It was for the first time that I was attending Sunderkand Paath being held at my friend’s place. I was trying to catch up with the ladies as they recited the couplets from the scripture. I could hardly understand anything from the rendition but for one couple that caught my attention, “Dhol, gavaar shudra, pashu, nari, yeh sab taran ke adhikari.” (Animals, uncivilized, low castes, animals and women need to be reprimanded). I was aghast, not because I was hearing the verse for the first time but because it was being recited, unmindful of its meaning, with such a fervour. I felt restless. As soon as the paath was over, I whispered into my friend’s ears if she grasped the meaning of the couplet. She was cool about it and laughed it away but I was disturbed and shaken. I found the verse downright disgusting and demeaning, fit to be expunged from the holy text.
I wondered about the status of women in our scriptures- as a goddess (super human) to be worshipped but as a human to be rebuked. There are quotes affirming women’s dignity in the ancient Hindu text. “Yatr naryasto pojyantay, ramantay tatr devta” (where women are provided a place of honour, gods reside in that household), but at the same time there are many derogatory comments against women in the Manusmrti. There are verses that are full of prejudice and hatred against women. Like all major religions Hinduism is predominantly male dominated. Since these were always men who wrote holy books and ancient scriptures, women have been discriminated against.
The bias against women is not limited to Hinduism; Gautam renounced the world in search of truth and became Buddha, the enlightened one, leaving behind his young wife with a small son. He is revered but no one talks about the suffering and yearnings of a young wife when she was left alone in the prime of her youth.
Lord Ram is worshipped and hailed as Maryada purushottam, an ideal man but he had been grossly unfair to his wife. Sita, a devoted wife, who renounced all the luxuries to accompany her husband in exile, was abandoned by lord Ram. It was just a remark from someone among his subject that he left his dutiful, loving wife to prove his greatness as if she was an object without any feelings or emotions, his personal possession to be sacrificed. What was her fault? She had been kidnapped. Just imagine her ordeal .She was subjected to Agni Pariksha (fire test) to prove her chastity. This reminds me of a soulful rendition in Amar Prem picturized on the veteran actor Rajesh Khanna “…Sita bhi yahan badnam hui ……..” (If a woman like Sita got a bad name, then it is futile to talk about the fate of other women…)
Beside other factors, the influence of Ramayan and ancient texts may be a reason why India treats its women so badly. India’s phenomenal epic has epically failed its women, failed to give her the position of equality. In fact, the men folk are fed with the legends of male superiority right from the childhood itself. This narcissistic mindset is ingrained so deeply in male psyche that gender violence-both psychological and physical – is every day and endemic in India.
This mindset needs to change. The bias must be corrected. Not drawing laxman Rekha for boys and giving them unbridled freedom is precarious. An upbringing based on gender equality is the need of the hour. We, as mothers, will be failing in our duty if we do not inculcate the right values among the boys– the respect for the opposite sex.
Published in Chandigarh Tribune on July 5, 2018