Religious Sanctions

Ideology for Enslaving Women

Shamsul Islam

India is the world’s ‘largest democracy’. Going by the numbers, the assertion is correct and there are also theoretical reasons for advancing this claim. The Preamble and chapters on Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles of State Policy make it clear that the Constitution of the Indian Republic guarantees justice, liberty equality to all its citizens irrespective of gender, caste, race, religion, class and place of birth. In terms of gender equality, the Preamble, Articles 14, 15, 16, 21, 23 (Part III dealing with the Fundamental Rights), 39, 42, 44 (Part IV dealing with the Directive Principles of State Policy) and 51-A (e) (Part IVA dealing with the Fundamental Duties) not only give women all the rights accorded to men, but also provides them with special rights.

If anything there is an immense mismatch between these pious declarations and the status of women at the ground level in India. According to global surveys reports which were released in 2020 India is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women. India ranked 133rd out of 167 countries on Women peace and security index. The Indian Republic has the largest number of malnourished women; the highest number of maternal deaths (maternal mortality) as well as the record for ‘missing girls’ [births aborted], who number in the millions. Violence against women–which includes ‘honour killings’ [for choosing life partner], domestic violence and sexual harassment, is rampant despite the occasional stringent doses of laws to control violence against women.

In 2005-2006 a survey named as National Family Health Survey-III was conducted in which 1.25 lakh women were interviewed in 28 Indian States. According to this survey 40% of women reported being beaten by their husbands. Over 51% of the 75,000 men interviewed did not find anything wrong with bashing up their wives. The most shocking finding of this survey was that around 54% of the women surveyed believed that such violence inflicted on them was justified on one ground or the other. The reality has further deteriorated.

According to an in-depth study by a woman activist, Varalika Mishra based on the government data, 32,500 cases of rape were registered with the police in 2017–almost 90 per day. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) on October 21, 2019, released its report for the year 2017, which stated that 359,849 cases of crime against women were reported in the country. In addition, 237,660 cognizable cases were registered in 2018.

Mishra’s research made the shocking revelation that according to the NCRB data of 2018 a rape was reported almost every 15 minutes in India. For one thing the NCRB data which was usually released after two years, annually, under the Narendra Modi government the data was inordinately delayed. “Despite various federal government campaigns such as Beti Bachao Beti Padhao–Educate the daughter, Save the daughter–the crime rate per 100,000 women increased to 58.8% in 2018 in comparison with 57.9% in 2017.”

The extent of women’s insecurity in India can be known by the number of incidents of rape and the conviction rate as provided by the NCRB.2006: Rapes 19348, conviction rate 27.2%. 2007: Rapes 20737, conviction rate 26.4%. 2008: Rapes 21467, conviction rate 2018 1,56,327 rape cases were on trial, out of these trial was completed only in 17,313 cases resulting in conviction in meagerly 4,708 cases. Even after stringent anti-rape laws after Nirbhay gang-rape case (On December 16, 2012) the conviction rate in 2018 was abysmally low at 27.2%.

These statistics show that the number of rape cases steadfastly increased while the conviction rate fell continuously. However, even this data may not reflect the critical ground reality as RK Raghavan, a much decorated policeman and ex-chief of the national crime investigation agency, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)disclosed that this data,
“is a gross underestimation. A majority of rapes occurring in villages are suppressed by local bigwigs who run their parallel criminal justice system…Our Caste system and the role of money in the rural setting are principal contributors to this state of affairs.”

It is not only through rape that male rapists claim to have control over bodies of the victims. The rulers who get the right to govern after taking oath of safeguarding the democratic-secular Constitution of India miss no opportunity to blame victims of rapes for the crime. The latest to join this gang of rulers is the RSS-BJP chief minister of Goa who held the rape victim girls and their families for the crime after a shocking incident of gang rape on a beach in the State.

Women wearing jeans are ridiculed and denigrated as violating religious laws. It was not long ago that the RSS-BJP chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, Tirath Singh Rawat after finding a woman wearing jeans declared “If such women go out in the society to meet people and solve their problems, what kind of message are we giving out to society, to our kids? It all starts at home. What we do, our kids follow. A child who is taught the right culture at home, no matter how modern he becomes, will never fail in life.”

It is under the spell of all pervading such hatred against women attired in the jeans that a family in eastern Uttar Pradesh killed a 17-year-old Neha Paswan for wearing jeans. Her mother, Shakuntala Devi Paswan, told BBC Hindi that,
“the teenager had been severely beaten with sticks by her grandfather and uncles after an argument over her clothes at their home in Savreji Kharg village in Deoria district, one of the least developed regions in the state.”

Any student or researcher of women studies will be hard pressed to find an explanation for this mismatch. Despite comprehensive laws and the huge machinery of enforcement in place, the Indian Republic has become a risky terrain for the women in India. There is no denying the fact that Indian democracy is becoming less and less compatible with the rights of women.

