In terms of the maintenance of household purity, the Hindu religion appears so ingrained as to no longer appear as simply a religion, but a matter which dictates the whole of everyday life. Men and women are equally responsible for maintaining purity, but this occurs in several different ways, some of which are based on gender. In the film, “Wages of Action” the viewer is introduced to the small village of Soyepur. Like many more rural and traditional areas of India, there are definite spaces for men and women and their duties. Interestingly, in this film there are several instances in which women’s behaviors were very similar to men’s. It is notable that the emphasis on purity as an everyday concern appears evenly distributed between the genders.
For instance, the men are responsible for maintaining the purity of their home on a more individualized level. They are shown around their area purifying themselves by chanting and taking long baths to cleanse before beginning the day. This is similar to the more individual act of the woman feeding her treasured plant and demonstrates that both genders have similar concerns about purity and enact daily personal routines to maintain purity. A greater sense of the equality between men and women is revealed by the married couple as they treated well by their friends and neighbors. They travel and talk together and one almost forgets that there are more narrow conventions governing gender relationships, especially in this small village. In terms of the home, in particular the kitchen, women’s roles differ greatly than those of the men. While the men seem to be out in the village more and engaging in their own personal activities, the women spend a great deal more time at home. As a result, it is their responsibility to ensure the purity of the kitchen, which is the center of where all that is ingested is.
The film shows a woman of the medium-lower class as she discusses changing clothes before she enters her kitchen. It is revealed that it is her responsibility to ensure that the kitchen remains safe and protected from “polluting” influences such as those from lower classes (who can’t even eat from the same dishes). There is much ritualistic attention paid to maintaining purity in the home and the seat of the Hindu home appears to be the kitchen. In this way, men are subordinate to women since they have the power of preserving the almost sacred position of the kitchen. Still, in many ways men seem to have subordinated women as they are freer to roam about and engage in more personal activities. It is also worth noting that while women in the film are able to practice some individual rites of purification; all religious figures seen are men. Women clearly have little role in the structure of the religion but are merely participants.
When participating in the Ramdevra pilgrimage, men and women’s interactions and roles are far less constrained than they might otherwise be in a traditional setting. These travelers from Bombay are very lively and curious and although the women seem to stick together rather often, there seems to be a more egalitarian dynamic. Men and women both come for the same reasons; to look for a cure or help (such as was the case with the grandmother seeking divine assistance for her grandson’s business success or the mother praying for her son to regain his health) as well as to partake in the free atmosphere. One of the most notable aspects of the film about the Ramdevra pilgrimage is that there is freedom from religious authority, which would mean dominant male influence. As a result, the crowd mixes and men and women stand side-by-side, even if they are strangers. Women’s behaviors versus those of the men were not as distinct as in other films. They seemed to want the same experience of the men although they tended to be quieter and less engaged with the crowds to some extent. What was interesting about this film is that there was not a great deal of gender subordination by either men or women. This appeared to be a time for both genders to worship freely. For instance, when the woman goes into a trance it is very powerful, but it was not as though the viewer could not imagine one of the men doing the same. While the women seemed more emotionally engaged with the event, the men were usually equally so. This film stands as completely separate from what one might expect.
In “Pilgrimage to Kashi” and “Wedding of the Goddess” men and women’s roles intersect quite a bit. In the Kashi film, when the couples are on their quest to feed their ancestors in the rituals, they all seem equally serious about what they are doing. Even though the accountant is clearly the “man” in charge, the women seem to be allowed to behave as they please. It is also interesting that they all share the same joy in exploring the many small shops and partaking of consumer culture together as well. While the men are the center of the ritual, with a male priest overseeing the occurrence, the women are involved and are not forced to sit in the background and merely watch. In general, even though this is a very traditional ritual, it does not exclude women entirely. Because the women were subjected to the priest at the ceremony, they are temporarily subordinated. This ends, however, when the couples enter the world of commerce and this allows them to be more like equals. The theme of men and women interacting with one another more freely often seems to happen at festive rituals and this is also the case with the chittirai festival in Madurai as shown in the film “Wedding of the Goddess Part II.” Although there are many men who take part in the religious activities (such as the young man who goes into the trance) women are not excluded. In fact, it seems to be a community event and everyone looks pleased to be there, men and women alike. Festivals and events such as these allow people to grow closer to one another. Even the police who are there to keep an eye on the sacred objects forget their roles. In general, there is no subordination of either men or women at this festival.
