In 1986, Shrii Sarkar revealed a new mission for humanity – economic democracy. He noted that in no country does there exist an economic democracy. At certain times in history, economic democracy may have existed for a brief period without any conscious awareness and without any clear principles. Later in1989, Shrii Sarkar also gave the mission to create as part of the AM Gurukula (university) a department for the socio-economic liberation of women. The local region is an area of endemic poverty and women of course bear the major load. The mission of this department was to make all the local women in the surrounding areas and districts (of West Bengal and Jharkhand) economically independent as well as economically, legally, culturally and spiritually liberated. Sadly no progress has been made until the present day, to create this visionary academic institution.
Defective Approaches to Exploitation
Shrii Sarkar notes that traditionally there have been two defective reactions to abuse and exploitation. The first reaction is what he refers to as the Gandhian approach of making humanistic appeals and avoiding confrontation at all costs. If we relate this to family interactions, it means the wives idealistically believe that the exploiting husband can be changed for the better by appealing to the good in him, ignoring how she is being exploited. This approach does not hold much value for those with crude minds. Just as the Gandhian movement in India died with the rise of World War II, so also such non-violent approaches and attempts by the wife to attract his pity or plead for justice inevitably die away as the abuse increases. Often this is not because the husband is simply sadistic but because he is unable to comprehend what the wife is trying to do by appealing to his higher sentiments.
In A. Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, there is a story of an unusually idealistic prisoner in a Russian prison who said that he was going on a hunger strike in order to protest the way in which the prisoners were being treated. This was the first time such an unheard of event had ever happened in these Russian prisons. The Jailor called him and asked him why he was trying to kill himself. The prisoner replied that justice and freedom were more important than his life. One week later, the man was transferred to a psychiatric institute. On his way out of the prison, he met the Jailor again. This time the Jailor told him that he was being transferred because the Jailor suspected that he was in fact a schizophrenic.
This is one example to show how incomprehensivle an idealistic, well-meaning wife can be to an exploitative or abusive husband. Shrii Sarkar expands on this in the following quote which should be read by all such wives who are religiously devoted to supporting their husband’s exploitation and abuse,
“To willingly subject oneself to humiliation without protest, to tolerate injustice and accept all the agonies of exploitation as divine providence without resistance, is not the mark of a good person. The characteristic of good people is to fight against injustice, to firmly adhere to truth and righteousness, to protect the helpless and fight against all evil persons. Those who are merely simple and are of a meek and goody-goody nature are not good people.” (Shravanii Purnima)
The second defective approach is that of sabotage, sarcasm, theft and violence such as in the case of traditional Robin Hoods or in the case of communism. Both of these approaches are innately inhuman because the violence stemming from vengeance is the most destructive force in human society. The great German poet Schiller wrote the play “Die Raubers” which showed how a man started out as an idealistic Robin Hood against oppression but then gradually became corrupted by his own violence and killed the woman he loved.
Similarly, in the home, so many wives become violent and abusive to their children, daughter-in-laws so as to cope with the trauma of the abuse meted out to them in their married lives. So often, one can see good women who end up devoting themselves to sacrcasm, petty cruelty and other baneful forms of expressing their resentment. Often this leads to the poisoning of the entire family life as they become addicted to emotional and verbal vindictiveness as a way of life. What this creates is a society in which the only real emotion is in the sadistic thrill of crushing another person psychologically. In general movies and popular culture are essentially a celebration of violence which is even seen in endless film scenes of car crashes, explosions and catastrophes. There are conservatives who talk of ridding our society of these violent tendencies but it is impossible because this violence becomes rooted in family life. Hence the battle against violence in our society must begin within the family, in the battle against the day-to-day, minute-to-minute forms of disrespect, humiliation, ridicule, sarcasm, slander and shouting. This is a struggle to live out ahimsa because as Shrii Sarkar says in discussing social justice,
“Violence does not solve any problem, because whatever poisonous tendencies of the individual and collective minds may be destroyed by violence, the seeds of those tendencies remain embedded in the mind itself. When the pressure of circumstances is relaxed they may again sprout forth, creating even greater evil.”
