UPLIFT OF WOMEN
Hindu Women’s Ideal
Sita is the very type of the true Indian woman, for, all the Indian ideals of a perfected woman have grown out of that one life of Sita ; and here she stands these thousands of years, commanding the worship of every man, woman, and child, throughout the length and breadth of the land of Aryavarta. There she will always be, this glorious Sita, purer than purity itself, all patience and all suffering. She who suffered that life of suffering without a murmur, she the ever-chaste and ever-pure wife, she, the ideal of the people, the ideal of the gods, the gTeat Sita, our national God she must always remain. 'All our mythology may vanish, even our Vedas may depart, and our Sanskrit language may vanish for ever, but so long as there will be five Hindus living here, even if only speaking the most vulgar patois, there will be the story of Sita present, mark my words. Sita has gone into the very vitals of our race. She is there in the blood of every Hindu man and woman ; we are all children of Sita.
How different is the ideal in India from that of the West ! The West says, “Do. Show your power by doing.” India says, “Show your power by suffering.” The West has solved the problem of how much a man can have. India has solved the problem of how little a man can have. The two extremes, you see. Sita is typical of India,—the idealized India. The question is not whether she ever lived, whether the story is history or not, we know that the ideal is there. There is no other pauranic story that has so permeated the whole nation, so entered into its ver\ life, and has so tingled in every drop of blood of the race, as this ideal of Sita.
Sita was chastity itself, she would never touch the body of another man except that of her husband. Sita is the name in India for everything that is good, pure and holy ; everything that in woman we call womanly. If a priest has to bless a woman, he says, “Be Sita!” If he blesses a child, he says, “Be Sita!” They are all children of Sita, and are struggling to be Sita, the patient, the all-suffering, the ever-faithful, the ever-pure wife. Through all the suffering she experiences there is not one harsh word against Rama. She takes it as her own duty and performs her own part in it. Think of the terrible injustice of her being exiled to the forest ! But Sitar knows no bitterness. That is, again, the Indian ideal. Sita was a true ' Indian by nature ; she never returned injury.
I know that the race that produced Sita— even if it only dreamt of her—has a reverence for woman that is unmatched on the earth. There is many a burden bound with legal tightness on the shoulders of Western women that is utterly unknown to ours. We have our wrongs and our exceptions certainly, but so have they. We must never forget thai all over the globe the -general effort is to express love and tenderness and uprightness, and that national customs are only the nearest vehicles of this expression. With regard to the domestic virtues I have no hesitation in saying that our Indian methods have in many ways advantage over all others.
Still on this sacred soil of India, this land of Sita and Savitri, among women may be found such character, such spirit of service, such affection, compassion, contentment and reverence, as I could not find anywhere else in the world ! In the West, the women did not very often seem to me to be women at all, they appeared to be quite the replicas of men! Driving vehicles, drudging in offices, attending schools, doing professional duties! In India alone the sight of feminine modesty and reserve soothes the eye !
Any attempt to modernise our women, if it tries to take our women away from that ideal of Sita, is immediately a failing as we see every day. The women of India must grow and develop in the footprints of Sita, and that is the only way.
Their Social Status, Ancient and Modern
We should not allow the sudden influx of European criticism, and our consequent sense of contrast, to make us acquiesce too readily in the notion of the inequality of our women. Circumstances have forced upon us, for many centuries, the woman’s need of protection. This and not her inferiority, is the true reading of our customs. Could anything be more complete than the equality of boys and girls in our old forest universities ? Read our Sanskrit dramas—read the story of Shakuntala, and see if Tennyson’s ‘Princess' has anything to teach us !
In Malabar the women lead in everything. Exceptional cleanliness is apparent everywhere and there is the greatest impetus to learning. When I myself was in that country, I met many women who spoke good Sanskrit, while in the rest of India not one woman in a million can speak it. Mastery elevates and servitude debases. Malabar has never been conquered either by the Portuguese, or by the Mussalmans. The Dravidians were a non-Aryan race of Central Asia, who preceded Ihe Aryans, and those of
Southern India were the most civilized. Women with them stood higher than men.
The Aryan and Semitic ideals of woman have always been diametrically opposed. Amongst the Semites the presence of woman is considered dangerous to devotion, and she may not perform any religious function, even such as the killing of a bird for food: according to the Aryan a man cannot perform a religious action without a wife.
