Violence against women and religious fundamentalism 

If Islam is perceived to be the reason for women suffering violence in Islamic countries, why can’t we hold Hinduism responsible for violence against women in India

Photo courtesy: IANS
Photo courtesy: IANS
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Jeya Rani

Every single day, we unfailingly listen to the advertisements on government radio which exhorts the listeners to treat both male and female children equally. The advertisements are broadcast on behalf of the Ministry of Women and Child development. Across his expeditions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks about “India’s culture.” But those that are gifted enough to live in that ‘culture’ are yet to learn to not show discrimination between the male and female children. One does not require a research to understand the rights and security of women in a country like this.

Generally, the question of women’s security and rights has a uni-dimensional approach that accuses men of being at fault. A very noticeable banner held by young women in recent protests against violence on women read, “Don’t tell your daughters not to go out; teach your sons to behave properly.” Why don’t Indian homes teach their sons to behave, to be civil and to treat everyone equally? We speak about male chauvinism. Have we ever wondered what constitutes the roots of male chauvinism? Across cultures all over the world, it is evident that religious fundamentalism rules where women are subjected to violence.

It is not a coincidence that only Islamic countries come to our minds when we speak about religious fundamentalism unleashing its violence on women. We have been so brainwashed. But despite many forms of violence unleashed on women – including foeticide, infanticide, sexual harassment, rape, marital rape, domestic violence, dowry harassment, child marriages, sexual slavery, denial of education, denial of property, exploitation of labour – we do not term India as a religious fundamentalist country. We have a different name for the injustices meted out to women here. We call it “culture”.

The women are made to believe that their Indianness is in their slavery. Communal fundamentalism teaches women slavery and men domination. Women will remain moral only if their husbands physically abuse them. Even in the 21st century, women as a society believe that it is okay to endure any atrocity to protect the institution of family

If Islam is perceived to be the reason for women suffering violence in Islamic countries, why are we not holding Hinduism responsible for the violence against women in India? Hinduism calls women untouchables, slaves and devoid of any rights. It considers as dignified only the birth of a male child. It disallows women to be educated or to be financially independent. It expects women to take care of the household and please her husband whenever he demands. It expects her to bear as many children as her husband desires and to honour the community. It expects her to keep her head lowered and to not fall in love. It expects women to be at her husband’s feet even if she rules the country. Through each rule, the religion only recommends oppression against women. Till date, leaders like Amit Shah and Mohan Bhagwat use many stages to propagate anti-women ideologies of Hinduism.

The rape and murder of eight-year-old shocked the international community. While the barbaric act was seen as commit ted by Hindu fundamentalists, child marriages which allow children to be raped is a culture. Thousands of female children are raped every day in the name of child marriages. Child marriages in India have a long history starting from the Vedic Age to date. Hindus believe that not getting their female children married before a certain age will land them in hell. It also believes that women will be misled to do wrongs if she does not have a husband after menarche.

UNICEF’s report that says one in every three child marriages in the world takes place in India perhaps serves as evidence. As far as children are concerned, there is no difference between sex and rape. Eight-year-old was raped by strangers. In Indian homes, female children are raped by their husbands. Because that is their culture, because that’s their religious practice. Behind every violence against women in India, Hindu culture has a role.

Not just this year, not just in the BJP’s rule, Hindu fundamentalism culturally oppresses women in India always. When the BJP came to power, it provided a moral boost to the atrocities committed in the name of culture. Because it enjoys the government’s direct or indirect support, the violence which was committed in the dark a few years back, is now being committed in the open and with much noise.

Islamic countries do not follow democracy. But India is the biggest democracy in the world. If it ensures that each individual is respected, has freedom and rights, then there should have been no atrocity. But in striking contrast, India is put to shame in international arena when it comes to its treatment of women. If women are worse off in India than in war-ridden Syria or Afghanistan, it is only because the violence is cultural and women are entrusted with the responsibility of protecting this culture.

The women are made to believe that their Indianness is in their slavery. Communal fundamentalism teaches women slavery and men domination. Women will remain moral only if their husbands physically abuse them. Even in the 21st century, women as a society believe that it is okay to endure any atrocity to protect the institution of family.

Any woman who dares to break the religious laws is not spared even by women. Caste Hindu women are prone to punishing Dalit women who break the religious rules by way of gang-rape. They know that caste and male domination is the root of Hinduism. If every man and woman in the family operates on the RSS ideology, how can violence not happen? Culture is not something that operates in domination and slavery, not something that degenerates into violence. Instead, it is to promote equality and fraternity. Indians should understand this.

(Translated from Tamil by Kavitha Muralidharan. The writer is a prominent Tamil journalist)

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