Religious Goddesses and Conditions of Women Today in India
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 24 Oct 2016
20 Oct 2016 – In the Hindu tradition, there are many goddesses (Devis) whom we remember and pay our obeisance to today. The names of some of the principal ones are Lakshmi and Saraswati who symbolize wealth and knowledge respectively. Another goddess is Parvati who symbolizes love, virtue and strength and is the wife of the Lord Shiva. Of course Durga Devi is also a well known goddess especially in Bengal and is revered in a nine day festival known as Durga puja with prayers and religious chants.
In addition to these Devis we fondly remember Sita, the wife of Lord Ram for her virtue and sacrifice as related in the Hindu epic Ramayana. Radha also finds a prominent place in the Hindu tradition in relation to Lord Krishna in the epic Mahabharata.
These virtuous women whom we designate as goddesses but whose historical antecedents are not clearly known are remembered and paid obeisance to by both men and women who believe in the Hindu faith. Similarly there are other virtuous women in different faiths – Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and Jewish religions.
In Christianity the name of Mary as the mother of Jesus is highly revered. Recently Mother Teresa who although born in Albania in 1910, lived for a large portion of her later life in India and founded the organization called Missionaries of Charity to help the poor and homeless. She has been canonized on 4 September 2016 as a Saint of Calcutta by Pope Francis. She had also earlier in 1979 been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In Islam Khadija bint Khuwailid – the wife of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is also highly respected. Sikhism also gives pride of place to some eminent women – Bibi Nanaki (sister of Guru Nanak and Mata Gujri (wife of Guru Tegh Bahadur – the ninth Sikh Guru). In the Jewish faith relatively few women are mentioned but Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel are known as matriarchs in the Old Testament.
On 19th October 20, 2016, many married Hindu women took part in a festival known as Karva Chauth which is celebrated on the fourth day after the full moon day. Women fast for the whole day praying for their husbands’ health and welfare.
But the condition of many modern women especially in poorer regions of India is deplorable and unjust. Many women are subject to discrimination and violence in India today. Many poor women who care for their children and wait for their husbands’ return in the evenings are brutalized by their husbands. Why? Many of these men are drunk and victims of poverty themselves. Several middle class women suffer indignities due to unceasing demands for dowry — for more and more material goods from the wife’s parents. In Haryana women who marry on their own without the consent of their parents are again victims of what is known as honor killing. This abhorrent practice is followed in many other regions of India and also in some other countries of South East Asia. The reasons could be marrying out of caste especially if a higher caste woman marries a lower caste boy or vice versa.
Recently a thirteen year old girl named Aradhana belonging to the Jain faith died in Hyderabad after fasting for 68 days. Jainism allows people to fast and give up their lives. But this is allowed in exceptional cases and by adults. But Aradhana was a thirteen year old child. How did their family and the community allow this child to die at such a young age? These are questions that cannot be easily answered but it does show the injustice and discrimination which women and children are subject to in India today.
An unjust practice that Indian Muslim women are subject to is known as triple talaq. Talaq means divorce. If the husband says these three words talaq, talaq, talaq even on the telephone to his wife, the woman stands divorced immediately without any recourse to her point of view. The woman may weep and cry for justice especially if she has children to look after but no help is forthcoming from the Muslim Ulema (gurus). This practice has been abolished in most Islamic countries including Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and Bangladesh, but in India despite many voices against this cruel practice, it continues to victimize women.
India has been subject to terrorist activities across the border by Pakistan especially across the (Line of Control) LoC . The borders as well as the LoC are guarded by different men belonging to the army and border security forces. These men many of whom are in their twenties are alert to the dangers across the border but still fall to the bullets from across the border. Many die and many others are injured. What happens to their wives and children that they leave behind? It is a gruesome story of weeping young women carrying their innocent babies in their laps. The families are of course compensated monetarily but who can compensate these young women who have lost their husbands in the prime of their lives? The worst part is when political parties criticize the government on one pretext or another.
Although I have focused on the situation of women in India today, in many parts of the world women are victims of prejudice, injustice and violence both physical and mental.
What can be done to alleviate the situation? There is no easy answer. Let us remember that injustice and violence is taking many forms to which we must be sensitive and act against it sincerely. Justice for women is justice for all and ushers in peace and welfare for all humanity.
Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, an educationist and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. email@example.com
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 24 Oct 2016.
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