Based in the pre-independence era, Kakasparsha (2012) is the story of a Hindu-Brahman woman Uma starring Priya Bapat confined in the shackles of Brahmanical patriarchy and subordinated throughout her widowhood by the powerful instruments of religious traditions manifested through degrading social practices. The premise of the film is introduced to us in the opening scene when Hari, Uma’s elder brother-in-law featuring Sachin Khedekar is seen performing the last rites of his younger brother Mahadev, who was also Uma’s late husband. The film takes us in a flashback, depicting the story of a young Uma, and her family awaiting the welcome of Uma’s prospective conjugal family.
The Marathi regional film directed by Mahesh Majrekar profoundly dramatises the narrative of a Hindu woman’s anguishing widowhood as a saga of ‘tragic love’ and romanticises the demeaning actions and authority of the Hindu patriarch of the Chitpavan Brahmin family named Hari who abstains the widow from a dignified life. The dialect spoken throughout the course is a Sanskrit rich Marathi dialect, highly exclusive to Brahmins. It was determined as one of ‘highest purity’ and was considered as ‘standard Marathi’ that ought to be aspired by other Maharashtrians while other dialects or languages spoken by the Bahujan natives was considered gramin (rural) and ashuddha (impure). The hegemony of dialect is a standpoint to understand the Sanskritisation of Marathi culture.
The film begins with the pre-ceremonial marriage traditions of the Maharashtrian upper caste household strongly reflecting the underlying patriarchal notions of womanhood. During the conjugal greeting, Uma is asked to outperform herself and convince the Brahmin men of her ability and passion to conform to the standards of an ideal Brahmin wife. Uma’s parents and Balwant, her guardian are seen giving testimonies of Uma’s character.
Evidently, the purity of a woman has a centrality in Brahmanical patriarchy as we see that the purity of caste is contingent on it. Such pre-marriage deliberations fix a condescending gaze on the worth of a Hindu woman to evaluate if she is the one who is deserving to be the pivot of protecting the caste structure. Since, the honour and respectability of men is preserved through the purity of the women, women’s ‘appearance’ of puberty marks a dangerous situation on the purity of caste.
Thus, to strictly guard the purity of caste, pre-puberty marriages are likely recommended among the Brahman caste. Women are gateways – literally the entry points to the preservation of caste and hence they ought to surpass the mediocrity of other women to be deemed as a proper fit for a Brahmin’s wife.
The character of Mahadev is of a young naive man who desires to pursue law in Bombay. It was young Uma’s alluring appearance that enticed him to marry her. With no significant education on women’s sexual maturity, Mahadev is seen to have been advised by his sister-in-law Tara, Hari’s wife, starring Medha Manjrekar, to maintain sexual restraint since Uma is still in the pre-pubescent age.
Only a few days later, Tara is shown asking her husband to call the Shastri to fix an auspicious time for ‘phala-shodhan‘, literally meaning ‘fruit bearing’ to consummate Uma and Mahadev’s marriage. The Hindu folk song “janm baicha baicha, ek aicha” recited at the ceremony symbolises that Uma is then a ‘new-born woman‘, reiterating the conformity to perseverance of caste and gender role.
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In the post-Vedic times, the increasing dependence of agriculture, took the ‘production’ activity outside the household to the fields, thus restricting the Aryan woman’s labour to the household. Such women were since then associated with reproduction. The shift to the agricultural economy led to the emergence of stratifications like caste, class and private property. Thus, the onus of maintaining the patrilineal succession with the caste structure was that on the Hindu woman. For the preservation of caste purity, it was required that the sexual behaviour of women should be closely guarded and tamed by her husband. Thus, female sexuality was channelised as legitimate only by adopting motherhood, thereby, losing its autonomy.
