Pankaja Munde performed her father’s last rites yesterday.
I am no fan of the party or the Munde family’s political career. But I applaud Pankaja for presiding over her father’s last rites in a highly publicised funeral. It is a welcome sign that a woman, who is a MLA herself, departed from the tradition of only male heirs putting their family members to rest. The funeral was not just a family affair. Munde was a Union Minister, the Ruling central party’s most important figure from Maharashtra and a massively popular mass leader. Whether you follow the man or his party or not, you need to acknowledge that his death, funeral and political legacy are highly public and politically charged issues.
In a relatively backward area like Beed, the political stronghold of the Munde family, this is a bold gesture. I am not saying that it indicates profound challenge to the patriarchal system, but it is a indication of our society accepting the woman as someone in charge even in most traditional rituals – rituals that are highly respected and sensitive to majority of our people.
No matter how much of relics of bygone past many rituals feel to some of us, the symbolism of the rites indicates power structure in our society. A woman can not be formally in charge of majority of Hindu rituals. Women are often either in supportive roles or subjects of the said rituals. If women loose their husbands, often they are totally excluded from these rituals- be it weddings or funerals or births in the family. This is obviously because a woman is deemed secondary to her male relatives and doesn’t have the right to preside over ceremonies. So much so that if you are survived by only a female child, in traditional society, you would be laid to rest by even a remote male family member but not your daughter.
Like everything else, even these rituals have been going through a massive reform for more than a century now. Pankaja’s move is a welcome change.