THE CAMPAIGN TO STOP FUNDING HATE
An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it........... Constant development is the law of life, and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position........... First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. - Mahatma Gandhi

 

 


3. Sangh and Women

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is an exclusively male organization.  But that doesn’t mean that women don’t have a role in the Hindu Rashtra.  They do—only, it’s a very different one from that of men.  The Sangh women are charged with keeping the family together while the men participate in the more cerebral functions of nation building. An ideal Hindu woman sacrifices her own desires to serve her family, takes care of her husband, dutifully bears him children, which she then raises single-handedly to be responsible Hindu citizens in a Hindu Rashtra.  In times of conflict (or when the Hindu Dharma is under attack), she also willingly bears arms to fight the enemy with the ferocity of Durga, or jumps into the fire to protect the honor of the Hindu race and prevents herself from being ‘vandalized’ by the enemy. 

Obviously, Hindu women need to be trained in the fine art of suppressing their desires and understanding the demands that the Hindu society places upon them.  This is done through a number of different Sangh organizations.  Groups like the RSS and VHP/Bajrang Dal, which have exclusively male membership, have counterpart women’s organizations—the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti and the Durga Vahini respectively.  The Rashtriya Sevika Samiti organizes women and promotes the Sangh’s vision of an obedient and subservient woman enabling her male counterparts to press ahead in the service of the nation, while the Durga Vahini, in keeping with the paramilitary role of Bajrang Dal, imparts physical training and firearm training to women—these activists are primarily called into action when the Sangh has to blacken the face or serve other physical punishment to female targets122 (the chivalrous Bajrang Dal activists obviously cannot be expected to get physical with women).  Other groups, such as the BJP are also predominantly male, but do have a women’s wing (the BJP Mahila Morcha) and also harbor prominent Sangh women in their ranks (Uma Bharati, Vijayraje Scindia) who have been trained in the Sangh’s philosophy and serve as living reminders of what a virtuous Hindu woman should be.

Role of Women in Hindu Society

According to the Sangh, the primary role of a woman is child bearing and child rearing—all her other activities should be subordinate to that.  According to Asha Sharma of the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti,

We teach women to give first priority to the family -- a career should be taken up only in case of financial need and should be subject to the approval of the family. There is a natural division of labour -- women, being more sensitive, should take care of children. Everything else is secondary.123

The true power of women in the Sangh, therefore, comes not from what they are or the qualities they possess, but the children they can raise for the good of society.  This, we are told, is the true essence of womanhood and the basis for equality between the sexes.  Motherhood is necessarily glorified in order to impress upon the women the enormity of the job they have to fulfill, and the special status they enjoy because of it in a society where there is virtually no other role for them.

Enlightened motherhood is a cherished ideal of Hindu woman. Jijabai trained her son Shivaji and his tribal friends for fighting with the foreign rulers to make this country independent. She had a definite aim of establishing Hindu Sovereignty by organising the various constituents of Hindu Society. A Hindu woman is an eternal mother a symbol of love, sacrifice, dedication, fearlessness, sanctity and devotion. The tenderhearted woman becomes bold and aggressive if time demands.124

While motherhood clearly forms the central thesis for a woman’s existence in Hindu society, her role as a care-giver in other relationships—as a sacrificing wife and an obedient daughter and daughter-in-law—are also emphasized.  In sum, the good of the society is ultimately measured by the well-being of the men in it, and a woman’s contribution to society therefore, is all the different ways in which she can promote the interests of the men she serves, often at considerable cost to her own desires and interests.  In this context, an interview with Krishna Sharma of the Women's wing of the VHP is particularly illuminating, as she outlines the uncomplaining, unquestioning and undemanding role that the Sangh expects the model Hindu woman to assume in society.

We also teach women to demand less -- when women demand more, it leads their menfolk to corruption. A man may be satisfied with two sets of clothes but women will desire a dozen saris ... A happy life is not possible unless women compromise and are willing to sacrifice.

Q. Why can't men sacrifice or compromise?
A. They can, but it comes more easily to women because they are more emotional. This is what happened in Vedic times.

