. One of these questions was, “Who started all this? Where is it written that we’re supposed to follow these traditions?”Quite like Tevye goes onto sing, “You may ask, how this tradition got started. I will tell you. I don’t know,” no one knew. Finally, a few claimed that it was “religion”.

This made me realize that much of our idea of traditions and culture are rooted in our warped interpretations of religion, much of which is heavily patriarchal. How many times have you believed or been led to believe that a religion has been the reason for a certain action, or a certain practice? How many times have you heard religion being cited as a basis for the prohibition of abortions, no matter how grave an issue it might be?

Stop for a moment.

Have you gone through the religious texts of the world’s religions? Have you seen the common thread running through them – that they only preach the values of goodness, truth to your conscience and to remain adherent to goodness in thought and action? Have you seen that each of them propagate only simplistic values that talk of truth, earnestness, sincerity, goodness and peace? This, is Religion speaking.

And then you’ve seen and read, doubtless, of women being oppressed and confined in their houses. You’ve seen and read of women being subjected to violence in the hands of their husbands, their fathers, their sons, their villages and their societies in the name of religion. You’ve seen and read about women being killed to save the honour of their family. You’ve heard how men use religion to wage war. You’ve read how women are beaten, raped, abused, kept in brothels against their will and subjected to genital mutilation in the name of religion. You’ve seen how man kills man and wages war on man in the name of religion.

This is NOT Religion speaking: but a tradition, a culture that is built out of impunity-ridden fallacious interpretation that is enforced and reinforced by practice.

Let me give you an example.

The Quran does not encourage Polygamy. It reads thus: "If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice."

This verse is said to have been revealed in the aftermath of a war, when there were too many widows and orphaned children that needed support and protection. But look at how this is being interpreted by those who don’t look at the Quran in the right way. Is that Religion? Or Tradition?

Let me give you another example.

The Caste System in India is perceived among Hindus as an ascription – as a fact inherent in the birth that one takes. Therefore, a person born to a man of a particular caste is believed to belong to the same caste. And this identity is used to enjoy and reap benefits, and is used to perpetrate a constant state of caste-based discrimination. But the Bhagwad Gita says that the caste system is a creation based on occupation: “The four-fold Varna been created of GUNA and KARMA; though I am the author thereof know Me as non-doer and immutable.” Guna implies qualities and skills, karma implies actions done. And yet, today, vote-bank politics thrive on the caste system. People fight in the name of caste, kill in the name of caste. Is this Religion? Or Tradition?

There is a thin red between Religion and Tradition. Religion is a path to god. Tradition is a cumulative set of practices that comprise an ethos. Clearly, as it stands, this thin red line has evaporated in the face of ignorance: A culture of ignorance thrives as an obstacle in the path of understanding Religion truly.

Comments 6

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Sister Zeph
Oct 17, 2016
Oct 17, 2016

Dear Kirthi I totally agree with you actually most traditions are created by wrong interpretation of Religions and its reason is that those who have education they want to do a job and those who do not have proper education they want to become a religious cleric and they interpret the region how they want. People do not have awareness so they just follow them without asking a question.  

Kirthi
Oct 17, 2016
Oct 17, 2016

Thank you Rifuuuuuu <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 

Natasha L
Oct 19, 2016
Oct 19, 2016

Hello Kirthi - thank you for sharing your observations.  Your analysis of the way religion has been interpreted to dictate tradition is thoughtful and thought-provoking.  I really appreciated your examples of passages from the Quran and the Bhagwad Gita to clearly and eloquently demonstrate how the "thin red line" has been whittled down or washed away by an ever-expanding ignorance.   What are your thoughts on how this culture of ignorance can best be challenged in order to open the path to understanding religion truly.  And...what are the traditions in Indian culture and society that you believe are the most important ones for women to question or oppose first?  In your lifetime, have you seen any practices that have been adapted or transformed due to progressive social change in India?  Women activists carry that hope forward and your strength is powerful, Kirthi.

Kirthi
Oct 19, 2016
Oct 19, 2016

Thanks so much, Natasha! In my lifetime, I haven't seen any practices that have been adapted or transformed due to progressive social change in India - but the interesting part is that in the 19th Century, a range of practices like Sati and Jauhar (burning widows in the funeral pyres of their husbands) were brought to an end and outlawed. I hope a range of traditional practices like FGM, Honour Killings, Foeticide and the like are brought to an end. 

Thank you for reinforcing the power we all share, Natasha! Truly, like you said, women activists carry that hope forward!

Chinyere Okoh
Oct 23, 2016
Oct 23, 2016

Thank you dear for sharing

allie shep
Oct 28, 2016
Oct 28, 2016

Well put Kirthijay! It is amazing how everything (religion, tradition, folklore, fairy tales, fables, rules, writings, myths) is gender-biased and patriarchal. It's as if we didn't exist centuries ago! The ironic things is that we are ones who give and nurture life, but BECAUSE we are doing that, we've had in the past precious little time to do anything else! So men take it upon themselves to devise and organise, to be the centre of the universe, and the ones we are supposed to abide by and rely on, the givers and takers of our existence - and so many of them just do not understand how wrong that is and how we've been excluded.