Guest article by Dr. Ashok Celly.
One of the most fascinating things about Hindu mythology is its concept of Ardhnarishwara. Shiva one of the three Gods of Hindu trinity is half-woman which signifies that even God in his maleness is incomplete. No wonder Hindus have always worshipped gods along with their consorts. Also, goddesses seem to take precedence over gods, e.g. Lakshmi-Narayan, Sita-Ram and the most popular Radha-Krishan. Also, implicit in all this is a rejection of patriarchal values, that is, the superiority of man over woman and also a recognition that fulfillment in life is possible only when man and woman collaborate and complement each other.
The reverence that goddesses like Durga, Saraswati and Lakshmi enjoyed was to a considerable extent reflected in socio-cultural life as well. No religious ceremony could be held without the presence of one’s wife. Also, women enjoyed a great amount of freedom at least in the early Vedic period. We had scholars like Gargi and Maitreyi who could hold their own against the finest male scholars. Even a conservative thinker like Manu observed, “Yatra naryastu pujayante ramantic tatra devta.” (Gods reside where women are worshipped). So even when Indian society took an orthodox turn say with Manu, respect for women remained one of the most cherished values.
It is therefore most distressing to see that we who have inherited such a wonderful cultural legacy treat our women most abominably.
With all our advancement(s) in science & technology, our high growth rate and our dreams of becoming a superpower we are no better than barbarians when it comes to treatment of our women folk. Molestation and rape seem to have become so common that they no longer shock anybody. And it is not just a tiny section of hardened criminals who are involved in these brutal crimes. The educated sections of society like the judges, journalists and professors seem to be no better in their dealings with the fair sex.
We don’t seem to realize that by inflicting violence on women, by subjecting them to brutal treatment we are only harming ourselves. For if one women lead a fear-stricken existence, if they step out of the house apprehending a predatory animal at every corner of the street, they cannot be their normal selves and their tender emotions like love, affection and compassion are bound to decline. They cannot give their best as mothers , wives and daughters. We wretched men of this land, thus condemn ourselves to a loveless existence.
It seems to me we have completely discarded our ancient legacy which treated women with tremendous respect and accorded them the position of a devi. Respect for women and chivalry, as it was known in medieval Europe, are in our times old-fashioned values, and even women view them with suspicion. Equality of the sexes is the big idea of our times. But do we moderns really practise equality? Our so-called liberal civilization while paying lip service to equality treats women as commodities or playthings, and ironically enough all in the name of liberation of women. Capitalism, the economic fare of liberalism, thrives on advertising. No product is marketed without the face or figure of a woman. And at times there is the insidious suggestion that the woman comes with the product. The beauty pageants, another aspect of capitalism, even with the fig. leaf of an intellectual round, is strictly for the male gaze. About the item numbers of Bollywood – (cinema is the entertainment of our times) the less said the better . Nearly 50 or 100 street Romeos, ‘Lafanders’ would be more appropriate description, wooing a lady is hardly be a gratifying sight. It is hard to believe that all this in no way contributes to a climate where woman can be teased or trifled with impunity.
So what do we do when the past is all gone or become a stuff of legends and the present brings no comfort are holds no hope? During navratras we observe a ritual – Hindus in the north at least – which is simply wonderful, namely, we wash the little girls’ (who are called kanjaks) feet. Coming to think of it. It is a beautiful ritual. Washing the little girls’ feet is a demonstration of our respect for Adyashakti who manifests herself in the little girls. If we could recover & appreciate the significance of this ritual, life would be better & India a happier place to live in. For woman is the source & sustainer of creation; also the happiness & well being of a family depends almost entirely on her. To hurt or humiliate someone who is so crucial to our happiness amounts to committing harakiri.
About the guest author :
This article is authored by my father – in – law, Dr Ashok Celly. He is a retired professor of English Literature from Rajdhani College, Delhi University. He has authored several articles in Indian newspapers and magazines like Mainstream and Times of India.