3 years

Web Exclusive

He Wants to ‘Smash Brahminical Patriarchy’

The author is the Maulana Azad National Professor at the Indian Council Of Social Science Research and founder of Manushi, a human rights organisation
Page 1 of 1

Holding a Mirror to the Racist Arrogance of Jack @Twitter

The outrageously racist slogan—‘Smash Brahminical Patriarchy’—that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sported on a placard for a photo op after a closed-door meeting with handpicked Indian feminists would have gone unchallenged but for the whole array of intellectual warriors that have emerged after decades of Nehruvian slavery to the West. They successfully punctured the pompous description of that meeting by journalist Anna MM Vetticad, who wrote, @jack ‘took part in a round table with some of us women journalists, activists, writers... to discuss the Twitter experience in India. A very insightful, no-words-minced conversation…’

Twitter India has issued a half-hearted statement in defence of their CEO. But it carries no conviction. The very selection of persons Dorsey chose to interact with in that closed-door meeting spoke volumes. It is now well established that Twitter favours ‘Break Up India’ and anti-Hindu voices, including those of Maoists, Kashmiri jihadis and professional Hindu baiters.

He chose not to invite any of those who have for long felt aggrieved at Twitter favouring India bashers, and undermining and even blocking voices that stand up for Hindu culture and civilisation. Thus the really aggrieved were left out and the pampered children of Twitter who want to have us all banned out of existence were the ones given closed-door audience.

It is not a coincidence that the half-British, half-Italian Jack Dorsey was raised a Catholic and his uncle is a Catholic priest in Cincinnati, US. He attended the Catholic Bishop DuBourg High School in St. Louis, Missouri, US. Dorsey seems to have spoken not so much as the CEO of one of the most versatile products of the IT industry but as a Christian who imbibed all the prejudices and aggression against Hindu civilisation from his Christian upbringing. They find various pegs to hang their frustration with Hindu civilization, and the attacks come under various garbs—rights of women, rights of Dalits and minorities—a euphemism for Islamists and evangelicals out to harvest Hindu souls in India. Sometimes it is Brahmanism, at other times it is the alleged threat posed by ‘fascist Hindutva and BJP’ or ‘the monster’ that is Modi. The real target behind each of these is Hindu civilisation.

This game of demonising Hindu civilisation in general and Brahmins in particular started once the British morphed from humble traders come to ‘The Wonder that was India’ in search of its legendary material and intellectual wealth to colonial rulers who acquired control of large territories on the Indian subcontinent through force and fraud.

Christians have good reason to be angry with Brahminical hold over Hindu society. Brahmins have been repositories of traditional knowledge and scholarship, including astronomy, physics, technology, mathematics, architecture, engineering and healthcare in the form of Yoga and Ayurveda. They composed the greatest classics of world literature, philosophy, science and technology millennia before the Christian world acquired an alphabet and developed the art of reading and writing. The awareness of this great heritage is what kept most Hindus from being swept off their feet and embrace Christianity. The fact that despite 200 years of British colonial rule, Hindus could not be converted to Christianity en masse has left the Christian world in a permanent state of outrage against Hindus in general and Brahmins (meaning carriers of Hindu traditional knowledge systems) in particular.

As for patriarchy and its evils, Dorsey needs to understand it is the Abrahamic religions which have gifted misogynist ideas and ideologies to this world. Even their respective Gods are authoritarian patriarchs who are jealous and vindictive. And they treat women as subhuman creatures. By contrast, Hindu faith traditions continue to be matriarchal despite centuries of onslaughts, ridicule and tyrannical pressures on Hindus to give up their culture.

The feminine in the Christian vs Hindu imagination

The Christian civilisation in the West was founded on the creation myth, which asserts that God created Eve—the Mother of Mankind—as a seductive temptress who was misguided by Satan appearing in the form of a serpent to eat the ‘forbidden fruit’ from the Tree of Knowledge. She in turn seduced Adam through her wiles leading to the downfall of the entire human race with Adam and Eve being thrown out of the Garden of Eden in disgrace and condemned to suffer till redeemed by Jesus Christ. 

