“Our right of interference is limited entirely to giving education. Women must be put in a position to solve their own problems in their own way. No one can or ought to do this for them. And our Indian women are capable of doing it as any in the world.”
—Swami Vivekananda, On Indian Women – Their Past, Present and Future, Prabuddha Bharat, December 1898
The best thermometer to the progress of a nation is its treatment to its women. It is indeed an irony that in a nation where all kinds of power whether knowledge, wealth or physical are worshipped in the feminine forms, Prime Minister has to launch “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” (save daughter, educate daughter)’ scheme. The national call to end the “double standards” of differentiating between boys and girls should be welcomed. Still, the questions remain whether we have been treating women beings as inferiors and unfit to live civilisationally or it has encrypted in our social psyche through degradation caused with aggression. The solution to the problems like female feticide lies in the answer to this critical question.
While launching the scheme in Haryana, where the sex ratio is most alarming with 877 females per 1000 males in comparison to the national average of 943, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rightly said that the mindset behind female feticide is worse than that of 18th century. But the roots of this ‘mental poverty’ do not lie in our civilisational thinking. The ‘Devi Mahatmya’ declares, “All forms of knowledge are Thee; and all women throughout the world are Thy forms”. There are ample evidences that the general position and status of Indian women in the Vedic Age was much higher than in any other ancient society. Brahmavadinis like Maitreyee and Gargi and their insights have special place in the Vedic literature. There are references to gender equality through social and educational rights including religious Sanskars. As per the centrality of marriage institution to complete the life, in Indian tradition women could always pursue gainful professions and the joint ownership of the household and property with husband.
It is the psychology of war and aggression that changed the social dynamics. With the fear of facing brunt of invaders, women were restricted to domestic front. Even the ‘Jauhar’, original form of Sati, was more a self-defence exercise against the aggressors after the death of husband rather than self or forceful immolation based on religious faith. The strengthening of the caste institution further restricted many social and religious rights of women.
The modern education and social reforms movement created some space for women in social life. But very nature of British education tends to take us on blind following of the Western ideas of individual liberty. Imitation of western concept of rights and fragmented view of gender relations have in fact hampered our family institution, without much psychological change pertaining to the status of women.
In the 21st century, if we really want to improve the gender quotient of India, Indianising education is the only way out. Power of Saraswati (Goddess of Knowledge) can only empower women in true sense. Unless, we imbibe in our social psyche, both of men and women, that discrimination against women in any form is not-religious through our ancient scriptures and concept of ‘Prakriti’ and ‘Purush’, mere legal measures would not suffice. This is the path where we restore the sanctity of family institution and ensure due status to women with equal role in the nation building process.