Gender equality and Women Empowerment: International and Indian Scenario
Historical perceptive of Status of Women in India
Women in Pre-Independence Era Women in Post- Independence Era
Sri RamakrishnaParamahansa : The Source of Inspiration
Sri Sarada Devi: The Role Model of a Complete Woman
Swami Vivekananda: The Great Visionary
Endeavours of Ramakrishna Mission ssphere of education & philanthropic activities
Endeavour in sphere of Health and Socio-Cultural Activities
Gender equality and Women Empowerment: International and Indian Scenario
Empowerment refers to the uplift of marginalised sections with social, political, economic and cultural powers to represent themselves equally with other vibrant players of the society. This marginalised section includes mainly SCs /STs and women. Women are deprived in various ways from their legal, social, economic and political entitlements. They occupy marginalised position in the society even in this era of twenty-first century. Their capabilities of exercising their will, controlling desires and taking decisions are unquestionable, however males enjoy support of society and women are excluded as the ‘other’. They are most often not treated as subjects or persons with dignity who deserve respect from laws and institutions. Instead of that, they are used instrumentally as reproducers, caregivers, agents of family’s general prosperity. Hence, the term ‘empowerment’ is closely associated and talked off with this section when we go for analysing their position in the modem society. Women empowerment refers to the emancipation of women from the traditional socio-political clutches of the society. The concept of women empowerment assumed greater significance the changed political, social and economic scene in. In the past three decades along with awareness regarding the subordinate status of women, the concept of gender has also come as a socio-cultural variable, seen in relation to other factors, such as race, class, age and ethnicity. Gender equality refers to that stage of human social development at which the fact of being bom male or female will not determine the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of individuals. In other words, a stage when both men and women realize their full potential.
In recognition of the importance of establishing gender equality around the world, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) arranged a separate fund as the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in 1984. At that time, the General Assembly instructed UNDP to ensure women’s involvement with mainstream activities. The Cairo conference in 1994 organized by UN on Population and Development drew attention to women’s empowerment as a central focus and UNDP developed the Gender Empowerment measure (GEM) which focuses on the three variables that reflect women’s participation in society - political power or decisionmaking, education and health. The Beijing conference (1995) expanded the concept of gender mainstreaming, i.e. the application of gender perspectives to all legal and social norms and standards, to all policy development, research, planning, advocacy, development, implementation and monitoring—as a mandate for all member states. UNDP report (1995) also emphasised on women empowerment, equality and sustainability. Thus, the gender factor is no longer to be only a supplement to development but central to the practice of development. United Nations and many other organisations working on women’s empowerment give the prime importance to strengthening women’s economic capacity, promoting women’s leadership and political participation, eliminating violence against women and supporting the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Because of the Beijing conference— and the many years of work leading up to it—more than 100 countries announced new initiatives to improve the status of women.
Achieving gender equality, however, is a very slow and tough process. Despite the worldwide intense efforts of Governments and many Non-Governmental organizations (NGOs), and numerous inspiring successes, the picture is still disheartening. Essentially radical changes in deeply entrenched human attitude are far more important than changes in law or stated policy. In many parts of the world, rape, violence against women is routine and often condoned. Female sexual slavery and forced prostitution are still unpleasant reality for poor, young women even in highly developed countries. The practice of genetic testing of the foetus for determination of sex is common in the developing countries, in order that females can be aborted. Child marriage and bride burning are still prevalent in the Asian subcontinent. Gender discrimination in the sector of education, health, nutrition and economic opportunities is also alarming in the large part of the world.
