Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Eternal India - A Woman's Place in our Society

In India, "the female" is supposed to be worshipped as the "other half" necessary to make one complete. The "female element" is worshipped as "Shakti" and as "destroyer of evil".

All this in the realm of history and popular religious ritual. Let us now see the reality as potrayed, as experienced or probably as it exists.

We witness umpteen instances of women being abused in our country. These are events which have been reported. There are, probably, a million more cases which never get reported. Physical and sexual abuse is the most common and wide spread. Gender based discrimination, denial of education and dowry related abuse are also evils that have taken root deeply as part of our contemporary culture. Equally true, though vehemently denied, is the fact that many "educated" (read: westernised) women have strayed so far away from their roots that an alien culture is found more comforting.

We express disgust at such news reports but think nothing when we ourselves stoop to low levels and indulge in abuse on our own women. We profess great respect for "the female element" and worship "Devi Mata" and make countless trips to Vaishno Devi. Back home, no thought is spared before an angry hand whacks "the female element" and establishing an ephemeral male superiority.

I wondered what could cause this steady decline (if you could call that) in our personal standards and the situation that exists today.
  • Is it our education system that makes us ashamed of our own roots?
  • Are we exposed to a culture (movies, literature, arts, movies and others) that glorifies being licentious, at a very young age?
  • Have we been influenced by our elders who probably behaved in an irresponsible fashion?
  • Are we so stressed out that we just cannot behave in a civil manner with women and abuse is the only option?

As I was reading literature on Swami Vivekananda, I was curious to know his views on the state of women in India and how this should evolve...Read on and let us discover what this Divine Being had to say

"If you do not raise the women, who are the living embodiment of the Divine Mother, don't think that you have any other way to rise. That country and that nation which do not respect women have never become great, nor will ever be in the future."

On another occassion HE goes on to say..."Otherwise, how could the country come to such a fallen condition? How can there be any progress of the country without the spread of education, the dawning of knowledge?.......but know for certain that absolutely nothing can be done to improve the state of things, unless there is spread of education first among the women and the masses...."

Read further...."It is only in the homes of educated and pious mothers that great men are born and you have reduced your women to something like manufacturing machines; alas, for heaven's sake, is this the outcome of your education?"

"The uplift of women, the awakening of the masses must come first, and then only can any real good come about for the country, for India"

Amazing words and how true they ring today. We seem to have forgotten all these words of advice and caution. Our show of respect seems, in comparison, almost ritualistic and superficial. Have we lost our innate goodness or it is just covered by some garbage that needs to be removed. Is it possible for our society to move towards a more humane, more just and a balanced one?

I stand to be enlightened by your views.


BK Chowla said...

marvin,I think it is a combination of various factors.Say,30 odd years back we all lived in joint family set up.The entire system of home governance was different.
Education system,or lack of it has also contributed to the present state of affairs.Parents were happy if their daughter opted for HOME SCIENCE as the subject.
Then Govt policies on employment were male oriented.
We are a Hippocratic society can not be denied.
All this about worshipping the women in India is still in the books and a subject during weddings or such functions.A lot needs to change and the change has to be brought about by us only.
Still,we respect our women of which i am proud.

Rohini said...

It is such a nice post for discussion.
Well, though women are educated and have attained their status in the economic sphere, the problems they face today is worth mentioning.

I have personally experienced a lot.It is not with the joint family issues, or monetary aspects which causes breaks in our family life. There is no bond exists and we can just number a few who call themselves as happy couple. Life is all about compromises and dramas but we never get true LOVE!!

I would surely write a series of posts as well on relationships, and to speak the truth, the outlook of the society has to change a lot.
Women should know to respect their gender and most of the problems will be solved.

Sometimes life is so difficult that neither can one come out of the torturous life, just meant for the society, a false prestige and things likewise.

Well, done my friend you did post a hot issue and that which exists in the society.


Gopinath's "Artickles" said...

Swami Vivekananda's words hold true forever. Things have changed a lot since - while we see the girl child progress in many fields which had been hitherto a male domain, we find pockets of our societies still lagging behind in their thought even today. Violent behaviour is a concern and crimes against women continue to shock us. Hope changes for the better do come faster than we see today.

Smitha said...

That was an amazing post. And I am still to read some of your previous posts that I have missed.

'The uplift of women, the awakening of the masses must come first, and then only can any real good come about for the country, for India' - This is so true.. Only by education and uplifting women, can the society be balanced and prosperous.

I think education does not make us ashamed of our roots. Education is a tool which can be used or misused. We could opt to read up information and make up our own mind or go by half baked information. The way I look at it is, education is a must - lack of education is more dangerous.

And for every '"educated" (read: westernised) women have strayed so far away from their roots ' - there are several women who have managed very well to achieve a very fine balance.

Again,probably a digression, but one thing that upsets me is the allegation that educated women stray away from roots - aren't men equally likely to do so? Why single out women? I think the reason is because our male oriented society is far more forgiving to a man than a woman.

Vinod_Sharma said...

"That country and that nation which do not respect women have never become great, nor will ever be in future". These telling words should have guided those who were in charge of education after Indian became Independent. Particularly because over many centuries, we had forgotten to treat women properly, much less equally as the inseparably half of man and vice versa. Abominable practiced like Sati, poor treatment of widows etc had taken firm root and women had become no more than "manufacturing machines".

