Social Justice for Women

P.R. Sarkar
In the sphere of society building we come across different sections of people moving in different ways. Looking at the whole social structure, these diversities carry a special significance. Had there been no diversities, human society would not have even arrived at the Stone Age, let alone the present civilization. We will have to recognize, we will have to consider with equanimity, every idea, form and colour of diversity which facilitates the process of people’s inner growth. If we fail to do so, the part of society that has been nurtured with that particular idea, form or colour shall wither away for good. I don’t say this only for those who think deeply about the welfare of society, but for every member of society, so that no one may ever give indulgence to injustice through thought, word or deed.

If ever any physical, mental, social, moral or spiritual weakness is discernible in any particular act or sphere of life, it is incumbent on the rest of the members of society to exterminate that weakness with all the sweetness of their hearts. Due to lack of true humanism or spiritual outlook however, people do just the reverse of what they should do. The moment opportunists discover any weakness in anybody, they trespass into that vulnerable crevice of weakness and try to devour the whole harvest — that person’s life savings. They take it to be their own weakness to reflect over the woes and wailings of the weak.

As in most other living beings, in human society too, females are physically weaker than males. Because of the weakness of their nerves, their minds, too, are weak to some extent. Nevertheless, in society their value is not an iota less than that of men. Selfish men, however, without caring for this value, have taken advantage and are taking advantage of women’s weakness to the fullest extent. Although they publicly declare women to be a community of mothers, actually they have relegated them to the status of domesticated cattle and sheep.

The rights of women

In every sphere of their lives men have either substantially curtailed women’s rights or kept women wholly subservient to their own whims and caprices. At the dawn of creation such an attitude never existed among primitive people. Man’s diplomatic proclivity to spread his paramountcy by keeping women in bondage in the guise of social purity had never found its way into the brains of ancient men. That is why even today we don’t find any substantial lack of magnanimity among primitive races in respect of women’s freedom.

By nature human beings are not profligate; rather the majority of them are indeed peace loving. In fact all have a sort of predisposition to personal purity, and this very individual disposition keeps the collective mind pure. In spite of women’s freedom in those days, of the amount of social purity that we find in the so-called backward races, not even a hundredth part exists in the so-called progressive ones. The forcible curbing of freedom produces a hostile reaction in the human mind, and as a consequence purity takes a short cut to the devil. This is one of the causes of the lack of purity in the so-called developed societies of today. Society will not reap any real good from the endeavours to camouflage this impurity behind elegant phrases or religious exhibitionism. Those who want to keep women subservient to men in this life by holding out a bait of affected sympathy and the false prospect of heavenly bliss in the following life, fail to understand that although such fake sympathy and the lure of heavenly prospects may be conducive to making women inert and servile to men, actually no real good will come to human society. If half the society is steeped in inertia due to superstition, the other half will undoubtedly find the journey tough going with this heavy load of inertia. In individual life purity is equally necessary for both men and women, and to justify that necessity real spiritual vision is indispensable. This necessity is impossible [to attain] so long as injustice to either of the two sexes exists.

It is necessary for every human being to understand that to construct anything or keep anything alive, a close coordinated cooperation among the different parts is essential. Human beings are not inert, so it is not that each and every cooperative structure of society exists on cooperation alone. There is also some speciality in that sort of cooperation. The speciality is that this cooperation should be built in a warm cordial environment of free human beings, and not on a master and servant relationship. That should be coordinated cooperation and not a subordinated one.

Let us see what sort of treatment has been meted out to women so far. It is very true that for lack of competence in certain spheres women have gradually forfeited their rights or freedom, and for this reason, those who think that some special abilities are the only criteria of attaining rights really want to see women in the role of wageless slaves under the strong supervision of men. But is it completely due to their lack of ability that women have lost their rights Haven’t the overflowing emotions of their hearts also been partly responsible Haven’t they gradually surrendered their all — even their fascination for high social status — to their husbands, sons and brothers, attaching no importance to their own petty self-interests Is it not reasonable for the society of men and women, and not of animals, to pay its proper respect to this large-heartedness with all humility In the event of the accidental arrival of a guest at home, whose share of the meal is dished out Who deprives oneself first, when a dainty dish is prepared Who goes to keep another’s house, giving up their paternal property rights (regardless of what the law says) Are not these observations true of the majority of women in the world I don’t say that men are ordinary human beings and that women are divine. Human as a woman is, I have only mentioned the good qualities of her heart.

Does the husband tend and nurse his wife during her illness as much as she does during his? Taking advantage of women’s affectionate heart, if men want to stop the re-marriage of a helpless widow and convince her that she will be reunited with her late husband after her death, then how can her re-marriage be possible? Chi, chi, chi! How shameful this is! These words may perhaps make sentimental women more sentimental. The prospect of getting reunited with the spirit of her deceased husband after her death perhaps induces her to take to lifelong penance, and fast on every eka’dashii, [the eleventh day of the lunar fortnight]. But are not those who force women to be subservient to their fantastic ideas guilty of unscrupulousness.