Although there is one male painter represented in the film about the Mithila tradition of painting, much of the attention is on women. In this film, women’s behaviors are similar to those of men because they working with a craft and even more importantly, are being able to generate some income from the sale of their work. Like the men (traditionally speaking) these women are able to practice a craft to make money and to provide for themselves and their community. Their behaviors are slightly different than most of the men, however. Whereas it can be assumed that many men would prefer (or simply are used to) finding a job within the society to some degree, these women are allowed to be themselves, think about their emotions and culture, and of course translate this into their work. They have a number of stories to tell and this is their way of creating a legacy. Even though, with the exception of one male in the group of five painters, these are mostly women, men are not necessarily being subordinated in any way. Rather, this is simply a means for women to maintain a life outside of the home and provide some extra income. Men are not subordinating these women either as they seem to recognize the artistic and cultural value of what these painters are doing. In general, there are no tensions or major exclusions in terms of gender in this film. Even though it may focus on what these women are working on, it is by no means supposed to be something the women are holding above the men’s heads.
It is clear from the film “Being a Muslim in India” that the extended family is of great importance. Both men and women have defined roles within such a large family and each does his or her part to contribute. What makes this film interesting is that the family does not seem to follow the traditional mold one might think they should. There is more than one wife in the film and one of them handles all the finances for her husband’s tobacco enterprise. This duty is further extended to other relatives as well and it seems that the man goes out and makes the money while the women manage the money. Strangely, this does not seem like subordination of women. While the men may be out, the women are given valuable responsibilities and are thus important to the extended family. This family featured in the film seems progressive as far as that goes and the women, even though kept to more traditional roles in other senses, are powerful. There may be some subordination of women present in the film, but not in terms of managing finances. Men are not subordinated by women in any way throughout the film. Despite the question of finance management though, these women are often belonging to their husbands as is evidenced by the one wife who went into seclusion.
In the film “Banaras Muharram and the Coals of Karbala” women and men behave in entirely different ways. Although the filmmaker does show a number of women singing loudly when they take part in the event, this is mostly an occurrence dedicated to men and male identity. When the women disappear from the film, these men come together to engage in male activities such as walking over hot coals. In many ways it seems this is a male-centered event and the director makes no attempt to hide this fact. Even though the women are responsive, once they disappear it becomes clear how deep the divisions are between the genders. Despite the fact that the film shows men and women separately for the most part, this does not seem like an effort at subordination, rather it is a male-centered time during which women are not involved. They do not seem to shun the women, but instead it seems recognized that they should not be present in the streets.
In general, women’s roles differed from of men in that they seemed more connected to the household and the family, both immediate and extend. They do not seem to have much political power and are not priests or regulators of religion. They are marginalized in some instances, but there was little dissatisfaction expressed in any of the films. The men, on the other hand, are more likely to be associated with being outside of the home, earning money, and organizing ritual events. Although there are differences in terms of subordination, it is not fair to say that men or women are subordinated, but rather than certain situations involve different dynamics in terms of gender. It is also worth noting that some of the films demonstrated that there was a great deal of equality between the genders although this was only obvious during festive or ritual occasions. It seems that although women in India are perhaps not as free to do what they wish as in the West, they are not (at least by evidence of the films) subordinated completely and all times. Instead there seems to a balance of duties and responsibilities and thus the end result is a newer, more accurate conception of gender relations in India.