Dialogue  January-March, 2010, Volume 11 No. 3

Indian Women: New Image on Ancient Foundation

Mridula Sinha

Every moment the world is changing. Science has brought the world nearer and nearer. Now we are talking of a global village. In this scenario people start talking of the changes in the life of women and particularity the Indian women also.                                                      

While searching the areas of the changes in her life, we must accept that in our individual history and tradition where she stands? Whether she is an entity or clumped with men? Whether she could progress without the help of men, family or society? Can this progress of women be attributed to her own attempts only?

In Indian concept men and women are not single entity. Our mythology tried to show the relation between the two through “Ardhnareshwar” half Shiv and half Parvati. Both are complementary to each other. The concept of Ardhnareshwar is unique in the world. Explain the equality of man and woman.

Physiology and psychology also accept that there is lot of male traits in the female body. Women are not half developed men. Some recent research works conclude that average women are by instinct more flexible and quick to grasp the complexity of the situation. May be physically she is tender and fragile. It is scientifically proved that a woman possesses more stamina than a man. Science and technology have provided easy opportunities to manage arduous and physically tiring works to be accomplished with comfortable ease.   

Taking into consideration the biological needs of men and women, after many experiments down the ages, resulted in the ideal concept of one man and one woman bond sanctified by marital rituals. The institution of a family was evolved. This was necessary for the security of children and aged persons also and also for the constitution of ownership of land and property as a means of sustenance of the family. Women were assigned household duties and men took to arduous operations of agriculture operations felling of trees, carrying heavy loads etc. But there was no ban on the woman; they used to help the men folk in all such types of operations. Of course their main task remained rearing of children and protecting the household assets and processing food and victuals.

A woman is primarily a mother. There is a popular story among the people. Having created the world Lord Brahma was full of worries. Who would protect the living beings? He then created the mother and heaved a sigh of relief. A mother would not only take care of her children but also extend her milk of kindness for other creatures. There are several stories in ancient books, expressing the mental attitudes and indicating the duties of woman.

In fact a woman has been the pivot of the family. We find very large number of scholarly and ideal female characters in the Vedas and the Puranas. The ancient Indian literature are full of all varieties of woman characters. The Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Jatak Kathas and Jain scriptures provide ample examples of varieties of women characters. India during the middle ages faced several foreign invasions various. By rough and tough hordes. Many of them imposing their crude restrictions, trying to protect the existence of liberal Indian society. It raised stony walls round their women folk. Middle ages religious bigotry and social superstitions of Europe and Arab lands adversely affected the liberality and variety of ideas and actions of Indian society. Women were mostly confined within the court yard of their houses. With the advent of reformation and renascence emphasis was laid on educating women, and liberating them from the chains of superstitions. Raja Ram Mohan Roy campaigned against “sate” and child marriages. Many social reformists realized the urgent need for bringing about positive changes necessary for the development of the society. Rishi Dayanand by his sermons and writings reminded the society above the equality of sexes through the Vedic mantras and equal participation of woman in all walks of life, their partnership in Vedic rituals. Without mental, physical development of women, no society can dream of balanced and all round development. Even the aim of evolving an egalitarian society could not be possible without the sensitivity of woman’s heart.

Swami Vivekanand played an inspiring role in blending the highest ideals of ancient India with the modern practical projects. Yogi Aravind and the Mother created spiritual environment for achieving new horizons for men and women. Mahatma Gandhi through his nonviolent and non co-operation movement opened the gate for participant of women in political activities. This resulted in giving equal right to women in the Indian constitution which reflected the historical acceptance of their role. It is necessary to understand this age-old background of Indian women. Only then a proper understanding, evolution and a correct direction for the development can be properly understood. Similarly Indian woman are in many ways different from women of the west. They have never been a carbon copy or only a follower or competitor of men. The glaring changes in the women of west can not be accepted in toto in the Indian environment. Many modern researches and experiments and technologies are bringing about sea changes in the life of woman in the west. These may not be accepted as healthy or beneficial for the proper development of women and society.

It is a fact that education plays a vital role in moulding the mental and physical capability of the individual and the society. From ancient times formal and informal education contributed in making men and women familial and social. Infact the main aim of education is to impart the art of living. Dayanand Sarswati, Mahatma Phoole, Savitri Bai Phoole and others called upon educators to take up the education of family responsibility along with the training of physical, mental and intellectual development. Mahatma Gandhi by providing spinning wheel tried to revive her economic independence. Woman could contribute in the economic self development of the family by taking up small and cottage industry. Woman of Gandhi’s dream would be the pivot of the family while looking ahead firmly tied to her roots.

A railway porter once told me-”Awoman is the sun, round which the planetary system of the family moves. But now a days so called educated woman is running away from the domestic center”.

Former Prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee while commenting on the direction of development of Indian woman, once said-”In the name of equality we are trying to change women into men. This is ridiculous. A woman should remain woman. But we have to see that a woman in flesh and blood does not turn either into a puppet or into a butterfly uprooted from her soil.”

Independent India has provided many constitutional provisions for the equal rights of women. We have been influenced by the industrial revolution and its consequences on the institutions of family. Many law makers kept imitating the western society. In 1980 the slogan of “Woman Lib” was very much in vogue. Handfuls of Indian woman were also attracted by the slogan. Without thinking of the consequences they tried to create a hostile atmosphere against men. In 1980 responding to a correspondent’s query, I had commented-”what is the meaning of this Lib from whom? From man or from responsibility? It has no sense. It is unnatural, inhuman and anti family-institution. Women are generally happy with father, brother, husband and son. And they enjoy their duties and even the difficulties in course of discharging their responsibilities bring satisfaction to them. We must get rid of the superstitions and remove the obstacles on the path of development of women.”     

