Teej, that festival earmarked especially for Nepali women, is almost upon us. Thankfully, the media no longer categorises it as a ‘great festival of Hindu women’ alone; political correctness, it seems, has seeped into everything. But the matter of speculation for this article is government surveillance on Teej festivities, which I read about in a newspaper the other day. Cut down on your Teej extravaganza, women were warned. Authorities also mentioned visiting hotels to caution them against hosting Teej parties and the like.
What exactly is the problem against people (mostly women) getting together to eat, drink, dance, talk and perhaps play a harmless game of cards, or bingo, or whatever it is that they fancy? There is no reason to curb this gaiety that lends a semblance of happiness to people’s lives.
In a popular women’s magazine, female professionals put forth their opinion about the possible curtailing of celebrations. Most of them, it was interesting to note, argued very sensibly against it. An advocate pointed out that the government had no right to take away an individual’s right to celebrate their festival in a manner of their choice. A media professional reminisced how 250 people had collected Rs 200 each and had a blast with the money.
The first and most vehement reaction against Teej celebrations is that they invite a social evil, a bikriti. Instead of morosely fasting and bathing in ice cold water at dawn and sitting with cramped legs in a puja for two hours, women actually decide to enjoy this moment of gathering with our loved ones. How dare we! How dare we not know that Teej is meant for self-sacrifice and not this frivolous pleasure? One frequent argument is that women treat these get-togethers as a reason to drink. One ‘learned’ individual even went on to state that a lot of wine is consumed during these parties, which must be checked and controlled. And who controls your wine intake, dear Sir, when you lie around senseless during Dashain? But that doesn’t need to be checked, does it? You are allowed to do that, but women are not.
Another objection to the Teej celebration is that it begins weeks and months earlier and lasts for weeks after the actual festival. What else can you expect when women can barely spare one day a week to celebrate? There is a lot of lip-pursing and open disapproval about women scheduling their Teej parties, accusations fly about it being a fashion. Even if they are all of the above, why should someone be deprived of their share of fun just because our sensibilities are ruffled?
A third complaint is that a lot of money is wasted on these affairs, money which could be put to better use. Participants are often made to feel guilty by everyone else constantly pointing out that there are many who don’t have enough to eat, and that there is so much suffering in the world. None of us has the right to dictate how someone should spend their money. Who are we to judge, anyway? Don’t we all have our secret vices? Don’t we spend millions on weddings and bratabandhas and imported drinks?
One recurring argument against these celebrations is that they encourage women to ‘show off’ their clothes and jewelry (tadhak bhadak being the key word here) and this can create an inferiority complex in others. By this logic, everything that will breed envy in another should be disallowed. Shut down the whole of Durbar Marg because I cannot afford to shop there and it makes me feel less of a person. No one can actually be responsible for the thoughts, actions and complexities of other individuals. There will always be pressure, comparisons and unfulfilled desires in life.
Yes, Teej celebrations today might not reflect the cultural values they once stood for. The absolute lack of regard towards its religious and traditional sentiments might seem hurtful to some, especially the elderly. But there is really no reason to crib about the change in the way of celebration. In the centuries since Teej was first celebrated, there have obviously been huge changes in how it is perceived and marked. This is just one more way to recognise it, one more evolution. Those who celebrate it in the traditional way out of their own free will are wonderful, but those who choose to make a gala out of it are no less wonderful either. We can either lament that the world is going to the dogs and that women are no longer the respectful beings they once were, or we can simply learn to be happy about the togetherness, warmth and joy shared by our sisters, whatever the occasion. There is no pleasure in denying others their own simple pleasures when it concerns no one else.
Bhattarai is Communications Officer at WWF Nepal, Hariyo Ban Program
Published: 2014-08-26 08:34:35