This write-up is a rejoinder to the Criticism of Hindu Feminism as a concept by @OGSaffron. You can read his criticism here Criticism of HF .
Foreword : Before I begin with my assessment of the criticism, I would like to clarify a few things. Firstly, Hindu Feminism is merely a development. It is not a popular movement as of now, and as I have come to know, it has been getting discussed in academic circles, although not frequently. This write up does not shield or speak for any other definitions & intent except for what was formulated by me here Hindu Feminism In Indian Context . Every feminist is India cannot be called a hindu feminist, because many of them (consciously or unconsciously) are anti hinduism even in intent.
What my fellow hindu @OGSaffron has written is a totally theoretical criticism of the term ‘Hindu Feminism’. The write up totally ignores the practical applicability of such a criticism and does not provide any examples, solutions and alternatives to situations on the ground. Lets begin the detailed assessment. The article begins with :
‘Hindu feminism is the discreet belief that Dharma is inadequate, that Hinduism is unable to rectify the qualitative concerns of Hindu women, and men. If Hindu feminists say that Dharma is fully adequate, then they are articulating an inherent contradiction. If Dharma is fully adequate, then there is no need to incorporate an externality to rectify qualitative concerns that may be held by Hindus at large’
This can be explained from various thought processes. The most legitimate is that Dharma is adequate, but evolves. The interpretations of dharma evolve, infact very drastically too (whether for good or bad). This is absolutely clear from the fact that once vedas were written, we kept on moving to various similar and different interpretations like upnishads, smritis, puranas etc. And position of women on various issues kept on swaying like a pendulum, the worst between 500 BC to 1800 AD. There are various kinds of duties in following dharma. Short term, long term, personal dharma, social dharma etc. Now, it is unclear that whether the criticism is primarily of usage of a foreign term ‘feminism’ and combining it with ‘hindu’, or of the overall intent that women should raise voice over ‘qualitative concerns’ at all. Would the criticism be same if I, or likes of me would call it ‘Dharmic Humanism’ with the same intent and content?
Next, the article says :
‘However, incorporating into Dharma an externality whose Dharmic credential has yet to be established, the burden of which rests on Hindu feminists who may say that Dharma is still fully adequate, still signifies the legitimacy of the original premise, that Hindu feminism is the discreet belief that Dharma is inadequate.’
This is pronouncing a verdict already on something that is not yet evolved at all. On incorporating externalities, the mindsets have (knowingly and/or unknowingly) become so hypocritic that many of the so called dharmic hindus use the same concepts of feminism and misogyny to save political women who tilt towards the hindu right, or do not defend them at all.
On incorporating externalities, the biggest example of using ‘externalities by convenience’ is over the top stress on TFR (total Fertility Rate) and blaming women solely for the falling average fertility rate. If we really analyze the essence of our dharma on TFR, it appears to be an abrahamic strategy. Before i proceed further, I would like to clarify that TFR is an important factor for every civilization to survive, but the onus does not lie on women alone. Nor can the ‘quantity’ of people compensate for the ‘quality’ of people. While dhimmified and englicised people beyond a certain degree will convert and get compromised for selfish reasons, the timid dharmics will get genocided.
Most of our gods and best of our warriors are not known for having many children from one woman. Our goddesses are not known for birthing many children either. Vedas do not stress on the strategy to fight adharma by producing more and more children from one woman. Even some of our rishis, on whose names our gotra system began, who have written vedas, did not have more than one or two children. Infact, women like me are unclear of dharmic sanction of social concepts like polygamy, polyandry and hence the concept of sexual loyalty. Now, polygamy was prevalent across all civilizations as far as I know. Since Hinduism (based on dharma and spiritual goals) is much older than so many other religions, can it be said that polygamy is external to islam ? Infact, our education system, our penal code etc have many borrowed externalities. But they seemed to have made more or less a permanent place in our culture. Hence, i have titled this write up ‘Hypocrisy of Conscience’.
Caring for well being of self without harming others, and fighting for justice with pure intent is also personal dharma. Now, whether the literal term ‘ feminism’ is internal or external is a purely theoretical matter, but it is definitely instinctual and human.
Next, the criticism says :
‘In this sense, the development that is Hindu feminism not only compromises the longingly held belief in the sublimity of Dharma but also plants the seeds of unneeded fragmentation, with the latter leading to either the conscious or unconscious and direct or indirect militating against pro-Hindu vital systems. In other words, Hindu feminism is fallacious because it circularly reasons the legitimacy of an inherent contradiction all the while compromising Dharma and exacerbating an already fragmented pro-Hindu support base. It is with this concern in mind—to promote pro-Hindu vital systems through processes that enact and anticipate interactional-stability among concerned Hindus—that this essay positions Hindu feminism as an unnecessary development (i.e., an inconsistency in conscience).’
