Does Sanatana Dharma Call All Women Prostitutes, As MP Thirumavalavan Claims?
What distinguishes Sanatana Dharma is that it not only contains emancipating verses against the abuse and belittling of women, but out of all the major religions, it is in Hindu Dharma alone wherw we have verses which glorify the independent and fierce nature of women.
Thol. Thirumavalavan, PhD, is the Member of Parliament from Chidambaram constituency and part of the United Progressive Alliance in Tamil Nadu. He is the leader of Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (Liberation Panthers Party, VCK).
In January 2019, he conducted a conference declaring he would 'destroy' Sanatana Dharma. The conference was attended by representatives from Congress, CPI and CPI(M), along with Muslim communal parties.
Since then, Thirumavalavan has been spearheading a hate campaign often resorting to cheap and vulgar attacks on Hinduism.
Through this campaign, he has reduced Dr. Ambedkar, an intellectual giant and a great nation-builder, to the level of E.V. Ramasamy, an uncouth pseudo-rationalist, racist demagogue and hate-peddler in the minds of the public.
His claim: ‘According to Sanatana Dharma, all women are created as prostitutes’
Recently, in an online video published by ‘Periyar TV’, Thirumavalavan has again made disparaging remarks against Hindu Dharma.
In the video that went viral, he had said this:
What does Sanatana Dharma say about women? All women are fundamentally created by God as prostitutes. All women are prostitutes as per Hindu Dharma, Manu Dharma. All women are prostitutes — that is how they have been created. They are inferior to men. This is true for Brahmin women as well as other women who are in the bottom layers of the society. This is what Sanatana Dharma says.
Naturally, this has led to a severe backlash in social media. Alarmed at the outrage now, Thirumavalavan has made his counter-attack blaming Manu Smriti and launching an agitation demanding its ban, claiming the book has verses that demean women leading to their enslavement.
To justify his hate speech, he has highlighted verses 9:14 and 15 of Manusmriti. Incidentally, all the three verses from 9:14 to 16 are disparaging of women. Let us see them in full:
Women pay no attention to beauty, they pay no heed to age; whether he is handsome or ugly, they make love to him with the single thought, “He’s a man!” Lechery, fickleness of mind, and hard-heartedness are innate in them; even when they are carefully guarded in this world, therefore, they become hostile towards their husbands. Recognising thus, the nature produced in them at creation by Prajâpati, a man should make the utmost effort at guarding them.
How does one justify such views of women in the Manusmriti?
One does not. Such views were common in pre-modern days of patriarchy in all cultures.
In fact, what distinguishes Hindu Sanatana Dharma is that it not only contains emancipating verses against abuse and belittling of women, but out of all the major religions, it is in Hindu Dharma alone we have verses which glorify the independent and fierce nature of women.
In Manu itself, there are verses which strictly warn against the abuse of women — including psychological abuse like this one:
Where women are revered, there the gods rejoice; but where they are not, no rite bears any fruit. Where female relatives grieve, that family soon comes to ruin; but where they do not grieve, it always prospers. When female relatives, not receiving due reverence, curse any house, it comes to total ruin, as if struck down by witchcraft.
Manu speaks against widow remarriage; frowns upon leviratic union and yet provides legal dimensions of inheritance of leviratic union. So how does one reconcile these aspects of Manu?
Taking these very specific verses, Indologist Patrick Olivelle explains:
It is impossible to think that these authors intended their statements to be taken as literally true, just as it is not possible to think that there is a device in the skyscrapers to let the moon pass. As in literature and poetry, so in religious, didactic, and legal literature, hyperbole is simply a literary device. Failure to recognise this can only cause serious misinterpretation of texts. So, it is not a contradiction when Manu (9.14-6), in warning husbands to guard their wives, waxes eloquent on the evil tendencies inherent in women... and in urging men to respect women, he eulogises them (9.26-8) ...and warns against abusing them (3.56-8).Manu’s Code of Law: A Critical Edition and Translation of the Mänava-Dharmasästra, Oxford University Press, 2005, p.35
Unfortunately, on both sides of the divide, there are people who take the verses literally.
While in the Hindu side, the literalists of Smritis are more a fringe than mainstream, in the case of most components of the UPA — in whose alliance VCK and DMK are members — the mainstream tendency is to demonise Hindu Dharma with such rotten-cherry picked verses.