It is clear that even in the twenty-first century, women all over the world do not get adequate support for fully functioning human lives. They have a long way to go to be totally empowered. This work requires rigorous efforts on many fronts. Three factors i.e. economic, social and political identity mostly determine the extent of empowerment of women in a nation. In India, the principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Constitution in its Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles. The Constitution also empowers the state to adopt measures of positive discrimination in favour of women. From the Fifth Five-Year plan (1974-78) onwards, the concept of women empowerment became the central issue in development policies of the government of India. An Act of Parliament formed the National Commission for Women in 1990 to protect the rights and legal entitlements of women. The 73rd and 74th Amendments (1993) to the Constitution of India have provided for reservation of seats in the local bodies of Panchayats and Municipalities for women, laying a strong base for their participation in decision making at the local levels. Our country has also ratified various international conventions to secure equal rights of women. Among them, the ratification of CEDAW in 1993 is noteworthy. India unconditionally approved The Beijing Declaration (1995) as well as the further actions and initiatives to implement the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action. In the new millennium, the Tenth Five Year Plan (2002-07) provided gender justice to create an enabling environment of positive economic and social policies for women and eliminating all forms of discrimination against them. In 2006, the Parliament enacted the Protection from Domestic Violence Act, in order to reduce the domestic violence, which is widespread but remains largely indiscernible in the public domain. To come across the women’s need for shelter, security, safety, legal aid, justice, information, maternal health, food, nutrition etc. as well as their need for economic sustenance through skill development, education, and access to credit and marketing Government of India has initiated various schemes, such as Balika Samriddhi Yojana, Employment Guarantee Scheme, Indira Awas Yojana. Kanya Vidya Dhan, Sam Vikas Yojana, Widow Pension Scheme etc. Role of Self Help Groups (SHGs) are also notable as an empowering appliance. These groups do not merely promote savings and provide credit. The SHGs, as originally intended are the institutions, which empower the poor, marginalized members as well as prop up human development. Realising the broader compass of SHGs potential and encouraging role in women empowerment National Women’s Commission, Social Welfare Department, Panchayat & Rural development department (P&RDD) and many NGOs have taken up special interest in integrating SHGs with their various programmes.
Government of India declared the year 2001, as the ‘Year of Women’s Empowerment.’ Though the struggle of women to get rid of the traditional socio-economic clasps is their own, yet we have already seen, they get support from the Government along with some socio-cultural organisations to get themselves educated and self-reliant. Stepping on the second decade of the 21st century, it is the most relevant problem before us to seek out the position of women in the society as well as in the family. Regarding women empowerment, within our country, there are many issues to be addressed closely. Amongst them, in this discourse, we intend to search the educational attainment, economic opportunity, health, nutrition and well-being of the women with the assistance of socio-cultural organisations such as Ramakrishna Mission and Ramakrishna Sarada Mission in the state of West Bengal. In other words, we are going to look for Swami Vivekananda’s dream and the crude reality regarding women empowerment. Ramakrishna Mission and Ramakrishna Sarada Mission put great emphasis to women empowerment as their missionary activities. To improve the status of the girl child, especially in relation to education, health and nutrition both the Missions have taken several programmes yet both the Missions have miles to step forward to fulfil Swamiji’s wish.
In the development of Indian civilisation, the status of women has been changed over the days. Obviously, the sphere of empowerment has been changed simultaneously. In course of this discussion, first we have to look after the changing position of women in Indian society. Secondly, we must assimilate the views of Sri Ramakrishna Dev, Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda as the inspiring power behind the Missions’ outlook and welfare activities relating to the advancement of female folk. Thirdly, we have the great task to review the endeavours of the Missions regarding empowerment of women and to reveal the story of boom and slump in the period of 115 years of their journey. Lastly, we have to analyse the overall performance and planning of the Missions along with our opinion concerning the uplift of women on the very auspicious occasion of 150th Birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda.
Historical Perspective of status of Women in India
In the history of Indian civilisation, women dominated the social scene for a long period and were the virtual head of the families while men were busy with their nomadic life and hunting pursuits. Due to constant threat from foreign invaders and draught situation of the Saraswati-Sindh belt, the population moved to the East Gangetic plains where almost giving up nomadic life of early population they vigorously followed agriculture. Some anthropologists think that the patriarchal system developed only when men settled down to agricultural life and leaved women free to bring up family. In Rig Vedic era, women were admitted to full religious rights and were also having complete educational opportunities for the development of their personality. They had a say in family matters, took vital decisions of life and were free to choose their own life mates. The ancient system of “Swayamvara” which is mentioned in holy scripts and in many epics is a testimony to this. Child marriage was unheard of. A woman in ancient India was dignified and was given due importance in the society. In short, they not only enjoy the equal status with the men of the then period but also had more prestigious position at times than the men had.
