Synopsis : This blog is about the conflict between the exalted position of women as deities in Hindu religion and their treatment of women as inferior to men due to their tribal tradition of patriarchy.
Source : Google photo
I have written a few times about the patriarchal system practiced in India and its effect on the people who grow up biased against women from their childhood. Today I would like to expand on this theme and study the great pernicious effect called the gender bias in India that denigrate women to a secondary role in the Hindu society although their religion places great importance of worshipping female deities like Kali, Durga and many others. This is where lies the dichotomy of their society that on one hand venerates female deities and on the other hand relegates women into a subservient role that diminishes their importance in their society as a whole.
I think this dichotomy comes from the tribal origin of the patriarchal system and has less to do with the religion itself although if you will study the ancient literature of India, you will learn how great women were and how their intellect and ability to govern or take part in the important matter of the state were highly appreciated by everyone. Women had equal rights in every respect and chose their mates freely often in open contest where prospective grooms had to prove their worth in intelligence as well as military prowess.
There were great mathematicians and astrologers in the ancient times who were women so much so that the ancient sages named them in the Vedas and Puranas full of their praises. Ghosha( wisdom), Lopamudra( intelligence), Maitreyi ( philosophy), Gargi ( Philosophy), Swati, Arundhati , Khana and many others are mentioned for their contribution to the intellectual discussion that led to the development of Vedic scriptures and many treatise on great Hindu philosophies. Men and women had equal rights in education and some were trained in martial arts just like men whereas the Greek and other ancient civilizations gave women a secondary role and were not in favor of giving those equal rights and education.
Female deities in the Hindu religion were given more importance than males so their names appear first like Sita Ram, Lakshmi Narayan etc. Here are some women who are known as the role models for all women in India.
Lalita Mahatripura Sundari. (Supreme Goddess who is even higher than Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra.)
1) Sita. (Intelligence, Self-determination, and courage.)
2) Savitri. (Self Determination and intelligence.)
3) Anasuya. (For her humility, and extreme power.)
4) Satyabhama. (Valour.)
5) Lopamudra (composer/contributor of Rig Veda.)
6) Vakh Ambrini (composer/contributor of Rig Veda.)
We see how highly women were placed in the Vedic society and how much their abilities in science, mathematics, philosophy ,astronomy and other fields of knowledge were appreciated and praised in the scriptures so long ago but when we come to the present period of the long Hindu civilization, we find that women do not enjoy the equality they did long ago and have definitely regressed to the point where they are treated as less than males and therefore subject to greater scrutiny and restrictions that casts a dark shadow on the Hindu society as a whole .
We therefore ask what has caused this regression and why the Hindus do not see it as a dichotomy. Why they venerate the women as deities on one hand and treat their women less than men. I think this is where the tribalism comes in that introduces bias against women that has nothing to do with the past glories of women as mentioned above. Hindus see it as a separate issue that has less to do with their religion and more to do with the Hindu culture where the patriarchal system is firmly established that favors boys over girls.
Let us now analyze this and find out the reasons behind the development of the patriarchy that favors boys and not girls. I have written in my earlier blogs that the property inheritance from father to son to grandson is the practice in such a system where the females do not enjoy the same rights as males and where the females are seen as the liability and not the assets. This denigrates females automatically to a subservient role in the patriarchal society where they become the passive participants in the society because all the important decisions are made by the males in favor of males. Women are married off and leave the family whereas the men stay and look after the parents and grandparents. This is perhaps one of the reasons for patriarchy that is self-serving.
But I have to go back to the period when the role of women in the society started to diminish and the reason why. I think the Moslem invasion of India and its subjugation by them for centuries led to the idea that women were subject to protection being of the weaker sex so many restrictions on them were introduced by men to “ protect them” from those who saw their liberty as an invitation to molest them with impunity. Beautiful women were kidnapped and sold to prostitution or worse and were traded freely by the invaders so women started to hide their faces by wearing veils for the first time. As late as the 7th century, women were quite free and dressed as they liked judging from the Khajuraho temple sculptures but slowly they gave up their freedom to be safe from marauders.
A woman alone could no longer walk anywhere without being molested so she became dependent on the males for her protection. The dependency led to subservience that diminished her role as an equal participant in the development of the society. Her roles became limited to breeding, raising the children and preparing the home and hearth to serve her male relatives. The education for them became secondary as she was not expected to work and earn a living so became totally dependent on the males who were the bread earners and who assumed the role of superiority over women. Thus they assumed the role of provider and the protector of women that further eroded woman’s rights as enjoyed by them during the Vedic period.
I think this background is necessary to understand the status of women in India today because it is all tied to the history. It is of no use talking to men about women’s rights and equality as they had enjoyed in the past because the patriarchal system is well established and deeply entrenched everywhere so people just follow it instead of challenging it and changing it.
