Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Contemporary Discussions on Feminist Issues in Hinduism - 1

This page, like others in this blog is a work in progress and will try to collect links to useful and data-driven discussions on topics like Sati, Karva Chauth, and Agni Pariksha, etc, which are moderated by informed Hindu scholars and historians. A superficial reading of these topics may suggest to some that texts of Hinduism target women, and indeed there are many ignorant Hindus who try to "enforce" such practices. Hopefully these discussions (using an Indian/Dharmic point of view rather than regurgitated western paradigms) will bring more clarity to those seeking answers to these questions.

Hinduism is the only religion that also worships the divine in a feminine form, and these feminine forms are approached first when Hindus pray for wealth, prosperity, education, and even military strength!. Shakti is another fundamental concept of Hinduism that differentiates it from History-centric faiths, and for which there is no equivalent in those religions. A non-trivial chunk of the Vedas was authored by women. The breath-taking debate between Mandana Misra and Sankara was moderated by Misra's wife. Both Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are fought to right the injustice against the main female protagonist (Sita and Draupadi). In contemporary India, Women have occupied the highest positions of political and economic power, are an integral part of the Indian armed forces, but much progress needs to be made in terms of repairing the broken law and order apparatus of India, especially in terms of safeguarding women's rights and curbing violence against women and children.

It will help immeasurably to distinguish between the individual actions of those born into Hindu families and the Dharma-based texts of Hinduism. Steve Jobs disregarded medical advice to delay his cancer treatment and paid the price. That doesn't mean that medicine is inhuman :)
However, it must be conceded that if a person wants to deliberately twist facts and the words of a text to suit a polemic and score points rather than honestly look for lessons in self-realization or seek to reform, then there is no defense against that.

The Practice of Sati
In this post, Sandeep Balakrishna, a genuine and outspoken authority on Hindu Dharma and Indian history rebuts an English writer who wrote:
"It was the British, let us not forget, who outlawed Indian slavery, infanticide and the horrendous practice of suttee, whereby widows were burned to death on their husband’s funeral pyre."

Sandeep: "That’s a new one. Indian slavery! One would want to ask how Mr.Sandbrook defines this term or show us exactly one instance of “Indian slavery.” On outlawing infanticide, it’s no thanks to the British but largely the Indian reformers who persuaded the government to outlaw it. Also note the spelling of “sati.” Nothing like the good ol’ “suttee” eh? While I do cringe at Sati, let’s not forget the era we’re talking about. The whole “liberation from Sati” like the “evil caste system” is exaggerated. Sati was by and large a voluntary practice by the wife. Sati and Jauhar are in many ways synonymous, a practice that held death preferable to dishonour. Perhaps Mr. Sandbrook would like to read accounts of how Indian widows were fair game for Brit officers."

Is Sati sanctioned by the Rig Veda?
NO. The reason is your average Western idologist of the 20th century with limited Sanskrit skills, wrongly translating crucial words into English. For this, we don't even need to look far. Even the simplistic and much maligned Wikipedia has some data.

" it [Rig Veda] explicitly states that the widow should return to her house.
उदीर्ष्व नार्यभि जीवलोकं गतासुमेतमुप शेष एहि |
हस्तग्राभस्य दिधिषोस्तवेदं पत्युर्जनित्वमभि सम्बभूथ || (RV 10.18.8)
Rise, come unto the world of life, O woman — come, he is lifeless by whose side thou liest. Wifehood with this thy husband was thy portion, who took thy hand and wooed thee as a lover.[65]
A reason given for the discrepancy in translation and interpretation of verse 10.18.7, is that one consonant in a word that meant house, yonim agree "foremost to the yoni", was deliberately changed by those who wished claim scriptural justification, to a word that meant fire, yomiagne

Karva Chauth:
Ritual fasting is prevalent all over the world. The complaint is that KC targets women. What i've seen of this is largely from bad Bollywood movies where the leading lady always volunteers to fast on a particular day as a token of her love for her husband.

[watch this space for updates]

Agni Pariksha:
This topic (trial by fire of the blameless Sita) was recently debated during Diwali. There are some excellent and fairly impartial blogs that present their views.

The second, and more recent post is by a lady (and a feminist to boot :)

The third one is by Vijayendra Mohanty, and is a wonderful exposition on the Dharmic principles underlying that incident of the Ramayana.

A fourth, and very good article on this topic is by Sri. Aravindan Neelakandan, co-author of Breaking India.

Part-2 will focus on collecting articles on the practice of female infanticide and dowry deaths (it should come as no surprise now that neither is sanctioned in the texts, and would be considered extremely Adharmic).

1 comment:


    Sati was voluntary,as described by this stone inscription.