Fragmentation is anyway a part of hindusim, evident by the number of philosophies hinduism has in its fold. The diversity in fragmentation is already full blown. The question of whether Hindu Feminism is adharmic fragmentation, well, you already have feminism in its full form spreading in India because of whatever reasons. Hindu Feminism is asking women to fight without disowning hinduism and alienating from cultural roots. And the main reason for HF to have happened is that dharma was/is not being followed in hindu society to a great extent. HF is a reaction to ‘hypocrisy in conscience’. For ex – many mens rights activists keep commenting that if fake cases will keep happening, men will stop marrying and instead choose a live-in relationship with much less responsibility. Now, this view is similar to typical feminist view of generalizing on men and avoiding marriage, for that matter, cynically treating all that is culturally rooted. But the hypocrisy in many hindus is such that, such reactionary generalizations are not opposed / criticised by the same people who criticize Hindu feminists like me on a regular basis. Are those generalizations not harmful to the vital pro-hindu systems like family?
The article says :
‘Feminism represents a Marxian framework in that it slightly revises the Marxist view of history of class conflict, replacing it with the clash of genders (Wright, 1993). History, in this sense, is nothing but the clash between men and women. The former have oppressed the latter. Therefore, the feminist view of history as a philosophical view of the Marxist type is simplified to a rigid binary. History outside of this framework is not representative of reality, nor does it represent historical truth.
The writer of the criticism has assumed that there is no difference between western feminism and hindu feminism, as out of 5 authors/intellectuals that he has quoted, 4 are foreigners. It is difficult to assume on my part that these 4 had clear notions and understanding on what ‘Dharma’ is anyway. This might come in handy for a publishing in an intellectual journal but overall, this is inferring that there is no difference between Western and Hindu Feminism as concepts. (Note : All feminists in india are not Hindu feminists by default).
Also, technology is faster today, physical distances between cultures are covered much faster today, FDIs and collaborative business ventures ensure mixing of cultures, exposure to other lifestyles etc. This mixing up cannot be controlled, what can be controlled is staying firmly rooted to your culture in certain form, which will enable you to fight for it till the end. Hence, even in whatever way Hindu Feminism is marxist, if it successfully helps in de-alienating hindu women from basics of hindu culture, its fine. Expecting masses to be expert in nuances of culture is not practical. The whole reason why I did not name hindu feminism as ‘Dharmic Humanism’ or ‘Dharmic Egalitarianism’ is the appeal that the term Hindu Feminism might have among the masses and on feminist platforms. Today, there is hardly any non-political representation by women on english panels in media and NGOs regarding feminist issues, which is explicitly pro-hindusim. All the representation that exists is either political or leftist or simply religion-neutral.
Further, article mentions :
‘Whenever Hindu feminists deterministically march congruently with this emancipatory vanguard that is cultural criticism, they support that same anti-Hindu deconstructionism which has listed Lord Ganesha’s trunk as a limp phallus; Indian Hindu mothers inferior to Western mothers; the character of Draupadi being inspired by Indians encountering Greek women rather than being solely an indigenous ingenuity; Goddess Kali is the mother with a penis; and so on (as these examples are very real “academic insights,” consult Invading the Sacredand “The Myth of an ‘Alternative History’” in Rearming Hinduism as cursory introductions to “academic” discursions often “academically” encouraged). To put this as simply as possible, “I am a Hindu feminist” is but a short, deconstructive distance from “Lord Ganesha’s trunk is a limp phallus.” And that is inconsistency in conscience: the supporting of a system context whose operational rupturing of things longingly held by those who presumably wish to continue experiencing the very things that are systematically sought to no longer be longingly held.’
Well, I dont have many fancy words to refute this. If a leftist is using the term’ Hindu Feminism’, this may be true. But for the likes of me, its a theoretically derived conclusion and a direct attack on integrity. Anyway, judgements do happen very quickly in real life and unfortunately, likes of me cannot empirically prove the intentions.
The article goes :
‘In her attempt to answer the question if feminism has universal relevance, Menon (2000) makes it a point to start off by first stating that “feminist activists working in India today are both troubled and puzzled by their apparent inability to mobilize Hindu women” (p. 77). While obviously unsympathetic toward both the Hindu Right and Indian nationalists, she nevertheless suggests “that feminists working in India find themselves out of touch with ordinary Hindu women because they offer very little in terms of message and meaning that resonates with the lived experience of these women” (Menon, 2000, p. 77). Indeed, feminism is “so particular a product of Western social and intellectual history,” and does not have universal relevance, but “it appears quite alien to Hindu women who live within another, equally elaborated moral order that cherishes self-control, self-refinement, and duty to the family”
I almost agree with the above, of course, if feminism in its all typicality and funded by west for political agendas, was universally applicable in India, I wouldn’t have come up with hindu feminism 🙂
It is totally correct that our culture is rooted in various moralities and duty, the fact that the spiritual pinnacle is the goal of dharmic human life means, living with self control by default. If only the society was living by dharma.
