Women Break Free, Celebrate Festival of Freedom
Women in India’s Maharashtra state get a rare chance to play and dance – normally considered a social taboo – on the occasion of snake festival , locally known as Nag Panchami.
Normally a festival in India means new clothes, good food and a lot of fanfare. But the Snake festival has a totally different meaning for women in Walhe village of India’s Maharashtra state as the day allows them to dance and play on the occasion of the festival. A video by Rohini Powar, the gutsy community correspondent of IndiaUnheard gives us an exclusive insight into this tradition which allows a rare chance to women in her community to enjoy freedom.
In the rural belt of India – a strong patriarchal society – women often labour harder than men do. Their areas of work stretches from home and kitchen to the paddy fields. Yet they are victimised by multiple social evils such as female infanticide/foeticide, early marriage, dowry and forced divorce. Women here also suffer from malnutrition, poor health and lack of education.
These are endemic problems existing in all Indian states, irrespective of religion, language and communities.
In rural Mahasrashtra where Rohini lives, women are treated as inferior to men. So while men are free to do whatever they want, women’s movement is restricted and they must take special permission from their family members even to step out of their homes. They are especially forbidden to sing, dance or play in public view. Those who do so, are looked down upon as women of loose morality.
However, once in a year – on the day of Nagpanchami this bar is lifted and women are expected to dance and play games. So this day local women gather at the snake goddess' temple to worship. However, what they really wait for is the moment when the worship would be over and dance and games would begin. Once that moment comes, everyone joins in dancing and playing – acts that are otherwise considered a taboo.
All through the year, women of the village eagerly wait for this festival day to arrive. Today they can dance without being shouted at. Nobody will accuse them either of shaming their families by playing games or acting like 'fallen women" of breaking a tradition by playing.
However, the joy is short-lived and the very next day the women must return to their "normal" life which is the life of taboos and restrictions. Rohini echoes the appeal that every woman in the village has: The patriarchal society must change its thoughts and values, so that women like her will not have to enjoy for one long year to enjoy a day’s freedom.