When I was a child I recall that there was a "child widow" in the extended family. She was married at 11 and became a widow before she turned 14. For the next nearly 80 years, she wore white and lived as a widow. She was well into the eighties when I met her first. In some parts of Bengal, they used to tonsure widows and send them to Vrindavan to spend the rest of their lives.

So this maltreatment of women has a long history.

Things are changing now. But, as you have pointed out, some sections of society have forsaken their roots almost completely. For many of then it is not man and woman but an unhealthy and essentially destructive man vs woman.

Vivekananda is a rare beacon of pure light. I think it is time that we listened to his call and did much more than we have till now to ensure real upliftment of women in society harmoniously and in balance with nature.

manju said...

A thoughtful post, Mavin, and makes us think, too.

My personal opinion is that the mistreatment of, and disrespect towards women that we see in our society today, is indicative of a more deep-rooted malaise.

We have become more selfish as a society, and think nothing of taking advantage of anyone weaker than ourselves, for our own gain.

In a traditionally patriarchial society women are looked down upon. And taken advantage of, just because men can take advantage of them.

Those rituals and practices in our history which do not allow equality in society must be done away with, and we must build a future allowing equality in society to flourish.

But this future must be created in our own way, based on- as you say- our roots, not on imported ideas.

Mavin said...


We have to judge society by relevant benchmarks. It will not be fair to judge society of say....1947 by current standards.

In those days permitting a girl child to study through school and college was by itself very creditable. Home Science is a good subject and merits more attention.

Through focus and policies, education of the girl child has progressed beyond our wildest dreams but a lot still need to be done.

Mavin said...

Rohini - Thanks...

The point is about the place of a woman in our society.

Well, we seem to have degraded the female somewhere along the way and yes....women also have played a big role in perpetuating some of these practices.

This is a matter of social change and it will take time. Each successive generation with their consciousness will take this forward.

Anrosh said...

over focusing on a particular gender is a danger !

Krishnan said...

Mavin, as usual your post made for great reading. Let me echo what Tamil poet Subramanya Bharathi said:

Following is in Tamil trascribed:

Gummiyadi Gummiyadi Nadumughudum
Kulungida thaikotti Gummiyadi
Nammai pidiththa pisasugal poyina
Nanmai kandomendru Gummiyadi

Ettaiyum pengal thoduvadhu teemaiyendru
Enniyirundhavan mainduvittar,
Veettunkulley pennai pootivaipomenra
Vindhai manidhar thalai kavinghhar”

(Dandiya-dance to celebrate women’s emancipation) that is:

“Dance oh friend dance, playing dandiya let it be with such
force that as you dance it shakes up and wakes up this entire Nation.

Let us dance to celebrate our emancipation from the ghosts
which were holding on to us for centuries. Let us celebrate our achievement.

Those who thought that if education was given to women it
would harm the society, are all dead today !

Those strange fellows who wanted women to be kept locked
inside their homes have now tasted their downfall !

So, oh friends !Let us celebrate the emancipation of women
and dance playing dandiya”.

Mavin said...

Hi Gopi,

Since independence, we have seen the girl child make tremendous progress.

However, this is restricted to urban areas and a few progressive states. Trickle down it will and more as a gompulsion of circumstances than a willing embrace of modern liberal views.

Mavin said...

Hi Smitha,

Education is a must. There cannot be two voices on that. But, the question is what education? This is a hotly debated subject.

I believe education is incomplete without "Human Values". Education is incomplete without it teaching us how to know ourselves and face life.
Our education today is cramming facts and figures.

Re: Women...This equally applies to men and is not meant to target women. "Women" because that is the context of the post and "educated" is mentioned within quotes. This was to highlight what I just said in the previous para.

Please do not be quick to take offence as that statement was not to typify women nor was it used in a generalised way to mean all women.

The ills of the society are not attributed to women. I think the whole society is to be blamed.

Mavin said...


Ghastly practices against women in the name of religion have crept in our culture over hundreds of years through the "Dark Ages".

This process of decay and degradation continues till date and probably a little faster.

This has manifested in violence, hatred, bestiality, cruelty, suspicion in our social interaction. Layers of dirt accumulated on our psyche over the centuries can be removed with a shock treatment. All signals point to some such jolt to the society sooner or later.

Sooner people come into "Knowledge" better it is.

Mavin said...


Your comment is perfect.

I just cannot add my two bits as you have got the very essence of the problem.

Mavin said...


You have a point there.

A little extra attention is probably warranted till the scales are a little more balanced than they are today.

Many historical wrongs accepted as culture need to be set right. I guess this will peter out in a couple of generations.

Mavin said...


Subramanya Bharathi's song is strong and vibrant.

Even through the translation, the strength shines through.

What power!!! What beauty!!! What a thought!!! and What expression !!!

I am impressed.

Smitha said...

Mavin, Apologies - If it seemed that I took offense.. I really did not. I was just pointing out the injustice of that statement - of how the society is quick to blame a woman - for the same things that men get away with. I do understand that your post was not about this at all - and that you were merely quoting. I should have been more clear about it.

And I totally agree with your point about human values - that sort of education is important for everybody.

And I agree with Anrosh that extra privileges/focus could be more detrimental than beneficial if implemented in the wrong way.

Mavin said...


I was just pre-empting any mis--understanding.

No offence meant and none taken. :-)