But even before Eve turns into a destructive temptress, we are told that while God made Adam in his own image, he created Eve out of Adam’s ‘spare rib’ in order to provide him a playmate in the Garden of Eden. In other words, the feminine in the Christian imagination is not only made out of ‘faltu haddi’ (spare rib), an easily dispensable material of the male body, but also created as an afterthought to be Adam’s plaything. Her existence has no intrinsic meaning or purpose.

With such a nasty role assigned to women by the Almighty God of the Christian world, it is no surprise that this world’s historic gift to women is pornography, which treats women as subhuman sex objects, as ‘use and discard’ pieces of flesh. The West has spread this disease globally and made it fashionable to use women’s bodies and sex appeal to sell everything from car tyres to soaps and cold drinks.

Let’s now compare the Christian imagination with the Hindu imagination with regard to the place and role of the feminine. The Hindu view of the feminine is not just relegated to ancient history but continues to have a living presence in our daily lives even today, though it has had to jostle for mindspace with competing ideologies and cultural influences imposed on us by wave after wave of foreign invaders, including the cultural imperialism of the West afflicting the whole world today.

An essential tenet of Hinduism—pre-Vedic, Vedic and post-Vedic—is that Shakti, the feminine energy, represents the primeval creative principle underlying the cosmos. She is the energising force of all divinity, of every being—both animate and inanimate. Furthermore, different forms and manifestations of this Universal Creative Energy are personified as a vast array of goddesses: Lakshmi, Saraswati, Durga, Kali and their countless regional avatars. Therefore, she is worshipped under different names, in different places and in different appearances, both as a Creator, and a Vanquisher and Destroyer of Evil. But Hindu deities don’t remain just distant heavenly figures. One constantly meets living incarnations of the divine in everyday life.

It is very common, for example, for a talented daughter to be commended as a virtual Saraswati and a fearless woman who battles wrongdoings in society to be treated as Durga incarnate. Thus, every village in India has its gram devi or devata. The gram devatas are usually connected with extreme piety, but all the legends surrounding gram devis tell us of ordinary women who felt outraged by the acts of some evil doer who either tried to ravish them or cause harm to society. Their response to such desecration is to rise in terrible fury and thereby grow in stature so that they are able to span both heaven and earth. In each case, they either destroy the devilish persona or punish it appropriately. Any woman who manifests extraordinary strength and who is believed to be her own mistress, totally unafraid of men, begins to be treated with special awe and reverence, and often commands unconditional obedience in her social circle, including from men.

It is perfectly understandable that this Brahminical worldview could not be stomached by pathologically patriarchal Christians or Islamic zealots. So they used all manners of stratagems to convert us to their respective religions. The latter went so far as to loot, plunder, desecrate and destroy countless Hindu temples and sacred sites in wave after wave of persecution spread over a thousand years—all in order to force us to abandon and despise our faith traditions. Many succumbed to their persecution and converted. But those of us whose ancestors withstood centuries of persecution are being treated as a threat and hence targets of intellectual warfare.

Those who see India through the biased prism of the West tell us that women in India were not allowed to read or write till the British came up and introduced ‘modern education’ in late 19th century. In Europe, women began to write and publish only in the 19th century. Even at that time, the prejudice against educating women was so strong that many had to use male pseudonyms. By contrast, the Rigveda, the oldest available text in Sanskrit or any Indo-European language written over 5,000 years ago, mentions 30 rishikas (women sages) by name with specific hymns associated with them.

Ancient India produced countless women scholars and Smritikars, who became living legends in their own time, recognised and celebrated by society at large as well as male authority figures of the time. One of the foremost names in this category is that of ancient philosopher Gargi Vachaknavi (daughter of sage Vachaknu, born around 7th century BCE). She is said to have written many hymns in the Rigveda and chose not to marry all her life. Her own contemporaries honoured her as Brahmavadini, a person with the knowledge of Brahma Vidya.

Adi Shankara, the most influential scholar of Advaita Vedanta, celebrated the dialogues of another legendary figure Maitreyi with sage Yajnavalkya as the most profound expositions on the knowledge of the oneness of Atman and Brahman. Two of Delhi’s premier colleges are named after Gargi and Maitreyi. They may be the best remembered icons of feminine accomplishment in popular imagination today. But India produced countless such female scholars and spiritual leaders over millennia.

