The last few days really set me thinking about how women are perceived in Bharat and how women in Bharat perceive the word ‘liberal’ in today’s time. For many years I have been listening to talk about how women are repressed in Bharat, how Hindu customs are patriarchal and regressive and how today’s women just want to be free. I have always wondered about the meaning of the word ‘free’ … what exactly does it mean? Does it mean freedom to choose education, career, spouse, partner, religion, ideology of one’s own choice, or does it mean that irrespective of what you choose, you will be accepted? Please read this question once again, because a world of difference exists between what we choose and whether what we choose is accepted by society. For example, I have the freedom to smoke in public but the society may not feel that this is an acceptable behaviour. I could choose to have multiple partners in my life, but my children may not approve of this choice of mine. So then, what is freedom? What is meant by being liberal?
I noticed long back that everytime we speak about liberal society, one comment is always thrown at our faces – ancient Bharatiya society was liberal. In a discussion with someone recently, I was told how Malayalee women had the freedom to choose their own sexual partners and had multiple sexual partners, because theirs was a matriarchal society. The person who said this had based his comment on the books written by Smt. Jaya Jaitley and Shri Shashi Tharoor. In fact, he quoted a tweet by Shashi Tharoor that the men in the household would check whether there would be any other footwear outside the women’s room, before entering the room. This was quoted as a ‘liberal society’. Frankly, I laughed outright at this thought because this was a classic case of twisting the meaning of the word ‘liberal’ to mean ‘loose morals’. Yes, Kerala has a Matriarchal society and the women chose their own partners. But this definitely did not mean that after marrying someone, they slept with countless other men, with scant regard for their own spouse. This is a very sly manner to call an entire society as a bastardised society. Liberal society in Kerala meant that even if a girl had a child outside the wedlock or after marriage, that child was accepted as family and given his/her mother’s name. Liberal society in Kerala meant that women were not shamed for having sex before or after marriage. Liberal society did NOT mean loose morals!
Liberal society in ancient Bharat meant that children were not made to feel guilty about their birth. There was no shame or guilt of birth attached to the child. That is why we had a Vyasa Muni who was born to a fisherwoman before her marriage. That is why we had something called “Niyoga” where children were born to a woman with a person who was not her husband. It was the era of survival of the fittest and the desire to have the best offspring who would be a boon to Mankind, one’s Race or the Universe, made this an acceptable practice. This is why we had Ravana being born to Kekasi (a Rakshasi) and Vishasrava (a Rishi). They did not live together after the birth of the children, but Ravana or his siblings were never made to feel abandoned. The children belonged to the family, to the race and the society. Similarly, women who were raped or molested were not shamed or questioned even, but the man who raped or molested them was definitely treated as a villain. We all know what happened to Ravana who tried to force Devi Sita to become his wife; the Kauravas too met a gory end because they dared to lay a hand on Draupadi.
Unfortunately today the meaning of the world ‘liberal’ has changed to mean something that is not good for the health of a society. I would like to stick my neck out and state that our Leftists or Marxists misused this word to mean that women revel in the ‘freedom’ to step out of their houses, mingle with strangers, make vices a part of life and accept multiple sexual partners as the way to show their ‘liberal’ and ‘modern’ behaviour. This was coupled with continuous hammering of such ideas through our film and advertising industry which made wearing of inappropriate or revealing clothes as something to be ‘ashamed’ of or ‘proud’ of, depending on the story transmitted. The value systems which we as a society, were proud of, went for a toss and youngsters actually started thinking that freedom and guts meant the ability to speak in favour of independence from morals, values, rituals and customs, all of which seemed old-fashioned now. Needless to say, such external freedom did not meet with the approval of the society and the parents, leading to a never ending friction between the children and the parents. This also meant that when children chose to study in far-away places, the first thing that attracted them was ‘freedom’ to do what they wanted. That is why in the JNU protests we see a girl rolling up a joint, at other rallies we see boys and girls dressing up in ridiculous clothes, photos of students drinking and smoking in hostel rooms, etc. Girls especially are misguided into thinking that sexual exploration with multiple partners is liberal – opposing traditions and parents is liberal – going against society and government is liberal.
Any action which does not have the strong foundation of the value systems of a society cannot build character or give dignity to that person who indulges in such an action. Sooner or later, the façade of ‘freedom’ and the mask of being liberal falls off which leads to either depression or exploitation.Sometimes when the mask falls, the world sees the person as being shallow and unworthy of trust. We have seen the masks fall off so many such people in recent years, especially in the world of history and journalism. We have been fed a false story of our society as being a ‘tolerant’ society for so long, that we have begun to believe it. The fact is that Bharat was NEVER a TOLERANT society. We always were a ACCEPTING society. We accepted everyone for what they were, not ‘tolerated’ them. Our ancient society was a liberal society where one was accepted with all the quirks, not one where anyone was exploited for one’s form or body. Freedom meant freedom to live life within a value system, not freedom to trounce on the belief, faith and values of another person. It was a poly-theistic, multi-cultural society … can today’s Leftists, Naxals, Christo-Islamics handle this truth? Can they ‘tolerate’ such a society, if we decide to go back to it?
Author; Rati Hegde – Columnist, Story Teller, Mother to Three Children – Writes on Spirituality, Stories of Bharat, Politics, Current Affairs, Women Empowerment.