Ultimately what is needed is to create a foundation for the status of the wife in the family. This means firstly an economic foundation and then a spiritual foundation. Let us look at Shrii Sarkar’s categories of micro-level economic systems. The first and worst category is the commune system. In this system, all individual enterprise and control over the economy is brutally smashed by a handful of men who control the economy in the name of an ideology or religion. In religious societies, one sees women leading lives of economic slavery and abuse. It does not matter which religion is involved. The reason so much abuse and slavery is implemented is because the women slaves are told that everything being done to them is as the commandments of the ideology or religion, which thus justifies the endless sacrifice and the abuse. Two hundred years ago in most parts of the world, women were worked like slaves and beaten up at will by their husbands, and often abandoned when no longer wanted. The progress in women’s rights has only increased the violence. Shrii Sarkar explains the reasons why in the discourse “Sati and Widowhood,” as follows:
“Today the clattering chariot wheels are turning. That din is making the hearts of the opportunists quake. This is the decree of Fate. The pace of change is fast accelerating. Women in many communities of the world still do the household chores, but the men are earning the money. That is why the men are in an advantageous position. The women are still subservient to the men and the men want to keep them in that state of servitude. But when the situation changes, this cheap slave labour will escape from men’s control.”
The next system is the share-cropping system, where the wife has limited economic freedom in the form of an allowance but she still slaves away from morning until night and the profits remain with the husband. It is remarkable that those men who suffered from the share-cropping system, be it in India today or in America today in farms staffed with illegal Mexican immigrants, treat their wives usually as they themselves were treated – as slaves. There are many husbands today who extract hundreds of hours of labour from their wives – doing the household work, working for them as private secretaries – and the husbands given them nothing, perhaps a mere pittance in return. This is exploitation pure and simple just like in any sweatshop.
The next economic system, Shrii Sarkar talks about is private enterprise. This involves similar exploitation, but combined with this is very subtle brainwashing and propaganda to convince the wife that she is happy and better off being a slave. Basically the husband manages the wife or keeps her engaged in work by a system of cheap rewards, insincere flattery and veiled threats when there is resistance. Even regular outright abuse is made acceptable to the women by expressions of regret, drowning the wife in the husband’s self-pity and of course romantic attention. The end result is that, as surveys show, even when the woman is earning more than the man, she still does 70% of the housework.
The final economic system is the cooperative system. According to Shrii Sarkar, this is the ideal system, because in this system the economy flourishes. Every member of the joint-family or cooperative is encouraged to develop themselves morally and skillfully to become an equal owner/manager to express themselves on an equal footing. This allows creativity, enthusiasm and efficiency due to close camaraderie resulting from egalitarian relationships. Shrii Sarkar also proposes that such a cooperative system must be based on spiritual meditation (yoga) in order to become free from enslavement to personal limitations and handicaps, propensities and prejudices. The expanded consciousness arising from regular meditation will enable human beings to overcome any latent abusive and exploitative tendencies. The result will be the end of domestic abuse and exploitation. Shrii Sarkar clearly states,
“In every field of collective life there should be cooperation among the members of society. Where this cooperation is between free human beings, each with equal rights and mutual respect for each other, and each working for the welfare of the other, it is called “coordinated cooperation”. Where people do something individually or collectively, but keep themselves under other people’s supervision, then it is called “subordinated cooperation”. In each and every stratum of life, we should do everything with coordinated cooperation and always avoid subordinated cooperation.”
This statement, if applied to husband and wife relationships, bodes well for a loving and peaceful family life.