The criticism further :
‘Menon’s suggestion is an inroad into first tackling a common Leftist-feminist assertion that Hindu women are oppressed, by default, for belonging to both Hindu society and Hinduism. While she does not specifically position her suggestion in this manner, it is critical enough in that it acknowledges the myth of the oppressed Hindu woman, and sufficiently counters it. First, Menon (2000) details that “expositions on the Hindu woman as victim continue to appear with remarkable regularity” when she describes the Hindu woman subjected under the feminist gaze (p. 79). But while anti-Hindu criticism that positions the Hindu woman as victim continues in its regularity, do Hindu women, at large, really see themselves as victims of Hinduism?
The answer is no: “Feminist activists fail to appreciate the fact that the large majority of Hindu women do not perceive themselves as victims of systemic gender inequities” (Menon, 2000, p. 80). Furthermore, Hindu women “would readily acknowledge that some women, sometimes, face difficulties in their lives, but such situations, they believe, are ameliorated through the actions of individual women and their family members,” and thus “they do not require any kind of substantial, gender-wide mobilization” (Menon, 2000, p. 80). Hindu women at large not only find no relevance in feminism, and thus no need to subscribe to the development that is Hindu feminism, but they also do not believe the victimhood narrative so regularly circulated: When tackling the question as to why Hindu women tend not to believe that they are victims of a purportedly overarching Hindu patriarchy, Menon (2000) answers that it is because of “the substantial sense of self-worth that Hindu women derive as valued and full-fledged members of their extended families” (p. 80).
Parallel to criticisms commonly directed at feminism in Western societies, feminism is received by “oppressed” Hindu women as a systematic focusing that “attempts to challenge and dismantle family structures,” failing to “recognize and acknowledge the importance of the family,” as viewed by Hindu women who are unresponsive to feminist activism (Menon, 2000, p. 78). Does this apply to Hindu women from different castes? Menon suggests that it does even though she specifies that when she speaks of Hindu women, at least in her case study, she is mostly referring to those of upper-caste backgrounds: While lower-caste Hindu women “are not expected to follow Brahmanical practice…lower castes claim higher ritual status” when incorporating customs largely found among upper-caste communities (Menon, 2000, p. 78). The substantial sense of self-worth that Hindu women experience regardless of their caste affiliation is quite strong: Hindu women at large occupy family roles “as they mature and age,” which “provide them with the deepest sense of who they are as persons” (Menon, 2000, p. 78). Feminists critical of Hindu society, unresponsive Hindu women, and Hinduism, not only do not “recognize and acknowledge the importance of the family in these women’s lives,” but they also choose to ignore the fact that these family roles, which Hindu women at large occupy, are of utmost criticality (Menon, 2000, p. 78).
The feminist liberation meme, so secularly-theologically particular to philosophies of history of the Marxist type, “would puzzle most Hindus, men and women,” and “they would see it as narcissistic, in some ways deeply immoral, and ultimately futile, because they believe that the experiencing self does not exist apart from its connections with others,” or rather other Hindu men and women (Menon, 2000, p. 79). Yet self-described and self-identified Hindu feminists, as discussed earlier, are largely unable to entertain the fact that what they endearingly support is not only a Marxian meme of usurpation, and detached from socio-epistemological facets so pertinent in the lives of Hindu women at large, but an externality that bears almost zero criticality to these Hindu women. In other words, Hindu feminism is both unnecessary and characterizes the interactional-instability of the taxonomy that can be defined as concerned Hindus.
First of all, this is mainly for pro-west feminism that is not concerned with issues of women as such, but is primarily critical of hindu society. Secondly, yes – hindu women dont really need any mass mobilization, they simply need empathy and genuine value of their natural role. Only in the absence of these, the traumatized women need HF. Thirdly, this case study is now 16 years old and unfortunately, the popularity of feminism in Indian women today is a cause of concern. Fourth, I would check on sample size and attributes of sample size i.e. education, annual income, region and caste etc of this case study.
Moving on to this funnily selfish phrase ‘The myth of the oppressed hindu woman’, I wonder what our hindu icon lord ram would think on hearing this, who promised sita on her fear of polygamy, that no matter what happens, he shall not marry another woman. What jyotiba phule and his wife would think who spent all their lives uplifting women from oppression by educating them. What maharishi dayanand saraswati would think who advocated equality to women in learning vedas, remarriage of widows, condemned sati etc.
The truth is that there is a clear history of marginalization of women, even in India. I dont find too many books written on hindu women in our history, but I must recommend this book by Prof Altekar, who along with being a devout hindu, was head of Ancient Indian History and Culture dept in Benaras Hindu University. The name of the book is ‘Position of Women in Hindu Civilization’. He has applauded and greatly appreciated the fact that women were best off in vedic times, even if not considered perfectly equal (as in their role).
