Ek Chutki Sindoor – Badge Of Honour, ‘Protective Shield’, Or A Mark Of Subservience?

The sindoor that marks a married Hindu woman signifies complete control on the woman by her husband and in-laws, yet women fall for its allure.

“How on earth am I supposed to know about your marital status? You don’t have sindoor on your hair parting,” the Director of a renowned management studies institution howled at me.

I was at his office to submit an application.

Being married at the time of doing the PG Diploma course at his institution, I used my now ex-husband’s surname, different from my maiden one. The administration wanted an application along with an affidavit, confirming my identity.

The short-tempered, middle-aged man glanced at the documents before signing. He demanded to know why I was not wearing sindoor on my forehead if I am married.

The defiant bitch inside me raised her head. I chose not to give any explanation in reply to his question. Instead, I dared to say to him, “Sir, how do I know if you are married or not? I can’t see you wearing any signs of marriage on your person.”

The next moment I found myself picking up my papers strewn all over the floor of his office. He flung my file at me in a fit of rage and shouted, “Get out of my office!”

The absence of ek chutki sindoor on my forehead had put me into this kind of identity crisis several times.

People found it difficult to gauge my marital status without that red marking despite the affidavits, I spent all my life assuring them who I am.

Women in my circle tried to cajole me into wearing it. They cited its benefits and how it was necessary for my dear husband’s general wellbeing. They said it would keep Yamraj, the god of Death at bay from taking his life untimely. Yet all these couldn’t convince me to do it. I ignored their advice.

What the sindoor?!

A Hindu wedding ceremony reaches its finale when the bridegroom puts a pinch of vermillion on the bride’s hair parting. It is the hallmark of matrimony for a Hindu woman. It solemnizes the sacred marital contract with a much-delayed expiry date.

Hindu marriages supposedly have a prolonged shelf life of over 7 lifetimes.

The red mark notifies the proprietorship of a man and his family on this woman from that point onward in her life.

This red powder entitles the man to have sex with her on the first night of marriage despite being a stranger to her.

It provides him with the right to have sex with her any time, with or without her consent or comfort level.

The pinch of vermillion empowers the in-laws to have complete authority and control over her life. They can now judge her for everything, right from her upbringing, family background to her character, domestic skills and habits.

How the sindoor and its connotations make a woman toe the line

Still, this is the moment in a Hindu, Indian wedding ceremony when all the women among the guests, witnessing the spectacle, go mushy in their hearts. One can hear them coochie-cooing about how romantic it is. They believe it instantly enhances a woman’s beauty a few notches up.

People are amazed at the power of this stamp of patriarchy. It ‘promotes’ a girl to the ‘honourable and safe’ societal position of a ‘married woman’, overnight. Women follow the ritual of applying it every day to reiterate their love, respect, sense of belongingness and commitment to their husbands.

Women’s belief in the ‘divine power’ of sindoor protecting their husbands has the incentive of their wellbeing too. The label of ‘widow’ or ‘spinster’ comes with a lot of stigmas and existential struggles. Widowhood also indicates the cessation of a lot of social privileges, and status in conservative societies. No wonder women are afraid of being a widow.

The fear-based culture, thus, indents another fear in a woman’s mind. It makes her obey this patriarchal indoctrination.

Besides sindoor, many other ornamental items occupy various parts of a woman’s body, from head to toe to barcode or QR code her as married. It is also believed that wearing these ornaments stimulates the sensuality and fertility of women as if the natural physiological system was not self-sufficient to ensure these body functions.

I was also influenced by this once… but not anymore

I too was not an exception to this. But, my inner voice gained strength over the experiences of divorce and two marriages. It is now clear to me that these are nothing but patriarchal conditions. Now if I use these items in my makeup, I am aware of why I am doing it.

A woman may face social backlash and identity crisis as I did in my life for not wearing sindoor and other marital symbols. In some incidences, the husbands even filed for divorce for this reason.

The entire system of patriarchy reeks of objectification of women as sexual and reproductive assets of men. The obligatory custom of wearing marital symbols unilaterally by women reinforces that.

Unfortunately, women identify their self worth with such rituals.

In the era of knowledge, women must know the truth behind the tradition of wearing marital symbols. They should make an informed and deliberate choice to wear them. It should not be a fear-based cultural compulsion.

First published here.

Born in the land of Royal Bengal tigress, Somma was tamed in the hooter driven

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