In the last issue of the TIW in ‘Straight from the Anahad’, Yogi Ashwiniji called a woman Shakti and compared her to a bomb waiting to explode and Guru trying to diffuse it without as much as an armour. It left me thinking…when a woman is such a phenomenal force, then how come they are known to us as the weaker sex today? Why such a hullabaloo over their protection and empowerment?
And then, I researched.
While most of us grew up with the notion that gender bias and exploitation of women was at the root of our culture, a simple google search made me realise that actually, it was not. You might have heard of the Women Suffragettes movement in Europe and America, where the women were fighting for equal rights till as late as 1917. Degrading the woman, was among the many things that crept into our society, with the entry of foreign rulers and invaders.
Because while the women in America and Europe were fighting, putting their lives at risk for equal rights, there was a Rani Laxmi Bai in India who was declared the heir to the throne of Jhansi, after the demise of the king and till their son was old enough to rule. The British Empire acceded to it initially but did not keep its promise and asked the Rani to leave. She too fought. And she fought, not to safeguard her rights…but she asserted her rights to fight the Enemy. And she was equipped to do so.
America: In the early 1800s, women were second-class citizens who were expected to restrict themselves to home and family. They had little means to real education and were discouraged from pursuing a professional career. After marriage, women did not have the right to own property, keep their own wages, or sign a contract. In addition, women were denied the right to vote. Only after decades of intense political activity did women eventually win the right to vote. (National Women’s History Museum, Alexandra, Virginia https://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/rightsforwomen/introduction.html)
Europe: Daily life for women in the early 1800s in Britain was that of many obligations and few choices. Some even compare the conditions of women in this time to a form of slavery. Women were to be controlled by the men in their lives. If a woman was to decide to remain single, she would be ridiculed and pitied by the community. (Historical Brief-Lives of Women in the early 1800s published by Washington University http://staff.washington.edu/cgiacomi/courses/ english200/historicalbriefs/women.html)
India: According to scholars, women in ancient India enjoyed equal status with men in all aspects of life. Works by ancient Indian grammarians such as Patanjali and Katyayana suggest that women were educated in the early Vedic period. Rigvedic verses suggest that women married at a mature age and were free to select their own husbands (you might recall the svayamvars of Sita and Draupadi). Scriptures such as the Rig Veda and Upanishads mention several women sages and seers, notably Gargi and Maitreyi.
And then what happened? I am just quoting…
“According to studies, women enjoyed equal status and rights during the early Vedic period. However in approximately 500 B.C., the status of women began to decline, and with the Islamic invasion of Babur and the Mughal empire and Christianity later worsened women’s freedom and rights.” (Women in History” National Resource Center for Women. Archived from the original on 2009-06-19. Retrieved 24 December 2006.
Sati: Sati is an old, almost completely defunct custom among some communities, in which the widow was immolated alive on her husband’s funeral pyre. Although the act was supposed to be voluntary on the widow’s part, its practice is forbidden by the Hindu scriptures in Kaliyug, the current age. After the foreign invasions of Indian subcontinent, this practice started to mark its presence, as women were often raped or kidnapped by the foreign forces. (The Danger of Gender: Caste, Class and Gender in Contemporary Indian Women’s Writing by Clara Nubile, p.9)
It was abolished by the British in 1829. There have been around forty reported cases of sati since independence. In 1987, the Roop Kanwar case in Rajasthan led to The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act.
Jauhar: Jauhar refers to the practice of voluntary immolation by wives and daughters of defeated warriors, in order to avoid capture and consequent molestation by the enemy. The practice was followed by the wives of defeated Rajput rulers, who are known to place a high premium on honour. Evidently such practice took place during the Islamic invasions of India. (Honour, status & polity by Pratibha Jain, Sangītā Śarmā.)
Purdah: Purdah is the practice among some Muslim communities requiring women to cover themselves so as to conceal their faces and form from males.
Devadasis: Devadasi is often misunderstood as a religious practice. It was practised in southern India, in which women were “married” to a deity or temple. The ritual was well-established by the 10th century AD . By 1988, the practice was outlawed in the country.
It was by 1917, when after 2500 years of foreign invasions, that there arose a need in India to demand for equal rights for women. And even then, the foundation of the Women’s Indian Association (WIA) in 1917 was laid by Annie Besant, Margaret Cousins and Dorothy Jinarajadasa, all three Irish women Theosophists, who had been suffragettes in their own country. Because in our country women shouldered and fuelled the men, be it in spiritual pursuits, in administration or even fighting for independence.
I find it a little strange when we try to ape the foreign countries. Their issues were not ours. Their solution will not be ours. It is then that the words of Yogiji resounded in my head, a woman is Shakti that fuels Shiv. In our culture, women are respected, honoured and celebrated. The fact that we elected a woman Prime Minister and even a woman President of the country is proof enough. We don’t need laws to enforce rights of women, what is required is for the women, to unravel the shakti within. And then to use it to create, preserve, destruct or to be a victim – is her choice. Yoga is the answer. The path will be shown by the Guru.
Guest Author: Gauri Rathore