Sexism, Not From Vedas

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The ego of humankind is such that when he tried to fathom the higher energy, he imagined God to be a human figure. He forgot that he was part of Creation; not the other way round. And that has made a lot ripples in the world as we see it. Not in a good way.

“Happy to Bleed” is a counter-campaign against menstrual taboos; launched by a young college girl who was annoyed by the sexist remarks made by the head of the famous Sabarimala temple in Kerala. The temple head apparently dreams of a time when women would be freely allowed to enter the temple but only when they walk through a machine that would check if the women are pure (read not menstruating). The machine doesn’t exist. Yet.

This seems like a perfect attack-and-counter-attack kind of campaign that has all the makings of going viral, capturing attention from the media, youth, denigrating our culture and just generally being the talk of town. Clearly, amidst this drama, we forget to find logic somewhere. Most issues that are being attributed to patriarchy of the “Hindu” culture actually stem from understanding of the vast reservoir of this ancient culture…or the lack of it. Here’s how.

For the sake of a feeble attempt in finding logic, here’s breaking down this campaign into two parts – attack and counter attack, the head’s declaration and the women’s reaction.

So, the head thinks women are impure while they are on the dreadful monthly trauma called menstruation. They are in pain, hormones are everywhere, not to forget the mood swings. Ok. I get that. It is traumatic. But impure…?

I heard Yogi Ashwini on NDTV speaking about how women are honored and respected in our culture. He said “Shakti” is the basis of Creation, that no havan is complete without a woman sitting next to the man. He spoke of Shiv and Shakti, of Purush and Prakriti. Even a lady practitioner from Dhyan Foundation sitting in the audience shared, she does havans even when she is “down”… but clearly, all these points were lost in a cacophony of noises… because the facts were not helping the campaign or agitation.

Coming to the second part, the women’s reaction. Given our love for all things western, we have decided to follow them blindly. Also mindlessly. We forget that since the ancient times women in our culture have been celebrated. Hinduism is the only surviving religion where we pray to female goddesses. Every other culture has put them on a lower pedestal. When the Americans and Europeans were fighting for women rights through women’s suffrage movement, we had Rani Laxmi Bai fighting the Imperialists for her country. Our constitution provides for equal rights to men and women in holding constitutional posts. So, exactly what are we protesting? A ‘patriarchal’ society?

Whose fault is that?

Let me narrate an incident that changed my view of this “weaker” sex. It was about 2 years back that I enrolled for the physical training session at Dhyan Foundation. It was a grueling 3 hours of physical labour like I had never known before or after. The trainers were young boys, much younger than me, who were relentless in making us endure to help build strength. This one day, while I held a particularly difficult position standing in stallion, I had one trainer stand in front of me ensuring I didn’t give up. I had tears rolling down but he was relentless. On the same day, after training, I was supposed to accompany a few members of the Foundation for a meeting. I found myself surrounded by all the boys, casually, to avoid miscreants. And that was an epiphany moment. They didn’t think women were weak; for during the training session they ensured no woman was treated differently than the boys in the group. They protected women simply because they were women-to be celebrated, protected and cherished, as women. An hour earlier they ensured we could fight all miscreants and yet, women were to be protected, placed on a higher pedestal, because women must be respected. These men knew our culture and followed it.

It was then that I understood that we, as a society, might have misunderstood this protection and honor to women, into subjugation of women and of men being the superior gender. Vedas do not prescribe it; it is a construct that we have created over time as we move away from our culture, our roots, undermining the vast reservoir of energy that the “shakti” beholds. Even in the present world, there is no dearth of women who have worked their way up the ladder. The key is to not be a victim. Ours is not a regressive culture. Never has been. We celebrate women, the “shakti”. And there are a million examples that probably the media is not talking about given the lack of agenda. The anchor of the show, a lady herself, too expressed never having faced discrimination of the sorts. What then are we talking about? Why blame the culture or religion. It is time we question those who put forth such absurd ideas rather than criticize the culture.

In the end, a line from Yogiji’s NDTV debate resonates in my mind – “you’re as pure or as impure as you think. It is your level of consciousness that decides that for you, no one else. If you are going through the process of menstruation and find it perfectly normal to have sex with somebody; then, it is perfectly normal to go to the temple. If you think it is dirty, do not enter a temple with that thought process.”

According to Vedas…

The 10th chapter of the Rigveda asserts the feminine to be the supreme principle behind all of cosmos, in the following hymn called as Devi Sukta.

I am the Queen, the gatherer-up of treasures, most thoughtful, first of those who merit worship.

Thus Gods have established me in many places with many homes to enter and abide in.

Through me alone all eat the food that feeds them,each man who sees, breathes, hears the word outspoken

They know it not, yet I reside in the essence of the Universe. Hear, one and all, the truth as I declare it.

I, verily, myself announce and utter the word that gods and men alike shall welcome.

I make the man I love exceeding mighty, make him nourished, a sage, and one who knows Brahman.

I bend the bow for Rudra that his arrow may strike and slay the hater of devotion.

I rouse and order battle for the people; I created Earth and Heaven and reside as their inner controller.

On the world’s summit I bring forth the Father: my home is in the waters, in the ocean.

Thence I prevade all existing creatures, as their Inner Supreme Self, and manifest them with my body.

I created all worlds at my will, without any higher being, and permeate and dwell within them.

The eternal and infinite consciousness is I, it is my greatness dwelling in everything.

— Rigveda 10.125.3 – 10.125.8

Women were not the second citizens in India is evident from the fact that there are more than thirty women sages in the Rig Veda with specific hymns associated with them.

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