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Priyanka Chopra x Bvlgari Mangalsutra Is A Blow To Hindu Women Fighting Against The Patriarchy 

Priyanka Chopra x Bvlgari Mangalsutra Is A Blow To Hindu Women Fighting Against The Patriarchy 

priyanka chopra bulgari mangalsutra

On 1st September, Priyanka Chopra and Bvlgari announced the launch of a contemporary re-imagination of the mangalsutra. Chopra calls this mangalsutra ‘iconic’. At a press conference where she explained the significance of the mangalsutra for a married Indian woman, she also shared that she wears the Bvlgari rendition with ‘everything, dressing it up or dressing it down’. This modern-day rendition of an ancient symbol of matrimony is priced at 3,49,000 INR. That’s three and a half lakhs.

But let’s not congratulate Chopra just yet. She may have brought the spotlight on an age-old Indian tradition. But, in doing so, she has put a damper on the Indian women who are fighting tooth and nail to break away from patriarchal symbolism and oppression. I’ve long held PeeCee in high regard for securing not one but several seats on a global table. Her grit and determination (and PR team) are admirable. 

Of late, though, Priyanka has disappointed. First when she “chose” to take her husband Nick Jonas’s last name, and went from PeeCee to Priyanka Chopra Jonas, making it harder for the rest of us to convince others that we don’t need to change our name after marriage. Her act of self-obliteration made me lose some respect for her, but not all. Because at the end of the day, it was a choice – one I wouldn’t make or endorse, but her choice nonetheless. Her latest venture with Bvlgari though has been the final nail in the coffin (this coffin of patriarchal bullshit doesn’t need too many nails). 

A few months ago, I got acquainted with another writer at a co-working cafe I frequent. Over a much-needed coffee break, he and I discussed how to make war journalism more palatable, and lifestyle journalism more thought-provoking. After a trite but imperative conversation about monetisation and scalability of digital content, we got personal. The conversation steered toward travels and I mentioned, ‘My partner and I went to Sri Lanka for our honeymoon. It was beautiful! I love Sri Lanka!’

My new acquaintance looked very confused by that statement. While I tried to figure out if he was surprised that I loved Sri Lanka or that I went there for my honeymoon, he said, ‘You’re married? You don’t look married!’

‘What do you mean?’ I asked, now perhaps looking more befuddled than he did. 

‘I mean – you’re not dressed like a married woman. No like… I don’t know… diamonds or ring on your finger, or that mangalsutra that married women wear.’ 

He’s not the only one who’s remarked that I don’t “look married,” as if marriage is some sort of a plastic surgery *rolls eyes*. I’ve had relatives ask me why I haven’t put on weight after getting married (didn’t know that was on the to-do list of married women). One aunt told me I should wear brighter colours now that I’m married. Another told me I should wear more jewellery when I visit my parents’ home (can’t even begin to understand this one). 

During my wedding shopping, I had countless arguments with both my mother and mother-in-law about buying formal ethnic wear. Between the two of them, they easily have over 150 sarees. I didn’t see the point in buying more for me, especially given that I probably won’t have even 15 occasions throughout my lifetime where I’ll wear a saree. In the end, we settled on buying only one saree for me – ‘just as a token’. 

This ‘token’ has been sitting untouched in my cupboard for almost two years now. As has my mangalsutra

But, what’s the significance of mangalsutra anyway? 

The term mangalsutra is made of two Sanskrit words – ‘mangal’ and ‘sutram’. ‘Mangal’ means prosperous, blessed, happy and successful, while ‘sutram’ stands for cord. Mangalsutra, a symbol of matrimony in the Hindu culture, is a cord that symbolises a happy and prosperous life. Different people have different meanings attached to this ornament. Some say it protects the bride from an evil eye. Others say that the amalgamation of gold wire and black beads destroys bad vibes (bet you there’s no science behind this). But perhaps the most damaging interpretation of the mangalsutra lies in what the three knots – an integral part of its design – stand for. The first stands for the wife’s obedience to her husband; the second… wait, does it matter? A piece of jewellery that signifies a woman’s obedience to a man is rooted in patriarchy. Point made. 

Hindu family laws are notoriously regressive towards women. From the wife taking the husband’s last name, thus eliminating her own identity prior to being a married woman, to outlawing inheritance of property within her parental family, Hindu laws and culture don’t seem to respect women in their own right.

This is the social truth we are navigating, and trying to challenge. In this scenario, when a celebrity with influence and power among a global audience, not only endorses but celebrates an oppressive object, it is disheartening. 

Answering a reader’s question, SheThePeople Tv’s Yamini Pustake Bhalerao says that when she decided to stop wearing the mangalsutra, she feared judgement from the women in her family. ‘Apart from being a cultural norm,’ she writes, ‘it helps you fit in.’ She is absolutely spot on. These overt representations of one’s marital status make you more acceptable. You become categorisable, and to a stranger, easily recognisable as a married woman. Or, as patriarchal societies would have it – owned by a man. 

The fact that only the woman is expected to wear her relationship status on her sleeve – on in this case, around her neck, not online a dog collar – makes it a sexist custom. To those who say it’s a symbol of love – why does the man not wear a mangalsutra? When a behaviour, ornament, ritual or custom is only for one sex, it is sexist. This is the very definition of sexism. 

It’s not a ‘choice’ for every woman 

When Priyanka Chopra was criticised for taking Jonas’s last name, she said it was her choice. Now, as she faces criticism for telling women to wear a mangalsutra, I imagine she would give the same response – that it’s a choice. But, the reality is that it’s not a choice for many women in our country. Her claim that a mangalsutra is for ‘a great way of taking charge’ is as ridiculous as wearing it around your wrist instead of your neck, and calling it progressive. 

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In orthodox families, women have very little agency. I don’t come from an orthodox family, nor am I married into one. Like Priyanka, I too, have the freedom to choose. I choose not to wear one for both personal and political reasons. 

Personal reason for not wearing the mangalsutra

I don’t like it. 

Political reason for not wearing the mangalsutra

To normalise married women not wearing symbols of being married, so that more and more women have a choice in the matter. 

Every woman’s actions matter. 

If I haven’t said it already, Priyanka Chopra’s business decision to glorify mangalsutra is a blow to those of us who are trying to make it a true choice. Next time a newly married woman says she doesn’t want to wear the neckpiece, I bet there’ll be some “well-meaning” rishtedaar who’ll turn around and say, ‘Priyanka Chopra Jonas wears it.’ And then, shove the Vogue cover in her face. 

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