Monday, January 7, 2013

Musings on Womanhood and India

In  the year circa 2013 looking up from down south Delhi is showing paradoxes. Cruelty to women come as a routine, though we have a progressive regime in power, a pious lady, that an Italian by birth, is in charge of the ruling party. Seen here being fed cakes on her birthday, but through a poster, all that the fan can achieve. This purdah clad Muslim woman is one among the millions of Indians who love her. And in Delhi member of a minority community, or so called, is the Prime Minister. What more can we do, ask the man on the street. But they call Delhi now the 'rape capital' and the stories media celebrate are repulsive. As waves of persecuting women appear in news who can stand silently. The questions are obviously intriguing, how come, is it the whole backlog of inhibitions and denials suddenly exploding after the communications revolution. Or is it the cell phones, internet and social networks, triggering vices in a conservative society. Or is it still a counter reaction to the glorification of all past traditions that the political Hindu fold unleashed in the immediate past. Though well meaning it had its traps. Or all of these  together, anyway, as it is the scene is depressing.

And as some of the feminist writers scream aloud about the ugly Indian male the drift in gender distance is growing by the day. Men fear women and vice versa, no sane society can exist that way. They have genuine concerns, just as India's dalits, tribals, there are chronic issues that the India polity refuses to acknowledge. And some of the women writers do get poignant, but given the general trend these end up mostly as cries in the wilderness. Kalpana Sharma, a leading name, has been writing in the mainstream 'Hindu' newspaper for long, with concrete data, of how women in India are a prejudiced lot. There are reports of female infanticide, dowry related persecution, skewed male - female ratios, but the facts remain looked at with disdain. Kalpana's writings in the 'Hindu' did not make much impact even among the Hindus. Perhaps the ruling faith has its own limitations, that is not to say that the other faiths are exemplary, all religions have bias towards women, tell the feminists. But things are changing with the new internet revolution and women so far closed behind iron curtains of custom and faith are breaking doors and speaking out. A cleansing is in order, pent up neurosis shall get cured.

It seems days of the Amazonian women are coming back. Perhaps the legendary Nayar women, to take a native model. The internet and cell phone are breaking barriers and apart from the freedom it gives, also the options of anonymity, the flood of porn material is also breaking open ground. Human beings too have instincts and one sex trying to attract the opposite is a natural urge, no clergy can stop that. But religion with its ideas of sin from the middle ages has pushed healthy, natural sexuality under the carpet. And now the relatively open sexual values of the west are creeping in to the conservative Indian society. Many of these sites may be healthy but some are plain sick. What ca trigger violence in young delinquent people. Some of the placards at the Delhi meet of girls shouted that they shall decide whom to share their bodies with. The violence to womanhood at the Delhi gang rape can make people insane. And that means the volcano is erupting, and that creates shocks in a conservative society. The new dress codes young women have adopted of late, from the west, are indeed provocative in a society denied normal sex for ages. And as if to add there are also archaic colonial laws that linger on, without change. What takes male - female interaction outside marriage taboo, given the sickness of the almost all male police force it gets creepy. And the past process of decolonization, through the native resurgence, sadly, became counter productive in the immediate past, it became regressive. And the scene in general shows threats of future anarchy unless  properly channelized.

Not that Delhi alone is the accused, spread over India random cases of persecution are being reported. Apart from the media psychology of taking in news that sells at a point of time, they run for advertisement revenue and news is just a bait, there are wrong messages being sent out. Soon women may run away from those Indian men going abroad, packs of Indian men are prowling upon women as gang rapes are the current fashion, or so we are told. Within India in a strange mindset the tourists are permitted to wear what they wish and scantly clad women can be seen across the country. Their self dependence, freedom are attractive to the new generation and naturally so.   The denial of Indian society applies only to the desi women. But looking back far the native Indian, call it Hindu, idiom was never this bleak. The caste prejudices too seems to come from the near past. For the tribals are hardly affected by these values. The gods were almost all with wives, some more than one and many far more. So the drift seems from some where in the middle ages, when the present model of Hinduism came to hold sway. So also with the great Rishis, saints, most of whom had wives, so the contemporary concepts of Brahmacharya, Satvic life, no idea how much of these are subverted by vested interests, seems not very old. May be it is time for a change, Sanathan Dharma has always adapted to change.

In any case honor for women cannot be looked at as a feminist concern, for women give birth to, nurture, men and women, the new generations. Women driven neurotic shall mold a generation that is neurotic as well. How thinkers tell that the ills of the country are linked to status of women. Even the present ecological catastrophe. The unnatural curbs on male - female relations and the notions of sin attached to the physical functions of the human body are counter productive and a stage has come when these cannot wait to be redefined. It is only proper that the society cures itself of the sickness, where the Saints have a big role to play. This not the ones who make money and fame by parroting old phrases but those who can relate to the society and its hidden problems. They have enough material available if they are to go by ancient traditions and practices. There are rudiments of healthy practices in India where women are honored in native idiom. Perhaps from before the incoming Semitic faiths also influenced the native faith. And there are parallels. The rituals of Mother Goddess worship, with young girls carrying sprouting seeds come from this list of innumerable cults of India's agrarian past. There were also celebrations of girls coming of age, puberty, where sexuality was no sin. All these got lost in between, bringing in a potent mix of unhealthy trends, both imported and native. Gang rapes have their genesis, it is in a sense the sickness of a society that appeared in a few morbid men. While calling for exemplary punishments this angle cannot be ignored.    

Back in Kerala, where too a series of molestation and rape reports are in the news, the ruffle of the once stagnant equilibrium is visible. Chronic morbidity is showing up, it was so far hidden and far too may cases of inter-family sexual violence are also making head lines. Indeed the very fabric of the holy culture seems breaking up and for those concerned they cannot look away.  The silent suffering of women is no more confined to kitchens. A more healthy male - female relationship, a more healthy sexuality are indeed required and that has to get socio-religious sanction. Where the Acharyas shall have to shed their surplus fat and scholarship and look anew at  society and scriptures. Times are changing, not doing that shall mean distorted ideas of freedom taking over the new generations, what cannot be stopped as the information highways are open and cannot be barricaded. Self denials and pretensions may not stand scrutiny before the new generations and it is only proper that legitimate ways are evolved. The Mother Goddess indeed seems angry and clinging on to past formulas of all is well may not help. For India with her sublime spirituality body centred approaches may be anathema but disowning it is also anomalous. Man and woman are inseparable let there be no distancing there, one affects the other, the Indian society itself needs to heal in this matter. That in no way belittles its greatness.