If you want to imitate Sri Krishna's Rasaleela, also lift Govardhan Mountain
So goes an old saying. Those who want to imitate an early episode in Dr. Ambedkar’s life of burning of Manu Smriti should also, like him, have the ability to go through the very same Smritis to show the space for egalitarian human progress in them.
Even Dr. Ambedkar, when considering the patriarchal biases in Manu as reason for the downfall of women, was careful not to essentialise the entire Sanatana Dharma. Rather, he pointed to the high place Vedic society had accorded women. In the very paper condemning Manu, he substantially highlighted this aspect:
That at one time a woman was entitled to upanayana is clear from the Atharva Veda, where a girl is spoken of as being eligible for marriage, having finished her Brahmacharya. From the Shrauta Sutras, it is clear that women could repeat the mantras of the Vedas and the women were taught to read the Vedas. Panini’s Ashtadhyayi bears testimony to the fact that women attended Gurukul (college) and studied the various Shakhas (Sections) of the Veda and became expert in Mimamsa. Patanjali’s Maha Bhashya shows that women were teachers and taught Vedas to girl students. The stories of women entering into public discussions with men on the most abstruse subjects of religion, philosophy and metaphysics are by no means few. The story of public disputation between Janaka and Sulabha, between Yajnavalkya and Gargi, between Yajnavalkya and Maitrei and between Sankaracharya and Vidyadhari shows that Indian women in pre-Manu’s time could rise to the highest pinnacle of learning and education. That at one time women were highly respected cannot be disputed. Among the Ratnis who played so prominent a part in the coronation of the King in ancient India was the queen and the king made her an offering, as he did to the others. Not only the king-elect do homage to the queen, he worshipped his other wives of lower castes. In the same way, the king offers salutation after the coronation ceremony to the ladies of the chiefs of the Srenies (guilds). This is a very high position for women in any part of the world.Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writing and Speeches, Vol.17: Part-2, Ed. Vasant Moon, Education Department, Govt. of Maharashtra, 1995 (p.122)
Dr. Ambedkar, while condemning what he discovered as discriminatory and unjust in Manu Smriti nevertheless used it for the empowerment of women.
The Parliamentary debates on Hindu Civil Code Bill demonstrate how Dr. Ambedkar understands Manu:
There is no doubt that the two Smritikars whom I have mentioned — Yagnavalkya and Manu — rank the highest among the 137 who had tried their hands in framing Smritis. Both of them have stated that the daughter is entitled to one-fourth share. It is a pity that somehow, for some reason, custom has destroyed the efficacy of that text: otherwise, the daughter would have been, on the basis of our own Smritis, entitled to get one-fourth share. I am very sorry for the ruling which the Privy Council gave. It blocked the way for the improvement of our law. The Privy Council, in an earlier case, said that custom will override law, with the result that it became quite impossible to our judiciary to examine our ancient codes and to find out what laws were laid down by our Rishis and by our Smritikars.Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writing and Speeches, Vol.14 [Part One], , pp.280-1
One should note here that Dr. Ambedkar puts Manu in correct perspective. The British Privy Council, intentionally to justify its 'civilising' mission, allowed every sort of social stagnation to prevail, while not allowing us to study properly laws as laid down by our Rishis and our Smritikars.
As every child knows, Sanatana Dharma predicates itself on Srutis, Vedas and not on Smritis.
To essentialise Sanatana Dharma based on culled-out Smriti verses is nothing but pathological mischief done with malicious intent.
Hindus, at large, should realise this crucial difference between Dr. Ambedkar, a genuine lover of Dharma and Rashtra despite his harsh words and those who are using his name only for their anti-Hindu agenda being the paid agents of Breaking India forces.
Buddha, Thomas Aquinas and Women
The pathological perversion exhibited by Thol. Thirumavalavan has been already diagnosed by historian and author Sitaram Goel as below:
An intellectual inclination to compare Hindu ideals and institutions from the past, not with their contemporaneous ideals and institutions in the West, but with what the West has achieved in its recent history — the 19th and the 20th centuries.
Here, the perversion is even deeper because he promotes Buddhism, even as Buddhism contains equally disparaging passages about women in its canonical texts.
When Ananda wonders why women are not sitting in the courts of justice, Buddha states that, by nature, women are not only deficient in wisdom, but are also behave in an unrestrained way, are greedy and jealous (Aṅguttara Nikāya II.82–83).
In Pali Buddhist literature, Jatajatthavannana women are described as with 'insatiable sexual appetites' (120, I.440).
