Like today, in Hindu mythology and history, too, women fought for liberty, be it Sita or Mirabai

dressBy Nandini Oza*

I remember the year 2004 when I was teaching a post graduate course in social work in the Government College in Barwani, Madhya Pradesh (MP) when Bhartiya Janta Party’s (BJP) Uma Bharti became the Chief Minister (CM) of the State. Soon after, the regional press extensively reported that a dress code for girls in the colleges of MP was to be implemented soon by the BJP Government. The reason given was “provocative dresses” worn by the students were leading to “perversions”

I had decided back then that if the BJP Government imposed the dress code, I would change my attire from my regular salawar khameez to pants and kurtas in solidarity with the protesting girls even if it cost me my job as a lecturer in the Government College. However I did not have to do anything of the kind as the Government bowed to wide spread protests across the state. It was a proud moment for me when young girls stood up to the proposed diktat by the then BJP Government.

Come 2017 and a statement by BJP minister Maneka Gandhi as reported by the Indian Express comes to my mind  – “Women and Child Development minister Maneka Gandhi recently made a statement that has left a lot of people baffled. Speaking to NDTV, she said early curfews in hostels ensured safety. “When you are 16 or 17 you are also hormonally very challenged. So to protect you from your own hormonal outbursts, perhaps a lakshman rekha is drawn. It really is for your own safety”.”

It is important to take note that Maneka Gandhi herself has exercised her freedom from her young age by pursuing formal education only up to I.S.C. She took up modeling at age seventeen and dated Sanjay Gandhi as a teenager. But that does not matter. She adheres to BJP –RSS’s skewed ideology concerning women as its minister of Women and Child Development.

Other BJP – RSS functionaries have also expressed their regressive ideas about women very vocally in recent times. This is not surprising as this is the part and parcel of RSS-BJP ideology in its endeavor to build a Hindu Rashtra. However what is worrying is that ever since BJP has come to power at the center, it has started executing its ideas in an aggressive way. For example the Vice Chancellor of the esteemed Banaras Hindu University (BHU), a BJP appointee himself reportedly advocates discriminatory treatment towards girls in the university as follows:

  1. Girls not to be served meat in the hostel mess as it makes the girls “impure”.
  2. Girls cannot avail of the 24X7 library facilities as it would be immoral for girls to study after 10 pm.
  3. Girls cannot use mobile phones after 10 pm.

There are no such restrictions on boys. During my recent visit to Banaras Hindu University, I was told that the girl students are not allowed to raise their voice against the discrimination meted out to them or participate in any protests.

It is under this back drop that the appointment of BJP CM Adityanath and his regressive views about women should also be understood. More importantly, by appointing Adityanath as the CM of UP, the BJP/RSS has given a clear message that this is what BJP stands for and requires the people of this country to abide even if it is contrary to the Constitution of India.

I therefore bring before the readers what Adityanath as BJP CM thinks about women through his article titled, “Matru Shakti Bhartiya Sanskruti Ke Sandarbh Mein”:

In reference to talking about women’s reservation, he says:

‘There are many other dangers in trying to make a woman like a man-

  1. When a woman becomes as impressive as a man, then the home is destroyed.
  2. It is legitimate to train girls but a homemaker should not be the fairy of an assembly.
  3. If men acquire the qualities of a woman along with those of men, than they become God but if women acquire the qualities of men, they become demons…

These are the points made by several old sayings, and we should take them seriously….’ (translation).

Adityanath also says:

‘Otherwise the thoughtless charming storm coming from the west of women’s freedom will uproot them and they [women] will be thrown from a well into the valley’ (translation).

Draupadi being disrobed
Five Pandavas watch helplessly as Draupadi is disrobed

He also says:

‘Our scriptures which have described the greatness of women, after considering the importance and limitations of women have also talked about giving protection to women always. The way in which energy if allowed to remain unregulated and released without control is wasted and can even be destructive, similarly women in form of shakti  (energy) do not need freedom, but require  need based protection and channelization. Therefore what the shastras (scriptures) say-

Women shakti in childhood is protected by father, in youth by the husband and in old age by the son. This way, women are not fit to be left free or independent always. As stated by the shastras that women are not qualified for freedom does not mean that they are dependent but that as energy [women] need protection and control.  The energy of the women power that is protected this way alone converts into midwife and mother of great men and when needed she emerges from home to destroy demons in battlefield…’ (translation).  

