Demystifying equality

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Women’s day has come about again and we hear many people talk about gender inequality and patriarchs, and the need for women to take power, wrestle the lead from men. Not to say that a goddess at home should not (if she prefers) find success outside the home and take control in those situations. As professionals, as women were barred from the place of business for a very big part of our history, we cannot say that women have in fact been active or very successful professionally for very long, until very recently. However, just as women have been unable to crack into the “professional” world of men in their place of work, men haven’t been able to steal/barge into the place of power that women hold at home.

Women always consider it somewhat degrading being told to stay in the house, or in the kitchen. Considering that it is the kitchen that holds the source of life (i.e. food, grains, water), how fitting it is that women hold the keys not only to the house but to the well being of its members via resource allocation of the humble granaries in our simple abodes. Analyzing the functions of a woman in a house can definitely bring to light the numerous jobs she holds inside the house which seems to simply be overlooked by many people of all genders who imply that she who stays home doesn’t hold any power. But as we once studied in a simple grade three social studies book, man and woman are supposed to be two wheels of the same chariot. This also happens to be a philosophy ingrained in our culture should we closely analyze it.

In The Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, volume 4: Samkhya, a dualist tradition in Indian philosophy pg. no 202, writers Ram Shankar Bhattacharya et.al.  has written analyzing Samkhya   at the beginning of the creation of all three worlds, subtle bodies are constituted out of the five subtle elements. This subtle body enters the mother’s womb and the mother’s blood and the father’s semen are assimilated with it. The juice of what mother eats or drinks is assimilated to what is contributed by the father and the mother. This enables the child’s body to grow. The learned say that the external body has six constituents-blood, flesh, and hair generated from mother, and muscles, bones, and fat from the father. Taking this base what can be said in a baby in assimilation of both mother and father, meaning the baby is assimilation of both Purush and Prakriti. The Samkhya Darshan, an Astika school of thought, has showed equal importance of both male and female.

From the day she is born, an unwed daughter before puberty is considered to be an incarnation of the living goddess, she too is a “Kumari” and as such, she is worshipped in her home every year, with family members bowing to her in a show of respect. Among newars, a daughter is an indispensable part of a household, so much so that the women are to be married twice to gods before a man is allowed to become a part of her. This, not only being a ritual, it was also a fiction designed to save the women from sati pratha (a ritual that shockingly seemed to survive for so long). It is also said, just as one needs a son to enter the gates of heaven; one also needs to fulfill their responsibility to marry a daughter off to be allowed entrance. Without having sent a daughter off, preferably with well wishes and hopes for a happy future, any human, despite having a son is also considered ineligible to be in heaven.

After marriage, as a new bride, she is welcomed into the house with a set of keys, a symbolic gesture, which is meant to show respect to her as a new member of the family. She is now the “Laxmi” of the house, a goddess of home and wealth. A lot of misconceptions arise from the duty a woman carries out in the house at this point. Why should she clean the house? Why should she cook? Why should she take care of the family? We are a culture that has developed from generations of hunter-gatherers that turned into farmers. The need to allocate resources then, meant that women were to become domestic creatures while men went out to hunt. And even in many families, it is still true that they are farmers so where they need strength, the men go, while the women step in to take up tasks that require managerial skills. When analyzing our culture as a society, we seem to be patrifocal but the shift of power between men and women has been equal. 

Even after being married, she is just as important with her paternal family as she is in her husband’s family. Any rituals of Shraddha happening at home are considered incomplete without the daughters, and their children. She is never left behind in matters from birth to death. The complex rituals in a wedding, although seemingly centered around men, quietly assert also the authority of a woman in the home, the family and the marriage` itself. A marriage isn’t just about two people, but also about the families that connect through them. A lot about weddings, when closely analyzed, are meant to be vows to respect the family, and rituals meant to connect more than just two people.

Rig Veda (10/191/3) hymn states God says that O! man and women I am granting you these Mantras for you both so, that you can think and progress together. This Vedic hymn breaks the notion of inequality as progressing together is emphasized. Likewise, Atharva Veda (11.5.18) hymn states girls should train themselves to become complete scholars and youthful through brahmcharya and then enter married life. This hymn reflects girls have equal right like men in Hindu Dharma. Further, the famous scholars who composed Vedic hymns like Maitreyi, Ghosa, Lopamudra and Gargi show that women were as competent scholars as men and had equal rights in Vedas. The 10th chapter of the Rig Veda, for example, asserts the feminine to be the supreme principle behind all of cosmos, in the following hymn called “Devi Sukta” which shows supremacy of feminine.

The Hindu culture and dharma, when put under the microscope of a western philosophic mind (Binary opposition), seems patriarchal. However, in the logical discourse provided above, we are just trying to say that the culture that has been presented to us is not at all what it seems. We live in a neutral world created to respect and value both Purush and Prakriti as equal sources of power. We only need to try to understand the real meaning behind the rituals, and traditions we conduct so that we may come out of the misunderstanding that ours is a culture that may have left women behind. “Planet 50-50 by 2030”This is UN theme on Women’s Day 2017 but we have achieved it since Vedic era. It is time the West learned from us and helped. But yes, more women need to go out and fight for inclusive representation in the corporate world. However, when you look at facts and figures, we aren’t as left behind in women empowerment as we assume.

 (Sanjay Adhikari and Revigya Joshi are autodidact)

 

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