Monday, January 14, 2013


The recent spate of atrocities on women made me wonder if there are reasons other than what I wrote in my previous postings. I came to realize that there are indeed historical reasons and they are numerous.

Let us examine a few. In the present day India people can be broadly classified as those living in the plains and those living in the hills. The people living in the hills which form a tiny minority are supposed to be those who were driven to go beyond accessibly [hills and forests] by the Aryan hordes that came into this country some 2 to 5000 years ago. Women of the hill people have no problems with their men as one can see in the north east, tribes of MP, Chattisgarh and even in states of Karnataka and Tamilnadu. They have traditionally placed women on a different footing than the people living in the plains of India which is the rest of the country.

History is replete with recorded instances of discrimination aimed at women. The earliest that comes to my mind is Rama’s story in the famous epic Ramayana. We call this man, Lord Rama and worship him as the embodiment of everything that is good and great in a human. He is called in Hindi as maryada prushotham. Let us see what was his attitude towards his wife Seetha who spent some years in captivity [some DMK historians say willingly!] in SriLanka ruled by demon King Ravana.On successful invasion and rescue, King Rama returns to the city of Ayodhya with his wife Seetha. He being a noble king interested in the welfare of his people, made clandestine inspections under disguise. In one of his forays he hears a washerman make derogatory remarks as to Seeta’s character when she was away for so long in Srilanka.

This has our Marayada Purushotham Rama worried. The only way to convince his people that his wife is pure [meaning she has not slept with Ravana] is to make her walk through fire. So he proceeds to test his reluctant wife with fire. Of course the ever virtuous and devoted wife comes through this fire test with flying colors and redeems the suspect honor. This kind of horror incidents are also there in Mahabharata [another revered epic] where another King of virtue called Dharmaraja [except for his compulsive gambling] who after losing everything he has in a game of dice, bets his own wife and loses. Then this virtuous man mutely witnesses stripping of his wife in front of an assembly of nobles.

So, men even in those times [2 to 5000 years ago] treated women as commodities and not as humans. They [women] lived and died catering to the whims and fancies of their men. A woman without her man was considered an economic liability and fit to be burned along with her husband when he died .This went by the name Suttee. This barbaric act prevailed till the late 19th century and it took an English governor General William Bentick and an Indian social reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy to put an end to this practice of widow burning.

The present day India the widow burning is replaced by female feticide and infanticide widely practiced in many states with possible exception of southern states. Widow neglect is also rampant. There is already an alarmingly skewed sex ratio in many northern states. Single men not being able to find brides are  a major problem especially in a society which treats women as chattels.

We are now facing very serious and very dangerous social disaster in the making. Unless society wakes up to this reality, there is going to be crisis of unimaginable proportion. Compulsory women’s education, preferential treatment and creation of employment opportunities, change in inheritance and divorce laws that will give women equal rights will help, but the most important is change of the male mind set.

Will it come about?

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