In the highest truth of the Parabrahman, there is no distinction of sex. We only notice this in the relative plane. And the more the mind becomes introspective, the more that idea of difference vanishes. Ultimately when the mind is w'holly merged in the homogeneous and undifferentiated Brahman then such ideas as this is a man or that a woman do not remain at all. We have actually seen this in the life of Sri Ramakrishna. Therefore do I say that though outwardly there may be difference between men and women, in their real nature there is none. Therefore if a man can be a knower of Brahman, why cannot a woman attain to the same knowledge ?
In what scriptures do you find statements that women are not competent for knowledge and devotion ? In the period of degradation, when the priests made the other castes incompetent to the study of the Vedas, they deprived the women also of all their rights. Modern Hinduism is largely Pauranika, that is, post-Buddhistic in origin. Dayananda Saraswati pointed out that though a wife is absolutely necessary in the Sacrifice of the domestic fire, which is a Vedic rite, she may not toucfi the shdlagrama shild, or the housefmkl-idol, because that dates from the later period of the Furanas. Otherwise you will find that in the Vedic or Upa-nishadic age Maitreyi, Gargi, and other ladies of revered memory have taken the places of risk is through their skill in discussing about Brahman. In an assembly of a thousand Brahmanas who were all erudite in the Vedas, Gargi boldly challenged Yajnavalkya in a discussion about Brahman.
Their Uplift, a Crying Need
When such ideal women were entitled to spiritual knowledge, then why shall not the women have the same privilege now ? What has happened once can certainly happen again. History repeats itself.
You always criticise the women, but say, what have you done for their uplift ? Writing down smritis etc. and binding them by hard rules, the men have turned the women into mere manufacturing machines! They have all the time been trained in helplessness, servile dependence on others, and so they are good only to weep their eyes out at the slightest approach of a mishap or danger.
All nations have attained greatness, by paying proper respect to the women. That country and that nation which do not respect the women have never become great, nor will ever be in future. The principal reason why your race has so much degenerated is that you had no respect for these living images of Shakti. Manu says, ‘‘Where women are respected there the gods delight; and where they are not, there all works and efforts come to naught.” (Manu-samhila III. 56). There is no hope of rise for that family or country where there is no estimation of women, where they live in sadness.
Do you know who is the real ‘Shakti-worshipper’ ? It is he who knows that God is the Omnipresent Force in the universe, and sees in women the manifestation of that Force. Can you better the condition of your women ? Then there will be hope for your well-being. Otherwise you remain as backward as you are now. The uplift of the women, the awakening of the masses, must come first, and then only can any real good come about for the country, for India. If the women are raised, then their children will by their noble actions glorify the name of the country—then will culture, knowledge, power and devotion awaken in the country.
How to Tackle Their Problems
It is wrong, a thousand times wrong, if any of you dare to say, “I will work out the salvation of this woman or child.” I am asked again and again, what I think of the widow problem and what I think of the woman question. Let me answer once for all,—am I a widow that you ask me that nonsense ? 'Am I a woman that you ask me that question again and again? Who are you to solve women’s problems ? Are you the Lord God that you should rule over every widow and every woman ? Hands off! They will solve their own problems.
In my opinion society in every country shapes itself out of its own initiative. So we need not trouble our heads prematurely about such reforms as the abolition of early marriage, the remarriage of widows and so on. Our part of the duty lies in imparting true education to all men and women in society. As an outcome of that education they will of themselves be able to know what is good for them and what is bad, and will spontaneously eschew the latter. It will not be then necessary to pull down or set up anything in society by coercion. Our right of interference is limited entirely to giving education. Women must be put in a position to solve their own problems in their own way. No one can or ought to do this for them. And our
Indian women are as capable of doing it as any in the world.
Education They Require for Solving Their Problems
With such materials of great promise, you could not, alas, work out their uplift! You did not try to infuse the light of knowledge into them ! For if they get the right sort of education, they may well turn out to be the ideal women in the world. Of course, they have many and grave problems, but none that are not to be solved by that magic word ‘education’.
