So when Pankaja Munde Palve, the eldest daughter of late Union Minister Gopinath Munde, lit her father's funeral pyre in front of the country's political elite and thousands of mourning people it is almost certain that it would be caught by the eyes as she has broken the tradition and age old customs of the society.
In our culture once a daughter is married, she is considered as “given away” or donated to another family that prohibits her being a natural part of the interment of her departed parents. But even when she is unmarried or without a brother, tradition has constantly privileged other male relatives in the family for such rituals… however distant he may be.
No wonder why this is one of the sturdy reasons that most Hindu parents preferably look for a male child and the girl child is mostly unwanted and suffers abortion or feticide.
One cannot deny the role of our scriptures in gender disparity prevailing in our society that has become so deep rooted. Hindus follow the rituals as mentioned in the Garuda Puran for the departed soul. Garuda Puran, surprisingly, does not forbid categorically daughters from performing last rites. However, it insists that it should be done by the eldest son or any other male relative in case there is no son.
Although Garuda Puran has not barred daughters from performing last rites, yet it has not even mentioned them. So daughters performing last rituals of their departed parents are considered as taboo and rare and uncommon in our society.
But time is changing. Families are gradually moving away from their dependence on male heirs. Now a day’s girls are raised as sons in many families. Even girls share most responsibility in their parental home. They are becoming the strength of their parents in their old days. Even some parents are happy with one girl and not looking for son. Then why not daughters perform the last rites?
At such a transitional period, if daughters performing last rites becomes common and prevalent then in turn many families might become less "son" obsessed and will kill fewer daughters.
My point is very simple. Pankaja might not be the first daughter or only women who broke the tradition, as many women are doing so nowadays. But as a high profile daughter her actions are going to strike many brains with a strong message and encourage many people to be more gender neutral.
While the nation is trying to narrow the gender gap and save girls from being killed, Pankaja as a face with her action is surely symbolic and emblematic for a seismic change in the mindset of people. Let’s expect some more such high profile symbols and some more neutrality for girls!!
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