Rhetoric of Feminism and Hindu Womanhood
In spite of such a high tradition it is shameful that many organisations have imported Western feminism and women liberation movements to our country. Hence, it is high time that we require an aggressive Swadeshi Mahila reformist movement that will address modern women’s issues
Indians are fortunate to have a great treasure of noble thoughts about women which can guide the future world. But it is a paradox that concepts of Feminism and Women liberation that have developed in the West, like a fashion, are a live in our own campus, academic and literary discussions.

Ancient stone sculpture of a Hindu warrior woman 
The known international movement on women had two different streams. One is based on Marxism called “Women’s Liberation Movement”. It includes Marxist Feminism, Socialist Feminism etc. The second one is developed in western Capitalist countries based mostly on Capitalist culture called Feminism. This is divided into two streams viz. Radical Feminism and Liberal Feminism. Later on we can see a confused mix up among all these streams. Apart from these, there were variations ranging from the old Christian Feminism, existentialist feminism up to the recent small branches like Negro Feminism, Eco feminism etc.
Women’s Liberation
Karl Marx had not evaluated specifically the conditions of women. He has only presented the issues of women as a part of the general social condition. Marx predicted that when socialism comes, the problems of women also will be automatically solved. He predicted that in worker families there will not be any family problem. Even though Engels differed from this, his statement that there will not be adultery or extra marital relations in worker single families was proved false. Marx was criticised that he was attempting to make woman a common property in Communism instead of private property.
While referring to the conditions of women, Marx had to face criticism for praising Capitalism. He said the industrialization of Capitalism gave women work as well as high family position. He praised the American trade unions which have given women equal position. Going a step ahead, he said there are no family problems for workers in America.
Gargi’s debate with Yajnavalkya 
It is Engels who had discussed in details the position of women in his work “The Origin of Family, Private Property and State”. He also said that the historical reason for the transformation from the primitive matriarchal society to patriarchal society was due to the origin of private property. As a woman worker she is subjected to twin exploitation- as worker-class exploitation and as woman-gender exploitation. Hence if private property is eliminated, extra marital relations and even prostitution can be stopped, Engels predicted. Morgan’s theory was that the first unit of ancient society was not family but it was tribe. This was used by Engels for developing his concept of “commune”. Engels said the cause for all women issues is economic. Engels and Lenin were against women going for work; which created controversy.
Marxists wanted to substitute family with commune. Plato’s republic also proposes common child care. But the experience in socialist countries had proved that the predictions of Marx and Engels were wrong. They found that rejection of family will affect the personality development of children. Further, in Socialist countries mothers felt child care is their motherly right and not a liability. In post revolution Russia, Alexandra Kollontai as the Chairperson of Family Dept. tried to replace family system with commune. But due to wide opposition, Lenin had to remove her from the post. Gorbachev in his Perestroika reforms reinstated family system.
Communist leader A. Kollontai said “...sex should be as simple as getting a glass of water”. Only in sexual anarchy women enjoys full freedom. Engels fell into a controversy when he said at a stage “woman can dedicate herself to her man”. But Lenin as an administrator had to oppose this unfettered sexual freedom. On the contrary, others criticised Lenin’s thoughts as not materialistic but more a moral idealism.
Marxists believe in class liberation and not women’s liberation. Hence women organisations are for Party’s political requirements and not for cause of women. Class war cannot be limited to woman- man struggle as it will create split in working class. Hence communist parties came to the conclusion that till socialism is achieved, women liberators have to wait. Indian Marxist theoretician E.M.S. Namboothiripad had openly made clear the stand of CPIM that there cannot be a separate Women movement apart from the basic working class movement. Second Communist International even refused to discuss women issues. Leftist Women liberation movements separated from communist movement forming Socialist and other types of women’s liberation movement. The women liberators said women’s problems cannot be solved by economic change. They said they cannot wait till socialism is achieved and hence asked to fight for women’s demands. Instead of labour class they proposed “sex class” or beyond class. Simone de Bovver fought against the male dominance of Communist Party. On the contrary, Communist Party accused them as Bourgeoisie Feminists. In all the communist countries, issues of women still continue without improvement. Gender division of labour and illiteracy of women also continues. There also women organisations have to fight for equality and rights of women.
Women liberators accuse that the surplus labour for home work of women is not counted. Some said it is home slavery. Hence they demanded “wages for home work” from men (Ref. Maria Della Costa’s writings). Some proposed socialisation of homework by creating common kitchen, washhouses, crèches etc. But this was countered by others arguing that men usually share their wages with their family.