[A]s it is the man who must earn and support his family (while the women manages the household), his education is more important. This division of labour is natural.

Q. If a girl who is being married off by her family against her wishes seeks help from the women's wing of the VHP, what advice will you give her?
A. Though every woman wants to get married, she does not say so due to her cultural conditioning. Every father wishes to see his daughter married and hence be assured of social security.
Q. What would you suggest in case she wishes to pursue her education?
A. After marriage she will have many responsibilities in her new home. It is not advisable for her to bring disquiet by refusing to compromise. If ordained by her fate, her husband will permit her to study.

Q. A girl may wish to marry a person her parents do not approve of ...
A. We try and explain to her that her parents have lived longer; they know what is best for her. We oppose a marriage only if there is a wide age gap between the bride and the groom ...

Q. What advice would you give to a victim of wife beating?
A. Don't parents admonish their children for misbehaviour? Just as a child must adjust to his/her parents, so must a wife act keeping in mind her husband's moods and must avoid irritating him. Only this can keep the family together.

Q. In spite of all adjustment, if the beating continues, how should the wife react, 'to keep the family together'?
A. Ideally, if she learns to stifle her screams, the matter will remain within the four walls of the house. Otherwise, every house will become a 'Mahabharat'. However, if she is persistently beaten for no particular reason, then she can take up the matter with her kith and kin (biradari); legal action should remain the last resort. The family you are born into and the family you are married into are predestined. Just as you cannot change your parents you also cannot change your husband.

Q. But the legal system permits divorce. How do you react to that?
A. If a woman seeks divorce, we advise her to try to adjust, since a woman cannot remain single, when she remarries, she will face similar problems in her new home. Divorce, therefore, will not change her situation. Conciliation would be a better option, both for the woman and her children. Divorce can be considered only if every other option fails. Moreover, with diseases like AIDS monogamy is advisable for women.

Q. But there are preventive measures ...
A. They are not foolproof. Moreover an Indian woman can attain true happiness only with one man.

Q. What are your views on polyandry?
A. ... a man may remarry if he does not have any children by his first wife, provided she agrees.

Q. Can a woman remarry in a similar situation?
A. No, society will not allow it -- neither will the man's ego permit it.

Q. In case a man remarries after an extramarital affair, what course of action would you suggest for the first wife?
A. Admittedly, it is a difficult situation for her, but she should try to accept it for the sake of the children, more so, if she is not financially independent. All these problems arise because of westernisation. Even the West reveres Indian family life, but we are forgetting our roles as janmatris and nirmatris.

In the joint family system, the couple's interaction was limited and the attraction remained alive for years after the marriage. Now, with the western concept of honeymoon and nuclear family they grow weary of each other in no time, leading to various problems.

In the West, women don't hesitate to drag their own husbands to the court with allegations of rape.

Q. What else can a victim of conjugal rape do?
A. If a couple are married, how can you call it rape -- this concept is alien to our culture. In any case, if a woman is physically and mentally strong, she can assert herself.125

 

HSCs and Women

HSCs’ vision regarding women in the US mirrors that of the Sangh in India.  Where the Sangh openly commands women to a life of chastity, subservience and obedience in India, the HSC flatters them by conferring upon them superior morality and nurturing nature to achieve the same results of domestication.  In a recent project undertaken by the national HSC called the “Hindu Women Project”, Kanchan Banerjee—the National Coordinator for the HSCs—posted several articles from various ideologues to elucidate “the responsibilities of women and the changing role of Hindu women in the cultural and economical foundation of a changing society.”126 These tracts make fascinating reading as the liberal discourse of equality and rights seamlessly merges with a traditionalist discourse reinforcing the role of women as daughter, wife and mother.  The Hindu woman is an embodiment of Shakti, and thanks to some of her innate and exclusive qualities, she is oftentimes conferred a higher-than-men or a better-suited-than-men status. Of course, where much is given, much is asked. And the special qualities forcibly conferred on (and expected of) women invariably restrict her to the confines of her home, where she is given greater ‘responsibilities’ (the Sangh's preferred euphemism for ‘duties’). 

