Mook Nayak 2.0
A lot of debates are going on about Feminism, its origin and its ideals etc. It is said that the main objective of feminism is to promote equality between the sexes. For a moment, let’s leave the counter arguments made on feminism (1) and look at one profound link which has not received proper attention, namely the link between Feminism and Religion.
Religion and Ideals
Firstly, there is no single accepted definition of religion and what it means, so I use the term religion to only mean “the ideal(s) it sanctions to govern the terms of association between members of a society”
Do religion and its ideals have any significance in our daily life? Speaking about the significance of religion, Babasaheb Ambedkar said:
“Religion as a social force cannot be ignored. Religion has been aptly described by Hebert Spencer as ‘the weft which everywhere crosses the warp of history’. This is true of every Society…Religion stands for a scheme of divine governance. The scheme becomes an ideal for society to follow. The ideal may be non-existent in the sense that it is something which is constructed. But although non-existent, it is real. For an ideal it has full operative force which is inherent in every ideal” (2)
Religions stand for different ideals, but let us restrict ourselves to the ideals which it sanctions on women.
It is impossible to quote all the verses which are related to women as sanctioned in one positive religion here, let alone of all the religions. But the curious may search in Google as to how every religious scripture debased, and discriminated against, women. But, this much can be said affirmatively that thousands of women and men have made earnest efforts throughout the history to bust the myth that religious books do not preach equality between sexes.
Here is one ground cleared that all positive religions do discriminate and debase women in their sacred texts.
Now, let us see what feminism means. Let us quote a popular definition from google: “Advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of equality between the sexes”.
What are the roots of feminism? The commonly accepted answer is that it can be traced back to the works of Mary Wollstonecraft, a remarkable figure who stood for radical ideas like equality, access to education for all and so on.
As she is described as the mother of feminism, let us understand her ideology in relation to religion – which has been anti women. It’s astonishing that some feminists who view words like mother, motherhood as patriarchal must call Mary Wollstonecraft as Mother of feminism!
To quote only a few of her words from her classic book “A Vindication of the rights of women”:
- “I look into my own mind, my heart is human, beats quick with human sympathies – and I FEAR God. . . . I fear that sublime power, whose motive for creating me must have been wise and good; and I submit to the moral laws which my reason deduces from this view of my dependence on him. (i)
- “ Indeed, if there were no afterlife, there would be no particular reason to be virtuous: Supposing, for a moment, that the soul is not immortal, and that man was only created for the present scene . . . Let us eat drink, and love, for to-morrow we die, would be, in fact, the language of reason, the morality of life” (ii)
- But the gift of reason proves that there is an afterlife, because only reason allows us to improve: The stamen of immortality, if I may be allowed the phrase, is the perfectibility of human reason; for, were man created perfect, or did a flood of knowledge break in upon him, when he arrived at maturity, that precluded error, I should doubt whether his existence would be continued after the dissolution of the body. But, in the present state of things, every difficulty in morals that escapes from human discussion, and equally baffles the investigation of profound thinking, and the lightning glance of genius, is an argument on which I build my belief of the immortality of the soul(iii)
- Gracious Creator of the whole human race! hast thou created such a being as woman, who can trace Thy wisdom in Thy works, and feel that Thou alone art by Thy nature exalted above her, for no better purpose . . . [than] to submit to man, her equal – a being who, like her, was sent into the world to acquire virtue? Can she consent to be occupied merely to please him – merely to adorn the earth – when her soul is capable of rising to Thee? (iv)
- “In treating of the manners of women, let us, disregarding sensual arguments, trace what we should endeavor to make them in order to cooperate . . . with the Supreme Being” (v)
- “If they be really capable of acting like rational creatures, let them not be treated like slaves; or, like the brutes who are dependent on the reason of man, when they associate with him; but cultivate their minds, give them the salutary sublime curb of principle, and let them attain conscious dignity by feeling themselves only dependent on God. (vi)
- “To act according to the dictates of reason, is to conform to the law of God” (vii)
Even a passive reading of her exceptional works makes it as clear as light that Mary Wollstonecraft was a religious person and that she traces her reasoning faculties, ideology of women’s equality with god, soul and religion.