Throughout the Western history women were considered equal to slaves. Women were considered as mere private property of men in Babylonian code, Hebrew Law, English General Law etc. In these laws the punishment for rape was only monetary compensation.
Till 19th century, women had legal death by marriage in England and America. She did not have citizen’s rights, and had no right to private property. It was in the year 1866 that for the first time, the law providing married women the right for private property was legislated in England.
It was in the last century that women generally got right to vote in the western countries. Women got voting rights in 1920 in America, in 1928 in England and in 1945 in Italy.
Many of the western thinkers and leaders were against women. e. g. Aristotle (woman as slave), Rousseau (Women’s world is inside home), Queen Victoria (against holding property), Shakespeare and Alexander Dumas (Frailty, thy name is woman! - ‘Hamlet’: I. ii. 146), Napoleon (woman as slave), Friedrich Nietzsche and Hitler (woman was mistake of God).
In the west feminism started with protestant Christianity. Feminism is a reaction to the male domination in the Semitic culture. The first women organization was formed in America in 1840 and in England in 1903.
Feminism is accused in the west itself of being Eurocentric, western, white based etc.
Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” (1963) was the most popular feminist book in America. But after 20 years she wrote in her book “The Second Stage” that Feminism could not achieve results. Betty Friedan shook the conscience of feminists when she asked in her “Second Stage”—“Without motherhood can I be really a woman?” She said man and woman should go together. One should not try to liberate one from the other. Taking inspiration from Indian culture, she said family is important in social life. Without changing mind set, change of system cannot achieve anything. Here the thoughts on women points to Indian approach to the subject.
Women Issues
It is quite interesting to see how westerners addressed women issues. Feminists all over the world have theoretically analysed the women issues in different ways. The issues that the western Feminists and women liberators have discussed in their agenda are:- 1. The issue of “gender” or making of woman 2. Role of private property or economics in the exploitation of women 3. Marriage as a bondage 4. Sorrows like motherhood and pregnancy 5. Family as an oppressive institution 6. Liberating woman from all.
To see everything through the eyes of patriarchy is an obsession of Feminists, especially the radical Feminists. Gender politics of feminists is extremely anti-male. A woman is suppressed by man, family, society and nature; hence liberation from kitchen, men, family, society and nature and rebellion against all these.
First item in the said agenda is how the special position of women came into being. According to Simone de Beauvoir in her book “The Second Sex” 1949 “One is not born a woman, one becomes woman”, i.e. by training from childhood one becomes a woman. They found that sex and gender are two different aspects of woman. Sex is biological and natural. But gender is human made or socially prescribed. Feminists used Freudian unconscious mind, Androgyny and child sexuality to explain gender oppression and how one does become a woman. The gender psychology of the 1970s and 1980s explained Androgyny which is derived from the Freudian theory. It is a gender-based phenomenon, which says that a child is born with a combination of both masculine and feminine characteristics. Later social sanctions imprint separate gender characteristics according to sex. From childhood, society prescribes gender status according to sexual difference; a girl child is taught how to behave like a girl. Thus how a woman is created is explained by many Feminists. They say woman and man are only superficial. Among animals there is no gender difference; hence the demand for gender justice.
Since marriage will adversely affect the freedom of women, feminists say that the concept of married couple should be rejected. Instead of marriage, they proposed “stay together”. Many women’s liberators lived with men without marriage. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre were together for 51 years, until Sartre’s death. Feminists opposed view of Marxism describing sex as man-woman relations. Since man- woman relationship is the basis of these sufferings, many feminist women proposed to avoid men in the life, the alternative of women-women relationship being in the name of “Political Lesbianism” “sisterhood” etc. In India the first film that placed this theme is “Fire”. Hence for liberation from womanhood, the western feminists have also the programmes like dressing like male, liberation from bra, demanding for women all works that are done by men etc. Sari is also accused of a dress that limits the movements of a woman.
Just like women’s liberators, feminists also say that not only marriage, but family also should be rejected as it is the basis of inequality. To avoid family, single parent system is developing fast in the west. Feminists like Shulamith Firestone have said that motherhood, pregnancy etc. are the sufferings given by nature to women, hence they should be rejected. Today disintegrated families have become curse to western society. Psychologists in the western society have warned that wide spread mental tensions and tendency for violence among youth are a creation of this rejection of family.