What is proposed here is to apply Shrii Sarkar’s concepts of economic democracy to the micro-level of the domestic household. The first requirement for economic democracy is that the minimum requirements at any given point in time must be guaranteed to all members of the family. Often one sees the husband buying frivolous items and the children being indulged, while the wife does not have respectable clothes. Similarly is the case for education where in western Bengal and the neighbouring states of Bihar and Jharkhand the literacy rate is half that of males and no importance is given to the education of wives.
What is required for every human being is food, shelter, clothing, education and medical care. So, for example, to deny the wife medical treatment in her old age due to her self-sacrificing nature is heinous on the part of the husband. It is shameful. Economic democracy, if applied to the household, would make it 100% immoral in the eyes of society, and such a husband would become a social outcaste for such conduct. As Shrii Sarkar says in a discourse on “Social Justice”,
“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.”
The second requirement for economic democracy is that increasing purchasing capacity (along with inflation) must be guaranteed to each individual. In other words, just as the husband is free to spend more when the family economy is thriving, the wife and children have equal right to take part in any such windfall. Furthermore, the wife has the right to become economically independent and involved in the economic life of her community, just as much as she has the right to be involved in the spiritual and social life of her community. This means she should control her income as well as choose when and where she wants to work. While some men prevent their wives from working, others utilize their wives and children to serve as bonded labourers for a local exploiters. In general, the wife must have the right to be involved in local cooperatives and other grassroots organizations, to get scope to develop herself and the community. No husband should thwart his wife’s participation in the community due to his jealousy, insecurity or any other reason.
The third requirement for economic democracy is that the power to make all economic decisions must be placed in the hands of the family members. It must be a joint decision instead of a unilateral one. Just as, on a global scale, countries make multilateral agreements to reach peace, similar is what must prevail in the family realm. This means in, in Shrii Sarkar’s own words, “Economic liberation is the birthright of every individual.” Thus the wife would be expected by society to take full part in the economic life of the family as well as the community. It should not be merely up to the whims of the husband. A culture of rational discussion, allowing the wife and even older children to express their views to arrive at a consensus is part of a healthy family based on coordinated cooperation and not subordinated cooperation.
The fourth requirement for economic democracy is that outsiders must be strictly prevented from interfering in the family economy. Often it happens, not just in regard to economics but with other issues also related to family life, that in-laws become tyrants over the wife. In India, every 90 minutes, a woman is set on fire by her in-laws over dowry deaths. Dowry is against the economic dignity of a woman who cannot be made to give dowry simply because she is a woman. It is not enough to simply take strong action after the deaths. What is required is to create a new vision of what marriage is and what a family and joint-family is. This involves not just a vision of freedom for family members but also dedication to the physical, psychological and spiritual welfare of the other family members based on the spiritual vision of them as divine beings. It also requires the spirit of marriage as a mission in which husband and wife and entire joint-family are embarking on a collective mission for social, cultural, spiritual service and liberation of every member of human society.
Nevertheless, it must be the rule that the best system in all spheres of life is the cooperative economic system. This applies not merely to the community but to the family as well.
Reclaiming Our Dignity
“Humanity, standing as it does at the top of the evolutionary ladder, may sometimes feel proud and in a weak moment commit an act of meanness. Yet one should always remain vigilant against this. The evolutionary forces have not stopped. The theatre of action has shifted to the psychic level. Evolution is now expressing its power in the daily struggle of men and women everywhere to attain dignity.”
The above quotation of Shrii Sarkar shows us that the struggle for dignity is the task of the modern era. As the postmodern era has come to an end, this struggle is once again coming to the fore of the collective psychology. This is because violence on this planet and against women in particular has reached unprecedented levels and we all feel that we cannot live like this anymore, don’t we?
Currently we hear visions of women’s dignity based on legal definitions and quoted by politicians who only increase the suffering of suffering women. Such legal definitions do not create ideals that move people’s hearts. More importantly, legal definitions do not provide spiritual sustenance that is the life-force of so many women who endure suffering. Traditional religions and their scriptures all provide negative images of women and women’s role in human society. Some try to make these religions progressive but ultimately it is all a form of self-delusion.
