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Feminism and Hindu scriptures
Hindu scriptures suggest the highest respect for women. Feminism is not required in India.

Open a newspaper or any news channel. Rape and gang rape news items are always there. After the Nirbhaya gang rape-murder all sections of society, now take it as a brutal crime.

The outburst of protests and grief that followed the Nirbhaya gang rape-murder rattled the nation and forced us to make a society in which women are free and safe. In speeches all fully accept that women have the fundamental right to equality and to take independent decisions but nobody is ready to give them equal rights even in the matters of their love, romantic and sexual lives or the pursuit of education and employment.

Ours is a society that not only discourages violence against women but given them equal right in every step of family life. If violence occurs, it is not the slip of a woman but it is the fault of man. The society cannot stigmatise the woman victim or fault her for somehow provoked the criminal or violence but offer her support and sympathy and condemn the criminal, i.e. the man.

This is Indian society. But such a concept about a society appears like a utopian imagination. Still, our nation is plagued by khap panchayat, triple talaq, burqa, hijab, halala, Sharia courts etc. which are the basically anti-woman concepts and in some cases these kangaroo courts ordered rape and gang rape as a punishment for blaming so called 'inappropriate relationships' and politicians supporting rapists and blaming the woman for rape.

However, for this utopia, we wouldn't have to move far. We simply need to study and understand Rig Vedic period India. The Rig Veda mentions rape. The victim is Ushas (Dawn), who escapes to a cave, shocked and distressed. She is then befriended with minstrel or junior rishis who track her to her secret abode and tender praise and support. Singers and musicians gather in front of Ushas's cave praising her beauty, sparkle and gleam and cajoling her to come out in open, which she eventually does.

It was informed in one of the hymns that the rapist is punished and an arrow is shot at him. Society did not punish Ushas. It rallied behind her and supported her boosting her self-esteem and helping her come out from post-traumatic despair into a happy and normal life.

In the Rig Veda, physical, mental and psychological violence against women is discouraged besides sexual violence. This is demonstrated in the famous hymn, sung at the time of funeral and death. It was narrated in the hymn that a woman who cries and lies down, sad and dejected, beside her dead husband is urged and encouraged to get up and hug the world and life of the living with happiness, amusement, delicious food and melodious music and song. She is even encouraged and advised to take the hand of a good suitor who could be a prospective second husband.

Other Vedic hymns mention illustrate a woman fighter, Vishpala, the warrior queen of the Rig-Veda who participated and fought at night in the Battle of Khela. She was not petrified or stopped even after losing a leg. She rejoined the battle after getting an iron leg (Rigveda).

Hindu scriptures are first and greatest feminists. The society and description of the scriptures never stigmatised neither the rape survivor nor the children born as a result of rape or children born out of wedlock. But the father or the offender who deserted child in this manner was looked down upon, whosoever he might be.

Several Puranic texts also record and discuss another rape. The great rishi Brihaspati rapes Mamta, the wife of his brother. Although Brihaspati was a very powerful rishi but nobody hid his name. The child was raised by his maternal grandparents without any stigma before being accepted and adopted by king Bharata. He also became exceptionally learned. He and his descendants composed the hymns that comprise Book 6 of the Rig Veda. While the child thrived, Brihaspati was reviled. Mamata was neither stigmatised, nor deserted by her husband (Puranas story).

In the Ramayan, due to the crime of rape, an entire clan perished. In the great Hindu epic the Ramayan, Danda, a Suryavanshi prince was a serial rapist but he was exiled and disowned by his father to the Dandakaranya forest. There he again raped Abja, the daughter of his teacher, Shukracharta. Infuriated Shukracharya curses Danda-he and his entire clan perishes.

Meanwhile, ruling people come to know that Abja had conceived and became pregnant from the rape. They bring her to Ayodhya, the capital of Suryavanshis, with grand honour. She becomes queen and her child, Harit, later ascends the throne and became the ruler. The rape victim and her child both flourish and no one questioned their rights to the throne. Illegitimacy carried no stigma and shame.

In the Ramayan, it is mentioned that women had the full authority to choose their husband. Swayamvars were organised and men had to prove their merit and talent to get married. Ram himself participated in a Swayamvar and broke the bow of Lord Shiva to win Sita. Even the mighty King Ravan was afraid to touch Sita without her consent, fearing disaster (Ramayana tales).

Swayamvara, in ancient India, was a practice of choosing a husband by the girl, from among the suitors. Swayam in Sanskrit means self and vara means groom in this context.

The girl has full freedom to choose a husband. In the famous Hindu epic, the Mahabharat, it was illustrated that women have higher powers in deciding about their husband. Draupadi's marriage was also solemnised in this manner.

It was also illustrated that some Vedic women were strong and very martial. Far from being helpless women and meek victim like those women were very strong and soldierly. In a legendary and popular hymn about Mudgala's wife, cattle robbers steal all his cattle. The couple is left with an old and weak bull and a rusty farm cart with only one wheel. Mudgala makes some temporary and quick repairs. The couple chased the robbers, his wife holding the wheel and driving the cart pulled by the old and weak bull. Robbers were captured due to her strength and skill. Not only this, they capture all their own cattle but they took some of the cattle of the robbers.

