The recent public protests and media debates around rising crime in India have been, as expected, quite superficial. They hardly go into the root of the issue – because the protesting layman is only concerned about his safety and not roots of the problem, and the media is not equipped with the understanding of Hindu society, its outlook, its workings, its problems or solutions. So when people cannot talk of the source of problem or solution, easy way is to make noise and divert attention. While media appeared to be honest in the first couple weeks, its true colors came out nonetheless – trying to blame the “retrograde” Hindutva folks for “not being able to digest” woman’s empowerment in the “evolving” world culture, giving publicity to distorted statements of popular leaders etc.
But as we discussed in the previous write up, the problem is not limited to assaults on women, nor is it about empowerment of women. Statistically rise in crime has to do with tendency towards crime and opportunity for the offender, and is hardly related to woman’s empowerment or any other genuinely progressive change. In fact whenever a progressive change was proposed, Bharatiya people accepted it way faster than any other society, given factors like its size, complexity, awakening time etc.
Fact remains that there have been stray publications in the media, mostly sloganeering, saying woman should not be treated “as an object”, woman “deserves her social space, freedom and protection”, woman “is equal to man” and so on. There is however no serious thinking or worthwhile analysis on this topic from media, state or secularists. The job is attempted by those Hindutva folks only – they are the ones trying to see *why it is happening* instead of merely shouting “it should not happen”. This means they are not, unlike the others, standing outside the sphere of the problem to shout slogans but have owned up the problem of the society. And whatever statements they gave out in public, show their attempts as responsible citizens and not their escapism. On the other hand congress and media tried to keep out of the dirt, and kept throwing mud at these people whenever possible – sometimes calling them foolish, sometimes calling them retrograde, sometimes “sexist” and sometimes “outrageous”.
Let us consider two out of the many statements that media chose to rake controversy about, and move on.
- Mohanji Bhagavat’s message, calling to restore the native ethos of this nation where woman always held a respectable position. Saying that India that is always in a cultural conflict with native Bharatiya values, he said rise in crime happens in India but not in Bharat where the native ethos are respected. In short, the more westernized India is becoming, the more it is exposing itself to crime. Media pretended to not understand this, and interpreted this with all negative connotations possible. Media also pretended to not understand the simplest statement that marriage is a social contract and ran a negative campaign for days – do such people deserve to run media?
- One BJP MP said “badoun ke saath tho samajh mein aata hai, lekin nabalik bacchoun ke saath… phaansi deni chahiye”. Any sane individual can understand this – that rape on an adult woman is at least imaginable, but people who attempt abuse of children is incomprehensible and needs severest possible action. Now this gets interpreted as he is saying it is “understandable” that adult women are raped, and then articles get published saying he calls it “understandable”, people interpret as condoning, worse promoting such crime. Does the translator deserve the benefit of doubt that he did not understand what the MP said? If yes, does he deserve a place in national media?
Worst part is, it has become a sort of crime to advice caution on the part of victim – an indication of how directionless and jingoistic our media is. Any measures suggested for women to protect themselves are met with an allegation of misogyny. Well, there are thefts on rise in many places and police issued public welfare notices indicating the precautions people should take to avoid theft. When an old man is robbed in broad daylight, people could not help but ask how he could carry cash alone without protection. Bank folks do not carry cash to ATM without protection. But it is an “insult to womanhood” to ask for proper caution to ensure safety!
So as always, how much ever maligned, it is the same Hindutva folks who search for solutions – with whatever success does not matter. At least, they are not like those who actively participate in creating the problem (as was discussed in the previous part).
While media tried actively to read ill-treatment of woman as a part of Hindutva, a few guys went way too far – calling for an undoing of the macho-masculinity of Hindutva movement! Of course, the same newspaper had to tender an apology and publish a countering article. But in reality, where is machoism and anti-feminine masculinity presented in India? The most of it comes from bollywood-gym culture where the macho figures are publicized along with flocking semi-nude heroines. But this is only an aside.
