for ISKCON News on Feb. 15, 2013
An oil painting of an elegant Indian woman by Veronique Gauthier.
The recent December 16 2012, rape case in New Delhi gave ammunition to certain academicians to spill venom on Vedic literatures. These scholars unequivocally attribute all the wrongs happening in India as the outcome of the Vedic Culture. To substantiate their point they oft quote Vedas but mostly wrongly. They argue that “Vedas treat women as a second class citizen and it justifies violence against women.” It is no denying the fact that women in India, in rural as well as in urban areas, are often the victims of crimes. I too was confused and sometimes thought that there must be some truth in it. However, close scrutiny of these literatures revealed something else. Instead of denigrating women, the Vedic literatures give women a very respectable position in the society.
Vedas on Women
Below are quotes from the scriptures, it can help us to understand Vedic perspective on women.
• A woman must be honored and adorned by their fathers, brothers, husbands, and brothers in law, who desire their own welfare. Where women are honored, there the gods are pleased; but where they are not honored, no sacred rite yields rewards. Where the female relations live in grief, the family soon wholly perishes; but that family where they are not unhappy ever prospers. The houses on which female relations, not being duly honored, pronounce a curse, perish completely, as if destroyed by magic. Hence men who seek (their own) welfare, should always honor women on holidays and festivals with (gifts of) ornaments, clothes and (dainty) food. In that family, where the husband is pleased with his wife and the wife with her husband, happiness will assuredly be lasting. (Manusmriti: The Laws of Manu, Chapter 3, 55-60)
• Vedas state that when a woman marries then she enters “as a river enters the sea” and “to rule there along with her husband, as a queen, over the other members of the family”. (Atharva-Veda 14.1.43-44)
These quotes unambiguously echo that Vedas do not demonize women. Sir Monier Monier-Williams (1860-1888) an Indologist and head of the Oxford's Boden Chair, has written: "Indian wives often possess greater influence than wives of Europeans."
Why Vedas are vilified?
Then why so much negative propaganda against Vedic literatures. Delving deep into history will help us to understand this. When Britishers set their foot to colonize India then they were amazed to see a society which was God – centered. The Indians had extraordinary faith in Vedas which they considered sacred and their lives revolved as per the injunctions of these literatures. In spite of hundreds of years of Muslim subjugation, majority of the Indians did not compromise with their religious beliefs and remained Hindus. The Britishers wanted to know what these Vedas are and so they deputed Max Muller to translate these literatures which was in Sanskrit language into English. Along with this Max Muller also had the responsibility to indoctrinate the Indians into believing that what they are revering is filled with filth. This would ensure that the Hindus would start doubting their sacrosanct Vedic literatures, would start feeling inferior and will then easily accept the doctrines of British Colonists. Max Muller’s vicious agenda could be easily understood by the letters he wrote to his wife and to the Duke of Argyle. To his wife he wrote: It (the Rig Veda) is the root of their religion and to show them what the root is, I feel sure, is the only way of uprooting all that has sprung from it during the last three thousand years.” And to the Duke he wrote: “The ancient religion of India is doomed. And if Christianity does not take its place, whose fault will it be?”
Historical facts have been undermined
During their reign in India, the Britishers continued their anti Vedic teachings. Among the Indians they only allowed those scholars to be part of the academic institutions who agreed with their viewpoints. These academicians who were picked and indoctrinated by the British Colonists continued dominating the educational institutions even after India achieved independence. These academicians – historians, sociologists etc - formed a cartel wherein they never allowed those who disagreed with their opinions or tried to have a different perspective to be part of the mainstream academia. The history textbooks in India misinterpret, misrepresent and misquote facts to present Vedas, ancient Vedic culture and Indian history in a biased way. Several of the facts as how Hindus were persecuted and how thousands of Hindu temples were razed have never found its place in the history textbooks. For e.g. in Goa in 1560s AD several orders were passed (which are well documented) by Viceroy D Constantine de Braganca and Governor Antonio Morez Barreto to drive away Brahmins, to confiscate their properties and to forcibly convert the Hindus but these facts are rarely highlighted. In the book “Growth of Muslim Population in Medieval India”, Prof K.S. Lal, former chairman of the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR), specifies that Hindus were ruthlessly persecuted by the Muslim rulers and gives the figure that the Hindu population decreased by over 80 million from 1000 AD to 1500 AD. However these facts and figures are never mentioned in the history textbooks and are never taught in schools and colleges. In fact today if anyone tries to speak about such misinterpretation of Indian history & Vedic literatures then they are immediately rebuked and are painted as sectarian, fascist, illogical and even unscientific.
Vedas did not lose its sheen
But in spite of enormous negative campaign, Vedas did not lose its sheen and neither the women got disillusioned by Vedas because nothing obnoxious is promulgated by these literatures. This can be gauged from the fact that millions of women including those who are highly educated occupying important positions in the society still adhere to the values of Hinduism. A woman since her childhood sees that the Indian society does not lampoon her and do not treat her as a second class citizen. She grows up hearing anecdotes of Mahabharata and Ramayan wherein women are often the central characters. She never finds that the scriptures promote, propagate and advocate physical or psychological violence against them. At her home she finds that her mother plays a vital and central role in the family decision making process. She finds that the society derives inspiration from the lives of Mother Sita, Mother Yashoda, Draupadi and Kunti. She sees that Goddess Lakshmi, Durga, Subhadra, Kali are the feminine divine form who are revered and worshipped by millions of Hindus. While gleaning through the Indian history she comes across saint Mirabai, Maharani Laxmibhai, and several women who actively participated in India’s freedom struggle. This forces her to contemplate that if Vedic culture were against women then how did these women gained so much prominence in Indian society.
Vedas do not preach hatred; it’s a gross misrepresentation of truth. Vedas preaches all to live with love and harmony. If a person studies the Vedic literatures with an open mind then he will develop admiration for Vedic culture.
Crime against women is a fact
However there is no denying the fact that there are crimes against women in Indian society which needs urgent attention. The rape cases, dowry death, bride burning and other evils which have penetrated the Indian society are because people have given up adhering to the Vedic standards. Materialism which has spread its wings has created a godless culture. It instigates people to satisfy their wanton desires by adopting any means. Close scrutiny would reveal that proponents of materialism in fact have no respect for women. They use women as a tool to further their business interests. Scantly dressed women are used in advertisements to sell almost all the products – be it men’s shaving cream, a shoe polish, an electronic gadget, an air – conditioner or a tooth paste.
Creating a society which respects women
Strict laws although can act as a deterrent but still it would not completely eradicate the menace. For e.g. we do have laws against murder, kidnapping, theft etc but still there are felons who commit such heinous deeds. Srila Prabhupada one of the foremost saint of the modern era provides a very logical solution to all these problems, “The only way to permanently change the criminal habit is to change the heart of the criminal. As you well know, many thieves are arrested numerous times and put into jail. Although they know that if they commit theft they will go to jail, still they are forced to steal, because of their unclean hearts. Therefore without cleansing the heart of the criminal, you cannot stop crime simply by more stringent law enforcement. The thief and the murderer already know the law, yet they still commit violent crimes, due to their unclean hearts.” So, unless we nurture a God centered society the problems will not get completely uprooted. Adhering to the Vedic standards help one to lead a God centered life. In a God – centered society, a person cultivates genuine love for God which cleanses his heart and which further helps him to understand that all – men and women – are children of God. And then he develops natural affection and respect for women whom he then considers as his own mother, own sister or own daughter.