In this matter, the views of Vatsyayana and his Kamasutra must be mentioned. Vatsyayana was against forced sex and warns the husbands not to have sex when wives are unwilling:

"Women, being of a tender nature, want tender beginnings, and when they are forcibly approached by men with whom they are but slightly acquainted, they sometimes suddenly become haters of sexual connection, and sometimes even haters of the male sex. The man should, therefore, approach the girl according to her liking."

Vatsyayana also warns men against any type of sex with the women without their consent. He points out that woman doesn't like "forcibly enjoyed" by "one who does not understand the hearts of girls": girls starts hating not only the sex but mankind in general. In such cases, all blame lies with the man or the rapist and no disposition to blame women for being raped or gone forceful sex.

Hindu sages knew to position sensuality in the true perspective. The illustrations and positions of the Kamasutra are women oriented. In the very first chapter of the book, an imagery interlocutor asked rishi Vatsyayana about the basic role of humans. Rishi Vatsyayana replies that there are four Pu rush Arthas (a goal with action) in the life of a human: dharma, artha, kama and moksha (Kamasutra).

For a happy and successful life, each of the first three Pu rush Arthas (a goal with action) must be pursued in the right and proper proportion. Fourth, the moksha (liberation of the soul), leads automatically to a part or reward of balanced and disinterested life.

According to Vatsyayana, marriage does not give a man an absolute right to his wife's self and body. It was a great and revolutionary thought when marital rape is not criminalised even in modern society. Both Vatsyayana and Kautilya, the author of the Arthashastra, uphold that wives have the right to divorce, break the marriage or remarriage under such situation. Women have many options to come out of violent marriage.

Recently Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) denied clearance certificate to Prakash Jha's film 'Lipstick Under My Burkha". The Board says that it is a "lady oriented film", focussing on their "fantasy above life". It is far from clear why a film that is "lady oriented" is bad, or why women's fantasies can only have a certain altitude. But Hindu mythology is full of such fantasies.

Since Nihalani and his team have a problem with a "lady oriented film", perhaps it may in the fitness of things for them to read some Hindu mythology.

Once, Lord Shiva was meditating. Kamadeva, the god of love, disturbed Shiva. On this, Lord Shiva burnt the god of love, Kamadeva. Lord Shiva asked Parvati for a boon. Parvati the goddess replied:

"Now that Kama has been burnt, what can I do with a boon from you today? For, without Kama, there can be – between man and woman – no emotion, which is like ten million suns. When emotion is destroyed, how can happiness be attained?" Parvati said, revive Kamadeva because without him she did not yearn to demand anything at all. Shiva had to revive Kama as Pradhyumna, the son of Krishna and Rukmini (The Bhagwata Purana).
Rebirth of Kamadev was "woman-oriented" desire for love and sex. Kamadev declares:
"There is no hero, no proud woman, no learned man too powerful for me. I pervade the whole universe, moving and still, beginning with Brahma the Creator." (The Saura Purana)

In another Hindu scripture it has been described that woman is the real master of sexual urge and all the sexual organs are meant for her:

"Woman is fire, Gautama: the phallus is her fuel; the hairs are her smoke; the vulva is her flame; when a man penetrates her, that is her coal; the ecstasy is her sparks." (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad)

Famous Hindu scriptures, the Harivamsha, the Vishnu Purana, and the Bhagwata Purana, narrated in explicit detail about forceful and uninhibited desire and "lady oriented" love games (leelas) played by the gopis (sakhis) with Krishna (sakha) in Vrindavana. The gopis frolicked different leelas with Krishna without any concern about whether Sawaria (Krishna) likes the leelas or not.

In the Gita Govinda by Jayadev, immortal and glorious love play between Krishna and Radha is the main theme. In the story Krishna was Sringaramurtimam, the quintessence of the sensual mood; Radha was Raseshwari, his full-blooded equal. Bihari, Chandidasa and Vidyapati wrote immortal and sensual love poetry during the medieval period.

The 18th century Basohli and Kangra of the Gita Govinda paintings or the erotica drawings in Odisha on the palm leaf are also worth mentioning here. In the paintings of Khajuraho and Konarak, where ladies are equal partaker in all kinds of sexual and love acts and "fantasy above life", is also highly appreciable work. The graphic erotic descriptions of Kalidasa are of significance here.

The result is that in a country where the vast majority idolises Shakti as the supreme female power, feminism is not needed.

Early every morning, millions of Indians begin their day hearing family elders chanting the names of the panch kanyas or five virgins – Ahilya, Draupadi, Kunti, Tara and Mandodari – from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. Hindus believe that uttering the names of these five (pious) women every day can destroy the greatest of sins. Some other names like Sita and Savitri and Arundhati here also come in this category.

In fast-changing India, where people, especially the new generation is moving beyond religious divide, inhibitions are left behind, cyberspace is omnipresent, women are freely and self-confident of their sexuality and desires, fake and foolish feminism is not loved.

It would be idyllic if violence against women simply didn't exist. A woman's self-worth and honour must be respected. Hopefully, we can use our ancient ancestors' social norms for inspiration and insight in moving towards such a society.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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