The hand that rocks the cradle…

My friends think that I am an incorrigible true-blue MCP (the most reviled kind), but they couldn’t be any further to the truth. And the truth is that I absolutely love women. I have no qualms in expressing my love for them. Perhaps the tendency to show such MCP-ish behavior stems from the overbearing pressure that our testosterone dominated society exerts upon us – both men and women.

Personally, I prefer to categorize myself as a closet feminist.

Recently the ruling party pressed again for the passage of a bill – The women’s reservation bill – which aims to reserve 33% of the seats on parliament for women. This means that if it does become a law, the next elections might see a lot of male parliamentarians lose their jobs and their political clout.

The criminal antecedents of our member of parliaments (MPs) are fantastic to say the least. We have folks with such illustrious backgrounds as armed robbery, financial frauds (of huge amounts), murders, and rapes. Although Kanimozhi, Jayalalitha, and Maya Memsahab are on war footing to break the stereotype, statistics have shown that women MPs are less likely to have criminal cases against them compared to their male counterpart. So I believe that such legislation might help improve the overall quality of the parliament which has been famous for everything ranging from stupid sloganeering right up to hand-to-hand combat within its hallowed grounds.

The odds of this bill becoming a reality in the near term seem slim but I believe the future of our nation depends on its passage. Not just because it can improve the quality of the law-making body. But also because it will ensure that woman have the opportunity not only to join the mainstream but also partner in this nation’s development on equal terms. It’s effect will trickle down the society strata and help improve the conditions of not only woman who suffer but also of others.

Jawaharlal Nehru’s overall statesmanship is suspect, but the dude did have his insightful moments. One of them was when he commented – “You can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its women”. I believe this is pretty true across the world.

Although India has developed by leaps and bounds over the past few decades, apart from the metropolitan area, the status of women has more or less remained the same. In fact, I can safely say that a majority of Indian women still live on early nineteen century standards. India is the second most populated country in the world. Of the total population, more than 20% are women who live in abject poverty, utmost neglect, suffering inhuman conditions. And this is the statistics for those women who are unfortunate enough to survive.

Data also shows that death of young girls is far more common than young boys due to preferential medical attention; every sixth infant death is connected to gender discrimination; 25% of all girls born in India will not live to see their 15th birthday. All this is leading to an alarming gap between number of males and females in the Indian society which in turn is leading to even more outrageous practices like “sajhha”, ostracizing of widows, sati, honor killing, etc.

The pertinent question is why? To answer let’s take a long walk through history.

The ancient Vedic seers acknowledge and defined the power of women when they observed the raw forces of nature. That was the origin of the concept of the primordial female deity. They noticed nature’s particularly destructive form and how it blanketed the entire land. They also noticed how man – here meaning humans – had created clearing for pursuing the domestic way of life. The seers witnessed the transformation of a fiery goddess into a loving mother.

This rudimentary observation led them to define prakriti and purusha – which meant nature and culture respectively. By demarcating the boundaries between the wild and the domesticated way of life, the seers created the difference between matsya nyaya – jungle law – and Sanatan Dharma.

In the original Vedic society, the woman was extremely valuable as it was only through her that a man could father a child, keep his line alive, and repay his debts to his ancestors. Traditional Hindu theology states that unless the soul has achieved liberation, it must return to fulfill its karmic duties. Hence producing off-springs was an important goal of humans, as it provided a means for an ancestor to return and fulfill obligations that she/he would have had to abandon at the end of her/his previous life. The woman was considered a goddess because she provided that medium.

So it is inferred that in Vedic and ancient Hindu society the woman was far more powerful than man, and was the master of her own sexuality. In fact so powerful was this concept that a woman could approach any man and if he refused her, the society would deem such an individual a eunuch.

However, the digression started when society began associating prakriti & purusha to gender rather than the concepts that they signified.

As society progressed, it was deemed inappropriate that a woman be allowed to associate herself with any man of her choice. Questions were raised that this was in one way allowing the matsya nyaya – jungle law – to pervade into society. Legend has it that Shvetaketu – believed to be the first proponent of patriarchic society – saw his mother with another man, and complained to his father the great sage Uddalaka. To which his father replied that it was the way of the world. Shvetaketu believed that this was unfair on the children produced through such union and so set down the laws of marriage and fidelity so that children could know their biological father. Important thing to be noted here is that he never mentioned anything about monogamy/polygamy.