Here is another ground cleared that Mary’s ideology has its roots in religion.
Can anyone separate a person’s (however good and remarkable they are) propounded ideology from her or his religion-if it’s claimed to have been inspired from it- given the fact that such ideology has a sway over the masses?
Those who believe in such separation should see Mr. Gandhi and his philosophy completely in isolation from his religion, i.e. Brahmanism and upheld him as Mahatma – at least to make an extremely anxious Ramchandra Guha happy. Can it be done? The answer is 101 percent: No!
Now, anyone who is aware of anti-women verses sanctioned in religion assumes that those who advocate feminism must either be atheists or indifferent to religion. But surprising as it is, many feminists identify themselves as religious. If identifying themselves as religious people is not enough they derive the very roots of it from the teachings of religion!
If feminism means fight for equality between sexes, then how can a feminist be a religious person? How can a feminist person cherish an ideology which has its roots in positive religion? How can an ideology with religious roots be considered as an “ism” struggling for equality between sexes? How can anyone share such mutually incompatible ideas and ideals?
Supposing that those anti-women verses were never put into practice (which is never the case), at least religious people must account for their presence in their texts – at say, a theoretical level?
Let us assume that Mary Wollstonecraft was unaware about the religious texts in their totality, but the feminists living in 2020 do have access to the texts of religions, it is just a matter of searching texts in sites like Internet Archive. They have to face these questions now. There is no escape.
If they say that the texts have been misinterpreted, their answer cannot be considered as a satisfactory one, because as Dr.Ambedkar said:
“The masses do not make any distinction between texts which are genuine and texts which are interpolations. The masses do not know what the texts are. They are too illiterate to know the contents of the Shastras. They have believed what they have been told and what they have been told is that the Shastras do enjoin as a religious duty the observance of Caste and Untouchability” (4)
The same logic can be applied to other positive religions like Christianity, Islam and Judaism etc by quoting from the pages of history as to how women were and are subjected to ignominies in the regions dominated by these faiths.
If at all feminists realize that their feminism is derived from religion and wish to locate its origin in any non-religious person or source(s), and then who would be that person or what would be that source? Or if they wish to create a new ideology and desire to even call this new “ism” as feminism, then what is going to be the principles of this “New Feminism of 2020”?
Feminism in this Subcontinent
Mary Wollstonecraft identifies her ideology with religion by using powerful words like god, heaven, soul, after life etc. For the sake of argument, we may say that belief in god is some personal thing and it shouldn’t be questioned, but terms like soul, after life, heaven etc stand on a different footing and have been condemned by Buddha to Babasaheb(5). Her ideology may have had relevance during her times, but in the case of this sub-continent, it fails disastrously.
When applied to the state of society in this subcontinent, any ideology based on soul and after life is dangerous because we are all aware of the sad truth as to how these terms and the belief system around them have been incessantly used by Brahmins and other governing class people to befool, beguile and deceive the common masses of people since centuries. Moreover those ideas and notions are anti-science.
In the light of the above understanding, how can anyone apply this feminism with roots in Mary Wollstonecraft’s religious ideology to masses of this subcontinent – who have already been plagued by the teachings of caste which has the sanction of religion? (6)
How can anyone call Ambedkarism as feminism- with roots in religion – when Dr.Ambedkar himself burnt a religious scripture sanctioning discrimination? Would it be wrong if one calls it a ludicrous statement? This is in no means trivializing the enormous contributions made by Babasahebto women’s rights. It is that we can still appreciate and celebrate his legacy without calling him a feminist.
Is opposing feminism an act of sacrilege?
Feminism not only derives its roots from religion, it also possesses certain characteristics which are inherent in every positive religion, namely the over emphasis on its ‘infallibility’. This infallibility is expressed at least in two different forms: they either mock people who don’t wish to identify themselves as feminists or make allegations by saying that these people are erasing histories of resistance.
Firstly, the term Feminism is derived from the late nineteenth century French political discourse called Feminisme, which means women’s emancipation; it has grown in a specific socio-religious cultural setting. But, feminists wish to call and identify every movement of resistance against gender oppression since the dawn of civilization as feminism. Why this much incessant enthusiasm to name every movement across boundaries, races, languages, creeds and castes as feminism in an anachronistic sense?
