India, one of the worst places for women?

One of the subjects that I am confronted with on a regular basis is that of the woman's experience in India. As a self-avowed Sahajiya, any issues related to gender and sexuality are of particularly interest to me, so I am an observer of sexual attitudes in this part of the world.

A recent event taking place in India has once again pushed the issue to the front pages of the newspapers and other media, primarily for its sensationalism. An Assamese reporter happened to film the brutalization and sexual harassment of a woman in the Guwahati streets at night by a gang of men. A discussion of the event and the general situation can be found in this Guardian article by Helen Pidd, Why is India so bad for women?.

The litany of related news items in this article makes one hang one's head in despair. The land of the Goddess, of Shakti, of Radha... I truly want to weep, not only because I have been hearing this for so long, but once again this is brought to my attention so I want to say a thing or two about it.

One thing that springs to attention is the number of people, men and women, both foreign and Indian, who report experiencing fondling, etc., of women in public places, even in the presence of their spouse or other men. I personally know many women who have had similar experiences in India.

One of them has a policy -- she is physically strong -- of whacking the guy hard and screaming at him. But that is difficult to sustain when the problem is so endemic. What do you do if you are alone in an overnight bus and one of the conductors comes and sits behind you and starts groping? And what do you do when it is the second, or third, or even fourth time in the day that it has happened?

We wrote some articles on the subject of the problem of modern society and changing sexual morality on Vrindavan Today. In these changing times in India, there are many different things that are pointed at as the sources of blame. But y
ou cannot point the finger at Western influences or Bollywood or the prevalence of pornography alone. These things come along and when added to a susceptible social situation result in weak-minded and immature men engaging in these kinds of sleazy behaviors, nearly all of which are cowardly in the extreme. 

Being in the midst of a social upheaval, with the old social fabric falling apart and the new one misunderstood, with the resultant ambivalence and hypocrisy, legal solutions are barely practicable. In fact, the legalistic approach of the old social order, with its patriarchical diminishing and marginalization of women and the order to "protect" them, fails completely in the face of a society in which women are slowly taking possession of their rights at the same time that men are inflamed by sexually stimulating media products and offered little means of meeting the rising expectations they produce. In fact, pornography is little more than propaganda for the basest instincts in men and so leads to increasingly distorted sexual values, whether it is West or East. People who claim it is liberating are surely deluded.

When I wrote about Kripalu, it was done against the backdrop that his attitude -- and that of his colleagues in the guru/sexual abuser dynamic -- was really basically the same as that of the Indian street and subway groper. Lying on a bed with his eyes closed and directing the woman's hand to his genital. Or like a prostitute's client, picking disciples out of the women's section and having them brought up to his room. The common feature of both is the total depersonalization of the woman and the accompanying droit-de-seigneur universally appropriated by the male of the species. 

If this is the way the so-called
 avatars behave, what can we expect from the rest? And if that is the society from which these avatars spring, is it any surprise that they are just bigger, fatter, more successful examples of the same distorted and deformed human development? And it is no surprise that the defenders of India who respond to Ms. Pidd's article with squeals of anti-India bias, etc., sound uncannily similar to the defenders of Kripalu and his ilk.

All of this, my friends, gets to the crux of what it means to be a Sahajiya. Sahajiyaism says that love doesn't exist without transcending the purely bodily dimension of sexuality and seeing the other as Thou, which is another way of seeing the absolute divine in the human presence of the lover. The flaw in the religions that are prescriptive in their definition of a human being's role in terms of caste or gender is that they are always going to circumscribe what should be natural human freedoms through depersonalizing the individual and subsuming him or her to those impersonal categories.

The biggest failures and errors of much of Hinduism today is that many think that these defined roles are integral to dharma itself. They are not. In particular, Vaishnavism, that is, the worship of Radha and Krishna, begins from the point of the male (yes, it is principally targeted at males, and correctly so, as this whole discussion should show) accepting the divine humanity of women, recognizing that they are entirely dependent on woman for the one thing that they truly desire, which is love. 

And until these fools recognize this fundamental fact, they will be running around like chickens with their heads cut off, chasing after everything that militates AGAINST love -- whether it is consumerism, careerism, corporatism, ever more dramatic sexual stimulations, anything.

Love is the locus of the sacred. And for men, heterosexual men at least, there is no possibility of cultivating love as an experience of the Divine, Prema, without starting at the very basic and necessary point of recognizing the humanity and personhood of women. Actually, the entire business of the beginner in spiritual life is to cultivate an awareness of the divine presence in the Other. One comes to the second, Sadhana stage, only when that awareness has reached a certain stage of maturity.

Sexuality is, if not the most fundamental problem of humanity, then at least one that stands near the top. Sex desire, is at the very basis of human psychology. I don't say that because of Freud, I say it because of Rupa Goswami. This is because sex desire is really the expression of the soul's desire for love while in the body.

The need to fulfill our desire for loving intimacy in its fullest form, in a profound, spiritual, sacralized relationship, has to start from the point of recognizing the equality of women. This does not mean putting women on an artificial pedestal of "divine motherhood," which is a refusal to admit the sexuality of women, in other words the need to experience human love, as an equal with the lover. 

The denial of female sexuality in India is the same as to deny the woman's personhood. Women are shunted from childhood to motherhood as quickly as possible, in order to become waddling, hip-heavy, juggernauts of maternalistic misery. Vatsalya at the cost of madhurya is a failure for everyone. The sons and husbands of such mothers are very likely the same ones who cannot keep their hands off women in the public place.

The essence of respect is simply to accept a human being’s humanity. Empathy. Don’t do to others what you would not like done to yourself.

Unfortunately, this is something that religion has tried to mediate or obstruct in various ways since time immemorial. Because of other kinds of social priorities. And so a fundamental religious attitude, which had its origins in the preservation of a particular kind of social order, actually proves to be an obstacle to the attainment of the divine consciousness of shared samadhi, or prema.

Who will ever get to shared samadhi unless they first become yogis?


Satya devi dasi said…
Yes, this continues to be a problem. Unfortunately it's also changing the minds of younger adults now, so that they're not even interested in India or Bhakti at all.

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