Nevertheless, in the later Vedic period, women started to lose their importance as well as the position and their status began to wane. Though several women enjoyed educational rights and acquired fame for learning, yet the social status in general was not the same as that of the Rig Vedic period. Society slowly curtailed down the freedom of the women and not allowed them to voice their opinions in family matters as well as political, social and economic matters of the society. Polygamy began to increase and child marriage came into vogue. According to the Aitareya Brahmana, a daughter has been described as a source of misery during this period. The Atharva Veda also deplores the birth of daughters. During the period of Smritis, women were bracketed with the sudras and were denied the right to study the Vedas, to utter Vedic mantras and to perform Vedic rites like their male counterparts. Marriage or domestic life became compulsory for women and they were put into the four walls as machines to work.
Gautama Buddha (563—483BC) was the first religious teacher who never shared the Brahmin’s view regarding women. According to him, daughters were quite as good as sons were. Women under Buddhism had the liberty to lead an independent life and go about their own business. Their marriage was no longer a compulsion. The Buddha accepted the full participation of women in the field of religion also. By making them eligible for admission to the Bhikkhuni Sangha - the Order of Nuns - he truly opened the new avenues of culture and social service for the female folk that undoubtedly enhanced their social status. Many eminent nuns shone brilliantly in the study and practice of the religion. The Psalms of the Sisters (Therigatha) containing 77 verses by individual nuns is one of the prides ofBuddhist literature.
In sixth century BC, Jainism also came into existence. Lord Mahavira who initiated Jainism in India considered men and women as equal. In reality because of the genderstereotyping that has taken place for thousands of years in a patriarchal society and the inherent biological differences between male and female, the roles prescribed for men and women are different especially in a social and cultural setup. Nevertheless, the roles played by both of them are equally important for the concerns of wellbeing of their children and family. From the evidence found in the oldest Jain texts, it appears that among the Svetambara Jains, women were allowed to lead monastic life. However, according to Digambaras women cannot achieve liberation without first being reborn as a man. This is because women cannot live a truly austere life (they have to possess clothes since it is impractical for them to live naked). For Digambaras woman’s very femaleness creates spiritual inequality.
However, the admission of women into the Order under Buddhism as well as Jainism was a step too advanced for the period and was fleeting. Essentially, the people were unable to adapt themselves to the improved conditions and tended to regress back to the society that they were used to. Antagonistic propaganda by the Brahmins, who found their caste system destabilized and privileges giving way, was also a factor that caused the decline of the Orders.
In Mauryan period (fourth century BC), Brahmanical literature was mostly brutal in the treatment of women and assigned them a very low status in the society. Owing to the suppressed condition of women in the society of his time, it is possible that Emperor Ashoka (304-232 BC), a great devotee of the Buddha, felt the need to appoint a special group of mahamattas who would be concerned mainly with the welfare of women. During his time, women took part in religious preaching. Sanghamitra, the daughter of King Ashoka, along with her brother Mahendra went to Sri Lanka to preach Buddhism. In general, since women and property are bracketed together in several references in the epics, Smritis and Puranas, women came to be regarded as a sort of property. She could be given away or loaned as any item of property. This was like the attitude of a typical patriarchal society based on private property. Because of this, the Brahmanical law did not allow any proprietary rights to women. The provision for stridhana is of a very limited character and does not extend beyond the wife’s rights tojewels, ornaments and presents made to her. This took strong roots in Gupta (fourth century AD) and Post Gupta periods. Though according to Hiuen Tsang, the famous Chinese pilgrim (early seventh century AD), Rajyashri (the sister of King Harshavardhana) was a distinguished scholar of her time yet the broad scenario was nothing like that. The practice of using veils by women particularly in high caste families was in vogue. Actually, the earlier invaders, who came to India, looted, plundered and destroyed temples and marauding soldiers abducted young girls and women. As life, property and the chastity of women were at peril, each community built a fortress of social norms around itself to protect women. Child marriage (before a girl could be of an age attractive enough to be abducted), the forceful shaving of the head of the widows in higher castes (to make them less attractive to foreign soldiers), the wide spread practice of forceful Sati amongst martial race became the norms during this unsettled period of Indian history. Hindu women lost all their liberties and became objects requiring male protection. As a result, daughters were considered as burden and they were reduced to doing the chores ofhousehold.