For argument’s sake, let us say that we can use certain terms like feminism in an anachronistic sense, but here the question of all questions is: why use an anglicized French word to denote and signify all the movements against gender oppression?
Cannot we use terms from languages like from Tamil –where they use words like pen-gal ethirppu (women’s resistance) – or from Telugu – where people use words like Mahilala poratam (Women’s struggle) – to denote the resistance of women against gender oppression ? These words more or less convey the same meaning as the French word feminisme. Why are not these words used? If feminists have no problem in using an anglicized French word to speak about resistance of women against gender oppression (across the world) then definitely no one should object to using words like Pen-gal ethirppu or Mahilala poratam? It brings us back to the question which was asked earlier, namely why should feminists get offended or worried if women do not want to identify themselves as feminists and want to express themselves in their local languages?,Why should feminists have a problem if people don’t want to call Babasahebas feminist?
Why this eagerness to impose an anglicized French term over people of innumerable languages? Would it be wrong if one calls this imposition as imperialism?
Secondly an image is being created in a sense that anyone who questions or opposes feminism should be seen as agents with definite objectives to erase the movements of resistance!
Just because someone questions or opposes feminism, it doesn’t mean that they deny that women from lower caste communities are subjected to discrimination by men of all castes, it doesn’t mean that they are erasing tremendous range of movements of resistance, it doesn’t mean that they don’t realize the potential of agency of the bahujan women.
Feminism is questioned or opposed on the grounds of its roots (religion), its origin in a specific cultural setting and its application in other cultural contexts, its etymological and linguistic significance, its infallibility, its usage in an anachronistic sense and its relevance for the anti-caste movement!
Criminalization of entire communities
It is a sad fact that some men from Dalit communities subject women from lower castes to abuse and violence. There is no denial of this fact. But feminists doesn’t wish to stop here, they take a giant leap and criminalize the entire men from dalit communities as oppressors against women including Dr.Ambedkar! (Yes, there are such twerps).
Contrarily, we find innumerable examples across the subcontinent where women and men from dalit-bahujan communities fight with compassion and courage to reclaim their lost sacred personality. Countless examples can be given from every state, but still some feminists are unable to appreciate these facts.
If Brahmin-savarnas “idealize the real and realize the ideal”, these feminists “generalize and criminalize” all bahujan men by calling them ‘dalit patriarch, bahujan patriarch, depressed class patriarch’ etc. The most interesting thing is up to what extent can we extend this mission of criminalization? If there are many males from dalit communities who abuse and practice social evils like dowry etc then we also have more or less same number of women from dalit communities who support these evils, should we also call them as patriarchs? How absurd such an argument would be!
There are two important facts which must be kept in mind; firstly as Babasaheb said there is a real clash of interests between dwijas and bahujans, secondly we are imperfect communities. The hold of the brahmanical forces on common masses is such that still people are kept in ignorance. The pathetic state of bahujans owing to the Dwija’s mean tricks, which were described eloquently by Jotiba and Babasaheb remain the same even in 2020. In such disheartening state of society, there is bound to be many issues such as bahujans discriminating against fellow bahujans, men from bahujans discriminating against women from bahujan castes etc. All this is unfortunately true, but who must be blamed? Is there not any need to distinguish between the cause and an effect?
Lessons from Savitrimai, Jotiba and Babasaheb
Savitrimai, Jotiba Phule and Dr.Ambedkar were aware of the facts that many castes from servile classes discriminate against untouchables, that some men discriminate against women, but did they engage in criminalizing bahujan castes for discriminating against each other on the basis of the graded system? No! Instead, they asserted throughout their writings that this unfortunate state is a result of Brahmins and their philosophy. They made a distinction between cause and effect and sought to reform the masses to destroy the cause that is “Brahmanism”.
This is what Dr.Ambedkar said:
“It is no exaggeration to say that they (Brahmins) have been the most inveterate enemies of the servile classes, the Shudras (the old name for the non-Brahmins) and the Untouchables who together constitute about 80 or 90 per cent of the total Hindu population of India. If the common man belonging to the servile classes in India is to-day so fallen, so degraded, so devoid of self-respect, hope or ambition, and so lifeless, it is entirely due to the Brahmins and their philosophy” (7)
What are we supposed to do now? Are we going to just fight among ourselves or are we going to bridge the gap that has been created by Brahmanism?