Broadly there are two planes or consciousness frames – bhoga (enjoying) and jnAna (knowing). As a man evolves into the higher reaches of consciousness, from gross to subtle, he also gradually evolves from the bhoga to the jnAna. This evolution also involves a lot of parallel changes – from personal to impersonal awareness, from individual to selfless pursuits etc. So to say, as a man moves up in the Maslow pyramid, he becomes less outwardly enjoyment-centric and becomes knowledge-centric (or inwardly enjoyment-centric). So synthesis of knowledge happens from evolved men, as knowledge is their object of enjoyment. In a society that understands and encourages this kind of evolution, there is development of the technical and philosophical nature of subjects. In a society that loses this vision, there is a consumption of the results of knowledge but lack of knowledge synthesis.
When the outlook changes from enjoyment to knowledge, man looks at nature as a teacher rather than as a repository of pleasure. He sees the experiences of nature, both pain and pleasure as means to the synthesis of knowledge, and thus nature as a teacher and a provider who confers knowledge and provides the means and experiences for the knowledge. Thus he evolves respect for nature, as the impersonal and eternal teacher and mother. When this kind of vision underlies the founding principles of a society, it would learn to worship nature than abuse it. Whether it is the general Hindu approach of worshiping natural phenomena or treating nature, earth as mother, the respect towards nature is pervasive.
In a society that is evolved and civilized, the flow of thought descends from jnana to bhoga, involving the necessary outlook. A man in jnana bhumi tries to fix his mind on jnana. A man in bhoga bhumi still has his mind on bhoga and not jnana. But with the above aesthetic backdrop, even the layman in bhoga bhumi derives bhoga not with the sense that he is enjoying nature but with the sense that mother nature is giving him sources of enjoyment – a subtle but very important difference (for people who think Veda is for the priest and layman is off of it, this stands a big counter example as of how the Hindu layman’s view of life and nature takes the same backdrop as that of a scholar). This makes all the difference between treating nature as a conquered object and as a providing mother. It is not limited to some esoteric reverence – but affects the way nature is conserved or disturbed. While the word “conservative” is made synonymous to “retrograde” and “closed” in popular discourse today, fact remains that with permanent things like nature being conservative is the only way mankind can survive long. Extinction of several species, loss of ecological balance etc are major concerns today, though it is much less advertised at common man level.
The Hindu view of women derives from the same view of nature. This is the reason Hindu outlook places woman in a much better position than any other society/outlook. Woman is nature herself, and one who respects nature would also respect woman. This thought is sinking very slowly into western thought, but is pervasive in Hindu thought. Since primitive times, woman’s contribution to Hindu knowledge is not random but fundamental. Right from the reflective observation of natural phenomena and cycles to profound spiritual concepts like feminine notion of bhakti.
That feminist movement is not as rampant in India as it was in west, is not because of Indian resistance but because India never put woman in that miserable state as west did in the past. People who quote examples like sati or niyoga or child marriage fail to see how the practices came in time and went in time – demanded by the situation but not eternal features of Hinduism.
So when the “Hindutva” leaders ask for restoration of woman’s position, they know exactly what they are saying – that the secondary treatment or disrespect of woman is a consequence of utilitarian worldview India is absorbing, which is in total contrast to the way Hindu society always treated women. Of course, there are aberrations during external aggressions – again what we see there is a sense of possession and protection of something precious than a “secondary” treatment which is more definable on ego grounds.
Today the challenge is not with empowerment of woman but of her self-discovery. Hindu society never defined womanhood with respect to a man, and recognized her uniqueness – something that is lost in the modern parlance. No amount of “equality” argument is going to allow that self-discovery, as long as that equality is defined as equality with respect to man. What is required is the freedom for woman to identify herself in her own image – something that is totally lost in the west and hence being lost in India.
Woman is always treated as the center of family, and as Sister Nivedita puts it, she is “The Web of Indian Life” (title of her book itself) – the one that holds the society safe and intact. The deterioration of woman’s position in society is hence directly related to (1) rise of utilitarian view of life (2) deterioration of family and society and rise in individualism. Identification of male-female relation within the fold of family is not equal to limiting woman to family role, but realizing her uniqueness. As mentioned earlier, when Hindu society was healthy and both these aspects were in balance woman’s role in the society was not limited to household. A society that is healthy and civilized, is not merely sustained but held intact by empowered and capable woman. The development of refined aspects of civilization can come only by the identification of feminine principle as unique in itself.
Today the Bharatiya society has to suit itself, and identify ways to prevent this degradation. It is not contrary to, but a part of the overall revival of the civilization under constant attack. The present lack of self-confidence and superimposition of individualistic definition and a loss of macro perspective need to be overcome.