Shrii Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar has created a new paradigm, a new sentimental ideal for human dignity and explains why in fact women are the most dignified section of humanity.
When it comes to abused women, dignity starts with resisting degradation by refraining from pettiness, vengeance, cynicism, amorality or general moral corruption. This is an enormous task for someone who is facing regular verbal abuse, economic exploitation and occasional physical abuse. It is a continual battle to lift one’s emotions to a higher level so that once can provide genuine love and caring to family members.
In addition, both women and men face the degradation meted out by struggling for survival in a consumer capitalist society. Women are taught to value themselves solely based on the material possessions and personal beauty. Through films, pornography and video games, men are infused with the psychology of rapists and killers. This is why men are often hollow internally and have not developed a rich emotional life after growing up in such cultures. Such men often become exploitative and abusive.
Women facing abuse are likewise often internally hollow due to rampant materialistic greed and therefore never develop a deeper sense of identity. Too often, religions, instead of providing spiritual sustenance merely re-enforce patriarchal subjugation with priests exhorting the suffering woman to adjust, adapt and server her man better.
Paradoxically, the very fact that women are the most subjugated section of human society renders them the most ripe for revolution. It is because they have to fight for their fundamental rights in every sphere, at every moment, every day and even in the night, that women develop enormous reservoirs of power that can be harnessed for revolution – not just in the home or in the realm of liberating women but revolution in every sphere of life – political, economic, cultural and spiritual. Shrii Sarkar explains the reason for this by noting that in actuality, revolution always is centred around sentiments and that the foremost quality of revolutionaries is the capacity to arouse and channelize the sentimental legacy of the people towards universal justice and love. And Shrii Sarkar explains why women have more sentimental power (and hence more power of bhakti or mystical love) saying:
“The word kaeshik means an external expression of anger, shame, hatred, compassion, love, affection, attraction, repulsion, etc., to an extreme degree. People cry out in their extreme joy; they cannot contain their happiness within the narrow confines of their nerves…People cannot suppress their overflowing emotions of love, affection, compassion, etc., nor keep them under control; they must give vent to their feelings. Later they may regret what they said; they will feel that it was not right to express their innermost feelings. This expression of sentimentality varies from creature to creature, from human to human, from one class to another, and from one sentimental group to another. The general term for this expression of sentimentality is kaeshik. Under the spell of kaeshik, one may commit suicide. People climb the highest mountain summits, sail into the blue void and touch the inaccessible poles, goaded by this kaeshik propensity…
The kaeshik propensity is more manifest in women than in men. There is a greater degree of sentimentality in women. Consequently, women can perform extraordinary feats that men cannot. Had these potentialities been harnessed for constructive activities, there would have been many benefits for the world, but as this aspect of women’s psychology is not known, society could not utilize their potential fully.”
The essential root of a revolutionary lies in the spiritual real; in other word a woman’s revolutionary fervor begins in the human spirit. It is because women who have survived and triumphed over humiliation, exploitation and abuse are forced to undergo a revolution of their spirit, they often have the capacity to create a revolution in their society as well. Several women mystics created partial revolutions in their society despite living during the era of absolute dominance of religious patriarchy in the Middle Ages. Shrii Sarkar captures the spirit of such mystic revolutionaries and calls out to them saying,
“With cosmic ideation set out from the starting point of moralism and advance towards supreme realization. Your feet may bleed, cut by the thorns scattered on the road, the sky, rent asunder by the lightning and crashing thunder of the fearful storm, may fall on your head, but proceed you must. You are a born fighter. To flee the battle in fear and hide like a corpse in the hills is ultravirous to your existential vitality. You must advance towards the Supreme Entity, your original abode, smashing all obstacles on the path. From time immemorial you have been listening to the sweetness of His divine call. Can you remain oblivious to it, engrossed in your little world created by Máyá (Illusion)?” (Microcosm and Macrocosm)
Explaining Neohumanist Education, Shrii Sarkar advocates that it is women who should be the primary educators of children (especially small children). This stance is grounded in the firm conviction of Shrii Sarkar that women are more spiritually and devotionally inclined than men. Why is it the case that women are more devotional? Devotion starts as sentiment or emotion, for it is with emotional force that we take all our existence away from internal and external objects (ideas, complexes, attachments) and run towards the Supreme Beloved in the very core of our being. Since women are usually more emotionally mature, articulate, powerful and evolved than men, they are naturally more capable of devotion or mystical love and hence tend to become more sanctified than men. Shrii Sarkar stated that if women can shatter their mental bondages and convert their emotional power into devotional power, they can achieve tremendous spiritual service in the society beyond the capacity of men.
