New York Times

The editor of Room for Debate got in touch and asked me to write this piece

Respect the Sacred, Ignore the Sexism

Shoba Narayan
Shoba Narayan is a columnist and the author of two books: “Monsoon Diary” and “Return to India.
Updated January 8, 2013, 3:42 PM
I am a Hindu. I love my religion’s glorious and imaginative epic stories, in which seers chose the moment they die and goddesses kill the bad guy while riding a tiger. Within my family, I have Hindu role models who teach me how to conduct the pujas (prayers) and celebrate Hindu holidays.
That said, I still have vexing issues with certain aspects of Hinduism. Like most religions, it is patriarchal–something that the feminist in me deeply resents–and its rituals, though beautiful, can be tedious. But at the end of the day, the mantras, chanting, yoga and other Hindu traditions are what I know and cherish…and what I want to share with my children…but in a Hinduism-lite way.

I tell my daughters that religions are products of a certain era; they have outdated rules.

I believe that raising children within the broad precepts of a religion is good for them. Faith grounds them and gives them part of their identity. My hope is that it will help them later in life when life throws monkey-wrenches at them. I hope that chanting the mantras that they learned at home will give them the strength and resilience to deal with difficulties. Studies have shown that faith helps to preserve relationships, and enhance longevity, health and happiness.
Although Hinduism is an easy religion to follow—we don’t have to keep kosher or go on pilgrimages, for example–there are some constraints that continue to make me uncomfortable as the mother of two daughters. Sons have to cremate fathers, for instance, and mantras like the Rudram, a hymn in praise of Lord Shiva, are supposed to be chanted only by men.
Such sexist rules anger me. I combat them through disobedience. And I try not to expose my daughters to them. They don’t know, for example, that they are not supposed to chant the Rudram. They’ve certainly heard women in our community chant it enough times (and me attempt to chant it in bits and pieces). As for sons being in charge of cremating the parents, my daughters, at 16 and 11, are far too young to ponder this. Instead, we have tangential discussions. I tell my daughters that Hinduism–and indeed all religions—are products of a certain era. They all contain rules that are no longer relevant. They need to be reinterpreted to suit the times and our lives.
I want my girls to be strong women capable of anything. I want them to imbibe a faith that gives them strength but is also flexible enough to accommodate their dreams and circumstances. For now, Hinduism will do.