Before Shevtaketu introduced the law of marriage, women had full sexual freedom. The degradation of woman’s station in society began from the time their sexuality was controlled. This led to the development of the beliefs that women are inferior to men; should always be subordinate to males; considered a liability to family which bears them. The ancient book Manu Smriti says “by a young girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house”… “In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent.”

So radical was this departure that by the time of the great battle of Mahabharata, swayamvara, the process in which a woman had the complete right to choose any man in the gathering became a contest among “worthy” rivals and the woman was relegated to be a trophy.

Later the Muslim invasion brought its own share of goodies – the hijaab, the harem, female circumcision, etc.

The British not to be left behind brought their own things – collectively called the great Victorian Prudery – which although completely abandoned and forgotten in the land of its origin, is still held in high esteem by the Indian population as if it’s a commandment from God.

Since then, so strong is the vice like grip of this collective thought of female subjugation that women have been subjected to unimaginable atrocities in its name and still continue to suffer. Each and every aspect of a woman’s life is governed under its watchful eye and the many addendums to it –created by society – over the centuries.

From the fiery Amazon of ancient times, lately the primary function for an Indian women (and again I can dare say, practiced almost across the country) is to abandon her wishes, quell her desires and take care of the family, serve her husband, and to bear children; more importantly male children. May you have a 100 sons is a common Indian (and not Hindu) blessing. Right from an early age, a girl is conditioned to believe and accept this fact. And, I have seen the most educated, broad minded women succumbing to this.

The Indian constitution which is supposed to one of the grandest (and most voluminous) document in the world goes into excruciating details to provide equal rights to both men and women. However, the Indian society has failed to accept the high ideals that its constitution, its own rich traditions, and deeply insightful books embody.

To add insult to injury, we the people (both men and women) turn a blind eye to inhuman acts committed on our womenfolk.

We turn the page when we read that a 17 year old was gang-raped by more than a 100 men in broad daylight. We rant that our society is straight-jacketed into customs and traditions which no longer have bearing in today’s life. Yet when a 21 old is murdered when she wants to be with a man of her choice, there is no candle light vigil. We complain that our daughters, wife, and sisters are not safe traveling in the night alone. And yet, there is no peaceful protest when a young educated woman is blinded because she resisted and fought back her rapist. There is no fast onto death, when we get to know that pedophiles of foreign origin have molested more than hundred young orphan girls right under our collective noses.

We idolize men who are domineering (including the author who unabashedly calls himself a MCP) and assume that such a stance signifies their machismo. And, call men who claim to be in touch with their feminine side effeminate. And then we gossip in hushed tones as to how the neighbor is a wife-beater. We sit in air-conditioned cafeterias /coffee houses and dream grandiose thoughts about how we will change the society. However we passively sit and watch the progress of a legislative piece for more than 20 years and still not a law. All this reminds me of the following lines:

Aadmi hi aadmi ko chhal raha hai, kab se bas yahi kram chal raha hai,
Roz ho raha hai chaurahe par sita haran, jab ki sadiyon se ravan yahan jal raha hai.

I know a brilliant, vivacious, and talented young lady. Over the years, I have seen her overcome great odds, live up to the expectations of others, and help out in the time of need. Apart from being highly educated she is an exceptional human being. And yet lately, she has been pushed to the fringes of society. Why? Because, she is a widow.

This is my ode to her, the many of her kind, and also other Indian women who suffer silently out there.

One of the best insights that man has left for humanity is –  यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते तत्र रमन्ते देवताः (Where the women are respected there the Gods reside). Of the high ideals that we claim we have for women – the benevolent mother goddess, the primordial female deity, Meenakshi, Annapoorna, Lakshmi, Durga the Destroyer of Evil – it’s not only unfortunate that we don’t follow what we preach but also that this insight has been consigned to the garbage dump of history. This truly depicts our moral degradation and societal decay.

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Very well written sir, very impactful. There’s a lot of food for thought here that I think I will be mulling over all day. Truth is, apathy has become a form of self-preservation for most women, at least it lets us function and carry on without crumbling under all the mistreatment, verbal or mental or otherwise. Not justifying, just saying… Also, don’t think the reservation bill would do anything for the lost respect and stature of women in this society. It might clean up politics a bit, true, but society will have to find it in itself to start respecting… Read more »