The Bhakti Movement, which began in the 1st century in Tamil Nadu and spread in waves in different parts of India till the 17th century, produced a whole range of extraordinary, wise, courageous and creative female saint poets whose names are revered even today in their respective regions. They are considered on a par with, and often superior to, their male counterparts.

Almost all women saints obliterated the male-female binary, broke all the restraints imposed on women and lived remarkably free lives. They lived and wandered alone, freely mixing with people of both genders as well as classes and castes. Most of the women saints refused to get tied down in the shackles of domesticity. Some refused marriage altogether, while others walked out of marriages they found oppressive. Here are glimpses of a few of the earliest saint poets who began being venerated within their lifetimes and continue to inspire Hindus even in the 21st century. And people of all castes draw their inspiration from them.

The life of Avvai, a Tamil sant and a Shiva devotee who lived during the 1st century, is spell-binding. She began composing poems of deep wisdom from when she was merely four years old. When she grew up to womanhood, marriage proposals began pouring in. Instead of arguing with her parents, she freed them of the responsibility by praying to Shiva that her youth and beauty should vanish since they were coming in the way of her chosen path.  

Immediately, Avvi was transformed into an old and haggard-looking woman and thus freed from the obligation or expectation to get married. Thereafter, she became a wandering teacher who let it be known that she would henceforth take care of the weak and orphaned, and came to be revered as a spiritual guru. She composed 13 books including one on materia medica and one on metaphysics, in addition to 10 works which contain ethical sayings that include challenging the notion of ‘high’ and ‘low’ based on caste rather than karma. She travelled from one part of the country to another, sharing the gruel of the poor farmers and composing songs for their enjoyment. She was much sought after by chieftains of her time, with some of them vying with each other to get her to settle in their respective kingdoms. But she refused to be bound in any one place and lived the life of a wandering minstrel till she chose the moment of her departure from this world.

Even today her poems for children are often among the very first literature that children are exposed to in Tamil Nadu’s schools.

Late AK Ramanujan wrote that in the Virshaiva tradition of Kannada alone, he found that 60 of the 300 known saint poets were women. Of these, the most famous is the 12th century woman sant, Mahadevi Akka. Nearly a thousand poems are attributed to her. Mahadevi Akka became a passionate devotee of Shiva at a very early age. Since she grew up into a beautiful young woman, a local chieftain named Kaushika fell in love with her and somehow managed to get married to Akka Mahadevi through coercion. But she set onerous conditions for their relationship and gave him an ultimatum that she would walk out on him if he persisted in forcing himself on her. In a supreme act of defiance which communicated her resolve to altogether reject sexual attention, she cast away her clothing and wandered naked with just her long tresses covering her body searching for soul mates among a community of saints. In her poems of passion she addressed Shiva as her beloved, to whom she had surrendered all. She declared,

My Lord, white as jasmine, is my husband; take these husbands who die, decay, and feed them to your kitchen fires!’ (Speakers of Shiva, p 134)

Andal, who probably lived in the 8th or 9th century AD, is accepted as the highest among Alvars, the Vaishnav saints of South India, in terms of literary merit and wisdom of her teachings. In remembrance of Andal’s unique relationship with Krishna, even today, a garland offered to her image at the temple in her hometown Srivilliputtur is taken to the famous Tirupati temple on the occasion of Venkatesa’s wedding festival, and to Madurai every year in the month of Chittirai (April-May) to adorn the deity there.

She too refused to marry, declaring herself the bride of Krishna. Her father willingly escorted the 16-year-old Andal in bridal attire to the Srirangam. After she fulfilled her wish of marrying her chosen beloved, she mysteriously got absorbed into a murti of Vishnu. She left behind two poetic works. But the tone and tenor of her poems to Krishna are not that of a meek devotee. They assume intimacy and the attendant right to even express anger at the beloved.

The first woman saint poet in Marathi lived from 1233 to 1308. She was a Brahmin widow, granddaughter of a learned woman priest, and composed two narrative poems on the wedding of Krishna and Rukmani.

Muktabai, born in 1279, is considered one of the founders of the Varkari sect along with her brothers Sopan Nivritti and Jnandev. She died at the young age of 18 and yet left a deep imprint with the profound wisdom contained in her abhangs. She is said to have surpassed many sages in wisdom and became the guru of Yogi Changdev. Many of her abhangs are cast in the form of dialogues with other sants, and in these she discourses with them as an equal.

