Hinduism and status of Women

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Hinduism and Status of Women
URL – http://genderpluralismcenter.blogspot.com/2013/12/hinduism-and-status-of-women.html

Vijay Khurana

Every day morning when I read the newspaper I feel confused whether to say I’m Proud to be an Indian or I’m Ashamed to be an Indian.  Are we actually moving forward to becoming a developed and responsible nation and society Or Are we moving backwards?  Infact moving backward would have been more pleasant considering the glorious past of our nation. 

Participation of women in London Olympics is the highest ever almost equal to men.  A young girl gang raped and killed in a moving bus on the busiest streets of Delhi. Saina Nehwal, Sunita Williams, Sania Mirza, Mary Kom shinning in their respective fieldssetting examples of extraordinary strength of women.

Alarming statistics of female foeticide in India.

Reading such news everyday one is forced to think about the status of women, Are women really equal to men?  Do they actually deserve equal status?  If they do then what is wrong with our society?  Our governments and society have been laying different  rules and practices to enable women to get equal status.  But seeing the current situation in India it is very clear that they have not been successful or a very minimal improvement has happened.  Is their approach wrong or there is something more to it which they are not addressing to?  What is the responsibility of the society in general and families in particular?    

Religion is a very important deciding factor in every walk of life of an Indian.  For Indians religion Is a way of life.  It guides day to day thinking and working.  Let’s see what Hinduism, which is the largest followed religion in India, says about the status of women.  Hinduism is a religion where God has himself, in many forms and at different times, lived on the earth among common people preaching them how to handle each and every life situation by bearing it on themselves, by setting themselves as examples, by enacting stories giving long lasting lessons.  Hinduism has recorded millions of deities who have visited earth in different life forms to give guidelines to the society.

If on one hand we have examples of male Gods showing valour and aggression like Lord Shiva, Rama and Krishna, same way we hear stories of Goddess Durga and Chandi showing similar courage and fierceness of a warrior.  If we consider Lord Kuber as God managing wealth, we pray Goddess Lakshmi for prosperity.  During Diwali, the most important festival among Hindus, the main worship is offered to Goddess Lakshmi.   Goddess Saraswati is a symbol of intellect and wisdom.

In all the stories of hinduism history women had been given equal respect and status as was being given to men.  They were never referred to as fairer or weaker beings.  Women were a part of all the rituals and without their participation prayers and hawans were not considered complete.  The famous Hindu prayer commencing with the words “tvameva mata cha pita tvameva” is recited by all the Hindus atleast once in their lifetime.  The prayer refers same God as being our mother and father, hence showing gender equality and giving equal importance to both.  

As per Rigveda if a man is married, he cannot perform Vedic ceremonies without his wife.  A wife is called “Ardhangini” meaning equal half of one’s self.  A hindu wedding ceremony requires the bride and the groom going around sacred fire altar seven times.  Four of these steps are lead by the bride and three by the groom, another example of equal status.  In every aspect of life women were considered important and powerful.  Even in as old epics as Ramayana there are examples of women being warriors and their have been ample examples of women handling swords in the later tales.  Queen Kaikayi and King Dashratha fought a war together in which Queen Kaikayi saved his life due to which Dashratha vowed to follow whatever she said.

When Lord Rama had to separate from Goddess Sita due to the comments of a common man, he did not consider Sita to be a weak person.  With due confidence he sent her alone to live in jungles.  He had no doubts that she will not be able to manage alone otherwise he would not have taken such a harsh decision.  Goddess Durga’s incarnation Maa Vaishno Devi all alone was able to kill a giant and powerful demon Bhairav Nath.  She must have been physically very powerful and having warrior capabilities to be able to kill him.  This job could have been done by some other male god also if they considered women to be weak.

There are examples of rituals in Hinduism being performed to pray for the birth of a girl child, today we kill girls in the wombs itself.  In the past society had given rights to women to choose their own marriage partners, Swayamvars are a proof of it.  Today in same India mostly girls have no or very minimal say and have to marry unknown partners whosoever their families select for them.  We pray to Goddess Saraswati for intellectual powers and deny education to our own girl children.  We pray to Goddess Durga but deny equal opportunities to our daughters to develop physical strength.  We buy toy guns for our sons and dolls for daughters.  I should confess here that even I do the same because even my daughter has been unintentionally trained by family and society around to like only so called girlish toys.  Now we are trying hard to develop her interest in active sports and fighting skills.

Gods and Goddesses who created Hinduism and whose teachings we are supposed to follow, never differentiated on gender basis.  There were no separate rules for men and women.  If Lord Rama took birth in a family where his father had three wives,  Lord Krishna supported Pandavas where one wife had five husbands thereby endorsing equal rights for men and women in this aspect also and acceptable by society during those times.  Their are no examples of male gods referring to female gods as being weak or not equal to men in any aspect.  Something went wrong in the recent history of hindu culture that women started to be treated and considered as weaker beings.  They were considered as fit for the job of home makers only.  They were no more trusted with business and jobs requiring physical strength.  Women were expected and trained to be delicate creatures.   This could have happened because of the interactions with other cultures where women were not considered equal OR there is every possibility that Hindu men got greedy or scared because of the capabilities of women and tried to overpower them.  