This repression flourishes unabated due to a structural belief that the women are inferior, backward, object of denigration and for sexual pleasure. The philosophical mooring regarding the inferior status of the women of India has been spread and strengthened by the popular religious literature available in every corner of India. In this paper an attempt has been made to study and investigate the multi-lingual popular religious literature being circulated throughout India. While this study is confined to Hindu and Muslim popular religious literature,it does represent an accurate reflection of the general reality.

According to the 2011 national census data Hindus and Muslim together constituted 93.9% of the total Indian population. This vastly available literature openly denigrates women and preaches violence against them. This paper provides facts and analysis to show how despite a democracy in India the women becoming more and more vulnerable and democracy is becoming out of bound for them.

It is interesting to note that flag bearers of the purity of these two religions; Hinduism and Islam, despite serious theological/normative differences with each other, hold absolutely identical views on the status of women. This similarity is most glaring in the low-priced religious propaganda literature published and circulated by them in every nook and corner of India (Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal being no exceptions) which openly demean and denigrate women.

Geeta Press based in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, leads this tribe. It is the largest publication house in India which publishes literature espousing the ‘Hindu’ way of life for Hindu women on a very large scale.The low-priced publications are available throughout the country, especially in the Hindi belt, and are even sold through government allotted stalls at railway stations and government roadways stands.

Geeta Press has published more than a dozen titles on the subject, the most prominent of which are: Nari Shiksha (Education of Women) by Hanuman Prasad Poddar, Grahsth Mein Kaise Rahen [How to Lead a Household Life] by Swami Ramsukh-das, Striyon ke Liye Kartawya Shiksha (Education of Duties for Women) and Nari Dharm (Religion of Woman) by Jai Dayal Goindka and a special issue of magazine Kalyan on women. Many of these are available in English and other Indian languages. The English titles are popular with the non-resident Indians.

The authors extensively quote from ancient texts like Shiva Purana and Manusmriti. They borrow heavily from these and other ‘holy‘ texts, upholding a subservient woman/wife as the ideal Hindu woman. For instance in the book titled How to Lead a Household Life which is in question-answer format, when a question is posed,
‘‘What should the wife do if her husband beats her and troubles her?” Swami Ramsukhdas offers the following sagely advice to the battered wife and her parents:
“The wife should think that she is paying her debt of her previous life and thus her sins are being destroyed and she is becoming pure. When her parents come to know this, they can take her to their own house because they have not given their daughter to face this sort of bad behaviour.”

And if her parents do not take her back to their house, learned Swamiji‘s pious advice is:
“Under such circumstances…she should reap the fruit of her past actions. She should patiently bear the beatings of her husband with patience. By bearing them she will be free from her sins and it is possible that her husband may start loving her.”

Swamiji who has no qualms about thrashing of wives by the husbands is, otherwise, quite compassionate towards animals. While responding to the question:
“What dealings should a person have with rats, lizards, mosquitoes and bugs etc., which live in the house?”

His sagely advice is to be merciful towards these creatures and Swamiji wants no harm done to them. He decrees:
“A man should regard these creatures as the members of the family because they live in it by making their home. So they are entitled to live in it. It means that they should be nourished as far as possible. It is not proper on the part of the people to kill them as some people do.”

And there is another piece of heavenly advice for a rape victim and her husband.

“As far as possible, it is better for woman (rape victim) to keep mum. If her husband also comes to know of it, he too should keep mum. It is profitable for both of them to keep quiet.”

Can a woman remarry? The answer is very straight forward,
“When once a girl is given away in marriage as charity by her parents, she does not remain virgin any more. So how can she be offered as charity to anyone else? It is beastliness to remarry her.”

But can a man remarry? No problem,
“A man can have a second wife for an issue in order to be free from the debt which he owes to manes (pitr-rin) according to the ordinances of the scriptures, if there is no issue from the first wife.”

But this is not the only reason for which a man is allowed re- marriage. A man,
“whose desire for pleasure has not been wiped out, can get remarried because if he does not get remarried, he will indulge in adultery and go to prostitutes and will incur a badly sin. Therefore, in order to escape the sin and maintain the decorum he should get remarried according to the ordinance of scriptures.”

Of course, no widow is allowed to remarry. However, she may be allowed to choose to be some male’s concubine.

“If she cannot maintain her character, instead of indulging in adultery here and there, she should accept her affinity for a person and live under his protection.”

Is it proper for woman to demand equal rights? The sagely answer is quite unambiguous:
“No, it is not proper. In fact, a woman has not the right of equality with man…in fact it is ignorance or folly which impels a woman to have desire for the right of equality with man. A wise person is he/she who is satisfied with less rights and more duties.”

This literature about Hindu women openly preaches and glorifies the ghastly practice of Sati. To the question:
“Is 'Sati Pratha' (viz., the tradition of the wife being cremated with the dead body of the husband on the funeral pyre) proper or improper?”