Another text 'Bodhisattvabhumi' gives as reason — 'all women are by nature full of defilement and of weak intelligence' — to explain why a Bodhisattva would not be born a woman.
According to Buddhaghosa, a great Theravada Buddhist scholar of the fifth century, a woman would be born a man if the woman lives a Dharmic life. A man would be born a woman because he had indulged in sensual pleasure.
While we all associate Zen with novel meditation and Satori transcending all barriers, traditional Zen mostly considered women as naturally gravitating towards blood pool hell unless Zen masters intervene through rituals.
But none demands that these Buddhist literatures be banned , burnt or the idols of the Buddhas be smashed.
Because, we understand that in the larger context, Buddhism is dynamic enough and greater and deeper than these texts. Unless there is an ulterior aim of destroying Buddhism, none will think of essentialising Buddhism with the above elements in its texts.
Same is the case with Christianity. Thomas Aquinas, arguably the most brilliant of Christian theologians, stated that the inferiority of women is not just because Eve allowed herself to be seduced by the serpent and manipulated Adam into disobedience, but because she was inferior in her very creation.
Though every Christian student of theology has to study Thomas Aquinas to this day, and there may even exist significant number of fringe theologians justifying this inferiority of women through Biblical fundamentalism, no academician or politician would ask a ban on the works of Thomas Aquinas or burn in public his works.
Such juvenile pathological hatred is unfortunately but by design, considered progressive in India.
Still, there exists the problem of Thirumavalavan’s claim that Sanatana Dharma declares that God created all women as prostitutes. So let us look at what actually one of the major Puranas has to say on the creation of women.
Creation of Women: Christian Mythology and Hindu Purana — a comparison:
Actually, the Christian theological presentation of the creation myth of Bible, which is fundamental to Christian theology, is not only disparaging towards women, but makes her suffer a guilt baggage.
Biblical Scholar Athalya Brenner writes what this mythology meant for the women living under the patriarchal Church:
Women — every woman, every Eve — deserves to be managed by their men. They are resilient, obstinate, energetic...but also misguided, easily seduced, and morally inferior to their mates. The hardship they suffer in giving birth is their own Ancestress’ — and by implication, their own — fault.
Now let us see what Siva Maha Purana has to say about creation of women, as the text deals specifically and elaborately with the subject.
The subsequent verses and narrative are based on Vayaviya-Samhita of the Purana — Chapters 15, 16 and 17. (Translation J.L.Shastri, Motilal Banarsidas, 1950)
Brahma was dissatisfied with his asexual creation so he meditated upon Siva and praised Him.
His primordial eternal, Sakti, is subtle, pure, pleasant and intelligible only through piety; it is devoid of attributes, unsullied, unramified unruffled, perpetual and it ever remains with Isvara...Becoming half-female after introducing certain parts into a certain image, the lord himself came there.
On seeing the female form, Brahma praised Siva-Shakti thus:
O auspicious Goddess, O heroine of Prakrti and the one beyond Prakrti and naturally beautiful, be victorious. O lord of fruitful Maya, of fruitful will, of great sports and of fruitful strength, be victorious. O Mother of the universe, O Goddess identical with the universe, O creator and companion of the universe, be victorious... Be victorious O creatress, protectress, annihilatress and the heroine of the three Atmans...
Though the Purana speaks of the glory of Siva Mahadeva, it does not in anyway makes the Goddess inferior to Siva as She emanates from Him:
It was the Goddess in whom there is neither birth, nor death nor old age nor other similar things. It was the Goddess who manifested herself from the body of Siva. She from whom words recede along with the mind and the sense-organs, appeared to be born of a part of the body of her husband.
Now Brahma requests the Goddess to provide the power to create the female race:
Thus, requested by Brahma, the goddess created a Sakti equal in splendour to herself from the middle of her eyebrows.
And it is from this Goddess that Brahma could create the race of women. If one has perspective enough to look into the reality contained in the Puranic language, one can see very well that Sanatana Dharma does not or even suggest that women are born as prostitutes, but as the form of the Goddess.
Women's emancipation is an important and essential part of the progress of any society.
We cannot allow malicious and pathological 'Breaking India' forces exploit it for their own perversions.
Those who really contributed to the progress of women in social as well as spiritual domains, from Sarada Devi, Harbilas Sharda, Sister Nivedita, Sister Subbulakshmi, Dr. Muthulakshmi, Swami Sahajananda, Swami Shraddhanand to Mata Amritanandamayi — they have drawn their strength from Sanatana Dharma, Vedic Dharma.
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