ct a superior position to, man. Literary evidence suggests that kings and towns were destroyed because a single woman was wronged by the state. For example, Elango Adigal’s Sillapathigaram teaches us Madurai, the capital of the Pandyas was burnt because Pandyan Nedunchezhiyan mistakenly killed her husband on theft charges. Valmiki’s Ramayana teaches us that Ravana and his entire clan waswiped out because he abducted Sita. Veda Vyasa’s Mahabharatha teaches us that all the Kauravas were killed because they humiliated Draupadi in public.
To instill such high ideals in humankind, Indian ancestors created a plethora of godesses who enjoyed equal status with their husbands. The concept of Ardhanareeshwarar, where God is depicted as half-man and half-woman, is a concrete example to support this argument. In many philosophical texts God is referred to a Tat, meaning It and that God is beyond gender. And, one would find a comparable Godess for each God. Further, we know for a fact that ancient India was permissive; women could have multiple husbands, widows could remarry, divorce was permitted for incompatability or when estranged.
In contemporary India, women occupy a paradoxical status. On the one hand, there are godesses featuring in the Hindu pantheon and revered by men. On the other, some wives are burnt because they did not bring enough dowry (the horrible institutionalized and illegal practice of expecting the woman’s parent to provide a large purse to the groom); women are victimized by powerful local political figures and their family; some women are abducted by rich youths with
impunity; and there are credible stories of female infanticide in rural India. Surely, these cases are not the norm. Nevertheless, it is horrifying to see that they happen. Some may argue that these incidences no way compare to the domestic violence rate in the US; compared to the status of women in Japan, Indian women enjoy equal status socially, economically, and politically; the
mal-treatment of women using mis-interepreted religious laws in many Islamic countries is absent in India; etc. They points are moot as they are compared to lowest points in human civilization and not the wonderful legacy of tolerance and past that India is proud to claim.
Contemporary India is almost an anti-thesis to ancient India. Society continue to treat windows, divorcees, and abandoned women with contempt. Window remarriage, while it happens frequently, is an uphill task for the couple. Back-handed Victorian prusih behavior, meaning it is alright when something is kept a secret, in the land that produced the Kama Sutra(the first and
arguably the best book on love, relationships, and sex) is fostering a society that is sexually repressive, morally corrupt, and without values for human dignity.
Fortunately, many things are being done to address these problems. There is a National Human Rights Commission for Women that handles all human rights violations against women. There is a National Council for Women that advocates policy for Women. There is an entire ministry for women that manages policy for women. There is a very large body of educated women professions (some statistics quote mnore women engineers and scientists in India than in the US),
many publications that were created by women. run by women, and are for women, several vocal women journalists and pundits, special courts for dowry deaths, and countless women-specific NGOs. The present Government also sponsored and passed a law that required all political parties to maintain a count of at least one-third of the total candidates in elections to be women.
Hence, despite media sensationalism, especially in the West, the outlook for women’s status in India society looks promising.