Another outstanding woman sant is Janabai, who is given special status because as per legend Krishna himself transcribed her verses and said he derived much pleasure from doing so. He would also join in helping her with all the household chores to save her from drudgery.

Lal Ded, the 14th century mystic poet, is alive even today in the memory and the language of Kashmiris, both Hindus and Muslims, as the Mother of Kashmiri Language as we know it today. Her vakh or verse sayings are part of the repertoire of village singers and of the sufiana kalam—Kashmiri classical music, sung as a sacred invocation at the start of an assembly of sufis or spiritual seekers. Unhappy with her marriage, Lalla left her husband’s home and set out on her wanderings. The legend is that she wandered naked, singing and dancing in ecstasy. Lalla is placed first in time amongst modern Kashmiri poets and is also considered the mother of modern Kashmiri language and literature. Her vakh helped make Kashmiri an effective vehicle for the expression couched in deep philosophy.

Her poetry had opened new channels of communication between the elite and the common people. And it lives in the daily conversation of Kashmiris even today.

Had such women appeared in the Christian world, they would have in all likelihood been branded as witches and burnt at the stakes as happened to countless women for centuries on end in medieval Europe. Western feminist scholarship has established that a large proportion of women hounded and burnt as witches were learned women or women of outstanding valour, such as Joan of Arc. Given that Jack @Twitter comes from such an inglorious heritage, he should speak with greater humility when dealing with the role and status of women in Hindu culture.

 

This is not to deny that a large number of women in India have come to occupy subordinate position and face varied forms of discrimination. Today, the culture of son preference often takes lethal forms such as female foeticide and disinheriting daughters from parental property. But there is enough evidence to prove that most of these ills have been the outcome of 1,000 years of brutal conquests, slavery and subjugation by invaders who practiced severe forms of misogyny, including capturing Hindu women to be sold as sex slaves in Arab markets or confined to harems of Islamic rulers. Under such circumstances, confinement of women was a distress response, not a matter of choice. One of the traumatic responses to these brutalities was the tradition of jauhar among Rajputs, whereby women voluntarily chose to be burnt alive rather than be captured by Islamic invaders. Today, Westerners attribute all these practices to Hindu misogyny rather than Islamic brutality.

It is noteworthy that confinement of women in chardiwari is more typical of Northwestern regions of India that witnessed repeated Islamic conquests, loot, plunder, massacres and en masse capture of women as sex slaves. Where ever Hindu communities lived under Islamic rulers, Hindu women also took to ghunghat and purdah. Southern and Eastern India managed to escape the culture of crippling restrictions and women continued to move around in public without veiling themselves. In traditional Hindu art forms, women are never portrayed as veiled. This is evident in all our temple architecture from the ancient to the contemporary where the carved images of the feminine form are invariably modelled upon the greater goddesses.

Traditionally, large parts of India were home to matrilineal family systems. But they could not be sustained in those areas which witnessed repeated Islamic invasions and/or Islamic rule. However, matrilineal family structure and inheritance pattern survived till the 20th century in many parts of South India and Northeast. It is worth reminding Twitter @Jack that the Victorian-minded British administrators of India and the European missionaries, who followed in their wake, described the social and sexual freedom available to women among matrilineal communities of India in the foulest of terms and tarred them as prostitutes. By making their subjects ashamed of their women-centric family structure, the British instigated social reform movements to force these communities to abandon their millennia-old social system and adopt the patriarchal family system held superior by the British. When they carried out land settlement operations, they insisted that families had to be male-headed and overrode the diverse personal laws of Hindus and forced them to adopt the patriarchal family structure prevailing in Britain, with concentration of economic resources in the hands of men.

Thus for nearly 1,000 years, our society has been forced to adopt the social, economic and cultural norms superimposed by invaders. Since the country failed to decolonise its education system and knowledge traditions in post-Independence India, many Hindus have been brainwashed into accepting alien norms superimposed on Indic culture as our very own Hindu/Indic traditions.

