Whatever a woman wears shocks some man on this earth. A bikini-clad woman will most probably shock Indian urban male sensibilities, a burqha-clad woman will shock a French man, and a woman wearing a ghoonghat would shock an American. Still people judge a woman by what she wears. In patriarchal societies, character and sexuality of a woman is the same thing. Chastity, virtue and good character of a woman are prime importance. Men do honor killings in its name. What purpose do they serve? If women are not supposed to have sex with men, then is society promoting gay behavior?
In India, a country that was progressive in before Christ era, the situation has deteriorated with each passing century. India is the 4th unsafe place for women in the world. Times of India reported that in Bangalore, 64% women feel unsafe to commute at nighttime. In rural India, situation of women is worse. They do not even have an education. Women face physical, emotional and psychological abuse every day.
1. Virginity & Sexuality
The propaganda is that Hindu mythology books –Ramayana and Mahabharata – define the ideal woman. It is convenient; Sita the female protagonist in Ramayana is the ideal woman. Mahabharata depicts characters that are more realistic. For example, Draupadi, the heroine of Mahabharata had five husbands. In present day, men definitely can’t accept polyandry. Her mother-in-law, Kunti, gave birth to a son, Karan, before marriage. Her three sons after marriage were from different fathers as her husband was impotent. Draupadi was publicly disrobed and it is the men who are projected in negative light. The book shows both Kunti and Draupadi in positive light.
Presently, in Indian society looks down on women having sex with different men or having a child before marriage. Mahabharata was depicting a time period of 10th century BC, and we call ourselves broad minded.
2. Marriage and Dowry
One of the most negative customs in Indian society is that of dowry. As a good girl of Indian society should have an arranged marriage, her parents have to pay a big fat dowry to get a bridegroom. A woman is supposed to let her parents choose her husband.
In ancient India, the concept of Swaimwar existed. The parents of the girl would organize a Swaimwar, inviting eligible men for the marriage of their daughter. The daughter could run tests on the men, and choose her own husband. Even kings had to take rejection gracefully when they attended a Swaimwar. It was the woman’s choice, and neither the parents nor the participants could change the decision.
Rape was punishable in some cases with death and in all situations; a woman’s consent was required for sex. For sex or marriage, a woman did not need her parent’s permission and could independently decide.
Women received “Stridhan” (wealth of a woman) at the time of marriage. This money and property was given to her by her and her husband’s relatives to use in case of emergency and/or on death of her husband. Even her husband was not entitled to use the money generally.
However, now the girl’s parents are pressured to give money to the bridegroom’s parents, and the girl doesn’t get any of it. In some cases, in rural India, if a girl chooses a lover or husband, she is killed to retain family honour. Rate of female infanticide is high because parents don’t wish to have liability of a girl. Tragically, the olden concepts have been twisted to fulfill power and greed.
3. Widowhood, Divorce and Re-marriage
Widowed and divorced women are socially excluded, as they are considered unlucky. Both are a social stigma. Hence, remarriage of divorced or widowed women is difficult.
It is incredible, that Kautilya’s Arthshastra defines the conditions of divorce, desertion and widowhood. He also mentions the period of separation and remarriage for divorced and widowed women. Islam and Sikhism accepted divorce and remarriage since inception.
The social custom of sending widowed and deserted women to temples to live a life of abstinence was more of an economic need than religious requirement. Even Sati (wife burning herself on her husband’s pyre) was a way to save money, in the name of chastity and virtue. Widowed and deserted women then would not require significant monetary support if it is propagated that they should not live a life of luxury.
Again here, the social customs were twisted to suit monetary ends. The tragic part is that these are done in the name of religious mandate. Hence, few would challenge the customs openly. We need to change the mind-sets to succeed in a global environment. India can’t succeed when 50% of its population is tied up in such draconian customs. Let us focus on independence and liberation of women in this century.
Well, one can only argue with men up to a point. So I thought let me be open-minded and consider their perspective. Maybe one can decide a character of a person by the clothes they wear. I need a little bit of help form my readers. Could you look at the following pictures, and tell me which man has the best character. I am not blind yet, so I could figure out who looks the sexiest, but drastically failed at assessing character.