However, these evils present in medieval age were mainly confined to Hindu and Muslim society. As compared to them, other societies such as Buddhist, Jain and Christians were a bit lenient and were more liberal in their approach that we have already seen. Women in those societies enjoyed far more freedom and had easy access to education. According to these religions gender was not the issue in attaining salvation. Any person whether a man or a woman is entitled to get the grace of god.
2.1. WOMEN DURING THE PRE INDEPENDENCE PERIOD
Due to the lack of self-confidence and economic backwardness of the women, male chauvinism has been completely established in the orthodox Hindu society. Most of the families as well as the society considered the female folk as material object. They did not get any regard and freedom in daily life. The spread of western education and philosophy in nineteenth century made the men concerned about the status of the other half of the society. The reformation movement was at first concentrated to abolish the sinister customs from the society. The next most necessary step was to spread female education. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the torchbearer of social reforms for the women, was strictly against the evils prevalent in society in his time. He is the one who has done women a great favour by abolishing Sati lawfully. It was due to his efforts and endeavour that Lord William Bentinck banned the custom of Sati in 1829. However, this law was not a great deterrent but it changed mind-set of people to some extent. He was against child marriage and favoured widow remarriage. Along with Dwarka Nath Tagore, he founded “Brahmo Samaj” for the reformation of Hindu society and emancipation of women. In this context, we must remember that the Christian missionaries established first female schools in India. Obviously, they had their own interest and the upper caste Hindu families did not show any positive attitude towards the endeavour of the missionaries. Mahatma Jyotirao Govindrao Phule was the one to open first girl school in India. He, after educating his wife, opened a school for girls belonging to the lower castes in 1848. This was the second girl’s school in India established by the Indians. Peary Charan Sarkar, a former student of Hindu College, Calcutta and a member of “Young Bengal” set up the first free school for girls in 1847 in Barasat, a suburb of Calcutta (later the school was named Kalikrishna Girls’ High School). Mahatma Phule is also credited with opening first home for widows of the upper caste and a home for newborn girl children so that they can be saved from female infanticide. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was another pillar of social reformation movement in 19th century. He widely read ancient Hindu scriptures and came to know that the gender division, which was prevalent in Bengal, was not encoded in our ancient texts; instead, it is the politics to keep women subordinate to men. He did a lot in the field of widow remarriage. Due to his incessant effort, widow remarriage was legitimated in 1856. He strongly supported women education also. First female school in which the respected Hindu families started to send their daughters was the ‘Calcutta Female School’, established by J.E.D. Bethune in 1849 (later the school was named Bethune School). His attempt was strongly supported by Madan Mohan Tarkalankar, Vidyasagar, Dakshinaranjan Mukhopadhyay and others. Madan Mohan Tarkalankar sent his own daughters in that school. Vidyasagar, who was the honorary secretary of that school, established 50 female schools in Bengal in 1857 onwards. He got great support from the then Lieutenant Governor of Bengal F.J.Halliday. However, in the initial stage there was no financial backing from the Government. The venture was solely dependent on the personal funding (Narishiksha bhandar) of Vidyasagar and his supporters. It should be remembered that in the rural area there were no scope of girls’ formal and non-formal education due to the lack of girls’ school and educated parents and liberal persons in the family. Not only that, wherever there were girls’ school the male teachers were not accepted by the orthodox Hindus. Another major hindrance was child marriage. At that phase, the role of Brahmo Samaj was remarkable. Keshab Chandra Sen, one of the renowned leader of Brahmo Samaj, wanted to train female teachers with the help of Miss Merry Carpenter (who came to India with the mission of spreading female education). He established ‘Female Normal School’ (1871) for women teachers’ training, ‘Metropolitan Female school’ (1879) etc. Though several girls’ schools were started at that period, yet the mind-set of the Hindu society was not favourable to enlighten the female folk. In the late nineteenth century only the women of the Brahmo, Christian and educated Hindu families got the opportunities of formal or non-formal education. However, the large section of the female was in the dark. Swami Dayananda Saraswati, the founder of Arya Samaj translated Vedas from Sanskrit to Hindi so that a common person can read it and understand that the Vedic Hindu scriptures gave utmost importance to women. He emphasized for the equal rights for women in every field. He tried to change the mind-set of people with his Vedic teachings.