The status of women was misinterpreted and revised code of conduct was created by the so called higher class to gain control over women and society in general.  This is exactly the same situation like the caste system which was created to reap the benefits of specialization over generations but was later misinterpreted in the name of religion and karma by the educated and warrior classes to overpower other sections of society and declared themselves as supreme and better than others.  Same people jeopardized the equal status of women.

Women were started to be considered and treated as physically and intellectually weak.  They were not trusted with business and war activities.  They were made financially and physically dependent on men and required to just follow instructions like slaves.  After generations of such treatment and oppression today women have actually genetically become physically weaker than men.  

My eldest sister got married when I was 10 years old.  She moved to her new house which was 80 kms from us.  She was not allowed to travel alone and most of the times I had to escort her as a bodyguard even though their were other sisters available who were older than me.  But just because of being a male I, a 12 years old was considered more strong and supposed to protect a 22 years old woman.  My father, a businessman was considered modern in those days as he provided good education to all his daughters but even he did not provide business training to any of them.  My elder brother and myself were introduced to business starting at the age of 14 years.  I do not blame my father or any other family because then the culture and condition of the society was such that it was quite normal and wise for them not to have taken the risk of sending their daughters to face the male dominated ruthless world.

A very important point to consider here is that God has given different body structures to men and women.  Men are supposed to have more physical strength.  But I believe in the beginning this should not have been the situation as it is now.  Women in older times must be very strong physically also.  God has given the responsibility of giving birth to life to women only.  To bear that pain itself requires a lot of strength which I believe most of the men would not be able to manage.  Being able to bear pain is one of the important requirements of becoming a good fighter.  All the women have that prerequisite and they just need to cover the remaining half by developing the strength to hit back.  This is not very difficult and women have done it time and again.  Very few male warriors had the courage to match the capabilities of Rani Laxmi bai.  How many men would be able to bear the punches of Mary Kom?  Sania Mirza can easily compete and win against most of the male tennis players in the country.  P.T.Usha can run faster than most of the men in the country.  It is just a matter of training and the way generation after generation women have becoming genetically weak same way they can become equally strong.      

In the west(Europe and North America) women have been able to achieve respectable status.  But still it is not to an extent that it can be treated as equal to men.  Even there women are treated as physically weak.  Today women are being used as a bait to lure men.  Women clothing is one very good example.  Any designer or brand designs revealing clothes for women but full body covering clothes for men for the same occasion.  I got several opportunities to visit Europe and North America.  It is very ironical to notice that on a very cold evening for a party most of the women arriving shivering in very thin and differently cut party dresses but most of the men in 3 piece suits leaving only their hands and face open to bitter cold.  Dressing is a very personal choice but the point I want to raise here is that due to male domination even fashion designers may have started designing such clothes to make women look more attractive to men.  The same concept is still going on for ages may be unintentionally now.  Even in the west people would call it unfashionable and may laugh if a woman arrives at an evening party in a 3 piece suit with a tie but the same is accepted normal for men. 

Today women are struggling to regain their lost status and a lot of them have become good examples by reaching top positions in different professions and by developing physical strength to the extent of commanding respect.  But still the effect of these examples has not percolated to the masses.  The numbers are far from changing the mentality of the society overall.  A very recent example,  a squad of women commandos especially trained to protect VIP’s was left unemployed as no VIP wanted to take risk of their life.  Women really need to come forward in large numbers and set everyday examples of especially physical strength and intelligence to be able to change the thinking process of the society.  Parents of girls have to take this responsibility to promote their daughters right from childhood.  They should give equal responsibilities and facilities to their both male and female children.    

The concept of reservation and special facilities for women should be written off immediately.  It has done more harm than any good as it keeps reminding the society that women are weak and without reservation cannot equally compete with men.  Reserved seats for women in buses and trains, separate queue for women, extra income tax benefits, reservation in jobs and now in parliamentary elections also.  An old man 60 years age standing in a bus to give seat to a 25 years old woman is a common sight in India and it gives clear message to all the onlookers that women are physically weak.  To get equal status they should compete equally.  Maybe one or two generations have to suffer but this will eventually change the mindset of the society in general.  It is the duty of the governments to provide sufficient and efficient facitlities to train the women better.  Law should punish harshly the perpetrators for crimes against women.

However the real change will happen only when women themselves have the courage and strength to fight back.  A girl herself slapping an eve teaser and having strength to fight one to one will only ensure that this menace becomes history.  Every woman should become financially independent.  I hope very soon we see the day when we have one common national cricket team.  The day when we see both men and women soldiers patrolling our countrie’s borders marching together shoulder to shoulder.  The day when women also take pride in showing their swollen biceps and 6 pack abs.  When the word “Dowry” is studied in history books only.  And finally on a lighter note the day when we have as many complaints of adam teasing as we get for eve teasing.  That will be the day when we can actually say Women have achieved equal status in every aspect.

Finally I would like to say that atleast in Hindu society we should follow what our Gods wanted us to do.  We should respect and treat women as equals.  If we do not do so that means we consider our epics as just stories for entertainment not real happenings or lessons from our Gods.

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