The very idea of heaven and hell is sheer bunkum anyway, and is in fact hatched in the brains of the authors of mythologies. Such people don’t have the capacity to implant a peg in the solid ground of logic. Yet in order to humour the ignorant, if I accept the existence of such things as heaven and hell, I would ask, if the spirit of a wicked husband goes to hell and grazes about the field as a bull, would his virtuous wife also go to hell and, becoming a cow, start grazing beside him.

Let us move on. What I mean to say is that those who take advantage of people’s simplicity or ignorance are veritable demons in the form of humans, and those who deceive people by taking advantage of their emotions, inspired by the ideal of sacrifice, are even worse than demons.

Freedom is restored through struggle. No one just offers it on a platter, for freedom is no gift; it is one’s birthright. But the rights that women have lost today, at least so it seems in most of the countries of the world when put to socio-psychoanalysis, shows, I am constrained to say, that women have not really lost their freedom, rather they have delegated their own destiny into the hands of men as a sacred trust and on good faith. This is the plain truth. I cannot but laugh when I see a pedantic, high-browed lady, with a proud uplift of her nose, entrusting her children to the charge of a maid-servant, going about in her husband-earned motorcar, attending meetings and making lengthy speeches on women’s liberation. Candidly, when there is no question of women’s rights having been snatched away, it hardly calls for an agitation reminiscent of the trade union movement.

Whatever responsibility there be on this account, it is entirely men’s own. If any agitation is called for at all, the initiative must come from the men themselves. Today, having realized the necessity of women, it is now the responsibility of men to gradually restore rights to women, which one day women surrendered to men in a weak moment of helplessness or in response to their heartfelt sentiments.

It must always be remembered that liberty and license are not the same thing. Freedom of women is good, but that does not mean that license in the name of freedom should be given indulgence to. License, be it on the part of men or women, can break the social structure in a short time. Hence, those who talk a bit more volubly about women’s liberation should carefully ponder the possible forms of this proposed liberation.

One should not be even a little sentimental while recognizing a simple truth. Nothing except rational judgement backed by humanitarian considerations shall be acceptable. Women should have as much unbarred liberty to enjoy the light, air, earth and water like children of nature as men have. In fact, it is not a case of granting rights to women, it is a case of recognizing their rights. But while recognizing women’s rights, if sentimentalism be given any indulgence to, it may end in a great social disaster.

The law of inheritance

Take, for example, the right of inheritance. There are diverse views on the matter among different social groups in the world. Some are in favour of women’s right of inheritance, depriving men. Some favour equitable distribution between men and women, while still others support men’s total rights of inheritance with a minimal share for women, which would comprise a few trinkets and crumbs, offered out the men’s offals. Behind all of these systems it is glaringly evident that there is the evil attempt to preserve male supremacy rather than demonstrate rational judgement and humanitarian considerations.

In fact, the fundamental principle that is needed for arriving at some definite conclusion in the matter is that we shall not deprive anyone. We shall give equal opportunities to both men and women in respect to the rights of inheritance. At the same time, we shall enact laws in such a manner that will help in the administration and preservation of properties in an orderly fashion, and lessen the possibility of the breach of domestic peace.

In most of the countries of the world, human families are based on the patrilineal order. The patrilineal system has more advantages than the matrilineal one. There are two main advantages of this patrilineal system. First, the determination of the father’s identity is not as easy as that of the mother’s and in the absence of any direct blood relationship, the mother’s affection for a child is generally greater than that of the father’s.

In the circumstances, the patrilineal system is much better, for it awakens a proper sense of responsibility in the father for his children, and it precludes the possibility of the child’s identity remaining unknown or concealed. Under pressure of circumstances, (among creatures inferior to human beings, fathers never bother about their offspring because of the absence of this sort of circumstantial compulsion), the father, being compelled to take the responsibility of bringing up his child, becomes careful to properly preserve the domestic framework.

The second advantage of the patrilineal order is complementary to the first. Because the relationship between the father and the child is not unknown, the mother does not feel entirely helpless in rearing the child, as is her natural tendency. The physical and mental structure of a woman is such that in spite of her having the requisite ability in the fullest measure for the upbringing of her child, it is extremely inconvenient and difficult for her to give her child all-round grooming and make adequate provision for food, clothes, education and medical care all by herself, and yet she must keep her child with or about her, or else it becomes difficult for the child to survive. Hence in this respect, if men, instead of women, take over the main responsibility of food and clothes, and where possible or in cases of necessity, if women, after duly attending to the needs of the child, earn money in exchange for their labour whether at home or outside, neither the child nor society is put to any inconvenience.

