In my earlier article, I quoted the sloka yatra naari pujate; tatra ramate devata (where women are worshiped gods dwell there)1. I want to continue with some of my observations in my life rather than from scriptures.
Fighting for their place
It is a sad fact (and reality) that though women actually run the entire life of a family, they don’t receive proper recognition in our textual tradition. Though there are a few references, the way they are denigrated eclipse those few passages in which they are glorified.2 It is only in modern literature and particularly in visual media like cinema and TV serials that their worthiness and contribution is brought forth to some extent.
In India, their struggle isn’t easy. Even in the West where women enjoy more rights, they had to fight for them. Women got the right to vote in England only after a long and violent fight for it. In India women still fight a lot for their legitimate space in public life. For example although there are several village women presidents, their husbands run the office as their proxy. 2015 was the first year that separate women soldiers representing all three forces marched separately in the Republic Day Parade (and that because the theme was as set as ‘Nari Shakti’ (Women’s Power)). I still remember the various debates and discussion about including women in Indian army, particularly in placing them in combat on the front lines.
A Woman’s Role in the Family
One important thing is that they have always occupied a crucial role in almost every Indian home. The Mahabharata rightly claims that “A house is not a home but only woman (wife) makes a house a home’.3
The importance of family is considered one of the greatest contributions of Indian civilization to the entire world. Everyone recognizes the importance of family for the successful continuation of our civilization. But women have remained the invisible but important foundation for that family.
If humans have six senses, I would say that women have a seventh sense. They use it to recognize the personality of another person (both in the family and outsiders) to protect herself and to safeguard her family. I read somewhere that while a man seeks only pleasure, a woman seeks pleasure and protection/safety not just for herself but for others.
Just take the example of cooking. Though she cooks for others to enjoy the food, her concern is not only for their enjoyment but also of health. One of my friend’s wives used to tell me, “Keep an eye when he eats cake; don’t allow him more than two pieces.”
In several homes I have observed that while she prepares and serves fresh food for the family and guests, after she feeds everyone, she eat the old food prepared for the previous meal. Even though this may create some health problem for her, she will never take any chance for others to be get affected by any leftover food. In olden days, it was given to beggars who would come after dinner. But in modern life, women in cities are forced to either preserve and use it again or waste it. Those who are generous will give it away to the servants, but those who do not have servants will either reuse it or waste it.
Women and Budgets
One amazing thing I have observed among Indian women is their ability to run the family within the limited income of the husband and even to save money. I have seen it in my own mother. We used to buy milk from a hotel that my father paid at the end of each month. But my mother had asked the owner to give 200 ml less each day which she took separately and saved for emergencies.
When scarcities come, men will hesitate ask the neighbour, but a woman will immediately borrow rations and will manage to provide something to eat for the family. When my sister’s marriage was arranged, we struggled a lot to meet all the expenses. One day, my mother went to a rich woman’s house whom she knew well, explained the situation, and requested her to buy the main sari for the wedding from a shop to which she promised to pay the money each month. Knowing my mother well, that woman without any hesitation went to the shop and asks them to give the costly silk sari.
There are many examples like this. Even recently Sankar, who is working in our ashram, urgently needed some money. He didn’t ask for it, but his wife Ratna requested me to pay some advance from their salary. After observing their family since 2007, I told Sankar that he is fortunate to have a wife like Ratna who actually runs the entire family. She even stopped him from going out of station to earn money, since she knew well that he wouldn’t bring much to the home and would only end returning back sick person.
Women have this seventh sense not only to recognize others but also to predict the future and take extra caution to protect each member of the family.
- …The men of the household are advised to “revere” and “adorn” women if they wish for “good fortune”: “The deities delight in places where women are revered. ..and [the family] thrives where women are not miserable” (Manu 3.55-8).— The Householder tradition in Hindu Society.
T.N. Madan in The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism, Gavin Flood (ed.),
UK, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Indian Reprint 2003, p.293
- …Varahamihira [6th century A.D.] in his Brhat-Samhitaã chap. 74 [ed. by Kern] makes a spirited defence of women and eulogises them highly…He then cites the dicta of Manu in support [verses 7-10]. “one’s mother or one’s wife is a woman; men owe their birth to women; O ungrateful wretches, how can happiness be your lot when you condemn them? The sastras declare that both husband and wife are equally sinful if they prove faithless to the marriage vow; men care very little for that sastra [while women do care]; therefore women are superior to men. Oh! how great is the audacity of wicked men who heap
abuse on women that are pure and blameless, like robbers who while themselves stealing raise a hue and cry ‘stop, O thief!’ Man in privacy utters words of cajolery to woman, but there are no such words after the woman dies; while women, in gratitude, claps the corpses of their husbands and enter the fire.”…[p.579] Vas.Dh.S.13.47 says ‘a father who is an outcast may be abandoned, but a mother [though patita] is never an outcast to the son’. ‘the acarya exceeds by his greatness ten upadhyayas, the father exceeds a hundred acaryas, a mother exceeds a thousand fathers’ says Manu II.145 [=Vas.Dh.S.13.48] … [p.580] the Adiparva chap. 37 says that one may avert the consequences of all curses, but a mother’s curse can never be averted. [p.581]…-P.V. Kane, Vol. II. Part. I. Ch. XI. Defence of Women. pp.579-81.
- RV 10.85.36. Again at 3.53.4 the RV states: “Wife is the true home”– Jaayed astam. The MBh (12.144.66) echoes the same thought: “The home is not the house, they say, but the housewife” –na grham grham ity aahu grhini grham ucyate.– Patrick Olivelle, The, Asrama system The History and Hermeneutics of a Religious Institution New York, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1993, Fn. 32, p.41