‘Attacks on women : A Violation of Dharma’

published on January 1, 2013

In a recent interview with NDTV the Dalai Lama spoke about the need for combining modernity with the preservation of India’s ancient civilisational heritage. He was speaking in the context of the  gang rape and murder of the 23 year old student in New Delhi. The Dalai Lama specifically mentioned the culture of non violence. Material improvements are important but they must be combined with moral values.

As the media and the public discuss and debate (and protest)  the violence against women and consider what remedies can be found to prevent such heinous crimes , some thoughtful spiritual leaders will undoubtedly highlight the need for Indian society to return to its Dharmic values where women are considered to be the repositories of Dharma. As Swami Devananda Sarasvati (aka Ishwar Sharan) has put it :

” Changes in the law and better police action against offenders can only be a stop gap measure. The real change has to come in the family and in the community where boys are taught to respect women from an early age.

 Indian society seems to have lost its moral compass. This is very evident in the popular culture, music and cinema, where women  are regularly ridiculed and denigrated. If popular culture truly represents the mind of the people as some sociologists claim, then   India is in deep trouble and only a social revolution guided by ethical teachers of superior character will bring about the needed change.

 Indian cultural chauvinists are rightly very proud of Hinduism’s fundamentally superior moral and spiritual ethos. But all their claims crumble in front of the outrages against women that have become embedded in Indian society and accepted or brushed off
by India’s social and religious leaders.

Women are the very embodiment of Dharma. They are the first guru of every child. Without a mother, no man would know who his father is. Disrespect and abuse of women is a rejection and denial of Dharma.Never mind the law and the police, Indian society has to radically change.”

(Comment in Bharata Bharati, Dec. 25,2012 on the article by Lakshmi Narayan ‘ Rape : Caning is the better deterrent’, December 25, 2012, in The Asian Age, and reprinted in Bharata Bharati).

The interpretation advanced above is in line with Vedic precepts. As is well known women were highly respected in Vedic times and even the much maligned Manusmriti has to be re read with care since scholars have acknowledged that there have been unfavourable interpolations inserted in later times which make Manu seem prejudiced against women (See the excellent article ‘The Position of Women in the Manusmriti’ Dr. Surendra Kumar, Viveka Jyoti, Feb. 21, 2012). It may be mentioned in passing that Manu advocated capital punishment for rape.

The patriarchal society that has become the norm in modern times, whether in India or abroad, is historically an aberration. Matriarchal societies were the norm in ancient times and in India today, those states like Kerala which still have a matrilineal tradition, the abuse and attacks prevalent in other parts of India are  rare there, although the recent growth in terrorist inspired violence has had a spill over effect. Young women are often kidnapped and attacked and also killed. In missionary institutions pedophilia is not unknown. Neverthless, the general sense of freedom that Kerala women experience is certainly to be welcomed in the rest of India and can be attributed to the matrilineal tradition.

In the general discussions in the Indian media (so far) there have been some commendable reflections on the need for changes in social values, but these are often couched in a bland, vague language, as if enlightenment would come suddenly and spontaneously with  modernity or the modernisation process. Sons must be told, so the narrative goes, to respect women, starting with their own sisters and women in the family.

Certainly they should, but that is not enough.

The present writer believes that a rigorous questioning of the negative aspects of modernisation must go hand in hand with a balanced return to Hindu values. It cannot take the idiotic approach taken by people like the Rajasthan MP who called for banning skirts  worn by school girls. There is nothing wrong with young men looking at young women’s legs. The Victorian English habit of dressing women from head to toe or the Islamic one of having women covered from head to toe are foreign to the Hindu ethos, which has never been puritanic in its outlook. What is wrong is taking this a step further in the attack on the person of the woman and that would include verbal attacks, now euphemistically called ‘eve teasing’.

It might help to introduce a modified version of varnashrama dharma whereby young people are encouraged to experience the freedom of childhood and subsequently the brahmacharya years of study,yoga and meditation until they reach the grahastha years of marriage and economic prosperity. This can be flexibly interpreted for our times. For this to happen the current egregious worship of material welfare that has become the daily reality of most, if not many households, must be abandoned. At present this worship has become a diabolical dance of endless acquisitve tendencies. There is at present a marked tendency to think that hedonism and material values are the only source of enjoyment.

Gujarat is also a model state to follow in respect of the safety of women. This is definitely an achievement of the Modi administration.

It is also proof that an enlightened citizenry can and must provide for the safety of women and that material development is no hindrance to this project. There is nothing un Hindu about material prosperity provided it is kept within limits.

In conclusion Indian society must now introspect on the sage advice of the ancients:

” Fortitude,forgiveness, self control, honesty, purity of body and mind, sense-control, study of scriptures, meditation on the Supreme, truthfullness, freedom from anger – this is the ten fold path of virtue”

This ten fold path when adapted to our times will go a long way to effect the practice of Dharma and the attendant respect and care for the welfare of women.

(The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university)

Welcome to Haindava Keralam! Register for Free or Login as a privileged HK member to enjoy auto-approval of your comments and to receive periodic updates.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

twenty + 6 =


Latest Articles from Bharath Focus

Did You Know?