I thought women and men were equal till I came to India. Don’t get me wrong―I love India more than any other place. However, I am dismayed with the ‘woman slavery’ attitude of most Indian men. Today I was told by an Indian man living abroad that he wants his wife to do exactly as he says or else the marriage will not be harmonious. The man must lead regardless of his inappropriate thinking was the clear message I got from the conversation and I rushed to my laptop to write this article, not sure whether a website that talks of everything positive would publish the reality about what’s really going on in beautiful India.
India is a culture where the feminine is revered as a Goddess. What happened? How did the Goddess become a slave? Even, I as a highly educated western born and bred woman as well as a lawyer, fell prey to this for many years. The romantic, mesmerising love you see in Bollywood is fantasy when compared to what happens in many homes across India. Slavery and manipulation of women is the reality here. This is a state where a woman loses her confidence over a period of time and submits to her husband all the time. She loses her own self-expression and this can potentially make her prey to psychological and psychosomatic diseases.
India is a large culture that believes in the protection of women so that they can be sheltered from other male predators, due to their so-called lack of physical strength and internal fragility. The scriptures say that women should always be protected by males in the family, such as father, son or husband. There are exceptions such as when a woman wishes to become a renunciate or nun-like figure. India has many examples of these such as the well-known Anandamayi Ma, Mirabai and others.
These days, however, are men at large protecting women? Women, for example, are out in the jungles of India, carrying huge loads of wood from the jungles on their head to make fires for cooking while many-a-man there is drinking alcohol and gambling. Even among the more educated classes, women are out all day, doing, what can be, a highly pressurised job. Regardless of this role reversal, men in general still require the same level of submission on the part of the women. Women are often beaten up if they don’t submit or psycho-emotionally tortured.
Some women submit to this, others find intelligent ways of knowing the psychology of a man to make the marriage work. What happened to the worship of women as goddesses and the numerous references in the scriptures where it is said that if a woman is not respected, the family will fall apart and in turn, society? This is what we see in India, in general―the breakdown of families and societies. In turn this has an adverse effect on society and on the cohesiveness of the country.
I am not saying men are not victimised or provoked in any way, but this article is focussing on the disrespect of women in a culture where women were once held in high esteem.. As a lawyer and as a woman I worked in the North East of England in the areas of matrimonial law and managing a refuge for Black women. I certainly saw situations there where women were victims of abuse. In India, I work with disempowered women, providing them healthy work at home as well as awareness on what it means to be an empowered woman, who can fulfil her innate potential. My experience is that the issue of abuse of women is not as prevalent in western culture as it is in Indian culture.
We have two primary festivals here lasting nine days each, where the Goddesses are worshiped. We have particular prayers for each Goddess and at the end of each festival, young, pre-menstruation girls are fed, adorned and worshipped. There are festivals for when a girl starts her periods to celebrate her rite of passage into womanhood. The woman is washed and adorned beautifully. There are special temples for each Goddess. The various Goddesses represent the divine feminine attributes from creativity and learning to even destruction.
Are these festivals just empty rituals now? In the main it seems so. The dreams of Bollywood shattered and the wisdom of the ancients losing its footing is a sad scenario. Hey, but hang on. All is not lost. Divorce is still considered taboo in India, but less so nowadays. There is small but growing band of financially independent women, who are stepping out of abusive marriages.
While the absolute number of divorces has gone up from 1 in 1,000 to 13 in 1,000 over the last decade or so, India still remains at the top of the list of countries with the lowest divorce rates. One might take some small consolation from the fact that statistically or quantitatively, we are not as bad as our Western counterparts. Looked at superficially, this fact may be seen like a silver lining to the dark cloud of ‘woman slavery’, but this still doesn’t augur well for our sanskriti or culture. However, I am an incorrigible optimist and hope that our ubiquitous worship of Divine Mother may transmute into respect for Indian women in the role of a wife, if not soon but some time later.
Renu Gulati is a lawyer from the UK and holds an MSc in Ayurveda from London since 2006. Based in Rishikesh, she consults, teaches and writes in the field of Ayurveda, internationally.