Consequently, the modern educated Indians, especially those in the grip of foreign-funded feminism, have grown up internalising all the negative stereotypes about India as God-given truths. But these are not borne out by facts of history. Even after adopting misogynist practices, Hindus could not be persuaded to abandon Goddess worship or to erase their traditional values which tell them that every woman is the embodiment of Devi and hence worship-worthy. Countless rituals keep this memory and value system alive even today.

This is what explains the radically different response of Hindu society to modern-day women’s rights movements as compared to the Christian or the Islamic world. For example, when in the 19th century Western feminists were battling male power bastions and getting battered for demanding right to education and property, right to vote and entry into professions, in India countless male reformers gave their entire lives to get rid of restrictions imposed on women during Islamic rule and bring women’s right on a par with men’s. They created new schools, colleges and other institutions to enable women to occupy their rightful place in society.

Lala Devraj in Punjab, Maharshi Karve, Mahatma Phule in Maharashtra, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in Bengal, Kandukuri Veerasalingam in Andhra, Periyar Ramasamy in Tamil Nadu, Swami Dayanand Saraswati from Gujarat and many stalwarts of social movements bore the brunt of attacks from the orthodox opinion resisting changes and enabled women to acquire leadership positions in public life. Many of them treated their wives as valuable comrades and helped them to emerge as leaders in their own right.

All these reform movements merged into the Mahatma Gandhi-led freedom movement in the 20th century. Within the freedom movement, Indian women did not have to fight for their rightful space. Gandhi and countless others worked hard not just to create a favourable ecosystem for women to participate in the movement for Swaraj, but also assume leadership positions. Unlike in the Christian West, women in India got equal rights and even leadership role without waging gender war.  

It is noteworthy that Brahmins of both categories—those using certain caste names with Brahminical association as well as those who were Brahmins on account of being intellectual leaders of society—were in the forefront of women’s rights movements.

Annie Besant was elected as Congress president in 1917. Sarojini Naidu was Gandhi's choice for Congress presidentship in 1925. British suffragists got right to vote on a par with men only in 1928. How Indian women came to be represented in legislatures in 1920s holds a mirror to the Christian world: When Montague and Chelmsford came to India in 1917 to work out some reforms towards self-government, Sarojini Naidu and Annie Besant led a small delegation of women to demand that the same rights of representation in legislatures be granted to women as well. The British snubbed them saying the yet-to-be ‘civilised’ Indians would not be ready to give women equal rights.

However, the British were not only proven wrong but also shown as being far behind Indian men. Between 1922 and 1929, beginning with the Madras legislature, each one of the legislatures voted to make it possible for women to be represented in them on same terms as men. This happened without any rancour or battle by Indian women.

As early as 1931, the Congress party passed a resolution that in free India, right to equality would be a fundamental right and that there would be no discrimination in education, employment, public life or politics. All these rights came to Indian women gracefully and with near unanimity, without women having to wage a gender war, the way Western feminists had to do.

[email protected] would do well to take note of the testimony of Margaret Cousins, an Irish feminist who played a major role in women's organisations in India as well as in Britain:

"Perhaps only women like myself who had suffered from the cruelties, the injustices of the men politicians, the man-controlled Press, the man in the street, in England and Ireland while we waged our militant campaign for 80 years there after all peaceful and constitutional means had been tried for fifty previous years, could fully appreciate the wisdom, nobility and the passing of fundamental tests in self-government of these Indian legislators...”

Barring a handful, both 19th century reformers as well as Gandhi-led (as opposed to Nehruvian) reformers drew inspiration from the egalitarian worldview rooted in Vedanta and reverence for the feminine as expressed in the uniquely Hindu value system. Gandhi as well as earlier reformers used traditional icons like Sita, Draupadi, Gargi, Maitreyi, Mirabai and Rani Laxmibai as role models for women. Unlike modern-day educated elites, their ideas of women’s role in society were not blindly borrowed from Western liberalism, individualism and its offshoot—feminism.

In short, Hindu society graciously accepted constitutional equality and much more without a fight because of the continuing hold of our traditional value system with regard to women, whereas the Christian world has yet to get over the misogynist values intrinsic in its religion and civilisational roots. That is why in the West as well as intellectual slaves of the West in India defend the perversion that is pornography as ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘liberating women’s sexuality’ from patriarchal controls.

To sum up my message to Jack @Twitter: Physician Heal Thyself!

disqus