This vision of women as empowered by their emotions, sentiments and mystical love is not found either in traditional religion or in traditional intellectual feminism.
Traditionally, feminists try to follow the male path of intellectual analysis. However, this is fighting with your knock-out hand tied behind your back. It is time for women to assert their emotional and devotional logic and dynamism in both academic and social discourse. This involves women liberating themselves from the materialism of male capitalist society.
This purity gives one the power to run towards the true Beloved within one’s very Self. The greater the intensity with which one runs after the Beloved, the greater becomes one’s sanctity and devotion. Since women naturally tend to be more extreme in demonstrating their love, for this very reason, women become sanctified more easily than men.
It is the joyous imperative of all women to awaken each other to the irrepressible beauty of devotion or mystical love. Through their indomitable collective love, men will be awakened and learn to develop unselfish love. It is women who will provide the impetus for a multidimensional nuclear-revolution.
For Shrii Sarkar, however, attaining sanctity is not enough. A sanctified person attains dignity only to the degree with which they perform selfless service. Traditionally, women are encouraged to perform selfless service in a subjugated manner. Even modern feminism encourages women to serve by subjugating their emotions to adjust with a male-dominated social culture. Shrii Sarkar states that women are often capable of greater sacrifice and nurturing of those whom they care for. When one becomes a sanctified being, one realizes the presence of the Supreme Beloved in everything and everyone. Male spiritualists are often satisfied with the bliss of this realization just as in the home some men often remain satisfied with feeling love for the family without any urge to express it. Generally, sanctified women fell a greater and more intense urge to lovingly serve the Lord as manifested in all of humanity. Hence Shrii Sarkar has enjoined,
“You, as the most dignified section of human society, do something for the universal human beings!”
We need to communicate and fully imbibe this vision of women’s dignified status throughout the world. Most importantly, we need to bring this vision to women facing psychological and economic exploitation by men. Thought they are mightily damaged and crushed by endless denigration, though they are riddle with injected guilt for nameless and non-existent crimes, we need to gently pick them up, catch their hands and bring them along the path of revolutionary love.
We need to make these dear, dear women understand that their present love is servile love, and explain to them that they deserve the deepest form of reverential love from their husbands and children, since by their nature they are the most dignified beings in society. We need to make them understand that they have a mission in life and it is not to be a physical commodity or emotional slave to the dictatorial insecurities of a single man. Rather they are to realise their responsibility to utilize their emotional and devotional power to liberate themselves, to liberate the entire humanity and to love all other beings in this universe. In the words of Shrii Sarkar,
“We stand to create a powerful, dynamic and upsurging social consciousness, especially among women, so that they are inspired to rise, abolish dogma and annihilate all symbols of slavery, and usher in a new era of coordinated cooperation and glorious achievement. Let women be the vanguard of a new revolution which humanity must achieve for a glorious tomorrow.” (Women’s Rights)
Excerpted from the author’s book Wife Abuse: Breaking It Down and Breaking Out.