The sagely answer is:
“A wife’s cremation with the dead body of her husband on the funeral pyre is not a tradition. She, in whose mind truth and enthusiasm come, burns even without fire and she does not suffer any pain while she burns. This is not a tradition that she should do so, but this is her truth, righteousness and faith in scriptural decorum…It means that it is not a tradition. It is her own religious enthusiasm. On this topic Prabhudatta Brahmachariji has written a book whose title is Cremation of a Wife with her Husband’s Dead Body is the Backbone of Hindu Religion, it should be studied.”

Swamis in this series of literature while demanding the restoration of practice of Sati go on to tell us that
“There is absolutely no doubt that a woman who happily follows her dead husband to the cremation ground receives on every step benefits of Ashawmedh Yagya [Ashva-medha means horse in Sanskrit and Ashawmedh Yagya was a sacrifice of a horse in the Vedic tradition used by the ancient Indian kings to prove their imperial sovereignty]… It is a Sati woman who snatches her husband from the hands of yamdoots (angels of death) and takes him to swarglok (Paradise). After seeing this pativrata lady the yamdoots themselves runaway.”

It is not only Nari Shiksha which starts with a chapter captioned Sati Mahatmmey or ‘greatness of Sati’ but Gita Press also published a special issue of its Hindi journal Kalyan glorifying Sati.

Apart from glorifying Sati, the Gita Press publication like Nari Dharm produces dozens of shlokas from Hindu scriptures to establish that women are not capable of enjoying independence. This book begins with the chapter swatantarta ke liye striyon ki ayogeta (incapability of women for independence). Another notable facet of this literature is that long a list of rituals is laid down to be practiced by pregnant women so that ‘bright, talented, brave and religious inclined son’ is born.

There is no dearth of such literature for Muslim women too in the Republic of India.Bookshops selling Islamic literature are packed with books and pamphlets brazenly denigrating women. Titles like Bahishtee Zewar, (Heavenly Ornaments, originally in in Urdu but available in all Indian languages and Arabic) by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, Mian Biwi ke Haqooq (Rights of husbands and wives) by Mufti Abdul Ghani and Musalman Biwi (Muslim Wife) by Molvi Idris Ansari, and Biwi ke Haqooq aur Uski Hesiyat (Wife‘s rights and her status) by Mufti Mohammed Taqui describes “women as property of men which can be used as they wish.” Their advice to Muslim women is
“to treat yourself as a slave and accept your husband as your master. Even if you are battered, tolerate it patiently andgraciously.”

Bahishtee Zewar, the most popular of these has the following prescriptions for Muslim women,
“If husband orders that remove all stones from one mountain to second one and stones of the second mountain to third one, wife must do it.”

It is ordained that when husband demands presence of wife she should immediately come even if she is cooking on fire.
“If husband wants to have sex with his wife and if wife refuses and husband passes night in such a situation then angels curse this lady throughout the night.”

“Follow all directives (Uske aankh ke ishare per chala karo) of husband. If he orders that you must stand with hands folded throughout the night you must do it so that get rewards in the next life.

“If your husband declares that day is night, you must say the same.”

Mufti Abdul Ghani confides that in the Hell, a majority will comprise of women who disobeyed their husbands. According to his revelation:
“If a husband is angry with wife, her prayers are not honoured by God and she is not admitted into Paradise.”

Molvi Idris exhorts Muslim women that “if your husband describe the day as night you must accept it.” All the authors give authority to husband to beat their wives. For instance Mufti Abdul Ghani in his book even has a chapter titled “Right to batter women” where he writes that
“husband has the authority to beat his wife. He may even use miswak (a kind of small stick which is used for teeth cleaning) to beat her. However, he should avoid hitting on face or causing deep scar.”

Face seems to be decreed out of bound from husband’s thrashing due to the reason that wife then would look ugly!

The similarities between Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists on the issue are so stark that it appears as if they subscribe to the same school of thought or have studied under the same teacher. Both groups may be involved in ferocious tussle in the Indian subcontinent, but when it comes to the status of women, they seem to be operating in total harmony. Against women, it is unity in totality.

It is really shocking that in the largest democracy of the world, India, where rulers never tire of preaching about peaceful coexistence and equality, such blatantly anti-women and obnoxiously sexist literature is in circulation in a big way. India is a signatory to the UN Charter of Human Rights and Declaration on Women but the Government has done little to curb the publication of such writings.

The Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code which are frequently invoked to ban rationalist or progressive writings have been reduced to mere spectators to the onslaught by such literature on women. The Indian judiciary too, which is very fond of intervening into issues of public interests, finds nothing objectionable in this dehumanizing propaganda under the garb of religious propaganda.

Ironical as it may seem, the above discussed publications of the Geeta Press can be bought from government allotted rent-free stalls at bus stands, railway stations and book vendors or mobile vans that often sell their ware even in the premises of the Supreme Court and Central Secretariat in New Delhi from where the Democratic India is governed.

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Vol. 54, No. 14-17, Oct 3 - 30, 2021