I have to confess that I have never understood what ‘feminism’ means. ‘Women’s rights’ and ‘Women’s freedom’ become a common slogan and a rallying point in the beginning of the 20th century in India, but I never knew how it related to feminism. I finally found a helpful definition from David Smith:

…There are two basic positions in modern feminism. First, women are the same as men—any current differences are temporary and are socially constructed. Biology lies; and anyway, the future will free us from biology. Alternatively, woman is fundamentally different from man and represents a different and higher order of being; women are conned by patriarchy. All men are rapists by their very nature. Patriarchy oppresses women. Not only are pornography and prostitution oppression of women; religion, marriage, mother-hood, and heterosexuality are oppression, the imposition of male power on women. — David Smith, Hinduism and Modernity, Blackwell, Indian edition, 2003. p. 17

That a woman is either exactly the same as a man, or that she is “fundamentally different from man and represents a different and higher order of being” are two extreme views. I don’t want to take so many pages to analyse these issues here since I am not competent enough to venture into such unknown territory where even angels should fear to dread.

[As a digression and joke, are angels women or men? I once heard this joke:

If one woman goes to heaven what will she be called?
An angel!

What will ten women be called?
Ten angels!

What if all the women go to heaven?

This is just a joke and not a male chauvinist attack on women.]

Interestingly in India (at least in Tamilnadu), only a few women activists, writers, poets, actresses and others say we need freedom, but with personal responsibility. It is true that in many Western countries like England women fought for their rights, at least in the public life. Whereas in India, they got most of their rights as a birth right, although several sections of our society failed to implement it literally. At the same time I don’t think ever in the history of India, unlike recent ones, women had to ever fight for their right. It was a moral and social obligation, on the part of a man. It is not a male prerogative but a dharmic obligation.

As Indians quickly accepted and adopted several western concepts like ‘democracy’, ‘Constitution’, and ‘Personal Law’, what was once a ‘dharmic obligation’ to man has now become a legal obligation of the State. Naturally, when ‘law’ replaced ‘dharma’, then the issue of women’s rights is fought out legally as per the Law. How far women, in spite of their success to get that ‘legal’ right are able to enjoy in a still ‘male dominated’ Indian society is a real issue. Here their ‘freedom’ and ‘rights’ in spite of becoming ‘legal’ remain a male prerogative in every part of the society when it was exercised practically at home personally and society at large.

I am tempted to compare women’s roles and rights in a few major religions. But since my personal analysis will be considered more as propaganda than facts based upon the scriptural evidence and common practices in those traditions, I have decided not to do it.

However I would like to give my personal and general view on this subject. A concept, ideology, siddhant, etc. could be claimed ‘universal’ in its scope, at least in theory, where it provides a level playing field for everyone without discriminating based on birth, wealth, sex etc. Though the followers of such a concept might have failed to implement it strictly in their life, at least if it provides in theory that level playing field to everyone, then we can accept it universal.

Particularly within the context of this topic on Woman versus Man, can I claim that the religious concepts, theology, philosophy or ideology of every major religion provides such a level playing field to woman without discriminating her based on gender? The answer is not merely in the philosophy, theology, doctrine, or in the respective scripture, but in how they are understood and interpreted. Above all, whatever might be the understanding and interpretation, unless that philosophy/theology is implemented in practical life, no claim based on scripture and interpretation will be taken as sincere and serious.

Regarding their rights and freedom in a secular context, though the law replaced scripture, it faces similar consequences depending upon ‘understanding and interpretation’ as well as how it is carried out in practical life.

So, as usual, I too have to close this topic with the same ‘philosophical’ answer like in every other areas of life. NO ONE EVER LIVED ABOVE HIS/HER CREED. As long as this issue of women’s rights and freedom is going to remain an issue of contention as ‘woman versus man’, no solution (religious, legal, social, political, etc.) is possible within anyone’s reach. Even those who try to live according to their own creed and to implement their convictions have to succumb to social pressure.

It is interesting to note that several issues in life are analysed and suggestions are prescribed. But neither the analysis nor the solution brings permanent solution to resolve the problem. But humanity has learned the art of living with those issues as a part of their system or even as a solution more than a problem. This being the human reality, how can I give my own solution to this issue which was there from the beginning of creation and will continue in future too?