Feminism is traditionally a western invention but it’s on the rise in India, too, albeit in their own peculiar forms. Perhaps we can’t cite India as an example of proper attitudes to various female related issues any longer.
It was only a couple of years ago when Indian GBC strongly opposed female dīkṣa guru decision by Śāstric Advisory Committee. They practically threatened to ignore implementation of this particular rule in their zone. I don’t know how much effect their opposition had in the end, every year we can expect some new announcements from Māyāpura meetings but so far it has been quiet on FDG front. Maybe they’ll spring a surprise for us this time, who knows, there’s a new push for it I wanted to address separately.
Indian GBC might be strong in their convictions but not the Indian public. The most popular guru there at the moment is a woman, I’ve heard, the one that gives free hugs, so if we do have female gurus in ISKCON it won’t be seen as something outrageous by the public at large. We are obviously are not going to judge our decisions by public reactions but we can’t appeal to Indian masses any more either.
India is undergoing one of the biggest transformations in its history, perhaps on par with getting used to be part of a British Empire. They’ve been modernizing themselves for over a century but this is the first time when India is getting truly plugged into the global economy and global way of life. Up until twenty years or so ago they modernized at their own pace, they had their own industry, their own cars, their own entertainment etc. To westerners it all looked clownish, from their Ambassador cars to their obsession with “Number 1” proclamations in their advertising. Then came the internet and Windows 95, and the rest is history.
They had no western brands or supermarkets or shopping malls at all. No McDonalds, no Toyotas, only Coca-Cola and SevenUp. With the internet and with Indians getting thousands of jobs at western software companies they suddenly learned what they have been missing, government eased related regulations and westernization began in earnest, and with it came western values of rights and freedoms.
Newly minted middle class credit western attitudes as much as western economical model for their prosperity. If one wants to work in a multinational company, for example, one has to project a fitting image, has to have proper aspirations, pursue proper goals, share proper values, and, generally, appear non-different from job applicants in the west. If one plays the ball he gets rewards and so naturally feels validated in his beliefs so now we have half a billion people who think they are middle class and so have to stand by middle class values. The actual number of middle income people is about 2% there but I’m talking about self-perception and self-identification which is more important for my case.
Gender equality is one of the most fundamental of those values and “middle class” women there see their roles and duties differently from the tradition we in ISKCON expect from Indians. Nope, they want education, they want career opportunities, they want to be professionally successful, they want it all. I don’t want to look up stats on birth rates or marriage rates, they might not look so bad yet but the point is that women have become very assertive there.
Then we had a couple of bad rape stories that agitated public not only in India but around the world and women there thought they had to assert themselves even more. They demand safety, which should be provided, of course, but the problem is that they demand it and they demand it not from their traditional protectors – fathers and husbands, but from the government, from the society, from random men on the streets, or that it should simply be there. They demonstrate with banners, march up and down the streets, stage PR events, protest, make noise – all the kinds of things we’d expect from politicized western public pushing for their democratic rights. There’s nothing traditional about it at all. We can’t say “in India women…” any more. Maybe on some issues they still keep traditional attitudes but not on the issue of their power.
They tasted it, it tasted good and they want more of it, there’s no turning back. Everything they do is right and everything they want is righteous. Whoever or whatever gets in their sights needs to comply or cease and desist.
Just like with adopting western business models and western science they adopt western atheism, too. I mean they value their rational thinking and logic above śāstra and tradition even though they still go to the temples. That’s their peculiarity – they are too afraid to give up their “superstitions” but at the same time they want to be all rational about them.
A year ago I wrote several posts on the move PK, which I think is still the most popular Indian movie of all times, and the main message of that movie was that we should rationally re-examine our gurus and sādhus and weed out “wrong number” ones. Who would argue against expunging cheaters from the temples and positions of religious authorities they so clearly don’t deserve?
However noble goal that is, they are going about it the wrong way – on the basis of their own speculations of what “right” religion should be, not on the basis of śāstra or tradition. Driven by the mode of passion they will never achieve satisfactory results, however. In the beginning it feels great but only because they get what they want, not because what they want works.
BBC just gifted us this little gem of Indian feminism gone unhinged – they are demanding entrance to the temples that are traditionally closed to women. I don’t know the exact reasons why it is so, there must be more than cited in the article, but even a simple “This deity is a brahmacārī and He does not associate with women” should be enough to put restriction on what female worshipers can and cannot do in that temple. Some demanding the right to touch the deity, for example. Just look at their arguments:
“Ms Desai – who describes herself as a “practising, believing Hindu” – says it is her “constitutional right” to enter any temple and blames patriarchy for keeping women out.
“These are man-made traditions. God does not differentiate between man and woman. He was born of a woman too,” she says.”
Seriously? Constitutional right to enter any temple? What about that particular deity’s right not to allow women inside? Does the constitution cover that right, too? At least it’s put in quotation marks so this Ms Desai might no be really serious about constitution.
The rant about man-made traditions is incomprehensible, too. How does she know and why does she think that her current demand is what God wanted all along and not her man-made concoction. Oh, wait, maybe she means man-made as opposite to woman-made. In any case, whatever she wants is right and whoever stands in her way is wrong.
They want to worship God, okay, but they do not believe God had communicated the way He should be worshiped or that He controls His servants, or that He has His representatives, or that it’s God who ultimately enforces His rules. It’s atheism pure and simple, never mind that they want to practice it while going to the temples.
Sadly, we are losing an important ally in trying to either build varṇāśrama or preserve whatever is left of it. It looks like if anything will ever get better in this regard it will get a lot worse first.