There is another factor that influences this bias against women in India. It is called the fear of women. People are very afraid of women who now demand equality in every respect because that challenges the male dominance of the society that can turn the patriarchal system upside down and may have drastic unknown social consequences so people try hard not to abandon the only system they have known and embrace something unknown.
The system favors males over females so they are not ready to see a new breed of educated women who are joining the work force, now join the army and the air force and are showing that they are in no way inferior to anyone in any field. There are women pilots, engineers, doctors, scientists, teachers and great athletes who win accolades. They are proving that they as working mothers can and do raise good families and help improve their standard of living by earning in full-time jobs. This is a drastic change from the past that gives women more voice than their mothers and grandmothers who were so tied to their home and hearth that they had to sacrifice their own ambitions and aspirations for the sake of peace and amity.
But the tribal culture that views women as the weaker sex and of inferior status in the society still persists in the mainly uneducated class where the tribalism is rife and where women are still mistreated based on certain beliefs. I have written in the past that the sexual harassment and abuse of women is a form of social disapproval albeit in a violent form of liberated woman who walks alone or with a male friend at night or dresses in a certain way that provokes cat calling and eve teasing. It is their way of telling that the traditional society does not approve the behavior of newly liberated women so they must be shown disapproval this way often with tragic consequences.
It is in no way different from other strictly traditional societies where they require women to wear Abaya or a black tent with only two peep holes and where they may not walk alone anywhere or even drive. In India it is not so drastic but the social disapproval of women dressing nontraditionally and demanding equal rights exists although women are gaining more independence through education and better working opportunities that good quality education provides them.
In one aspect women are still very dependent on their parents is the matter of marriage because the parents feel that it is their traditional duty to arrange the marriage of their daughter so she must not have a boyfriend and declare a “love marriage” because the marriage is India has nothing to do with love at first and is purely an arranged marriage. By and large most women accept it as their fate because they are not allowed to have a boyfriend. A girl child is told not to look at boys or play with them since the childhood and the boys are told the same thing so there is a strict separation of sexes even when the children do not understand what their sex means to others. A boy who plays with girls is teased endlessly by other boys and called names.
I know this because I was so teased by other boys but I ignored them because as children we did not put any importance to the artificial separation of sexes this way until much later when the society became more intolerant to the notion of teen age infatuations. At the age of eight, my best friend was a girl and even at the age of 13 or 14 ,my neighbors I played with were girls of my own age and were my friends but I was a rebel from the start and did not much believe in conventions.
Girls in India now say that the boys do not know how to behave with girls so are very awkward if they are thrown together socially because they do not know how to accept girls naturally and behave in a normal way. May be it is also true of girls because they too have the same type of upbringing. Now with the spread of education for both sexes, there is a natural mixing in colleges and later at the work places so they are learning how to behave toward each other in a normal way but still need approval of their parents for marriage for the sake of tradition.
A great deal of sexual abuse, harassment and eve teasing is the result of strict traditional upbringing of boys who look at girls in a patronizing way and at best become proprietary toward them. No boy I know has ever stood up to his parents and say that I will not marry a woman whom I do not know and will not agree that you take a dowry from the poor girl’s parents. Any woman who knows about such a principled person will have great deal of respect for him even if he is not the chosen groom for her but I have not met such a person.
In fact I have not met a single woman who is so principled either although I have heard of cases where girls broke off the engagement on the day of marriage due to excessive demands of the groom or the would be in-laws for dowry and gifts because they had self-respect and could not tolerate such abomination. But such girls are rare and need to come forward to give hope to millions of girls who are so chained to their traditions. To break with tradition requires a great deal of courage and independence because people are afraid of social disapprobation. Perhaps the parents are more afraid so they insist of the tradition and require the sons and daughters to obey them. The education has less to do with the making of a principled man or woman and has more to do with the realization that there are inherent flaws in the tradition they practice so it must be corrected.
When the boys and girls, men and women learn to act naturally toward each other, they take a giant step toward dismantling the patronizing patriarchal system and make the society more just and fair. In equal treatment for the sons and daughters, the parents also take the first step in promoting equal rights for the women and help weaken the patriarchal system that normally defies such pressure to change. This come from the education of the parents who then promote the education of their children so I believe that eventually women will gain more rights, more education and more independence from the tribal culture and live the way they want.
The golden age of female liberation as enjoyed during the Vedic period may still be a pipe dream for most women but with the spread of education particularly in the middle class, more and more women will start to stand up for their rights to choose their mates and live the life they all dream of . But this will only happen when men also come forward and show some spine to meet the expectations of college educated women of today and acknowledge that the ancient traditions are now outdated because women are a very integral part of the development of a new society that is fair, just and equitable . I still have hope because it does not make sense to venerate female deities and denigrate women at the same time just because the tradition calls for it. Such dichotomy has no place in any modern society anywhere so I say to all boys and girls “Come forward and join hands to make our society a better place for everyone “.
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