Even in the west, the slogan of woman’s lib did not survive. It’s main protagonist herself changed the definition. In India we said “we want empowerment of woman, not woman lib.”

After independence in the files of government the steps taken for the empowerment of woman were categorized as ‘welfare’ works. After three decades the word ‘welfare’ was replaced by ‘development’. In the 1990’s the women empowerment word has been coined. Without going into the cobweb of different nomenclatures, we may conclude that the image of woman in India is changing rapidly. This is visible in the attitude of the government, Voluntary organizations, films, literature, and families and also among the women themselves. In Course of these a small group of ignorant activists have drawn a live dividing men and women in two rival groups. All the atrocities perpetrated on women are attributed to emanate from the mentality of male domination. This has put men in the dock. The problems of men and women have been categorized separately. There has been a mushroom growth of women organizations. But group of organizations fighting against atrocities on women are based on this attitude. This has adversely affected the positive role of woman in feeling and action. In 1980 in an interview to a media person, I had said-”We should not turn every family into a posing area.”  Knowingly and unknowingly we have been doing this. A trend in giving opportunities for the development of the individual woman and expanding her horizon of capability and individual efficiency will also contribute to the well being of the family and society including men.

At present in academic programmes and syllabus there is hardly anything special or different for woman. This is the result of the extreme approach of equality. Wrong notions about marriage and divorce borrowed from the west are the results of blind imitation. A large number of marriages are resulting in failure and divorce. only few educated woman likes to be called housewife. Household chores are necessary and inseparable from smooth functioning of the family. But majority of women prefer office work to household duties. Office assignments and promotions have become more important than the children in the house. Now a small group of highly educated young women does not want to produce a single child. Stability of the conjugal life is of secondary importance. Metropolitan cities are moving towards accepting “living together”, surrogate mother, and unmarried mothers aberrations. This trend is also extending to smaller towns. The market is increasingly influencing her life. She is moved into the “mall culture”. She is a customer or a commodity. Late Mahadevi Verma, the famous Indian poetess and thinker once commented-”Accept your strength, and consider yourself an individual and eschew indulgence. Real strength is the individuality and not the goods. Instead of being an object of lust for men, be their molder and guide. You can build your individuality by properly utilizing your duties and right. You are yourself an individual. If you are conscious of your duties, no man can use you as an object of lust. He will respect you as an individual and the future generation will be obliged to you.”

In the name of development her natural needs are being neglected. In the mad race she is losing vital sources of happiness.

Society has to provide for cretches and old age homes. But we must keep in mind that the children in cretches and the aged in the old age homes, women in offices and other work places may not be happy and secure. Without security there is no scope for peace and happiness. Everywhere she is asserting her existence. There is growing lack of mutual confidence and urge for living for interdependence. We have imported the slogan of living for the self and this has distorted everything. The western way of life is being accepted by Indian woman also. In fact we don’t find definition of an “Indian woman”. According to Indian laws there are Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Persian woman. There are differences between the rich and the poor, the urban and rural. Literate and illiterate woman, this is also a fact that only educated and urban woman cannot be called Indian woman. The status of women varies according to different economic, social and educational categories. It is a fact that the urban educated women are becoming the role models for the rural women. The ideals of historical characters, Sita, Savitri, Draupadi are no more sacrosanct. Their ideals are ridiculed at. The vulgar actions of some of the actresses on small and big screens are adversely influencing the mind of ill educated woman. Literate woman are becoming aware of their rights and ignoring their duties. They are trained as engineers, doctors, teachers, nurses. They are represented from the village Panchayat to parliament. But there is no education or training for making a woman a good wife, mother or housewife. In other words, there is no provision for training them to discharge their natural and family obligations. How can they enjoy the happiness of living?

Everybody is aware of the problems of female fotecide, dowry, domestic violence, prostitution, workplace torture, old age negligence etc.

In last five decades various laws have been enacted but they have hardly succeeded in giving relief to women. This is because of the attitude towards women has not changed. It is high time to change this scenario. And the first step will be for the woman to change the vision of herself.

The so called modern image of the woman is hurting not only her but her husband, children and the family. This obstructs the progress of the society. The prime need of the hour is to accept the suitable changes, so that she while discharging her duties and exercising her rights keeps her individuality intact. Most of the problems arise because we consider woman photocopy of man. In fact she is not only equal to men but some what special. Nature has bestowed special responsibility on her. In the changing circumstances the image of Indian woman must be clarified. Our entire development scheme should be based on the premises of considering daughters as special. Her educational programmes will have to be recasted taking into consideration her primary responsibilities as mother and housewife. Also man will have to co-operate with her at every stage. She should be put on her way in advancing towards any field.There is immense scope for improvement in technical and moral education. In the rat race of progress we are losing many valuable assets. Indian woman have a glorious past. The present can not be completely cut off from the past. Living styles keep changing from time to time. But her innate individuality should not change. Only woman with self respect and dutiful can exercise her rights. These rights, earned by investing in one’s duties are enjoyable, satisfying and durable and even effective. We have to erect new image of Indian woman on the foundation of the Ancient values.    

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

                                               Astha Bharati