The belief is that, in general terms, while men are more aggressive, cerebral and self-promoting, women tend to be more nurturing, intuitive, mature and giving. Interestingly, it is precisely these feminine qualities which are aspired toward in Hindu spiritual life – by both men and women.

... The modern Indian woman is no slave to her family, but the dispenser of its welfare. She will gladly cook, sew, nurse and teach not only for her husband and children but also for those of his relations who may need her services.127

Another posting in the same series draws upon the writings of Vivekananda, one of the earliest ideologues of Sanatana Dharma.  Here again, the mythological Sita is first glorified and venerated in all her suffering and chasteness, epitomized as the ideal Hindu woman, and then these very qualities are imposed on all of womanhood in the service of her community.

There she will always be, this glorious Sita, purer than purity itself, all patience, and all suffering. She who suffered that life of suffering without a murmur, she the ever-chaste and ever pure wife, she the ideal of the people, the ideal of gods, the great Sita, our national God she must always remain ... Any attempt to modernize our women, if it tries to take our women away from that ideal of Sita, is immediately a failure, as we see everyday.

For woman they hold chastity as the most important virtue, no doubt. One marrying more than one wife is not so injurious to society as a woman having more than one husband at the same time, for the latter leads to a gradual decay of the race. Therefore, in all countries good care is taken to preserve the chastity of women. Behind this attempt of every society to preserve the chastity of women is seen the hand of nature. The tendency of nature is to multiply the population, and the chastity of women helps that tendency. Therefore being more anxious about the purity of women than of men, every society is only assisting nature in the fulfillment of her purpose.128

A more complete version of the HSC’s vision of women’s role in society is available on the website dharmalife.org which seeks to educate HSC students on different aspects of the Hindu Dharma.  The restrictions that Hindu society places on the free movement and association of women, the injunctions against their economic independence and their complete definition in terms of their relation to men in the society (as mothers, sisters, wives and daughters) is glibly explained away in terms of the great value and importance that Hinduism accords them, which confers upon them this “special” status.

In Hinduism a woman is looked after not because she is inferior or incapable but, on the contrary, because she is treasured. She is the pride and power of the society. Just as the crown jewels should not be left unguarded, neither should a woman be left unprotected. No extra burden of earning a living should be placed on women who already bear huge responsibilities in society: childbirth, childcare, domestic well-being and spiritual growth. She is the transmitter of culture to her children.”

It is a matter of common knowledge that it is the woman that is vulnerable to attack by males with evil propensities.  It is for this reason Manusmriti imposed the obligation of protecting young girls, as well as grown up woman, on her father, husband, and son respectively ...129

The Sangh’s Position on Feminism

Feminism, as defined by equal rights for women, has been viewed by the Sangh as a uniquely “western” concept, in conflict with Indian sensibilities.  According to the Sangh, the “Indian” notion of rights for the women lies in recognizing the difference between the sexes, which justifies the difference in the opportunities and choices available to women.  The “western” concept of feminism, which demands equality in workplace and educational opportunities, is seen as forcing some kind of artificial similitude between the genders and removing them from their natural and biological roles and hence, is an object of abhorrence. 

Feminists and “women-libbers” are scorned as family-wreckers, bothered only about their individual interests and not that of the community at large.  According to KR Malkani, a prominent member of the RSS and BJP’s ex-vice-president, “[the RSS] would consider women's libber's as the worst enemies of womankind.”130 Mridula Sinha, President of the Women’s Wing of the BJP (the BJP Mahila Morcha) elaborates this position further in her remarks:

We in the Bharatiya Janata Party are opposed to women's liberation because it is against men. It is led by a handful of intellectual women in the cities who have no understanding of the common people's ideology and aspirations ... We tell women to be more adjusting, because they will have nowhere to go if they leave there husbands.131

Ms. Sinha also holds that if a man beats his wife, it is often the woman who is to blame for provoking him; that most problems in marriages arise because women fail to adjust to their new families; that woman should not work after marriage; and that the giving and taking of dowry, practices against which progressive women’s organizations have been organizing for decades, are perfectly acceptable.132

In fact, the ‘threat’ that the traditional Hindu society was facing from the women’s rights movement is credited as being the main impetus for the formation of the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti.  The official Sangh history describes the challenges to the Hindu Society at the time of its formation thus:

Due to western impact women were struggling for equal rights and economical freedom. That was leading to individual progress only, inviting self-centred-ness. There was every risk of women being non committed to love, sacrifice, service and other inborn qualities glorifying Hindu women. ... Many women were attracted to the new easy going and showy way of western life. Forgetting their own self they were fascinated by the idea of equal rights and economic freedom. This unnatural change in the attitude of women might have led to disintegration of family, the primary and most important unit of imparting good Sanskaras.133

This notion that the women’s movement for equality is essentially inimical to the interests of the Hindu society is the Sangh’s considered position, and has also found its way into the education systems that it has access to.  The following excerpts have been taken from school textbooks that were altered by the BJP once it gained power in the states of UP and MP:134

There is a movement of women's lib. Until recently women lived within the four walls of the house and united the family. Now, when women go out for work, they leave their families behind. The freedom of women creates a sort of tension in the families and many families break because of this sense of freedom and independence. Sometimes members of both sexes indulge in crimes and in immoral acts and the situation worsens.

Legislation which has given rights to women is also responsible for family disorganisation [sic]. The Hindu Widow Remarriage Act, 1956; the Hindu Women's Property Right Act, 1937; the Special Marriages Act, 1954; the Hindu Marriage and Divorce Act, 1955 -- all such acts have raised the status of women. Women have right to the property of their parents [sic]. The total result of these progressive legislative measures by the Government in favour of women is tension and strife in the family.

The Coming of the MuslimsWhile the Sangh generally attributes the Hindu society as being uniquely respectful to womankind (according to KR Malkani, “The position of women is better in India than anywhere else in the world135), even it cannot completely justify the abhorrent practices of female infanticide, sati, child marriage, which have been so prevalent in the Hindu Society, nor disregard the blatant injustices inherent in the Manusmriti, (the law-book in Hinduism).  For this, the Sangh turns to the Muslim invaders.  The logic goes thus—the Hindu society, as it existed in the Vedic times, was a truly just and free society, where women were accorded complete freedom (this, in complete opposition to what the current historians believe).  No evil practices such as child marriage and sati existed, and Manusmriti at this time had only progressive, gender neutral laws.  However, according to the Sangh, once the Muslims arrived, things changed and the position of the women in the society declined, even as anti-women practices came to the fore.  (“In ancient India, women were accorded great respect. It was Muslim invasion that restricted women to the domestic role.”136) Once again, the enemy of all Hindus, men and women, is firmly established as the outsider, the Muslim. 

The construction of this narrative depends heavily upon the characterization of Muslim men as aggressive, brutal and libidinous, who pose a serious threat to chaste and vulnerable Hindu women.  Savarkar, who coined the term Hindutva, writes in his book137

One side-issue of the Muslim religious aggression, which caused a continuous drain on the numerical superiority of the Hindus was the diabolical Muslim faith that it was a religious duty of every Muslim to kidnap and force into their own religion non-Muslim women. This incited their sensuality and lust for carnage and, while it enormously increased their number, it affected the Hindu population in an inverse proportion ... The religious fanaticism of the Muslims was not madness at all; it was an effective method of increasing the Muslim population with special regard to the unavoidable laws of nature ...

With this same shameless religious fanaticism, the aggressive Muslims of those times considered it their highly religious duty to carry away forcibly the women of the enemy side, as if they were commonplace property, to ravish them, to pollute them, and to distribute them to all and sundry, from the Sultan to the common soldier and to absorb them completely in their fold. This was considered a noble act which increased their number ….

This construction of the “rapacious Muslim” male is used to contrast the peace-loving Hindu man, and serves to explain his [Hindu man’s] violence against Hindu women as a painful sacrifice on the altar of dignity and self-respect.  According to the Sangh, all these practices, which appear evil to us now (child marriage, female infanticide, sati), are in reality valiant attempts to rescue Hindu women from being defiled by the Muslim invaders.  HSCs’ Hindu Women Project explains the genesis of these practices in the wake of the Muslim invasions thus (the comments by KB, presumably Kanchan Banerjee, appear in the original):138

Child marriage became rampant to prevent forceful abduction by the aggressors. There were evidences of child getting married even at the age of 5-6. The agonies which our young girls in those days went through are for us only to imagine ...

