College email lists can get repetetive after a point. I tend to run through them with a quick thumb. Yesterday, something caught my eye. Shivani Kumar, a batchmate at TISS wrote this email about a festival called Jaani Shikaar.I am publishing this here with her permission and after some mild editing to improve readability. Many thanks to her for sharing this.
Not that much is happening but saw this interesting festival in Jharkhand. It is called Jaani Shikaar. Every 12 years the women dress up as men and carry weapons and are out on the roads for a hunt. They hunt anything. Hens, pigs, goats and dogs. At least that’s what is supposed to happen. This year was one such year and I got to see the Jaani Shikaar in action.
Gangs of women dressed in male attire carrying sticks, axes, spears walk the roads. Most of these gangs have a few dead animals hanging around them, most common of these being hens and pigs. However what seems to be the new addition in this hunting expedition is that now these gangs stop all vehicles and extract money. Not huge sums, but token amounts as some sort of obedience rituals.
Tried to figure out the origin of this festival and its purpose. Since my sources were locals who found the question inconsequential I got a couple of versions, making sense but not absolutely fool proof.
Apparently at the time Aurangzeb attacked this part of the country, he attacked these parts of tribal land on the day of a festival. That being the situation, the men were all drunk on haria and were thereby unable to fight Aurangzeb. It was now that the women of the villages dressed up as men and fought off Aurangzeb’s army. Later however Aurangzeb came back with renewed strength and took over the place. However this festival commemorates the event.
Another school believes that every 12 years women play the role of men. Hunting and food gathering being the activities associated with men are handed over to women. Some sort of gender redistributive activity!
However in both stories the periodicity remains a question. The spirit if the festival was indeed worth seeing, but the concentration has shifted from hunting to extracting money. I wonder whether that too is reflective of the roles men play today?
We maybe onto something here. While the Mughal empire did spread over all sides in the 17th century. Cooch Behar, Bihar, Punjab, Jharkhand, parts of Afghanistan, Bijapur and Golconda. But a ritual from the 17th century? Such a localized one? The choice of 12 years is weird too. For something to sustain on a twelve year cycle, it needs to have some amount of institutional backing. (I just wish I had access to my college library now.)
The gender aspect of this just has me amazed. Masculinity and feminity as interpreted as dichotomies. People often argue that gender roles bring in a balance in relationship. Given the forms that expected masculinity takes, it appears more so as a matter of establishing power over a role, or giving a higher value to the role. Yesterday, I linked to an interesting post at Global Voices, which drew links between the expected roles of women in the peacebuilding process in Sri Lanka and the way women are perceived by the gaming industry. An interesting point
Ultimately, I think a lot of studies done on the effects of computer game violence simplify the complex matrix of factors and actors that shape our approach to conflict in real life. That women like less violent games don’t necessarily make them inherently better peacebuilders, a proposition as ridiculous as stating that men, given their propensity for violence, are less capable as peacebuilders than women.
Maybe we need to stop looking at feminity and masculinity as opposing values with rigid definitions. Feminity has nothing to do with women anyway. It’s a misnomer. A value is desirable or not, across the sexes. Any other expectation is just oppressive.