Ankush Sharma
Our so-called modern educated minds are so designed that when we hear about the position of women in Indian culture and history, our minds points towards Sati, Child marriage, Parda paratha, Female feticide, Dowry and so on. This is because of the distortions in the Indian history brought by the British to design our brains favorable to them. Sadly, we have adopted this British version of our history and spend decades considering it true, cursing our own culture as superstitious while hailing English culture as modern and scientific.
There are a lot of things missing or distorted in our school textbooks. Our books never explained the causes of rise of evil practices against women. So let us explore all the facts deeply. Actually, these evils were never part of our culture. They evolved with the foreign invasions in the Medieval times leading to dilution of Indian culture.
For instance, Sati is projected as a practice where women were forcefully burnt on the pyre of their husbands. Further, it is claimed by the books that it was practice prevalent in the whole country. However, the truth is far from it. Sati never necessarily meant the killing of women; it different meanings in different regions. Even in Hindu mythology, when Sati burnt herself, her husband Lord Shiva was alive.
Moreover, this practice of Sati was mostly prevalent in Rajasthan, not in whole India because of the various invasions and wars. Wars usually led to the killing of a large number of male members leaving their wives helpless, forcing them to choose death in order to protect their dignity from the invaders. That’s how the practice of Sati came to vogue and that’s the reason why this practice was most prevalent in upper castes especially Kshatriyas, not the so-called lower castes Because Kshatriyas were the one used to take part in the wars.
These wars also altered the figures of sex- ratio in the favor of women. Hence a large number of women against few men led to the popularity of practice of Polygamy as well as the female feticide. It was difficult to find a boy to marry, so the Dowry system evolved which led to the offering of gifts along with the bride to impress the groom. Further many girls couldn’t find a partner; hence it was difficult for them to spend life without a partner in that societal setup. And there were threats from the invaders or other criminal elements. Such circumstances made girl child less favorable leading to female feticide. Parda paratha was copied from the West Asian culture brought in by the new ruling kings of the times.
Now, let us see how and why British distorted the facts. British East India Company came here just to make money. It was in not interested in interference with Indian religious affairs, hence was against missionary activities. However Christian missionaries wanted to convert India into Christianity. So for that, it was important to prove that India was an uncivilized country which needs Christianity to get civilized. It was done by highlighting false figures of cases of Sati reported from Bengal. It was just propaganda because Bengal never had Sati to the extremes as British projected. It is evident from the fact that after Independence there is not even a single case of Sati in Bengal, which means British eradicated Sati by just passing a law in 1829 which is hard to believe. Does that mean British were really serious about eradicating Sati? Or its widespread prevalence was just propaganda to open the gates for British
missionaries.
The position of women in Indian society can be traced by the great contributions of women which couldn’t secure a place in our textbooks. India is the only country where women are worshipped. Lord Shiva is also known as Ardnareshwar, signifying feminine aspect being half his making. Goddess Durga is a principal and popular form of Hindu warrior Goddess, whose mythology centers around combating evils and demonic forces that threaten peace, prosperity, and dharma of the good.
India is the only culture where women were the great philosophers, that too more than 2500 years ago in the Vedic age. Gargi Vachaknavi, Ghosha, Maitreyi etc are popular names. Gargi Vachaknavi is honored as a great natural philosopher, the renowned expounder of the Vedas, and known as Brahmavadini, a person with knowledge of Brahma Vidya. Maitreyi was a Hindu philosopher who lived during the later Vedic period in ancient India. She is mentioned in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad; estimated to have lived around the 8th century BCE. Further women have great participation in Samitis in Vedic age.
India is again the only culture where many queens ruled the state and even fought wars against the male-dominated armies. Rani of Jhansi, Laxmibai is well known to everyone but she is just the one among the dozens of other warrior queens, who are forgotten. Even Laxmibai do not find special mention in our history books, thanks to the poetries which glamorized her.
Few of other queens are Rudrama Devi, Razia Sultana, Rani Mangammal, Rani Velu Nachiyar, Chand Bibi, Abbakka Rani, Tarabai, Bibi Dalair Kaur etc. Few brave women participated in 1857 along with Rani Laxmibai are Uda Devi, Azizun Bai, Jhalkari Bai, Rani Avantibai etc. Rani Velu of Tamil origin was credited with building the first human bomb and forming an all-women army as early as 1780. She successful quashed the British and recaptured her kingdom and ruled it for over 10 years. Also, a special mention of Keladi Chennamma is needed, who defeated the Aurangzeb army.
Another important thing, nobody gives heed to is the large list of communities in India with Matrilineal lineage. Billava, Bunt, Ezhava, Garo, Khasi, Jaintia, Maliku, Nair etc are few matrilineal societies.
Our history books have not done injustice to women only, but also to great domestic Kingdoms. Our history revolves only around Delhi which was always ruled by foreigners, first by Delhi Sultanate, Mughals and the British. Our books rarely mention the great Maratha Empire, Sikh rule, Ahom kingdoms, Chola Kingdom etc. It is just because the British wanted us to feel that Indians couldn’t rule, we are born to be ruled by the foreigners. That is why Aryan invasion theory was devised to show that even Vedic culture was given by westerners.
British have tried to make us feel inferior in being Indian. They have projected us unworthy. Our culture is shown as misogynist. It is tried to project that women had no role in Indian history.
All these distortions are part of the process of making us Indian by blood but British by taste. It is evident from the fact that Sanskrit is nowhere today, English is defeating Hindi, our dressing, our food, and everything is just turning more and more western. One of the basic and direct consequences of our change in taste is that western developed world could sell the same products in India which they made for themselves, hence ruining our domestic industry. That is why the Japanese and Chinese are way ahead of us because they never left their own culture and taste.
Hence, at last, we must accept and feel proud of our great culture, where women were respected and worshipped. We must demand that our books should mention glorified part of our culture in respect of women and other various aspects.
However, at the same time, we must not forget the ongoing scenario of the crimes and injustices against women which need to be halted as soon as possible. It could only be possible when we remind ourselves about the glory of feminine power in our culture and stand together to break the rigid walls of patriarchy, allowing ourselves to move towards the tablishment of a gender-neutral society.