The main plot of the film revolves around Hari’s vow to the ‘spirit’ of his late brother Mahadev on his death rituals. Mahadev passed away due to his ill health on the day of consummating his marriage with Uma. According to the Maharashtrian Hindu-Brahmin rituals, the deceased is offered a pinda, a lump of rice mixed with milk, curd and flowers as an oblation to their spirit. The crow symbolic of the spirit is expected to touch or eat the offering – kakasparsha, while the failure to do so is considered inauspicious. When Mahadev’s ‘spirit’ did not seem to accept the offering, Hari perceived that this was due the unfulfillment of Mahadev’s desire to sexually entitle Uma to him and their marriage. With this understanding, Hari pledged to the spirit that he would never let any man appear in physical proximity with Uma and in no time the mane disguised as a crow was seen eating the lump of rice.
With this, the opportunistic Brahmin patriarch resolves to self-claim an agency over the widow’s sexuality. In the Hindu religion, a Brahmin widow is wreaked with excruciating torture and humiliation by exclusion to any form of socialisation. The lechery of the widow is a menace to the purity of the celebration, her presence a disgrace. Perhaps, the identity and existence of a Hindu woman was associated and contingent on her ability to execute and oblige to the duty of a Brahmin wife and mother to the Brahmin progeny.
With the abolishment of the orthodox practice of Sati, the “progressive” Brahmins like the Chitpavan household resorted to impose compulsory widowhood on Uma. While it was customary to recluse Uma from remarriage, Hari went further to deny her of education. The film dramatises the ways in which Hari “protected” Uma from dishonour exhibited through the Hindu rituals of widowhood. The film in its narrative attempts to justify the severe torture drawn upon Uma under the garb of the pledge Hari made to Uma’s dead husband. It constructs a reverse narrative of an implicit infatuation between Hari and Uma and succeeds in garnering public sympathy for Hari.
Hari’s ‘concern’ to monitor Uma from potential sexual enticement or arousal accelerated when he confronted Uma giggling and lustfully listening at the playful banter between Hari’s son and his wife. Being deprived of sexual pleasure and autonomy, Uma is a self loathing and self despising widow, helplessly surrendering herself to the patriarchal authority of disastrous norms. Consequently, in one of the scenes Hari is shown asking the male help of the house to sleep with him during the night as he feels ‘unsafe’ to be alone, signifying how Uma’s untamed sexual desires are a threat to the purity of the caste family and the sacred vow.
The project to control women’s sexuality finds its ideological roots and basis in the Hindu text, Manusmriti. The text ascribes that the innate nature of women is sinful, lascivious and evil. Women are featured as unfaithful, promiscuous and fickle-minded. These are the characteristics owing to which women’s sexuality is seen as uncontrollable and overflowing. The most prominent ideologue Manu advocates that the essential nature of women is vested in their sexuality. Thus, women must be guarded and monitored all the time more importantly to preserve the purity of its offspring and caste lineage. However, in our case such emotional and physical violence is inflicted in the array of ‘honour to the dead’.
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In her widowhood, Uma is imprecating herself for the misfortune caused to her because of her karma and birth as a woman. The subtle manifestation of Hindu rhetorics of stri dharma and pativrata are extremely pervasive and internalized that it blinds a Hindu woman to any assertion of injustice. While these notions of social control on widow women are propagated through the conjugal patriarch, the structure is reproduced with the compliance of the Hindu woman through a combination of consent and coercion.
In the climax scene, Hari is shown apologising to Uma for devastating her womanhood. Uma who has purposefully resolved to end her life is sapped yet consoled by Hari’s surrender, who now takes upon him to restore the harm that he has caused her. He admits that he is affectionate towards her and desires to pronounce her as his wife only to later see Uma lying still on her deathbed. The film certainly succeeds to glorify the tragic end as an epitome of a complex and exasperating “love” story which is rather entrenched in the bigotry of casteist misogyny.
1. Conceptualising Brahmanical Patriarchy in Early India: Gender, Caste, Class and State by Uma Chakravarti; published by Economic and Political Weekly; 1993
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