Hindu Feminism And Indian Society

by Garima Agarwal - Mar 9, 2016 12:09 PM +05:30 IST
Hindu Feminism And Indian Society(ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

When I got active on Twitter sometime in mid-2014 (the handle had been lying idle for a long time), I did not have the eyes to differentiate between ‘West-driven elite NGO feminism’ and ‘India-driven women empowerment’. I was already a staunch feminist (owing to whatever experiences) by the time I got active on Twitter, even though I had never read about Western feminism & its history. In fact, I only began following politics & current affairs in 2014, when I read about Narendra Modi being a PM candidate, and gradually also came to know who Dr. Swamy is.

As I began following news actively, I noticed the hypocrisy & agendas behind many feminist statements & causes. I realized that most international NGO and celebrity-endorsed feminist campaigns were primarily anti-Hindu. That, while similar & more serious issues in other religions were hardly highlighted.

Then I got to read on FCRA-FCRR and a deep sense of alarm filled me. The hypocritical selective attacks on mangalsutra, karwachauth, rakshabandhan, menstruation-related discrimination in Hinduism, the racist remarks accompanying Nirbhaya’s documentary, etc. filled me with cognitive dissonance on typical feminism. I felt betrayed, as if no cause remained just anymore. Then occasionally, I would come across these ridiculous nude feminist protests in the West which filled my mind with apathy towards the materialist values of freedom of the West. There was an accompanying sense of liberation but without substance.

As I was struggling with my opinions and revisiting my stand on Western feminism, I also felt fairly disgusted with the constant & quick judgement passed on women by many ‘Hindu-right’ handles on twitter. I came across many ‘right wing’ accounts who were very judgmental on women on serious issues like rape etc, with views always revolving around what could have made the women deserve rape.

On countering those arguments with ‘nothing deserves rape’, the most common response would be that the West has many more rapes as per statistics (which is true but obviously it does not absolve discussion on news/ issues at home front).

I also came across Mens Rights Activists (MRAs) on Twitter and did agree with them in principle, that fake cases need to be dealt with stringent punishments and laws must be made to give men a chance to put across their points without being arrested first, but I was shocked to see their denial & apathy towards age-old problems (specially in small towns and rural areas) like dowry, ghoonghat (veil), expectations of constant compromise from women etc.

The most hurtful and bitter tweets of many Hindu-right handles that I observed were on Hindu Fertility Rate (TFR/AFR), blaming Hindu women for their lower average fertility rate as compared to Muslim women. I don’t want to embarrass the handle owners by pasting those tweets here, because my primary grudge and fight is with the mindset. There were direct comparisons made with Israeli women, Muslim women and opinions on how education had spoilt Hindu women, etc.

No tweet out of several questioned the society, our compromised education system, corrupt male politicians who have been allowing religious conversions, TV and Bollywood narratives so controlled by men etc. It was as if now that men have moved on (because many urban men themselves do not want a second or third child), women must compensate and adjust for all the factors in isolation.

It is surely not possible for women in most cases to affect demographic changes on their own. There has been no satisfactory counter (that I have come across by the same handles) to my argument that Hindu TFR is just one of the strategic measures to counter impending demographic change. If our education system becomes pro-Hindu, within 2 decades of it Hindu TFR should ideally automatically improve. And, modernity is a natural byproduct of passing time, we must evolve our civilizational survival strategies as per the changing times. Hence, I could not alienate myself from the concept of feminism in principle.

Out of ideological compulsion, I finally coined this term ‘Hindu Feminism’ more than 6 months back. A lot of people would ask this - ‘What was even the need for coining a parallel feminist term for empowerment of Indian women?’ The truthful reasons are this :

—It becomes easy to stand on the same / similar platform and beat the leftist opponents. There really is no problem with the literal definition of feminism, and every cause is corrupted today by some. Feminism is not owned by the West-aligned saviours of women that they can conveniently term everyone opposing them in india as ‘desi fringe’. The balance seems to be lost on both sides.

—There usually is a total denial /opposition of all kinds of feminist thoughts, or there is a total support of anything with the word ‘feminist’ in it. A huge gap exists in the middle, and I have tried to fill it by ‘Hindu Feminism’.

—When you call yourself a ‘Hindu feminist’, a lot of right-wing handles rightly assume that you have a mind of your own. After the initial ridicule and ‘gyan’ peddled to you to make you a conformist Hindu woman on every issue under the sun, there usually is reduced number of conditioned gender based judgements (otherwise common). I know this is a politically incorrect reason, but this is my truthful observation.

—It gives a sense of identity. Yes, it does. I wanted to do away with stereotyping of feminist line of thought. When you relate to certain causes with intensity, you don’t mind being identified with them. Everybody opines and behaves on the basis of experiences and knowledge, the challenge is to retain objectivity in self. I did not wish to be misunderstood but wanted identification, hence I coined this term.

As I continued reading in bits and pieces, I realized that if we go by the religious texts and stories of each religion, Hinduism comes across as the least misogynistic. Vedas, our oldest texts were very broad minded in dealing with women. Women could study, perform most rituals, there was hardly any concepts of veil, sati, jauhar etc. Many hymns of the Rigaveda and shlokas have been contributed by women. There are the likes of Lopamudra, Matreiyi etc.

Compare this with the allowances to women in the Abrahamic faiths. The beginning of Christian era was extremely restrictive to women and even today you cannot expect Christian women to be priests and Pope. Islam, on its part, still continues with the burqa, polygamy etc.

