How Religious & Traditional Beliefs Try To Keep Women Down And Subservient To Men

There are many regions where the two-finger test is done to check the girl’s sexual history & then there is the 'white-sheet' test as well.

Ravana was a learned man, adored and cheered,
He was a warrior whom everyone feared,
But people remember him as a devil,
As an abductor and a force of evil,
What did he do to deserve such an end?
His treatment of Sita made his fame descend.

Kauravas were so brave, with Karna at their side
And yet they lost, despite an army so wide,
The fury of Draupadi’s tears didn’t go in vain,
God saw it all and made them pay with pain.

I think the title itself might be confusing to many, what possible relation could exist between feminism, religion and the caste system? Aren’t they separate social issues?

Let us examine all of these together and establish a link.

So, what exactly do we mean by feminism?

Feminism is a simple term that means equality between genders without any discrimination, yet everyone has a hard time admitting that they are feminists.

The mother of feminism in India is said to be Savitribai Phule. She is credited to be the first female teacher in India and despite being kicked out of her own home and being ridiculed and even molested by people, she worked for women and lower castes all her life.

In the modern age, feminism is also associated with the freedom to do ‘whatever we wish’ and this is when we start relating it to negative aspects like dowry with alimony, alcohol with rape, short clothes with sexual assault, and ultimately pinning everything wrong with discrimination on women.

The famous phrase ‘not all men’ in almost every #MeToo campaign and social media post tells us that such people are neither sympathetic about women nor men, they just need to have an opinion to degrade everyone no matter how ill-informed it might be.

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Let’s talk about religion & women

When it comes to religion, I agree with what Raja Rammohan Roy and Jyotiba Phule have preached to us at a time when such an awakening was prevalent only in a few enlightened minds.

The religious books have been written by men, so how could they propagate the message of Gods?

In the 21st century, people kill in the name of God and I think even God might look and think, “Why in my name?”

Believe me, this is not just in any particular religion. A friend of mine once supported polygamy and even said that it’s a ‘religious and pious’ issue & we should not interfere.

To this, I just had to say one thing, in Hinduism women were burned alive which was claimed to be written in the scriptures, which took decades to change after considerable efforts of our social reformers. The uninformed youth of today is what the reformers of that time might have tried to avoid.

India’s social reforms targeted these two very systems from the very beginning: the caste system and religion.

Let me tell you the story of a very prominent figure in this context:

There was a woman who was a Brahmin who was keen on learning. She later married a lawyer who was from another caste and gave birth to their daughter. Tragedy struck and the man died in a few years, but she refused to live a desolate life as a widow and started the Arya Mahila Samaj. The year was 1882, and the woman was Pandita Ramabai.

We need to learn that if a woman in an age where women were married off at 7 to a 70-year-old man, she dared to question society. What are you afraid of with education at your hands from the very beginning?

Religion and feminism in a broader context

Why are women not allowed in some places of worship?

Why are most fasts exclusively meant only for women?

Why is menstruation a taboo?

There are many more questions that we may keep on asking, with no good answers.

I read that isolating woman during menstruation or giving them a break from work was meant to be a way to help them relax and take care of themselves during menstruation. But what might have been for a woman’s comfort, became a matter of purity.

Even now many families tend to follow this in the name of traditions which is wrong on so many levels.

Women and the deal with vratas

                                              Image credit: Jitiya/Wikipedia

The women deal with several vratas or fasts, and would you believe that apart from fasts for Gods or husbands, there is a separate fast for the male child known as Jitiya?

Although now many have tried to make these fasts gender-neutral, in most cultures, the burden is still solely on women. What people don’t realise is that it may add an extra burden along with the responsibility of work and home.

While many women support this in the name of culture or love for their spouse/ child, I wonder if they realise what it might do to their health. Many suffer from acidity, fatigue, headache, fainting, vomiting, which may appear as small issues, but why does any human need to suffer at all?

Does it guarantee a long life? Or is it just a superstition stretched far too long?

In the context of marriage, I have seen many people comment about how women have shed their symbols such as sindoor or mangalsutra. But I ask, what are the symbols that men have to wear post marriage? Or do they have to undergo a drastic change in their appearance as well?

Why can’t the in-laws treat their brides as daughters and not as an object?

The fact that I attempt to ask questions regarding this is not even welcomed in my own house per se. In a debate regarding dowry, my parents staunchly supported it as a positive aspect of society that should be enforced. But I do think that if every home has a girl who asks such questions, maybe they can attempt to change their families in future.

Also, when we look at South India, the sindoor culture is less prevalent among many Hindu societies, despite them being even more staunch and given the Bhakti movement in full momentum in the Southern states.

Do you know that in many religions using a contraceptive is taboo?

In many countries, there are abortion laws, in others such as China where there was a one-child policy up till 2015 and there were forced abortions and sterilisations. But in many Christian sects it was forbidden, so where did the religious beliefs go?

Is it only conditional?  Shouldn’t women have a right to their bodies?

Even after so many ads to use contraceptives, people feel shame in even going to the stores to buy condoms, mainly due to the judgemental looks of the people around them. Also, most of the contraceptives popularised and easily available are meant for women.

Most contraceptives are meant only for women

                                                    Image credit: Shutterstock

Let’s think it simply:

There are vaginal creams, copper T, daily pills, weekly pills, monthly pills, condoms, diaphragm, implants under the skin, injections, emergency pills, tubectomy and others for women.

For men? Condom and vasectomy!

Now, what are the side effects of condoms or vasectomy? Latex allergy or pain in case of a surgical procedure.

In females, the side effects include fever, headache, fatigue, cramps, menstrual inconsistency, abortions, breakthrough bleeding or even infertility.

Even the surgical procedure is more complex and dangerous as the uterine structures are located within the pelvic region, whereas males have an advantage as its location is outside the body and it hardly takes 30 mins for their surgery without any effects on their male vigour.

Even if we do a math problem, we can calculate how many children can a woman produce with multiple partners in a year?

Hence, we can infer that more contraceptives should be developed for males, whereas efforts should be made to reduce the harmful side effects of female contraceptives.

Why the virginity of a girl is a BIG issue

However, apart from the question of marriage and worship, the virginity of a girl is a whole other issue.

There are many regions where the two-finger test is done to check the girl’s sexual history which is often arbitrary. There is the ‘white-sheet’ test as well.

All of this is simply a form of physical and mental abuse. Coming to hymen and virginity, there are intimate tightening creams and even rejuvenation surgeries which are nothing but a method to gain money just to please a man!

To summarise, we may say that there are certain rules which almost every woman followed from birth for centuries & even today- from wearing appropriate clothes to playing fewer sports to not talking to boys to a ‘must get married’ and taking care and pleasing her husband and finally giving birth to boys.


Image credit: FatCamera from Getty Images Signature, Canva Pro

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Dr Arushi

Often the test of courage is not to die but to live.. read more...

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