I cannot support the “lofty wisdom” of those people who advise women to spend their lives at home cooking with appliances such as ladles, tongs and pots, because this runs counter to reality. The pressure of necessity often compels those confined to the home to transgress such a standard of “morality”. Such a system may suit a handful of rich or upper-class women but it is worthless in the lives of the poor or day labourers. The class of people who indulge in tall talks about women’s liberation and equal rights actually keep women behind the purdah or burka. Here, too, I notice that poor housewives go out with their husbands to the market either for buying or selling, or to the fields or farmyards or coal mines, picking up light work for themselves. Evidently they cannot afford to play Madame Prude Debonair behind a lace curtain.

But while giving equal rights to women in all spheres of life, there are people who want them to be engaged in heavy phsyical and mental labour not suitable for women. Such a mental outlook is highly deplorable indeed. It must be admitted that physically and neurally, the strength of women is less than that of men, and so the spheres of work cannot be identical for both. Apart from this, diathetically women cannot work every day of the month. During pregnancy and post-delivery periods, the scope of their working ability becomes very restricted — these points must not be lost sight of.

Due to ideological extravagance, there are many who think that merely making a few women ministers or members of parliament will serve as glaring examples of equal rights and women’s progress. But is it a correct outlook Will it not be detrimental to the whole society, if, by acknowledging a right or by going all out for the acceleration of progress as a matter of principle, we disregard the competent and overlook their claims The recognition of rights is a legal as well as a collective psychological phenomenon. To expedite progress an expeditious educational system is the only way. A woman of any country who becomes a minister or an ambassador is not an index of the real status of women in that country. To elevate women’s dignity in society is not so easy or so cheap.

By logical reasoning, when we know that the patrilineal system is better than the matrilineal one, the law of inheritance should be framed accordingly. Of course, at the time of framing the law of inheritance, special care and precautions must be taken so that in the name of the patrilineal system nothing should be framed that will compel any woman to become a slave for her own existence in her brothers’ or brothers’-in-law house. In other words, after having recognized the women’s rights of occupation and lifelong enjoyment of income and properties on the basis of equality, the law of inheritance should be based on a patrilineal system.

The dowry system

Many people regard the existing dowry system, prevalent in some countries of the world today, as something created out of lack of judgement or liberalism towards women’s society. But actually this is not so. The question of justice or injustice to women in relation to the dowry system does not arise.

This particular problem is primarily economic. There are, however, a few more subordinate causes as well. Where women do not earn money they go to their husband after marriage only as an economic liability, and that is why at the time of marriage the groom’s guardians realize a substantial amount from the bride’s guardians for her maintenance for the rest of her life. This is the real picture of the dowry system. Similarly, in a society where men do not earn money, the bride’s guardians realize a substantial dowry from the bridegroom’s guardians. Of course, there is yet another subordinate cause, and that is the disparity in the number of men and women in any particular community or country. So the complete picture is that the bride’s party gives a dowry only when in a particular society the woman’s subsistence is dependent on the income of her husband, or where the men are less in number than the women. If in a particular society mainly women are earning money or the number of women is less than that of men, then the situation is reversed.

Those who think that the dowry system will be a thing of the past with the recognition of women’s equal rights to paternal property are mistaken. For it is noticed that in societies where daughters are heirs to paternal property, there too the dowry system has gradually come into prominence due to economic and other reasons. Generally, few daughters get covetable properties from their parents nowadays. So it is an idle dream to expect that the groom’s party will let go their claim of dowry in the hope of getting those properties. A few daughters, belonging to some rich or upper-middle class families, who are heirs to really covetable properties, do not have any cause for worry, dowry or no dowry. By force of money, even the ugliest daughter of a rich person easily gets her consort.

Social interaction

There are divergent views among lawmakers about free mixing of men and women. It does not require the harnessing of any elaborate logic or reasoning to convince people that the result of free mixing in society, without self-control, is bad. But it is also true that the absence of inter-mixing creates, just as other wants and cravings do, a suppressed hunger — a particular yearning or curiosity. In other words, attempts are made for illicit mixing which ultimately do not remain at the level of purity. The kind of system which permits no mixing at all amounts to an attempt to smother the mind. In such circumstances men are harmed only morally, but the loss to women is more tremendous. As a result, they may be compelled to lead a life of shame as social outcasts. Hence, along with the recognition of the freedom of the two sexes, a well-judged code of self-control will also have to be associated with their mutual mixing.

Those who want to keep their daughters away from the “infection of modernity”, and so are reluctant to send them to schools and colleges, perhaps do not realize that modernism had already entered into the privacy of their households quite a long time ago without their knowledge. So their efforts to save their daughters as well as themselves by hanging window curtains or by covering their daughters with veils are entirely farcical.

The trend of the age is irrepressible, for in this too there is dynamism. It is the duty of the wise to channelize it to the path of benevolence by applying their own wisdom to the task. To thwart the spirit of the age is beyond the power of any individual or any collective force. That dynamic spirit of the age — that Zeitgeist — speeds ahead unabated with all force, throwing down anyone who tries to stand and thwart it, and that floored, sprawling creature with imbecilic and glum eyes keeps staring vacantly at progress.

From “Social Justice”, Human Society Part 1

Copyright Ananda Marga Publications 2011

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