“The tremendous engine of competition will destroy everything. If you are to live at all, you must adjust yourself to the times.…. Educate your women first and leave them to themselves; then they will tell you what reforms are necessary for them. In matters concerning them, who are you?
– (Swami Vivekananda, Complete Works, Volume 6,
Notes of Class Talks and Lectures delivered at Madras in 1892-93)
Many people described Bharat as a ‘bundle of contradictions’ and we find many such examples in all spheres of our national life. But the kind of incongruity we find in our discussion on women issues is unparallel. It is unfortunate that the culture in which women are respected as ‘Adishakti’, revered in the form of ‘Kanyapujan’ duing the ‘Navratri’ festival, the Government has to come up with ‘Save Daughters’ campaign. According to the Pew Research report of 2014 ‘crime against women’ is the most pressing problem of Bharat. There are many fields in which our feminine power is proving their metal but simultaneously commodification of women for selling products, is also on the rise. Can we find answers to these contradictions with the so called ‘Gender Discourse’ that emerged in the Western milieu or do we need to find our own Bharateeya answers?
The feminism evolved in the Anglo-Saxon context was deeply rooted in the ‘Christian’ understanding of ‘Gender’. The perception of feminine as the ‘inferior gender’ resulted in discrimination and revolt. There was a hard struggle to get even the right to vote; so the spirit of competition, and if necessary conflict, is inherent between men and women. Ultimately this resulted in disintegration of family institution and crumbling of social structures. While many sociologists in Europe and America are accepting this limitation and making necessary amendments, we are blindly emulating the path of Western feminism, forgetting to develop our own version.
We need to realise that no Bharateeya scripture has considered women as intellectually inferior or otherwise. The degeneration of the society took place due to external aggressions. With the sheer ability of fighting with the enemy, men started deciding the fate of women. Therefore, issues pertaining to women are actually rooted in the mindset of men. It is the male counterparts who need to be awakened and empowered.
In a diverse country like Bharat, there cannot be fit-for-all solutions to problems. Many Vanvasi or urban poor women are much more ‘liberated’ than their middle class counterparts. North-eastern States or Kerala have different set of issues than those of Haryana and Rajasthan. We need to find localised thinking in tune with the historical and cultural context of sub-regions.
While doing all this, the ‘power’ based understanding of man-woman relationship has to be discarded. The idea of competition has to be replaced with complimentarity. The Shiva-Shakri approach, which considers man and woman as two constituents of a single whole, has to be rekindled. Rather than arguing for absolutist equality, natural distinctions should be cherished and accepted for enabling each other’s accomplishments. No individual is above family and no family is above society, is the Bharateeya principle that can bring back balance in our life with interdependence.
This Navratri, while worshipping the Goddess nature in various forms, we should remember the teaching of Vivekananda of facilitating women’s education and resolve to create conditions for complimentary and complete living.