Situation gradually changed in the first half of the twentieth century. The social reformers of nineteenth century laid down the stage for the emancipation of women but it was Mohan Das Karam Chand Gandhi under whose influence these reforms reached masses. He was the one who liberated Indian women largely from the clutches of Purdah and other social evils. He brought them from their confinement and asked them to participate in the struggle for independence. According to him, women should be released from the slavery of kitchen and only then, their true potential could be realised. He said that responsibility of household is important for women but it should not be the only one. In fact, she should come forward to share the responsibilities of nation. It was due to his efforts female participation in the struggle for independence became visible. They came out of their homes to organise meetings and processions, to spread the message of Swadeshi, to sell khadi, to give away theirjewellery and ornaments, to picket near the shops of foreign cloth. He spread the message of equality of gender to the masses and criticised the desire of Indian people to have male child instead of a female. Gandhiji was strictly against the child marriage and favoured widow remarriage. He said that the girls are also capable of everything that boys can do. It was mainly due to his efforts ‘right to vote’ came naturally to Indian women after independence whereas in other developed nations like England and America women got this right after lot of protest.
2.2. WOMEN DURING THE POST INDEPENDENCE PERIOD
After independence (1947) the Sovereign, Democratic, Secular Government of India is constantly struggling with its enacted laws, rules and regulations to safeguard women’s interests and to emancipate them from the traditional social clutches. In the face of economic constraints and rigidity of traditional customs and attitudes, though the limits of political reformation all are too clearly revealed yet there has been abundance of reformative legislations enacted and awareness of sex inequality seems to have grown at least within elite circles. The occupational, property and other legislations have clearly upgraded the quality of many individual women’s lives. However, these changes are not indicative of any significant improvement in the status of women as a whole, especially amongst the low caste, illiterate and poor female population who are in a majority. The benefit, which women as a group derive from the prominence of a few women in leadership positions, is insubstantial.
Census 2011 shows our national sex ratio as 940:1,000 (940 females for every 1,000 males). Declining sex ratio, from 972 in the year 1901 to 940 in the year 2011, indicates the actual deteriorating condition of women in the society. Biological evidence proves women are more resistant to diseases compared to men. Life expectancy is a proof of that. In our country, life expectancy of women is 65.27 years whereas for men it is only 62.36 years. Though women have a higher death rate until the age of 34, the probabilities of survival after this age are higher. Therefore, the ratio of female above 60 years is greater than male. However the child sex ratio (in the age group of zero to six) in India has dropped to 914 females against 1,000 males — the lowest since Independence, in the provisional 2011 Census report released by the Government of India. Despite a slew of laws to prevent female foeticide and schemes to encourage families to have girl child, the ratio has declined from 927 female children against 1,000 male children in 2001 to 914, which was described as a “matter of grave concern” by Census Commissioner of India C. Chandramauli. It portrays social discrimination shown towards women even at the stage of birth. Main reasons of this poor ratio are gender wise abortions and female infanticide. Abortion though legal in our country, gender based abortion is a crime here (Regulation & Prevention of Misuse Act 1994, which prohibits any prenatal diagnostic techniques and sex selective abortions). However, gender wise abortions are on the rise in India. In economically developed states such as Haryana and Punjab, the tendency is found to be more. Though there is an increasing trend in 2011 census still Punjab and Haryana remained at the bottom of the list of sex ratio. Haryana has 830 female children and Punjab 846 against per 1,000 male children. The accepted reason for practice of female infanticide in India is the existence of dowry system, which requires the family to pay out a great deal of money when a female child is getting married. By avoiding a girl, a family can avoid paying a large dowry on the marriage of their daughter.
