Female Moral Exemplars In India

Dr. K. Jamanadas,

"Education about Asia" is a periodical published from Princeton, New Jersey with an aim of spreading "awareness in USA about Importance of Indian Civilization, both in classical and modern manifestations" by 'The Infinity Foundation' headed by President and Trustee Shri Rajiv Malhotra. [e-mail: Rajiv.Malhotra@ATT.Net] and a web: www.infinityfoundation.com

One issue (vol.6, no.3, Winter 2001)) carries an article titled "Traditional Female Moral Exemplars in India" by Madhu Kishwar, a senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Societies in Delhi and the founding editor of Manushi -- a journal about Women and Society and founder of Manushi Nagrik Adhikar Manch (Citizens Rights Forum). (I presume it is a 'she', as Madhu could be a name of male and female both)

Coming from the propagators of "Women's Rights", the article makes a sad reading. No where it depicts the ignoble life Indian women had to suffer for centuries; on the contrary it tries to glorify the devis, the female deities, to show the presumed greatness in their own humiliations. So many topics are cursorily dealt with that the rejoinder would be a huge volume if all points are dealt with. Some of the more important topics could be covered here. The narrative is full of half truths and misrepresentations and sidelines the main issues and concentrates on non-issues just to praise assumed greatness of Brahminic culture about women. If one can not know the ailment, how can one carry on mission of liberating Indian women, I wonder.

Madhu tells us that our deities do not issue commandments but 'have clever ways to intrude in our lives' through back door by changing the subconscious mind. This is true. It is not the deities but the Brahmins -- the masters of the Hindus -- that give orders through the dharma sutras and smritis where position of women is degraded. The stories of deities, which are so vigourously broadcst these days on multiple TV chanells day in and day out, are only meant for building up the consent system among the victims of the system. For example, Madhu talks about Saraswati -- supposed goddess of learning -- but hides the real details. I just quote below a passage about this devi in full from my book "Decline and Fall of Buddhism" which is on www.ambedkar org. :

Ideals of Education in Brahmanism

The ideals of any system is depicted by the gods and goddess those are worshipped as depicting the ideal. Saraswati, as is well known, was originally a Buddhist deity as its earliest representation was evident in Buddhist monuments and not in Brahminic ones. It was on Bharhut railing pillar, that there is a standing female figure playing on harp and J. N. Banerjea considers it as "the earliest representation of Saraswati in Indian Art." and that her separate figures became common from late Gupta period. [Banerjea :1955 :314, Jamanadas: 1991 :95]

Saraswati is depicted in late Brahmanism as the goddess of education by the Brahmins. As Kancha Ilaiah has explained, during the process of manipulating consciousness of Dalitbahujans to build consent systems among the groups they wanted to exploit, Brahmanism developed a socio-economic and cultural design systematically, so that many gods and goddesses of such groups, were adapted by Brahmanism creating images of many Gods against universal ethic of monotheism. Kancha Ilaiah further observes:

"Brahma's wife is known as Saraswati, which also means learning. The construction of Brahma- Saraswathi relationship takes place strictly within the philosophical bounds of patriarchy. Brahma himself is shown as the source of wisdom in the Vedas, the early Brahmin writings, which were designed to subordinate the native masses of India. The Vedas themselves express the mixed feelings of crude Brahmanism. But since they were written by the Brahmins (i.e. by the early literate Aryans), the texts go against Dalitbahujans. In fact, they are anti-Dalitbahujan texts. The absurdity of Brahmin patriarchy is clear in these texts. The source of Education, Saraswati, did not write any book as the Brahmins never allowed women to write their texts. Nowhere does she speak even about the need to give education to women. How is it that the source of education is herself an illiterate woman? This is diabolism of the highest order. Brahmanism never allowed women to be educated. The first woman who worked to provide education for all women is Savitribai Phule, wife of Mahatma Phule, in the mid-nineteenth century. To our Dalitbahujan mind, there is no way in which Saraswati can be compared to Savitribai Phule. In Savitribai Phule, one finds real feminist assertion. ..." [Kancha: 1996: 75]

He further observes:

"... She (Saraswati) herself remains a tool in the hands of Brahma. She becomes delicate because Brahma wants her to be delicate. She is portrayed as an expert in the strictly defined female activities of serving Brahma or playing the veena - always to amuse Brahma. Brahma is never said to have looked after cattle, or driven a plough; similarly, Saraswathi never tends the crops, plants the seed or weeds the fields. She is said to have become so delicate that she could stand on a lotus flower. She could travel on a hansa (a swan, a delicate bird). This kind of delicateness is a negative delicateness. It only shows that her alienation from nature is total. In order to live this alienated but luxurious life, Brahmins have built up an oppressive culture. That oppressive culture was sought to be made universally acceptable. [Kancha :1996 :76]

Women had no right to education

As explained above, since long, women are not allowed any education in Brahminic system. Some scholars are at pains to tell us that, originally, women also took education. They point out the names of Maitereyi and Gargee in Vedic times. No doubt, there was a time, the sanskara of Upnayana was allowed to women. The more important point is when was it stopped and why. Perhaps Manu Smriti could provide an answer, when it enjoined that women should be under care of father, husband or son and never independent. And also that the father who does not marry his daughter before age of eight, goes to hell. Why were these restrictions put? Just for weaning them away from Buddhism. On the contrary, women were educated in Buddhist centers till quite late. You can see a painting of about sixth or seventh century, in Ajanta, where a girl is sitting in front of a teacher along with boys.

There should be no women teachers

When no teacher was available for Phule's school, Savitribai got educated and became the first woman teacher in India after about two thousand years. Altekar tells us: women teachers were not seen in India, since beginning of Christian Era. [Altekar A. S., quoted MF p. 31] Today a woman can become a teacher, thanks to the British, but still she can not be a vedic teacher. Even in modern times a shankaracharya proclaims that women should not utter the vedic hymns. The reason he gave was not religious; perhaps he was too shy of giving a religious reason in this modern times. But the reason he gave was a biological one. He said that chanting of Vedic hymns would damage the female reproductive organs. Most astounding reason ever heard of. Medical fraternity of India is second biggest in the world, but nobody seems to have taken note of this new etiological factor in diseases of female anatomy, and commented on this. Very very scientific attitude indeed.

This is just one example. Many topics in Madhu's article are already discussed by me in the above book.

We like to suggest to the learned 'women lib' leader to go through the writings of Dr. Ambedkar, who has clarified all the points raised by her, at least she should read "Riddles in Hinduism", that will help her in dealing with topics of women liberation, if she is really serious about it. We give below short comments on some of her points.

Ram is called maryada purushottam, Madhu translates this word as 'best of men'. No madam, it means 'best of men who follows the limits'. 'maryada' means limits. Of course, these limits were put by the Brahmins of all ages on all the kings all the times and meant following the rules of chaturvarna of not transgressing the caste. That was why Ram had to kill Shambuka. That is the 'maryada'.

Madhu accepts unfair dealings of Ram and clarifies that these have been rectified in later versions of Ramayana. This means that she accepts that Ramayana is fiction and not history. It also means her acceptance that worship of Ram is a very late development in Indian History.

Hanuman was made 'most obedient servant' of Ram in Ramayana, but as a matter of fact worship of Hanuman is more ancient and more prevalent than that of Ram. One could verify in ones own village or town by the number and antiquity of Hanuman temples compared to those of Ram. The Brahmins made Hanuman a servant of Ram just for exploiting popularity of Hanuman -- a tribal deity -- for Brahmin supremacy. For details see my above book.

Madhu describes 'Family deities' and considers them as a great idea. It is true, they are specialty of Hindu religion. As great sociologist Balkrishna Nair has explained local Hinduism, regional Hinduism and country wide Hinduism and how the Brahmins established their supremacy over Hindus, in his "Dynamic Brahmin". The recognition of 'kul devatas' i.e. family deities was to establish Brahmin supremacy. See my book for details.

Madhu describes the story of Ganesha in circumambulating parents to win race of circumambulating the earth. She considers it to be his intelligence. Many would call it a cheating; of course, cheating does require intelligence. Madhu omits to deal with the subject as to why the Lord Ganesha which was to start with a "Vighna karta" -- one who causes calamities -- was made by Brahmins a "Vighna harta" -- one who removes calamities. She omits also to deal with the subject why the followers of Mahatma Phule had applied to British Government to ban Ganesh Festivals started by Tilak in late 19th century.

