“A woman is not fit for independence. A father who does not give her away at the proper time should be blamed, and a husband who does not have sex with her at the proper time should be blamed; and the son who does not guard his mother when her husband is dead should be blamed…The husband enters the wife, becomes an embryo, and is born here on earth. That is why a wife is called a wife (jaya), because he is born (jayate) again in her. The wife brings forth a son who is just like the man she makes love with; that is why he should guard his wife zealously, in order to keep his progeny clean.” - Manusmrti, Chapter 9, 3, 4, 8 &9 (Translated by Wendy Doniger)
"If one desires a world of mothers, at one’s will mothers appear and one triumphs, blessed with a world of mothers. If one desires a world of sisters, at one’s will sisters appear and one triumphs, blessed with a world of sisters” - Chandogya Upanishad, 8.2 2&4 (Translated by Valerie J Roebuck)
British scholar on Hinduism, Gavin Flood, in his book, ‘An introduction to Hinduism’ writes about the Devi as follows:
“The Goddess is a contradictory and ambivalent figure in Hinduism. On the one hand she is the source of life, the benevolent mother who is giving and overflowing, yet on the other she is a terrible malevolent force who demands offering of blood, meat and alcohol to placate her wrath. Wendy O’Flaherty has referred to two distinct categories of Indian goddesses which reflect these two natures: on one hand are ‘goddesses of tooth’ who are erotic, ferocious and dangerous, on the other are ‘goddesses of breast’ who are auspicious, bountiful and fertile. The goddesses of breast are generally role models of Hindu women who embody maternal qualities of generosity and graciousness, subservient to their divine husbands, while the goddesses of tooth are independent, low-ranking and dominate their consorts if they have any. The high-ranking goddesses of breasts are sexually controlled within a Brahmanical framework, the low-ranking goddesses of tooth are free, as Wendy O’Flaherty observes, to attack men….The Goddess, on the edges of the Brahmanical world, is incorporated into orthoprax, puranic worship and her tantric worship becomes Brahmanized in the later medieval traditions of the Sri Vidya.”
And there are countless so. But before we discuss the status of females in India let me clarify few things on Devi.
There are Devis in India because Hindus used to believe and still believe Hindu creation to be sexual in nature. A decent and acceptable sex as per religion requires both genders. Moreover, Brahmins used to and many among them still believe themselves to be kin of gods. Therefore, the progenies of the very first Brahmins and their lower ones needed to worship mother Goddess to receive full blessings. No Hindu Goddess of any worth would ever question Brahmanical order; locally, globally and universally. Neither would she ever question the caste system.
This is not a question about attacking men but about attacking evil men. Now evils can be devils present in the Netherlands and outer spaces, unwelcome and unwanted foreigners, unfaithful, atheists, persons whom Brahmins may dislike for whatever reasons, many lower castes and almost all outcastes. This was certainly true until about the ancient and medieval periods. By envisioning a Goddess who is mostly conformists, the Brahmins ruled out the possibility of inclusion of liberalism and neo-liberalism in the dharma and society since the inception of their caste to the extent they could.
The fact is that all Devis are preserving in nature, including Kali, and they are upholders of caste system and other Brahmanical values. Therefore, the distinctions between the goddesses of tooth and the goddesses of breast are fallacious, meaningless, injudicious, and the Goddess is mostly misinterpreted by Westerners and many times by a lot of believers of Hinduism as well. All goddesses are the goddesses of breast for most of the upper caste Hindus and all goddesses are the goddesses of tooth for most of the unwelcome foreigners, atheists, lower castes, almost all outcastes etc.
In passing remarks it should be mentioned that majority of goddesses in Hinduism as represented in post-conscious, post-modern times are extremely beautiful and this is true about Kali as well. Representations of evils and their eternal struggle with good are very shrewd way of promoting caste values with a mild and hidden belief in race. Therefore, while right activists and feminists in India can be happy with the idea of Goddess, it is the orthodox Brahmins who should be happiest about it.
Now let’s come back to central question about status of females in India. First I will consider Hindu females. Despite of multiple mistreatments, sexual and verbal abuse, subjected to malnutrition and violence, the fact is that Hindu females are relatively free in Asian contexts. It would be foolish to compare them with the Western ones. Most of the upper caste urban females are free to do whatever they want to do, including studying in higher classes, opting for a career and late marriages and even deciding to remain single forever.
In Hinduism after the caste considerations, it is the winner who takes away all the trophies. The same is true about successful and brilliant females though some changes in the way the Hindu society looks at its females are required. Sure, rural females and many lower caste and outcaste females require much more attention as majority of them are forced to early marriages and premature pregnancy and are mostly deprived of compatible careers.
Indian Muslim females are also relatively free as compared to their co-religionists elsewhere because of Indian Muslims' wish to compete with their Hindu counterparts. This is a good thing and should be appreciated. Many of the Muslim females are very creative and talented people though a lot needs to done in order to make them equal to their male counterparts. The females of Sikh, Parsi, Christian, and Jain communities are probably the freest females in India and also in and around the region.
I think Hinduism permits a great adaptation and updating with time and this is certainly true in modern times. However, it should allow and do more, as the case may be, to promote females and their status in the society. Sure, just because the Goddess is worshiped does not mean that status of females in Hindu-dominated India would enhance to the levels of their male equivalents. But then such leaves open the possibility of being so even if in some weird distant future. But still as a reminder Indians need to be seen in Asian contexts and they should feel happy about it. By laws of distributions elites among Indian females can compare themselves with their Western counterparts.
To undo the gender inequalities and to remove bad inertias what is required is good nutrition, better education, end of violence and abuse in Indian society and equal opportunities to females whenever and wherever possible. It requires change in attitude among males as much as that among females. In Hindu-dominated India if senior females decide to treat their junior females equal to comparable males then it is quite feasible. Slowly but surely the whole Hindu society would accept it though initially it may appear a very local and segregated phenomenon. Other constituents of Indian society will mostly follow the lead from Hindus.