In India dowry remains as the major point of discrimination and injustice shown to women. It has always been an important part of Hindu marriages. Not only among Hindus, are its evil tentacles now spreading to other religions also. Although dowry was legally prohibited in 1961 (Dowry Prohibition Act), it continues to be highly institutionalised. According to the Act, anyone taking or giving dowry can be sentenced to imprisonment for 5 years and a fine of Rs 15,000 or the value of dowry if that is more. Still the practice of dowry abuse is rising in India. It is ridiculous to see that even among highly educated sections the articles of dowry are proudly exhibited in the marriage as a status symbol. The statistics are more in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh but miserably, the largest IT sector of the country, Bangalore has also recorded an alarming rise.
A shocking study reveals that half of the world’s malnourished children live in India owing primarily to the lack of non-availability of nutritious food to their mother. In all the critical stages — in infancy, childhood, adolescence or the reproductive phase many women suffer malnutrition purely due to the discrimination and the narrow mentalities of the society. Girls belonging to the lower middle class or those below the poverty line suffer the most. In the poor families where the income is not sufficient to fulfil the basic needs of life, the male members get the priority in case of food and nutrition without any consideration to the health of the females.
Poverty is a major cause of poor health and various social issues in India so also the issue of illiteracy and lack of education to girls is closely related to poverty. According to provisional data of the 2011 census, literacy rate in India is 74.04%. The male literacy rate is 82.14% and that for females is 65.46%. The gap of 21.59 percentage points recorded between male and female literacy rates in 2001 Census has reduced to 16.68 percentage points in 2011. The census provided a positive indication that growth in female literacy rates (11.8%) was considerably faster than in male literacy rates (6.9%) in the 2001—2011 decadal period, which means the gender gap appears to be narrowing. Nevertheless, there is huge discrepancy in between male literacy and female literacy. More boys are enrolled in primary schools than girls are. In addition, more girls drop out of school before any kind of graduation or certificate than boys do. Of course, the reason for this result of studies is the perception of the society about the role of women in the family, especially in poor areas, that women do not need education, as they have no financial responsibilities to maintain families. It is true that the people living a life below the poverty line do not have enough funds to educate all their children. Hence, they prefer giving education to boys and keep girls away from schools and colleges. Even if girls get a basic education, they are often called back to stay at home when they start their teenage in order to help their mother in choirs of household. Another problem is a lack of job offers to educated women in rural areas. Usually parents consider it very unproductive to get the girl children higher educated as it end up working on a field, watering crop or taking care of cattle. There are hardly any chances of employment anywhere else than on the fields in economically backward areas.
People have no better outlook on the future if they go to school. Consequently, the gender disparity in literacy rate is higher in rural areas.
Despite several Acts and schemes undertaken by the Government, women are immobilized and are mistreated inside and outside the home. Intense study reveals that the level of awareness of Government schemes is very low. Therefore, more effective publicity as well as system for monitoring women welfare and empowering programmes has to be developed. Along with the Government lots of non-governmental organisations are also involved in the process of capacity building of the underprivileged women to improve their situations economically, educationally, socially and physically. Ramakrishna Mission and Ramakrishna Sarada Mission are such organisations, who are trying their level best since the end of nineteenth century, to enlighten the lives of the women who are in dark of poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition and over whelmed misery affecting their social position. In the last hundred years, we have noticed a drastic change in the outlook and the mind-set of the society regarding women empowerment. Hence, the form of struggle of the women themselves as well as the Missions has also changed. The varying role of the Missions according to the changing status of the female will be discussed later on.
Sri RamakrishnaParamahansa : The Source of Inspiration
“The Ramakrishna Mission stands for the mission of Sri Ramakrishna on earth.” Swami Bhuteshananda, the 12th President of the Ramakrishna Order, appraised rightly the Ramakrishna Mission in this manner. If we want to review the endeavours of Ramakrishna Mission and Ramakrishna Sarada Mission regarding women empowerment, we must initially assimilate the vibrant message of Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886). It is remarkable that he was not a social reformer yet “He was the saviour of women, saviour of the masses, saviour of all high and low”1, said Swami Vivekananda. (It was written to Swami Ramakrishnananda from the West in 1895.) In nineteenth century, he was the person, who with his unique vision and wisdom expressed the suppression and distress of women as the root of India’s degeneration.
When the mental set-up of the orthodox Hindus were not favourable to accept the intellect and prudence of women, Sri Ramakrishna received the spiritual guidance of a nun with immense spiritual power, named Bhairavi Brahmani, in l861.