Dowry became a tradition because parents had to get their daughters married by hook and crook or begging the boys’ father to accept their daughter, and frequently in exchange of a large dowry, otherwise would face abduction or forced marriage by powerful Muslim men. Having a pretty daughter was a major liability of a family, since they were the first targets of the foreign aggressors ...

Female infanticide was practiced in many parts of the country because daughters became liability and cause of abduction and other problems created by the aggressors.

Along similar lines, B.R.Sharan wrote (in Status of Indian women):

During this period when the atmosphere was so vitiated that even the horrid acts of female infanticide had to be performed of self-preservation, when even the marriage had to be performed secretly at the dead hours of night [In Bengal and some other states marriage is performed only at night till today - KB]. Lest the new bride on way to her new home may be abducted en route..

Although occasional cases of satee were to be found (there were no satee in the Vedic age) before the invasions, it became a norm now. The women folks burnt themselves, sometimes en masse to save their honor and preventing the aggressors from capturing them ... The fair Pudmini closed the throng, which was augmented by whatever of female beauty or youth could be tainted by Tatar lust .

Thus, not only do all the ill-practices in Hinduism owe their origin to the Muslim conquerors, but according to the Sangh, the anti-women laws of Manusmriti are also the work of the invaders! The HSC’s Hindu Women Project claims 139

The Smriti's were mixture of good and bad. It is not impossible that many of the laws against women were added or written during the Muslim period under pressure from the rulers ….

In the context of Muslims, it should also be noted that while Hindu women are accorded natural piety and innate chastity by the Sangh, it is not so when it comes to Muslim women.  For instance, their cunning and deceitful nature is amply illustrated in the following excerpt from an article in The Organiser, a mouthpiece of the Sangh:140

Even in your own house you are not safe. Muslim women would enter your house on the pretext of enquiring whether you have anything to sell. And after a few minutes they will tell you that they have come to stay. You cannot drive them out, for you dare neither touch them nor get them removed by anyone else ... You may persist for two or three days in living with them, but then, of course, there is the real danger of these Muslim women crying aloud at night. And then where do you stand?

And while the Hindu man may be expected to be respectful to Hindu women, or at least to virtuous Hindu women, no such expectation exists in his behavior towards Muslim women.  In fact, Savarkar chided Hindu men of by-gone centuries for showing “chivalry” towards Muslim women, and lamented that “Hindus of that period never tried to chastise the Muslim womenfolk for their wrongs to Hindu women, even when the former were many a times at their complete mercy.”141 In fact, Savarkar advocated kidnapping and raping of Pakistani women as a “tit for tat” measure to prevent crimes against Indian women.142 This use of women’s bodies as instruments of revenge against entire communities finds resonance in the Sangh even today, and even among their women leaders, as illustrated by this remark from Krishna Sharma, of the women’s wing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad:143

Hindus must make sure that they are feared by others. We have to prove our mettle. If they (Muslims) rape 10-15 of our women we must also rape a few to show them that we are no less.

As far as the Sangh goes, both Hindu and Muslim women are seen largely as reproducers of the community—thus, a Hindu woman is venerated in her role as a mother, while the Muslim woman is reviled in a similar role (witness, for instance, the excessive Sangh paranoia about the Muslim growth rate).  Similarly, the construction of women as the bearers of respectability for the entire community allows the Sangh to completely justify the virtual domestic imprisonment of Hindu women on the one hand, and on the other, it also exonerates any sexual atrocities against minority women that its cadres choose to commit.  While the former is nothing other than securing the honor of all Hindus, the latter is merely humiliation meted out to minority communities to put them in their place. The Gujarat pogroms of 2002, which witnessed unprecedented levels of sexual violence against Muslim women, and their subsequent mutilation and murder,144 was just another battlefront for the Sangh in its quest to establish a Hindu Rashtra.  It is in this context of minority women—who lie at the confluence of the Sangh’s social agenda as well as its fascistic predilection to extremist violence—that the Sangh’s warped gender ideology turns particularly vicious and lethal.