Indian society though, did not remain as it was during Vedic times in actual working. The domination of men was there even in Vedic times, but not so pronounced as in recent history. Having thought a lot about it, I believe that there are just two reasons for this male domination from beginning of the time :

  1. The fact that women have lesser physical strength as compared to men. Hence, needed protection traditionally and even today in many situations.
  2. And that women can reproduce and hence are considered special and the violation of whom is unconscious threat to male ego.

Everything seems to be revolving around these two factors. Even the question of libido. On my part, I still need to do more research on libido difference between men and women. But even if it’s true that men have higher libido, it cannot directly affect male domination. It could have led to female domination if women were not lesser in physical strength. Infact, I personally believe that women might have same level of libido or just marginally less, but they display it less and consequently, start feeling it less.

The main reason is of course, the social conditioning relating to virginity and the thought that ‘enjoyment of sex is mainly a man thing’. It works subconsciously in many ways, even with the most modern of Indian women. The second is, women are difficult to satisfy in bed, they take longer, and orgasm may not be directly related to ejaculation. Hence, women might lose interest in the long run as it can be difficult for an average Indian woman to tell her partner to also focus on entirety of her pleasure on every sexual experience.

Since most of the world was almost the same at the onset of medieval period regarding freedom of women, what really made India adopt so many customs and traditions that restricted women to such an extent and lead to widespread misogynistic mindset?

The truth is that we have always been struggling to gain or retain national freedom and unity. We have been battling invaders for hundreds of years. We hardly got a chance to sit at peace and find our Vedic roots and practice our real culture. We have only been doing crisis management at the societal level and suffering constant onslaught on our culture. Earlier it was overt, today the onslaught is subtle, covert and sociopolitical in nature. Somewhere, the society regressed, to protect itself may be. Sati and jauhar became more common, gender ratio took a beating, purdah /ghoonghat became a norm.

However, we have tried to move ahead with gender equality post independence. But it has not been balanced. While rural women and the women at lower socio-economic levels are still struggling to balance their ambitions & desires with expectations from them, urban families (both men & women) are becoming extremely pro-West in terms of lifestyle and personal expectations. Results are very obviously low Hindu TFR, fake cases of dowry harassment, no understanding of real history etc.

With passing time, men have moved on. Men too used to wear a lot of jewellery, cover their heads, wear dhoti / pajamas, remain brahmachari till 25 years of age, etc. While most men have become technologically advanced and moved on, many expect women to remain the same in appearance and follow the same routines of total household work, even in the nuclear families. While the support systems have reduced, the pressure on many women ( especially in small towns and middle class) has increased in a way.

Either the woman is expected to juggle it all up, or sacrifice her ‘not so important’ ambitions/desires. I do see a lot of men among urban younger couples helping their wives/ fiancees in domestic work and careers wholeheartedly and this is a positive change. The times have changed from supremacy of physical strength to intellectual supremacy and hence expectations from women should also level out in certain situations.

The biggest problem with Western feminism is that it is based on what I call ‘competition’. I do respect the first few sets of women who had fought for things like, higher education for women, voting rights for them, freedom to pursue hobbies etc. But today, both Western feminism and Western mens rights activism are busy trying to prove which gender is superior. And it is just not possible to do so. Both genders have overlapping yet different but equal roles! Western feminism is constantly beefing up the idea that ‘men don’t sacrifice enough, so why should we’.

This is where Hindu Feminism comes in. It is totally applicable in the Indian context. It says, ‘If I sacrifice, you should sacrifice and empathize too’! With the family system & duty being the foundations of Indian culture, Hindu feminism requests the family & society to empathize and respect the feminine values while ensuring freedom and support system to women of India.

Hindu feminism (HF) requests the men of India to not ‘misuse’ our traditional values to dominate over women and control narratives. HF does not support Western agendas aiming at breaking India. HF understands that there is a natural role playing, because when the pursuit of equality begins interfering with natural role playing, family system starts breaking down. But women cannot keep on ‘adjusting’ to expectations. They are already snapping like rubber bands, fake cases are an example of a retaliatory societal measure.

For example, men cannot birth babies and nurture them the way women can in their initial years. Imagine if all school teachers, day care attendants, psychologists were men! Similarly, how difficult it will become if all civil engineers, defense soldiers, rickshaw pullers etc were women! I am not saying these are totally exclusive roles, i just mean they are naturally suited to a particular gender and that there must be exceptions or special training required for the other to play them.

Hindu Feminism is the feminism suited to India, it simply wants Indian men to - become more aware of the emotional needs and ambitions of their women thereby making it easier for women to feel happy & less burdened; be more sensitive and aggressive towards issues of child abuse, rape, eve teasing, gender ratio etc; contribute little bit to work at home; do not dissuade family women to pursue hobbies and passionate career choices; converse with empathy and be more vocal towards problem solving; encourage the partner to be sexually confident resulting in mutual happiness; not justify rapes of ‘bad women’ etc.

Every woman in her heart wishes to rise above the ‘ aanchal mein dhoodh, aankh mein paani’ role, and it can be done without embracing the Western-style NGO feminism. HF need not pick up or support frivolous issues like why do toys have gender roles, why men are not wearing pink, why women are happy to bleed etc.

The word ‘Hindu’ in HF does not stand strictly for religion. It stands more or less for the definition of ‘Hindu’ given by Savarkar. It has a two-fold meaning :

  1. —feminism that is followed by Indian people who respect their motherland, ancestors and therefore are all Hindus by culture;
  2. —and feminism that is for (fits into) the values of Indian culture and respects it.

From A Hindu Feminist

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