From the above writings and many of his speeches that have been televised it is clear that Adityanath’s views about women are deplorable. Adityanath bases many of his beliefs about women on the Hindu scripts, texts and mythology and advocates that women be protected/controlled by men of her family. He also believes that women’s freedom/liberty is a western concept alone and there is a danger that women in India are likely to succumb to it.

However if one were to refer to Hindu mythology, epics and scriptures, there are innumerable occurrences contrary to Adityanath’s views where women have actually suffered humiliation/injustice at the hands of men including those from within the family. One will also see how women have fought for their dignity and freedom from the times of Sita and Draupadi and that women’s struggle for liberty and freedom is not a western concept alone as Adityanath wants us to believe. I give select examples here to prove my points:

  1. The two greatest women icons Draupadi and Sita in Hindu epics suffered great humiliation at the hands of their husbands. Draupadi was staked by her husbands in the game of dice. Even while she was being disrobed, none of her five husbands came to her rescue.

Ram deserted Sita while she was pregnant merely on hearsay. That too, after she had given the test of her purity by passing through fire! What is important to remember is that Sita exercises her freedom in the end to return to mother earth rather than reunite with Ram. There are many other instances in Ramayan where women have been wronged by their husbands. For example Dashrath had three wives, Urmila fended for her own self when Lakshman abandoned her to accompany his brother Ram to the forest and so on.

Sita earth
Sita Returns to Mother Earth
  1. In Mahabharat, Bhisma abducted the three sisters Amba, Ambika and Ambalika, when Amba was about to garland king Salva whom she loved. She protests, goes back to Salva and leaves for the forest after facing rejection from him too. She later practices great asceticism and penance. She holds Bhishma responsible for her misfortune and takes birth as Shikhandi for revenge.
  2. In Mahabharat although Gandhari’s energy was ‘controlled and channelized’ none of her hundred sons rose to be great men. On the other hand, Kunti exercised her freedom to have a son even before she was married. Kunti also chose that each of her sons was born with a different father. And yet, her sons turned out to be more virtuous than the hundred sons of Gandhari. But ultimately both Gandhari as well as Kunti received a lot of heart ache on account of their sons. In fact, Gandhari had no sons left to be by her side in her old age although she had hundred of them.
  3. Ahaliya was turned into a stone by her much older husband sage Gautama. Her only “fault” was to have been deceived and seduced by Lord Indra disguised as her husband Gautama. The irony is, Ahaliya was to be eventually liberated from her condition only at the touch of Ram’s feet, the very same Ram on account of whom Sita returned to mother earth!
  4. Renuka was beheaded by her son Parsuram who was ordered by his father Rishi Jamadagni to do so for her having faltered in her chaste thoughts only for a moment!  Fortunately she was brought back to life but only when her son wished so.
  5. From the days of Dushyant till the present day, there have been many incidents where husbands have refused to even recognize or acknowledge their wives leave alone support or protect them! Women from the times of Shakuntla have fended themselves well with great dignity under such circumstances.
  6. Birth of wayward sons is also mostly blamed on the wrongful behaviour or thoughts of women in Hindu mythology. For example, Kashyap Rishi’s wife Diti is said to have given birth to unworthy sons as her mind was impure with lust. It does not matter if Kashyap rishi himself had more than one wife! It was a common practice among Kings, Rishis and even Devas’ to have more than one wife while women were even cursed for having just “impure” and “unchaste” thoughts!

The important part is that learning from such incidents in Hindu mythology and texts, women in India since the days gone by have fought for liberty, be it Sita or Mirabai. Women fought back then and continue to fight even now- first, for equality and dignity within their own homes and family, next, within the religious beliefs and practices and ultimately for equality and dignity in the society at large. Today many women have made great strides to be able to live life on their own terms and not succumb to diktats. Women continue to fiercely safeguard their liberty, equality and freedom as clearly recognized by the constitution of the country and not as any foreign concept.

amba and bhishma
Amba and Bhishma

Therefore it is high time that all those in the country who believe in women’s dignity, freedom and equality recognize BJP for what it is. It is time that BJP’s regressive ideas concerning subjugation of even women are understood and strongly condemned. It is time that BJP/RSS’s skewed ideology for the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra where women across all communities will have only secondary status to men is checked collectively. If this is not done, BJP/RSS and its hard core – orthodox Hindu ideologues will inflict irreparable damage to not just women but men too and to the Indian society at large.

Independent researcher and social activist. Source: http://nandinioza.blogspot.in/

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