What was growing up in Chittorgarh like for both of you? What were you told you could and could not do?
Pushpa When I got to Class VIII in school, my father wanted to educate me further, but my mother was the real patriarch. She took me out of school, saying they wouldn’t be able to find a husband to match my education. So my education came to an end and I was married off at the age of 15. I really wanted to study further. I was a good student and also great at sports.
Shambhu Regrettably, when Pushpa and I were growing up, it wasn’t customary to educate girls at all. Only boys got to study. So unlike my sister, I went to college and got a bachelor’s degree.
Pushpa I wasn’t allowed to play outside the house or even sit on the porch. Shambhu didn’t even allow me to powder my face or use cream. And then, when I was 18, I had my first son. And seven years later, I had my second.
Shambhu That’s true. I was very regressive to begin with. I was also married off as soon as I finished Class XII. Then I came face to face with my wife’s family whose members were much better educated than me. Their exposure to the world was far greater than mine. My father-in-law worked in the Indian Railways. Two of my brothers-in-law were engineers. So, I have been revisiting the notions I grew up with. I’ve also ensured both my daughters did their masters’ degrees in commerce.
Pushpa, when did your husband die and what did you think your life would turn into after that?
Pushpa My husband Abhay Singh Ranawat died of cancer in 2005. I brought his body back to our house, which is five kilometres away from his parents’ place. My in-laws immediately stepped in to say they would take his body away to perform the last rites. I refused and said we’d been living in our own place for 30 years and that is where I would perform the last rites. We fought even as my husband’s body lay there. I stood firm and finally had my way. It’s also customary for the widow to remain in purdah and not see the light of day for at least six months after your husband dies. You have to remain confined to one room. But I got my brothers to take me away in two months.
Shambhu I got her out of that predicament in two months and took her to my home. We performed the shuddhikaran to make her pure, and then she was free to live her life.
Did you always have a rebellious streak?
Pushpa When my husband was alive, I wasn’t even allowed to go to the market to buy vegetables on my own. It’s only after he died and I began to run the house that I slowly started taking things upon myself. But it didn’t happen easily. Like most Rajput widows in my area, when my husband died, my first thought was that my life is now over. I would spend my days crying inconsolably. Then a relative of mine introduced me to the Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan (Association for Single Women) in Udaipur and I got exposed to the idea that it is okay to live your life, even as a widow. I began to take control of my life. I realised that with self-belief and confidence, I could do anything. So, when the time came to get my sons married, I said I’d org anise it all. Widows aren’t allowed to shop for a wedding, to decorate the chariot, but I said I would do it all. And I have.
Shambhu, did you support Pushpa in her mission to break taboos and officiate at her sons’ twin weddings?
Shambhu Absolutely, though she couldn’t go to the actual wedding. That’s not done amongst Rajput women, even those who aren’t widows.
When you officiated the pre and post wedding ceremonies for your sons’ weddings, did people in your family object?
Pushpa During the bindoli, which involves decorating the chariot and horses that both my sons would sit on to get married, a relative from my in-laws’ side chastised me by saying that the old customs should prevail. I was also taunted with, “Oh, look how dressed up she is… maybe she’ll also wear a diamondstudded bindi on her forehead!” I snapped back and told them that I certainly would and that they must keep their thoughts to themselves. A widow isn’t meant to be seen at all, let alone perform the pre-wedding prayers to Lord Ganesha. I did all of that and with great joy.
What do you dream of doing next?
Pushpa I want Rajput society to change. And as for me, I want to travel, see the world.