Madhu describes cult of Vitthala and story of Pundalika but omits to tell how a Brahmin sage Brugu kicked Lord Vishnu on his chest and Vishnu inquired whether Brugu's foot was hurt. One can see the cunning of building up consent system of supremacy of Brahmins That was the reason why Laxmi had left Vishnu and came to earth and Vishnu came in her search and shrine of Venkateswara was established. Similar story is told about Vitthala who comes in search of Laxmi who had felt insulted and left because Radha does not get up from the lap of Vishnu after her arrival. Here he found Pundalika. She also omits to tell Buddhist leanings of Vitthala, the subject discussed by us in "Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine". (also available on www.ambedkar.org)

Madhu strongly emphasizes that such stories are meant to give importance to those who perform well their 'worldly duties' and who are even above gods, but omits to mention that these 'worldly duties' in scriptures meant following of chaturvarna with graded inequality and Brahmin supremacy.

SHAKTI PUJA is too big a subject to discuss here. Contrary to Madhu's beliefs, Shakti puja flourished after fall of Buddhism and rise of Tantrism. The subject is discussed in detail by Dr. Ambedkar in "Riddles in Hinduism".

Madhu mixes up Puranik goddesses with Vedic ones. The development and evolution of these goddesses depicts the stages in the change of religion from Vedic to Brahminic to Hindu. Some goddesses are respected only as wives of gods without doing any heroic deeds. They are goddesses just by courtesy. There are some who act as 'shakti' -- energy for male gods -- such as Durga and Kali. Madhu describes, 'the gods became impotent in long drawn out battles against Asuras' and therefore devis came in existence. But this does not speak very highly about Brahminic gods.

Madhu also informs how new devis and were created recently by the Brahmins. But she omits to mention that 'Bharatmata' was created during freedom struggle for mobilizing hindutvavadi forces against the Muslims and the Christians also. Similarly 'Santoshimata' was created by them for keeping Bahujans under intoxications of rites and rituals. She also omits to tell us that Brahmins do such things periodically to keep Bahujans in ignorance. They recently made the lifeless idols of Ganesha to drink milk. Madhu is honest enough to admit that Brahmins 'are free to create new gods and goddesses and bestow on them attributes of their own choice.'

Madhu talks of female saints but omits to mention that their 'Bhakti Marg' was against chaturvarna and their teachings more in tune with Buddhism rather than Brahminism. She talks about Mira but omits to say that she accepted Raidas -- an untouchable -- as her Guru and also omits to mention that she was given a bowl of poison. She mentions of Andal but forgets about her disappearing in the 'feet of lord' at Ranganatha.

Madhu says devis are usually not jealous. She also talks of God Dattatraya. But she ignores the greatest jealousy shown by any woman, was that of three wives of three great gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. Their wives respectively Saraswati, Laxmi and Parvati grew so jealous about the pativratya (chastity) of one Anusaya wife of sage Atri, that they coaxed their husbands to go and defile Anusaya, leading to creation of Dattatraya.

The important point to remember is that these devis are depicted docile to build consent system among women to remain depressed under Manu's laws which enjoin women to remain always under protection of males -- father in childhood, husband in youth and son in old age -- and never to crave for freedom.

Can such devis be really our ideals, is a moot question the Bahujan women of today should think about. Illiteracy, Sati, kulinism, banned widow remarriages with pitiable condition of widows, sambandhams etc., are the real causes of women's miseries brought about by Manu. It is pity that the propagators of "Women's Rights" are silent on these topics but depict such stories of devis instead of talking of Savitribai Phule, Mahatma Phule and Dr. Ambedkar, who were the real emancipators of women. One can never forget that such 'women liberators' had opposed the "Hindu Code Bill" brought by Ambedkar to alliviate the centuries of sufferings of women. But I realy do not blame Madhu or people like her, who pretend to fight for 'women's rights'; they are actually fighting for preservation of chaturvarnya, which is their main concern for centuries, the fact which has been realized now by modern Bahujan women.

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Published on: August 01, 2002
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