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October - December 2023

Feminism and Sanatana Dharma

Feminism, the belief that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men, has given rise to many laws, practices and institutions in the modern world. This idea, imported from the West like many others, has thrown out many of our ancient established systems and practices and replaced them by new mores of conduct. The present day system of working in an office where men and women toil on an equal footing was unknown in our culture prevalent even some two hundred years ago and is entirely a product of modern society. This is founded on the premise of providing equal opportunity to women to work and earn.

This no doubt puts money in the hands of women and gives them some independence. But it has given rise to many problems the women, the family and the society face today. Women face situations of lack of safety, the family faces the absence of the prime mover, and the society gradually loses its anchor of morals and traditions. Women acquiring modern education in school and college is per se not a serious issue if it can be managed without affecting the working of the family. The serious dislocation starts when women go out for work, that too full-time. Here we have to appreciate the role of women in the family as per our Shastras. They are the backbone of the family. They are in charge of the home, ‘grihini’. They control the family expenses such that even when the income is less, there is still some saving; this is their inborn ingenuity. They rear the children in a dharmic way. They teach them the family traditions, the dos and donts to be followed in the home and in the society. They make them learn simple Stotras, songs etc. even from childhood; they even teach languages, literature etc. The women are the fundamental support to the men in all their activities, dharmic as well as secular. The men are able to go out and work free from worries of home and family and earn, when women take care of the home. It is a fallacy to think that in this setup, women are inferior to men as they do not earn money; they are dependent on men. This nullifies the fact that each complements the other. Further, men cannot engage in any dharmic activity without the specific concurrence, cooperation and participation of women. Even today we notice that it is the women who motivate men to stick to dharmic practices and keep alive the family traditions.

The following oft-quoted shloka from Manusmriti is looked at with scepticism and even disdain by the ‘secular elite’ these days.

यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवताः।
यत्रैतास्तु न पूज्यन्ते सर्वास्तत्राफलाः क्रियाः।।

मनुस्मृति ३/५६

“Devatas are pleased where women are worshipped; all actions result in failure where women are not worshipped.” This is reckoned to be a ploy to keep women confined to home under the control of men and deny them independence. In this process, the natural physical frailty and vulnerability of women is not paid due attention. Enactment of laws, empowering the police and preparing the women for handling difficulties and training them in self-protection are assumed to provide safety to women. But it is our everyday experience that no measure on earth has been successful in ensuring adequate safety to women. In fact ghastly crimes against women are on the increase. Moreover, the children grow up without proper upbringing. How will they turn out into good citizens and uphold dharma? Exploding juvenile crime statistics bear this out. Child illnesses are also on the increase. Moral turpitude including dangerous tendencies to loot, kill and damage public property are commonplace occurrences in the society.

In our earlier editorial on ‘Simple Living’, reference was made to the advice of Mahaswamiji of Kanchi asking that women avoid going out for work. This appears sacrilegious in today’s world. But all of us know that Mahaswamiji never minced words when it came to Shastras and long term good of humanity.

This is not to suggest that women should not engage in useful group activities either at home or at some common place. It is a fact of today’s life that many women, who do not go to office and work fulltime, have made a name for themselves in various religious and social fields without impinging on their domestic duties in the least.

Apart from working in offices, western influences have brought to our society many other pernicious practices. Our traditional food and dress habits, lifestyle guidelines, attitude towards elders and joint family ‘give and take’ have given way to western mores rooted in self-centred attitude. Though a lot of ‘scientific’ studies do point out every day to the virtues of our ancient thought and life processes and the ills of western habits, they do not cut ice with those with the overwhelming ‘modern’ attitude. Some of the worst developments have taken place in the field of marriage – live in partnership, love marriage, divorce, single parenthood etc. Such new fashions eat into the very vitals of our society and destroy our ethos and culture beyond repair for generations to come. The extent to which this thought process has already wrought incalculable harm to our social and cultural fabric can be appreciated by referring to an article by a well-known sociologist, which recently appeared in the esteemed national daily, Times of India. Titled ‘A short guide to marriage’, it advises: “For freedom to marry or romance-based unions to become the norm, we must first discard the purpose of ‘marriage’ as a union of families. The growing trend of the union of two signals a huge shift in modern history and to insist that such romantic unions be still called “marriages” leads to unreal and impractical expectations. Such unions make irrelevant chunky family centric concerns around who one can marry, who can inherit and who are legitimate offspring. In fact, even the need for progeny is now a matter of choice, not duty. Romance sits awkwardly with marriage as mutual attraction takes precedence over family making redundant certain rituals, such as the one the groom’s mother’s brother used to perform, in some Hindu marriages. Traditional inheritance rules too are gradually being replaced by personalised wills by a small but growing number of people. Only when all of this begins to happen can the “fundamental right” to marry be fully realised as, like other rights, this too is best expressed at the individual level. So, ask not: “Will you marry me?” Ask instead: “Will you take me in union and let’s keep out parents, cousins, aunts and uncles.”

This is a blatant call to destroy the institution of traditional marriage and instigate youngsters to go for nuclear families and to leave their parents and elders in their old age with none to care for. This is the shocking state of affairs today. People in their blind imitation of anything fancifully western, which satisfies base instincts, do not fight shy of rebelling against established family and societal norms even in respect of such an important institution as marriage. The harmful fallout of such deviations is there for everyone to see even in shortterm. Look at the spiralling court cases, murders, divorces, broken families, children left with none to look after etc. Incidentally, divorce is a concept totally unknown to Sanatana dharma.

If we cannot persuade women to concentrate on the home front without looking for the bait of office work and esrnings, we should at least put in our best efforts to save the institution of marriage as per Shastras. Marriage is the very foundation of Sanatana dharma. Grihastha is the backbone of society. If we let the present disturbing trend of love marriage (with don’t care attitude towards varna/gotra/incestual relationship etc.), live in partnership system, divorce etc. to spread and become the norm, we would end up watching irrepairable damage to society. All our commitment to Vedas, Samskaras (Upanayanam, marriage, Apara kriyas etc.), temples, Yagnas, Pujas etc. would be irretrievably jeopardised.

When the society is undergoing such negative churns, it is reassuring that at least some sections of the judiciary are alive to the threat of the western influences on our traditions. Recently the Allahabad High Court made some thought-provoking observations on live-in relationship. The Court said that the security and stability that the institution of marriage promises cannot be expected in a live-in relationship. The Court added: “There is systematic design to destroy the institution of marriage in India. The brutish concept of changing partners every season cannot be considered to be a hallmark of a stable and healthy society. Infidelity in both marriage and live-in relationships is being projected as the sign of a progressive society. The youth get attracted to such a philosophy, being unaware of the long-term consequences.” Need we say more?

With Sri Mohan Bhagavatji at Annual Agnihotra Sabha at Varanasi