To quote Babasaheb again:
“The Constitution of Free India has made the Backward Classes, the Scheduled Tribes and the Scheduled Castes virtually the masters of the country Hitherto the minority of Caste Hindus have made themselves the rulers of the country. The fear of the Scheduled Castes Federation is that the Backward Classes and the Scheduled Tribes by reason of their want of consciousness may fall a prey to the minority of Caste Hindus and continue to be their slaves instead of becoming masters of their own. The Scheduled Castes Federation’s first concern is to help these Classes to get on their feet. If they so wish, the Scheduled Castes Federation would be prepared to change the name and call itself the Backward Classes Federation so as to include both sections in a common organization” (8)
It is as clear as light that Babasaheb didn’t criminalize the servile classes but recognized that servile classes are in need of active social programs and he wished to emancipate them all by forming a common alliance with all the bahujan castes through political means. That should be our approach too, social and political.
Path ahead – Reaction Vs Reform
Having understood the reason for this depressed state of conditions, what must bahujans do becomes the most important question. Criminalizing them in a reactionary way doesn’t help; again it must be emphasized that this is by no means an act of trivializing the abuse and violence committed on women or their movements, victims must get justice.
We must realize that there are many extraordinary movements carried out jointly by women and men from lower castes in India, we must get inspired and learn lessons from them, we must engage in a democratic discussion on a large scale as to how we can make earnest efforts to spread the thoughts of Jotiba, Babasaheb and other anti-caste thinkers. We must create spaces and mechanisms by which old dispositions can be altered to find a way for new life, where the mind can be freed from the hold of brahminical ideas that are propagated by every medium of communication and where reform of thought is possible. It’s a long journey strewn with many hurdles, but criminalizing the people is not the way of doing it, it is definitely not the method of Savitrimai, Jotiba and Babasaheb!
It’s beyond doubt that feminism has its roots in religion. Feminists – religious or atheist – must answer the questions regarding their ideology with roots in religion. There is no escape. Secondly, they must stop their imperial project to impose the anglicized French term called “Feminism” on people of all times and regions. Thirdly, any criticism of feminism must not be seen as sacrilege. If they see it so, they are admitting that their “ism” is as ‘infallible’ as religion. Fourthly, criminalization of entire men from bahujan communities is not the right approach; they must distinguish between the cause and effect. Recognizing this difference would be more feasible in bringing a change.
Finally, in a democratic engagement, arguments are countered by decent counter-argument but not by abuse.
The Author wishes to remain anonymous, because the author says “It’s my Choice”
(1) Counter arguments made on feminism
(2) BAWS, Volume 3, Philosophy of Hinduism
(3) On Mary Wollstonecraft and her works:
A) i) (VRM 5:34) ii) VROW100 iii) VROW 122 iv) VRW 5:136 v) VRW 5:90 vi) VRW 5:105 vii) VRM 5:51(Taken from Taylor, B. (2002).The religious foundations of Mary Wollstonecraft’s feminism. In C. Johnson (Ed.), the Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft (Cambridge Companions to Literature, pp. 99-118). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CCOL0521783437.007)
B)Curious may refer to “Todd, Janet and Marilyn Butler, The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft (London: William Pickering, 1989) (Volume 5, pages 14, 34, 51, 80-82, 83-84, 201-22, 205 ) and Barbara Taylor, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination (Cambridge University Press, 2002)
(4) BAWS, Volume 1, Annihilation of Caste, A REPLY TOMAHATMA BY DR. B.R. AMBEDKAR, Page 87.
(5) BAWS, Volume 11, Buddha and his Dhamma, Belief in soul is not dhamma, page 259
(6) BAWS, Volume 9, What Congress and Gandhi have done to Untouchables, Page 467
(7) BAWS, Volume 17(1), Election Manifesto of Scheduled Castes Federation, pages 401-402
Mook Nayak 2.0 likes reading anti-caste literature and is an informal student of religion.