The below letter was originally addressed to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad for its threats against the Delhi Slutwalk. Now it is addressed to all Hindu entities opposing Slutwalk.
I was born a Hindu. Some say I still am, since there is pretty much nothing that disqualifies one as a Hindu, particularly after having been one. Hinduism is one of the few religions that doesn’t make belief a bar, and an atheist can be a Hindu, if he chooses to identify himself as such.
Hinduism (dang these “ism”s) is one of the few religions of the world, which is also referred to as a civilization, in many senses of the word. Often interchangeably when it comes to history. It is a way of thought that has endured thousands of years, absorbed, evolved and grown with each new challenge. It is one of the few religions that has re-invented and reformed itself to suit the times. I may not believe in God, but I do believe that a culture with such deep roots has a powerful and all pervading influence on all it touches.
I am concerned that this current updating of our religion is taking us into narrower space. What centuries of invaders and religious invasions couldn’t achieve, we are doing through killing the spirit in the pretense of preserving numbers. It is no use preserving numbers if the soul is dead. Our soul lies in our ability to absorb, to walk the path of truth, knowledge and responsibility.
There are many ways in which this is manifesting, but its greatest symptom is anger and intolerance. Anger always covers a fear. Always. Intolerance always covers insecurity. Always. It is when we are not certain of our survival that we start building walls. It is a protection.
My current concern is about the threat you to the slutwalk. It seems that it would be a shameful thing if women walked the streets in challenge of the character judgments against them that often lead to harassment and crime. In this too, they must bow to threats of crime against them. This is shameful. And because you claim to represent our ancient religion, you bring shame to thousands of years of tolerance and evolution.
I would like you to consider what this modern sense of morality is and its repressive effect on our religion, culture and safety.
- I am sure like me, you grew up hearing takes of Krishna’s charming exploits including stealing clothes of bathing women. I don’t recollect there being any shame associated. It was, and is charming. It is playfulness, it is innocent flirting and it is charming as hell. Now imagine what would happen if he were to do so today. He’d still be god, the women would be called cheap for bathing in a way that left them without clothes.
- We heard stories of swayamvars, exquisitely beautiful princesses that were coveted far and wide, we heard of people falling in love. I don’t remember when the stories called the woman cheap for attracting a man. No matter what she wore.
- Have you ever thought about the fact that most Indian languages have no real word for adultery? Even with our moral outrage established for years, the closest we have come to it is describing them as inappropriate relations. There is a reason for that. These morals you are defending have been imported. From the UK to be precise. Amount of clothing on body has never been an issue with Hinduism.
- The ancient Hindu culture took sexuality as a matter of fact. We have several sexual traditions, which suddenly all got rounded into prostitution, because the church had no respectable equivalent for them. So whether it is a devdasi, or a follower of the Yellama cult or a vaishya (prostitute), they are all prostitutes, because Brits didn’t have translators, and we learn ourselves through “authorities on us”.
- We have a lot of ancient tales. Including tales of shame, violence against women and many other sins. I am yet to hear one where the shame was about clothes. The only clothes related shame was the attempted undressing of Draupadi and the shame was not hers, but that of her attackers. I don’t recall anyone accusing Draupadi of being responsible for the attack on her honor.
- Sita lived at Ravan’s place. Her integrity has always been held as sacred. I don’t know anyone who thinks she had an affair with Ravan, or otherwise did anything bad at all. Her being criticized is on record as social bigotry, not something wrong with her.
- There has been assorted nudity related with various choices people have made in various cults, religions like Jainism…. And I’m talking nudity. The ideal Brahmin woman would be bathing from top to toe in a river and entering the kitchen in a pure state. Yeah, saris are transparent when wet – particularly the cotton and silk ones purity demands. And you can still go to ghats near temples to see this.
- This penchant for covering skin is an Islamic influence. It is Islam where exposing skin is prohibited by religion. Check out any religious art to verify. Goddesses have fantastic figures and bare waists.
- Your average fisher woman, tribal, farmer exposes about the same amount of skin as a girl in a short skirt. Your sari exposes more skin (waist) than trousers and jeans. I used to count the tires on the waists of all the aunties…. So this is about intolerance and selective offense, not even exposing of skin. Let us be clear.
- This sexual seggregation and judgemental environment has men so deprived that their only resort to getting some joy on perfectly natural desires is by doing something illegitimate and violent. It is violent to turn a woman into an object for entertainment. It is violent to overrule her wishes. Yet this doesn’t draw as much outcry, because blaming women keeps the option of using them for cheap thrills open.
- Menaka seduced Vishwamitra, but is never cheap. She is magnificent temptation and Vishwamitra lost his focus. He is responsible for his actions. So must Indian men be, no matter what provocation they see around them. If they don’t, the shame must be theirs, not an apsara’s, who only is her enchanting self. You have the power to encourage these values of ours, or stick to imported monotheist, women hating rules that have infected our society.
Today, Hinduism falls to an all time low, when ideas imported from the west are adopted as the gold standard and lead to threats on bona fide citizens about western influence. Where is this Hinduism you so claim to protect?
Sure, you are able to sway events to your wish. Nuisance value isn’t legitimacy, and it only insults those origins you claim to represent. I resent that, because then I end up not being a Hindu – not lost to Christian conversions, but to disgust. And it is a loss, because it is an environment I grew up in, yes, a Hindu Brahmin brought up with pride in the ability to question, reason and choose.
I recently wrote a series called “A Life in Clothes” which outlines the story of my life as a woman. You may want to read it to get a look at what all these ideas of proper and improper and dehumanizing women into objects actually do to a woman. It wasn’t easy for me to write, and I damn well hope it won’t be easy for you to read.
I think you are flat out wrong, and that you are destroying our religion with your fears. In choosing to defend Hinduism to standards of monotheist religions, you lose the race before the starting line. You are overpowering the women who are supposed to have a strong place in our culture. You are able to do it. That doesn’t make you right, just as terrorists attacking a place are able to do it, but that doesn’t make them right.
I hope you spend some time thinking about this, and realize that the path of truth, knowledge and responsibility requires that the rights of women be openly owned and marched in front of the world as a statement that their dignity is inviolate. Kali would have done it. So would Durga. Krishna would have walked along in wisdom and guidance. I dare say some of our hot-tempered goddesses would have disapproved of you objecting to them stating their splendour in whatever avatar they chose.
At the end of the day, it will not matter. There will still be perverts, repressed people, and moral police. Those who wish to claim their space must do so to. We all have one life to play out our choices in. Both you and I. Fears will be, what must guide me is purpose.
What will I do if you go ahead with your threats? Why nothing! But I will mourn for a lost religion like I mourn the melting glaciers. You can’t put ice blocks and extend the glaciers, and you can’t rescue a tolerant civilization with imported intolerance. Defending religion, policing morality or counting numbers of followers was never a Hindu idea and doing it in retaliation is only destroying our identity faster than conversions.
My invitation to you is to understand the beauty of an enduring civilization, and reclaim that space for tolerance, evolution and empowerment rather than alienate, threaten and disrupt out of intolerance. Recognize that the women marching to claim their dignity are also part of you that you threaten to amputate. Join the walk. Live the spirit of continuous empowerment rather than threatening repression.
Your sister in a timeless civilization,