Duplicity and Durga

It is a matter of serious sociological examination why a society that worships the female principle of creation as goddesses frequently becomes outright brutal, heinous and callous towards females in human form. Hindu India has a long tradition of assigning a deified female identity to many aspects related to human existence. The earth, rivers, plants and several other natural entities are worshipped as deities but people think nothing of desecrating and poisoning them. Hindus worship the power behind the universe in many forms – Saraswati, Lakshmi and Durga, to name a few. But why is it that many sections of a society that conjures females as custodians of power or
degrade and debase women? Things have definitely improved for women in India over the past few decades, but large sections of society, specially the lower strata which is vast in numbers, continue with many of the old ways.

The social bias against women is reflected very subtly in a lot of things. There is a Hindi saying that all problems in life are because of jar, joru, jameen – property, wife and land. This saying is widely considered a time-tested concise and wise outlook on life. But there are many messages it carries in hidden layers. It bunches women with lifeless things that can be possessed – property and land. This categorisation is a take on life by men. It is men in a male-dominated society who have determined that they will enjoy life on earth by being lords of property, land and women.

The saying completely overlooks the fact that property, land and women cannot by themselves yield misery and contention. The truth is that the greed, dishonesty and debauchery of those who are ready to stoop to any level to grab what is not theirs make life difficult for everybody. Acknowledgement of this truth would have made society aware that human flaws are behind human sorrows. That would have made society move in the right direction of fixing inherent human weaknesses.

But men dominate society and decide the ways it will look at itself. Their position would be undermined if they accept that they are to be blamed for the ills of life arising out of their vicious power struggles for property, land, women and other ‘things’ they think they must have. Men had to blame something other than themselves for the problems they encounter because of their blundering ways. Things that would not protest when falsely declared guilty were chosen for the blame. Property, land and women will bear the burden of guilt for the misconduct and mischief of men without a stir of objection. And thus came into being the saying that
jar, joru, jameen
are the cause of all complications in life.

With this saying and the air of infallible wisdom and experiential reality it is assumed with time that society equipped itself with one more forceful reason to treat women with suspicion, contempt and disrespect. The saying became one more pretext for society to legitimise the oppression of women and their status as things that must be owned and bitterly fought for.

There are many other sayings and observations in Hindi enjoying common acceptance that reveal its bias against women. Sample these: nari narak ka dwar hai (women are the gateway to hell);
kamini, kanchan
(women and gold, standing here for wealth) lead to downfall; jar, joru jor se (property and land can be retained only with force); and aurat aur ghori raan tale (be firm astride women and horses).

It may be argued that women in not just India, but many cultures and societies all over the world have traditionally been given a position inferior to men. But India is unique among most civilisations in equating the female form with divinity. This elevation of the female form has not prevented society in India from often being hostile and inimical to women. It looks like a case of schizophrenic social disposition towards women. The two widely separated ends of society’s approach towards women are difficult to explain and reconcile.

My view is that the Indian society has been riddled with a lot of weaknesses for a long time. Among these are the caste system and the inferior status of women. Some devious sections of society cleverly established and enforced norms and practices that entrenched these weaknesses over a long period of time. This made these sections strong and gave them a vested interest in perpetuating these weaknesses. One of the ploys they used to make society continue with its wrongs was to prevent it from ever stepping back to ponder what was wrong with it. They did this by convincing society through various devices that there was no way other than the one adopted by it to treat the lower castes and women. Even the thought of a more human, benevolent approach was never allowed to flash on the social horizon. Society, including those suffering because of its ill beliefs and practices, never questioned the wrongs. On the contrary, society accepted and firmly believed that the wrongs were actually the right thing.

Amit Shekhar is a senior journalist and columnist.
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