UN report says, even though 50% of world population is women, only 1% of property is held by them. Prostitution of women and minor girls is a big business in the world. Amnesty international reported that in Europe, the maximum number of violence against women is in the most affluent country, viz. Switzerland.
Indian Womanhood
In the recent years many have pointed out that the western theoretical models on gender equality are not appropriate for Indian conditions. In the releasing programme of the book “Women writings in India” the then Chairman of Sahitya Academy Shri Satchidanandan who claims to be a progressive left, rightly made two observations in his critical speech: 1. The Indian gender division of labour is different from that in the west 2. The western theoretical models create blindness in the women writings. Hence he called for the Indian woman to find solutions from her own traditions.
Our country had a long tradition of giving high position to women especially before the medieval history of India. Indians are the only people who have supported women to have:- 1. equality, 2. respect, 3. education, 4. swayamvara right, 5. political right, 6. legal security, 7. right to streedhana, 8. symbol of power or stree-sakti, 9. status as queen of the house, 10. greatness of motherhood, 11. freedom, 12. equal opportunity etc. Each of such achievement has a great historical background in Indian. Eventhough each require elaborate discussions, it can be summarises as below.
1. Equality: Women and men are two equal parts of God. This is the basis of Indian gender equality. Prakriti-Purusha, Siva-Sakti, Ardha-Nariswara are the divine equality symbols. Kalidasa describes one quality of God Siva as seeing no difference between man and woman. In Yaga and coronation, presence of woman is inevitable.
2. Women are not only respected, but also worshipped here. Bhagavata says that first woman worship was done by Mahavishnu himself upon his wife. Devi puja or Sakteya religion in Hindutva and festivals like Durga puja rose from such approach.
3. In the West historically education of women was generally opposed, and first time it was demanded in 1792 in a book by Mary Wollstonecraft “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”. This book is considered as one of the earliest in Feminist Philosophy in the West. On the other hand women were highly educated in ancient India. There were lot of instances where women scholars have advised or even challenged men. Women writings are of two types, one written by women, another written for women either by women or men. Reference about women writers are there throughout. In Rigveda there were more than 30 women poets. During Sangha period, there were about 200 poetesses especially from Dalit communities like Avvayar. India is a land of matriarchal aesthetics. In ancient India women are given education in home science before marriage.
4. The right of Swayamvara that gives total freedom for woman to select her husband is a unique right in the world enjoyed by the ancient Indian women. For the first time in human history, in a thrilling incident, Swayamvara right was established in Rigveda 10.39.7 to Shundhyu, the daughter of Purumitra who married Vimada by her choice, in spite of opposition by even many powerful kings. The bridegroom in Sanskrit is called vara, “one who is selected” (by woman). Widow marriage is permitted in Indian culture right from Rigveda. Yajnavalkya even went to the extent of saying that a woman can remarry if she finds a better husband. Padma purana says that Divya devi had married 21 times.
5. India has seen many queens ruling kingdoms and women using their political rights freely.
6. In olden times crimes against women were awarded comparatively higher punishments. Even if woman commits mistakes she should not be thrown out of house or made orphans. There were several heroes in Sanskrit literatures who have saved women in their difficulties, right from Aswins in Rigveda, Krishna, Rama, etc.
7. In the west till last century, a woman marrying on her own will lose her inheritance right to property. But in ancient India Streedhana is the wealth that belongs only to the women. Concept of Dowry is quite different from the concept of “streedhana”. The word streedhana appears first in Gautama dharma sasthra, in which it is said that it is the wealth that belongs only to women. This is made clear by Supreme Court recently. Indian law makers like Yajnavalkya had prescribed heavy punishment to those men who touch streedhana. Jagannathan has said streedhana is the payment made for the home work done by women. Division of property is according to “matruto bhagakalpana”.
8. We believe in Streesakti and not streemukti. There are innumerable Puranic stories of Asura nigraha sakti of Goddesses, when male Gods failed to do so. Siva cannot even stand up without Sakti with him, says Sankaracharya in his “Soundarya lahari”. The first female army mentioned in any known literature in the world is the army of Empress Lalita in Lalitopakhyana. There are innumerable female military fighters right from Rigveda up to the modern times. Most of the heroines in Sanskrit literatures are trained in martial arts. There is a long tradition of brave mothers. Gandhari said “Yato dharma stato jayah” to her son who wanted his victory. Kunti sent Bhima to Baka, asked her sons to start war with Kauravas. Mothers of Sivaji, Gandhiji, Vivekananda etc. are known for training their children to greatness. There are several examples of Indian women who are famous for good administration.