To make a beginning in women’s education: our Hindu women easily understand what chastity means, because it is their heritage. Now, first of all, intensify that ideal within them above everything else, so that they may develop a strong character by the force of which, in every stage of their lives, whether married, or single if they prefer to remain so, they will not be in the least afraid even to give up their lives rather than flinch an inch from their chastity. Is it little heroism to be able to sacrifice one’s life for the sake of one’s ideal, whatever that ideal may be ?
History and the Puranas, religion, arts, science, house-keeping, cooking, sewing, hygiene —the simple essential points in these subjects ought to be taught to our women. It is not good to let them touch novels and fiction. But only teaching rites of worship won’t do ; their education must be an eye-opener in all matters. Ideal characters must always be presented before the view of the girls to imbue them with a devotion to lofty principles of selflessness. The noble exahrples of Sita, Savitri, Damayanti, Lilavati, Ivhana and Mira should be brought home to their minds and they should be inspired to mould their own lives, in the light of these. Along with other things they should acquire the spirit of valour and heroism. In the present day it has become necessary for them also to learn self-defence. See how grand was the Queen of Jhansi! With such an education women will solve their own problems.
We must see to their growing up as ideal matrons of home in time. The children of such mothers will make further progress in the virtues that distinguish the mothers. It is only in the homes of educated and pious mothers that greal men are, born.
Studying the present needs of the age, it seems imperative to train some of them up in the ideals of renunciation, so that they will take up the vow of lifelong virginity, fired with the strength of that virtue of chastity which is innate in iheir life-blood, from hoary antiquity. Along with that they should be taught sciences and other things which would be of benefit, not only to them but to others as well, and knowing this they would easily learn these things and feel pleasure in doing so. Our motherland requires for her well-being some of her children to become such pure-souled brahmcicharinis.
By their example and through their endeavour’s to hold the national ideal before the eyes of the people, a revolution in thoughts and aspirations will take place. How do matters stand now ? Somehow, the parents must dispose of a girl in marriage, if she be nine or ten years of age! And what a rejoicing of the whole family if a child is born to her at the age of thirteen! If the trend of such ideas is reversed, then there is some hope for the ancient shraddha to return. And what to talk of those who will practise brahmacharya—think how much shroddha and faith in themselves will be theirs ! And what a power for good will they be !
So shall we bring to the need of India great fearless women—women worthy to continue the traditions of Sanghamitta, Lila, 'Ahalya Bai, and Mira Bai—women fit to be mothers of heroes, because they are pure and selfless, strong with the strength that comes of touching the feet of God.
The Swami’s Plan
Women are the living embodiment of the Divine Mother, whose external manifestations appealing to the senses have maddened men, but whose internal manifestations such as knowledge, devotion, discrimination and dispassion make man omniscient, of unfailing purpose, and a knower of Brahman. “She when pleased becomes propitious and the cause of the freedom of man.'’ (Chandi). Without propitiating the Mother by worship and obeisance not even Brahma and Vishnu have the power to elude Her grasp and attain to freedom. Therefore for the worship of these family goddesses, in order to manifest the Brahman within them, I shall establish the women’s Math.
There shall be a girls’ school attached to this Math, in which religious scriptures, literature, Sanskrit, grammar, and even some amount of English should be taught. Other matters such as sewing, culinary art, rules of domestic work, and upbringing of children will also be brought. While japa, worship and meditation etc., shall form an indispensable part of the teaching. The duty of teaching in the school ought to devolve in every respect on educated widows and brahmacharinis. It is good to avoid in tljis country any association of men with women’s schools. The elder brahmacharinis will take charge of the training of the girl students in brahmacharya.
After five or six years’ training in this Math, the guardians of the girls may marry them. If deemed fit for yoga and religious life, with the permission of their guardians they will be allowed to stay in this Math, taking the vow of celibacy. These celibate nuns will in time be the teachers and preachers of the Math. In villages and towns they will open centres and strive for the spread of female education. 'Through such devout preachers of character there will be the real spread of female education in this country.
So long as the students will remain associated with this Math, they must observe brahmacharya as the basic idea of this Math. Spirituality, sacrifice and self-control will be the motto of the pupils of this Math, and service or seva-dharma the vow of their life. In view of such ideal lives, who will not respect and have faith in them ? If the life of the women of this country be moulded in such fashion, then only will there be the re-appearance of such ideal characters as Sita, Savitri, and Gargi.