His attitude towards his wife Sri Sarada Devi was also significant. One day while massaging his feet, Sri Sarada Devi wanted to know about his husband’s view regarding herself. An amazing answer came from her husband, “The same Mother that is in the (Kali) temple, gave birth to this body and now lives at the music tower (His own mother Chandramani Devi was then living there), and she, again, is stroking my feet at the present moment.” It was not a mere statement, but honestly, Sri Ramakrishna proved it by worshiping his eighteen years old wife as the Mother of the universe on the new-moon night of 5th June 1872 (Shodashi puja). He offered all the fruits ofhis spiritual attainments at her feet along with his rosary.
Though they both absorbed into transcendental bliss in their married life, some intellectuals (Pratap Chandra Majumder, Sumit Sarkar etc.) criticises Sri Ramakrishna as misogynist and sexually diseased person. Brahmo leader Pratap Chandra Majumder, the former admirer of Sri Ramakrishna, wrote a letter (1895) to Professor Max Muller condemning Sri Ramakrishna’s ‘barbarous’ attitude towards Sri Sarada Devi, as if he compelled her to maintain celibacy in their wedded life. Professor Max Muller refuted Mr Majumder’s allegation with the help of a letter ofMrs Sara Bull, who met Sri Sarada Devi and came to know her revering feelings for her husband. Here we must consider the writings (‘My Master’) of Swami Vivekananda, where he described his Master’s attitude in this regard. “When as a temple priest his extraordinary worship made people think him deranged in his head, his relatives took him home and married him to a little girl, thinking that that would turn his thoughts and restore the balance of his mind. But he came back and, as we have seen, merged deeper in his madness. Sometimes, in our country, boys are married as children and have no voice in the matter; their parents marry them. Of course such a marriage is little more than a betrothal. When they are married they still continue to live their parents, and the real marriage takes place when the wife grows older, when it is customary for the husband to go and bring his bride to his own home. In this case, however, the husband had entirely forgotten that he had a wife. In her far off home the girl had heard that her husband had become a religious enthusiast, and that he was even considered insane by many. She resolved to leam the truth for herself, so she set out and walked to the place where her husband was. When at last she stood in her husband’s presence, he at once admitted her right to his life, although in India any person, man or woman, who embraces a religious life, is thereby freed from all other obligations. The young man fell at the feet of his wife and said, ‘As for me, the Mother has shown me that she resides in every woman, and so I have learnt to look upon every woman as Mother. That is one idea I can have about you; but if you wish to drag me into the world, as I have been married to you, I am at your service.’
The maiden was a pure and noble soul and was able to understand her husband’s aspirations and sympathise with them. She quickly told him that she had no wish to drag him down to a life of worldliness; but all that she desired was to remain near him, to serve him, and to learn from him. She became one of his most devoted disciples, always revering him as a divine being. Thus through his wife’s consent the last barrier was removed, and he was free to lead the life he had chosen.”2
They both willingly chose the path of celibacy. Therefore, there was no question of deprivation or denial. Rather their married life was much healthier in respect of the then social propensity. In the words of Christopher Isherwood, “The Hindu practice of marriage had become degraded at that time. The wife was a mere servant of her husband’s domestic convenience and his lust. But Ramakrishna educated his wife in many ways and watched over her like a father. He did not even treat her as an equal; he worshipped her as an embodiment of the Mother.”3 Sri Ramakrishna was the genuine mentor of Sri Sarada Devi. At the same time, he too gave proper value to her opinions, had faith on her potential, and prophesied that she would do much more good for the people than he did.
The feminists of the following times misunderstood him as he advised his male devotees to renounce woman and gold (kamini-kanchan) for spiritual attainment. According to the feminist outlook, he dishonoured womankind by indicating them as the impediment in the path of spiritual fervour. However, actual interpretation of his advice was to relinquish sexual desires as well as lusts oflucre are the first and foremost characteristics of austerity.
- Quote paper
- Dr. Partha Sarathi Mallik (Author)Dr. Susmita Bandyopadhyay (Author), 2012, Women empowerment. The role of religious and spiritual organisations as exemplified by the Ramakrishna Mission, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/475171