Gender Disparity – Why Are We Still Uncomfortable With Women Doing Last Rites?

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India even after being an independent nation is caged with many gender taboos. And one such among them is our society being uncomfortable with women performing last rites.

Mandira Bedi smashed patriarchy unknowingly, but the reaction of the audience was even more disappointing. It’s the 21st century already, so should cremation still be a gender specific role? 

Bedi’s husband Raj Kaushal passed away because of cardiac arrest. Mandira Bedi not only carried the bier but also looked inconsolable. Performing last rites was her decision to bid a goodbye to her husband. However, opinionated people out there didn’t just question Mandira’s attire but also her decision to perform last rites. 

Amid such horrible times in one’s personal lives, do choice of attire and performing last rites is something that has to be questioned? How even is this situation morally wrong and why is this incident no less horrific for our generation?

Getting sparked by just this issue is not a good deal, because gender disparity is deep rooted. Women are considered to be weaker sex and inherently less capable. So, what makes a person superior? What’s the superiority complex and how it’s even related to attending last rites of an individual? 

Before moving ahead to other aspect of daughters, wife, or mother can’t perform last rites of anyone, let’s see some legal and religious reasons – 

Legally there is no such statement prohibiting any lady to perform the last rites of any individual. In fact, even the higher judicial authorities are in favour of this act. Talking about an older incident, Indrani Mukherjee, who was in judicial custody in 2016 was given a bail for a day to perform last rites of her father. This is not just a case, a quick google search and you’ll find a plethora of related incidents. 

Conclusively, performing the last rites of parents is all fair legally, it’s just the religious anarchy holding people back. Let’s dive into some reasons (or say justifications) related to the same –

  • If a virgin girl attend the funeral there are chances that any spirit might enter their body since they are pure
  • Women’s have softer heart as compared to men, hence they might get terrified and have a lasting effect on mind if they see the body burning 
  • Menstruating women are impure and thus they are not allowed to perform last rites
  • A pregnant lady must not see a dead body burning since it can have bad effect on the child

As ironic as these reasons may sound, let me tell you, any of these doesn’t come through as a valid reason (At Least for me).

Years of following these not so worthy rules just hampered women. Performing last rites of any person by any person is not a SIN, and no Ancient books or Hindu knowledge contain instructions forbidding women from taking part actively in funerals. 

The New Generation Demands Better! 

It’s not just Mandira Bedi who has set an example, and this post is not just all about her. There are more such stellar examples, like 

  • Namita Kaul, foster daughter of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee performed his last rites
  • Malika Sarabhai, daughter of Padmashree Awardee Mrinalini Sarabhai lit the funeral pyre and gave a tribute by dancing in front of her body
  • Pankaja Munde, daughter of Gopinath Munde performed last rites of her father

With due respect, I believe that Change Is Common, and some age-old traditions are not required to be followed so ardently. 

Any person is worthy to perform any rites of their closed ones irrespective of gender. It’s time not to hold on to orthodox beliefs that are somewhere baseless. And all this talk about equality must get louder, not just with words but through actions too! I owe all my respect to this lady who not only stood firm, but even made a mark in this society. 

This post is part of #CauseAChatter with Blogchatter

22 Replies to “Gender Disparity – Why Are We Still Uncomfortable With Women Doing Last Rites?

  1. Women /daughters should be given the right to perform the last rites. Due to some baseless social norms, they shouldn’t be restricted from performing the last rites. Emotionally, women are way stronger than men. Tears are not. The sign of weakness but they should be treat as an emotion.

  2. I completely agree with your thoughts Jyoti. It is really sad that our society has these kinds of pre conceive notions and even many people create a controversy when any woman try to break that settled custom, Hope things change for better in future.

  3. The mindset of people need to be changed and they must understand that there is no harm anyone doing these rituals.

  4. I don’t understand why this is even an issue. A woman can very well choose what she can or cannot do. It’s high time that regressive practices and beliefs must go.

  5. Great post. I completely agree with u.The mindset of people need to be changed. Nice and very useful article.

  6. I have never understood the logic behind such orthodox beliefs in our culture. Gender has no role in doing these rites and I don’t really understand, why others have a say in this matter when it is a decision of a particular family. Loved reading your take on this.

  7. Traditions are good, but then that does not mean that they need to be followed blindly. Things need to change with time, and so do mindsets and the society that we live in.

  8. I totally agree that women do deserve better. And I think I would like to stick to the logic of women being soft at heart and they may not be able to bear to see the loved one burning or some rituals that are followed during the funeral. I think all other reasons stand not to have much logic such as menstruation, impurity and all the others you have shared here.

    And strongly support that women should not shy away from their rights. And feel so proud that some women in our society could perform the last rites of their family members.

  9. It is sad that values and rules set hundreds of years ago are still being followed. Times have changed and so has our thinking. Encouraging posts like yours should help people think differently.

  10. Of course our society has its mentality blocked. As far as I know in history women were more accepted in different functions of society but now everything is constricted to becoming hype. What Mandira did was her personal choice.

  11. Even till today I could not understand this orthodox idea. This very moment is so different and painful that a person is not in a state to take care of himself. And in such a situation, this opposition of the society, that the daughter cannot give her shoulder to the parents or the wife to the husband, is really very painful.

  12. What Mandira Did was her choice, and I respect her decision. We need to change our thinking, especially the society. They are many people woh still differences between boys and girls. They should treat them equally

  13. Sometimes I wonder how long people will follow those old age beliefs. They can not afford to be so rigid, as your post mentioned women have broken those barriers and showed this is what new society should be like.

  14. It is not written anywhere, but as a society created some unwritten rules of do’s and don’t this has also become a concrete rule by societal prejudices. As you rightly mentioned, Mandira Bedi was not the first one who broke the patriarchy, there were many women who have done that in the past, but Media highlighted only this case and some agencies picked it up as an epitome of change.

  15. This is very disappointing that we are witnessing such examples at big platforms. When a woman give birth to human being why can’t she do other things

  16. I Still fail to understand why is there a divide when women are able to do everything that a man can do then why not the last rites.
    After all shares also lost summon of the family and has full right to perform the final rites.

  17. It is really sad to see that even educated people still hold these pre-conceived notions and speak ill about those who take a stand. I came to know about Bedi’s case recently and was shocked to hear that people had issues with her performing the last rites of her husband.

  18. Mandira Bedi shattered a few stereotypes when she performed the last rites for her husband. I felt she had all the rights to do so and no one should question what is right or wrong, on the grounds of religion or culture.

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