Coming on to the ‘qualitative’ and ‘subjective’ concerns of hindu women that exist today, the article suggests they are ‘unnecessary’. If we compare to 500 years back, they seem unnecessary, but the world has moved on. Men are busy in upgrading themselves technologically, they have not remained the same, they neither possess as much self control, nor value morality like earlier. Men are not willing to be judged by same/ similar standards in their natural roles as being set for women. For dharma to retain its value in real life, both men and women have to follow it simultaneously. While times and situations have changed drastically, we are expecting women to stay static in time. A corrupt timid society cannot burden its women with all the responsibility to compensate for civilizational losses. The biggest example is again of TFR, a civilization lead by men could not display unity, could not protect its women as much, converted in huge numbers instead of getting killed or taking revenge even after conversions, could not hold on to power etc. Mewat in Haryana is a perfect example of this. After failing at so many levels, it asks its women to produce like muslim women to compete. How is this even practically possible? Add to it the ongoing political corruption, a failed education system and rampant illegal migration from Bangladesh. How much can really be compensated? It is clear that high TFR is associated with low education levels, add polygamy where a man is able to produce many children from various women inspite of a low base population. What next? Stop hindu women from getting educated and introduce polygamy? Sorry, but that wouldn’t be possible without fear or power! For it to happen at comparable level, we need to introduce something like blasphemy and apostasy in Hinduism. Or we need to have a covert offensive strategy like Christianity. Not possible? Simply shut down illegal migrations and send migrants back, kill fanatics, ban conversions and foreign funding to NGOs, correct education system. Can we do it? if we can, lets simultaneously talk about TFR then. The truth is, many urban men are as or even more reluctant to have a second child, even in happy settled families. And I am not blaming the men alone, there are many women who have learnt to misuse their womanhood. Simplest example is – fake cases. Women too start playing to mens galleries because of ambitions and a sense of direct competition felt with other women. But still women suffer more subjectively because of inherent feminine values, which are lessening day by day because of societal apathy.
Coming back to qualitative subjective issues of women, its important to note that families have become nuclear. There is nobody to fill up for the apathy of spouse, there are much less members to talk to, much less to celebrate festivals with. Joint families had their own advantages and disadvantages. Also, with multinationals existing in every country, it is impossible that men or women will not get affected by cultural exchanges. Hence, evolvement (whether good or bad) is inevitable. How do we keep the evolvement well rooted in culture is the only question.
The women coming across as not ‘feeling’ exploitation is simply because of long term conditioning. It is extremely pronounced in islam – both exploitation and conditioning. Few muslim women are even ok with the extremely painful process of Female Genital Mutilation, many are ok with wearing black burqa all the time in public, some are ok with mild degrees of pedophilia. Not feeling oppression can be a learnt conditioning. However, it is unclear if dharma itself suggests apathy for subjective issues of women for civilizational purposes, which seems to contradict with essence of hinduism / dharma, but does not contradict with religious philosophies of islam and christianity. One more thing is, there seemed to be a certain degree of spiritual awareness very prevalent in ancient times, in hindu civilization, because of which people had less expectations from each other and generally viewed human life as a duty to be done with detachment. But that is not the case now, for both men and women.
If dharma really sanctions apathy to subjective issues of women, then probably women like me will eventually have to turn into hindu atheists. Because at this level of cognition and emotion, it is not possible to accept this notion/ reality by many of us.
The article ends with this on interactional instability :
‘Hindu men and women can benefit from cultivating competencies that help in realizing anti-Hindu externalities from pro-Hindu internalities. To clarify, Hindus must constantly explore, promote, and establish pro-Hindu methods that consistently prioritize internal, indigenous, and Hindu-theological vital systems with harmonious accord. Incorporating feminism into Dharma through the development that is Hindu feminism is, in stark contrast, anti-vitalistic militation against the cultivation of pro-Hindu, vitalistic competencies. It has and will continue to fragment Hindus across India like how the lack of decision-making protocols that prioritize Hindu concerns to tackle the proneness of Hindus to engage in internecine conflict often results in Hindu disunity and estrangement.’
The militation has already happened. We are infiltrated. The choice is society’s – whether turn some victimized / traumatized / uncared for women into feminists, or let them get heard along with Hindu Feminism. I can write more than 50 real life stories of women who suffered more simply because of less support and apathy. Today, most of them feel civilization is not worthy enough a cause to stand for, they might not be typical feminists yet. None of them approached the law. I know people who can tell many more such stories. The point is, what is the solution in the changing times? Segregating externalities from internalities is not enough. There need to be practical solutions because women who are not too ambitious will not play to mens narratives if victimized.
Thanks for reading it through.