Next: Sangh on Family and Sexuality

 

Endnotes:

[122] As happened in the case of Neetu Sapra, the director of a play in Bhopal. See `Durga Vahini' activists held, The Hindu, Mar 15, 2004, http://www.hindu.com/2004/03/15/stories/2004031509931500.htm (archive)

[123] In Women and the Hindu Right: a collection of essays, Ed. Tanika Sarkar and Urvashi Butalia. New Delhi, Kali for Women, 1995, pp 330

[124] Rashtriya Sevika Samiti, by Organization of Hindu Women. http://www.hindubooks.org/rssw/ch1.htm (archive)

[125] In Women and the Hindu Right: a collection of essays, Ed. Tanika Sarkar and Urvashi Butalia. New Delhi, Kali for Women, 1995, pp: 331-335

[126] See http://www.hscnet.org/hwp.php (archive)

[127] See Hindu Women Project—Post 6: The Concept of Shakti: Hinduism as a Liberating Force for Women, Frank Morales http://www.hscnet.org/hwp.php?articleid=19 (archive)

[128] See Hindu Women Project—Post 36: Swami Vivekananda on Women: Part – III, http://www.hscnet.org/hwp.php?articleid=36 (archive)

[129] See http://www.dharmalife.org/December.htm (archive)

[130] KR Malkani in 'The RSS Story' ; quoted in Women and the Hindu Right: a collection of essays, Ed. Tanika Sarkar and Urvashi Butalia. New Delhi, Kali for Women, 1995, p.118

[131] Quoted in Look Ma! The Sangh Giroh's gone progressive! (and Newt's a Revolutionary!), Niraj Pant, Sanskriti 6(1), 1995 http://www.foil.org/resources/sanskriti/dec95/niraj.html (archive)

[132] Ibid

[133] Rashtriya Sevika Samiti, by Organization of Hindu Women. http://hindubooks.org/rssw/ch2.htm (archive)

[134] See footnote #131.

[135] KR Malkani in 'The RSS Story' ; quoted in Women and the Hindu Right: a collection of essays, Ed. Tanika Sarkar and Urvashi Butalia. New Delhi, Kali for Women, 1995, p.118

[136] Mridula Sinha, Secretary General of BJP Mahila Morcha, quoted in Women and the Hindu Right: a collection of essays, Ed. Tanika Sarkar and Urvashi Butalia. New Delhi, Kali for Women, 1995, pp. 329-30

[137] VD Savarkar, "The Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History," pp 174-75 : quoted in Women and the Hindu Right: a collection of essays, Ed. Tanika Sarkar and Urvashi Butalia. New Delhi, Kali for Women, 1995, pp.48-50.

[138] See Hindu Women Project—Post 16: Status, Position and Roles of Hindu Women in our history: PART-III. http://www.hscnet.org/hwp.php?articleid=16 (archive)

[139] Ibid.

[140] The Organiser, 18 December 1947, quoted in Women and the Hindu Right: a collection of essays, Ed. Tanika Sarkar and Urvashi Butalia. New Delhi, Kali for Women, 1995, pp.70

[141] VD Savarkar, "The Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History," pp 174-75: quoted in Women and the Hindu Right: a collection of essays, Ed. Tanika Sarkar and Urvashi Butalia. New Delhi, Kali for Women, 1995, pp.48-50

[142] According to Savarkar’s hagiographer Dhananjaya Keer in his book, “Veer Savarkar”, 1966 p.539, quoted in Women and the Hindu Right: a collection of essays, Ed. Tanika Sarkar and Urvashi Butalia. New Delhi, Kali for Women, 1995, pp.43

[143] Women and the Hindu Right: a collection of essays, Ed. Tanika Sarkar and Urvashi Butalia. New Delhi, Kali for Women, 1995, pp.332

[144] The Survivors Speak: How has the Gujarat Massacre affected minority women - Fact-finding by a Women’s Panel, April 16, 2002 http://cac.ektaonline.org/resources/reports/womensreport.htm (archive)

 

 

 


 

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