9. In the house women is the queen, right from Rigvedic times (See Vivaha Sukta).
10. Motherhood is the supreme position in a family. Manu smriti says mother is greater than father 1000 times- sahasram tu pitrin maataa. For little Krishna most passionate thing was “matru hastena bhojanam”. For the west, their country is their fatherland, but for us India is our motherland. Brahmanda Purana says that Parvati taught Subramonia “matruvad para dareshu” i.e. See your mother in all other’s wives.
11. It is not that liberated women are unknown to India. There are references to such women even in Rigveda. E.g. Urvasi, Yami, Romasa, Lopamudra, Apaala etc. Rajya lakshmi is independent and travels all over the world alone. There were also women called Swairini who changed their husbands according to their whims and fancy. There were male haters like Sandhya.
12. Women who wanted to excel men in various fields of human talents had always opportunity and many such examples we get in ancient literature.
Indian way of overcoming the gender feeling is worth mentioning, which is an issue that still remain unsolved in the Feminist West. Stree-purushabheda is for ajnanis. Lives of Mirabai, Suka Maharshi etc. explains this wonderful exposition. Rishi Yajnavalkya says, Atma is common in husband and wife, that is why they should love and sacrifice for each other. Whereas in the west only man has soul.
Even today in the western world women is known by the address of a male. Eg. Maria after marrying Joseph is known by the name Mrs. Joseph. In India, in ancient tradition women do not add her husband’s name along with her name. On the contrary, men are known by the address of women. Even male Gods are known by the addresss of women. Eg. Seetaraman, Radhakrishnan, Umapati, Sreepati, Madhavan etc. This is a part of a matriarchal culture inseparable to Indian culture.
The relation between husband and wife is spiritual, according to Yajnavalkya. Pativritya and eka patni vrata are general rules in Indian society, which were laid down for the first time by Swetaketu. There are innumerable stories of extra ordinary powers of Pativratas. This is required for strong family life and ideal bringing up of children and thereby for an ideal society. Indian families are the strongest in the world, hence the crime rate is also very less in spite of its poverty and illiteracy; whereas it is very high in so called affluent western societies where family system is broken.
Family is a model for every institution including ruling the country, industry, society, Nation, whole world etc.
Dalit women had high place in ancient India. Mothers and wives of many great people were Dalits. Aitara the mother of Aithareyan, Matsya gandhi the mother of Vyasa, Akshamala wife of Vasishta, Sarangi the wife of Rishi Mandapaala, Panchami wife of Vararuchi, Sabari the scholar are examples. There were about two hundred Dalit poetesses in Sangha Period like Avvayar, Elaveyini, Vennikuyathi etc. In spiritual circle there were Janabai the disciple of Namdev, Soyrabai, Nirmala, Bahinabai the disciple of Tukkaraam etc.
Eco Feminism identifies that eco degradation has its impact first on women. Contents of Eco feminism can be seen as a part our culture.
Reasons For Down-Gradation of Women in India
Up to 12th century women enjoyed freedom and all rights. Foreign aggressions have toppled down this. Vivekananda said India’s downfall started with the abuse of the women who are the living idols of Sakthi. Sorrow of women will lead to the decline of house or the society.
Among Smritikars, it was from Apasthambha onwards that strict control of everything related to women started.
The downfall of Buddhism due to bad customs related to women also led to describing women badly in Buddhist literature. E.g. Baudha tantra, Jataka tales etc.
Foreign aggression was mostly upon women. Hence as a protection, women withdrew from public appearance and went inside homes, women were married away at early age for security and less education was given for women. During the period of constant war, number of men decreased and hence widows remaining unmarried, Sati, men marrying more women, dowry system etc. started. Other bad customs like Devadasi, Child marriage, denying education and study of Vedas, killing of girl child, polygamy, marrying to old people etc. started spreading throughout the country.
This reverse trend continued till Bhakti movement. Thereafter the rise of women power started which continued through Swami Vivekananda and freedom movement. The reformist movement of last century was led by Sanyasis and institutions like Brahma samaj, Aryasamaj, Praarthana samaj, Ramkrishna mission etc.
In spite of such a high tradition it is shameful that many organisations have imported western feminism and women liberation movements to our country. Due to the foreign craze these organisations give propaganda outside India that Indian culture means only anti-social customs like Sati. Hence it is high time that we require an aggressive swadeshi mahila reformist movement that will address modern women’s issues. For that in depth study on the subjects related to women are necessary. This is a historic necessity. n