By Sumitra Padmanabhan
India is among the worst-affected countries according to the map created by UNDP based on Gender Inequality Index. Other countries with India in this SHAMEFUL list of nations are – Saudi Arabia, Papua New Guinea, Yemen, Sudan etc. This index is directly connected to the pathetic position of our ‘great’ country our ‘Mahan Bharat’ in the Human Development index.
Have we ever tried to find the reason? In spite of our so-called economic growth and superficial technological development why are we so far behind?
In this context I would like to quote a few passages from the book ‘Why I am an Atheist’ by Prabir Ghosh, the rationalist leader.
“The damages done by institutionalized religion.
If we analyze we will find among other things, two main serious disadvantages (created by religion in general):–
One: Dependence on supernatural remedies to our earthly problems.
Based on this we tried for the last few centuries to worship, follow strict ritualistic systems, build special places of worship, fight with other cults, create avatars or god-men and cherish secret apathy towards faiths other than our own. But all these have been done to no avail. Has this improved our lot in any way? No. The discovery of the wheel or the use of fire was not done by god or through any supernatural divine power. The penicillin or the electric bulb had to be invented by man, by using his brain. I think this point is already clear from my earlier chapters.
Two: Humiliation of women.
Women form half of mankind and belong to the same human species. But all religions practiced so far have degraded them categorically throughout ages. Biological differences are obvious and division of labor as far as all worldly functions are concerned is understandable. Even in the animal world we find a sharing of work between the male and the female. They complement each other. They are not antagonists. But all our institutionalized religions that came after the primitive open society in various and differing stages of civilization throughout the world have consciously dehumanized women. Worshipping the form of a woman as a goddess is an entirely different thing. I am talking of the real world.
Manu’s dictums can be treated as the Hindu religious law. Who is Manu? The first man who was ‘not born of any woman’ and who laid down the religious laws for mankind to follow. He was considered to be the son of Brahma the creator; or some believe he, like Brahma was born of himself or swayambhu. From him came the human race — manav, the Sanskrit word for mankind. Manu said – humans are divided into two primary classes—man and woman. Woman has no need to worship or follow rituals, devoting herself to her husband is her worship. A childless woman can be discarded after ten years of marriage. A quarrelsome wife shall be driven out without delay. A wife’s duty is to serve her husband; it is her gateway to heaven. Even a cruel, disloyal, errant husband is to be served like god, for a woman has no god other than her husband. For the man there are few restrictions– a devotee shall not visit a prostitute on the day of his initiation or indoctrination to Brahminism (the topmost Hindu class closest to god)! Visiting a brothel was not an issue with Manu. There are numerous written down instructions that, if followed closely would reduce women into a subhuman state of slavery.
Similarly Islam, the most modern of all religious institutions tried to give some rights to women in general. For example, a woman’s consent is needed for marriage, remarriage is allowed for a widow, which is a strict ‘No’ as per Hinduism, etc. As time passed the tight noose of religion became tighter for the woman. We can find the reason if we follow the religious texts Koran and Hadis. “Man is the lord or owner of the woman because man is made greater than woman by Allah … Among women if you find traces of disobedience, first advice them, then reject them in bed; and then beat them up.”[sura nisa: 34] “Among women, marry those you like – one, two, three or four of them at a time.”[sura nisa: 3]. “Your wife is like your field, you can plough her as it pleases you”[sura bakara: 223]. A wife can be divorced instantaneously by uttering a word ‘talak’ three times. And remarriage can take place without delay. So here again, a woman’s place in society as well as in family is that of a second class citizen. If it so pleases a man he can carry on any kind of atrocities – rape, torture, debauchery –without disregarding religious dictum and thus reduce a woman into a status worse than that of an animal.
Next I will quote a few lines from the book ‘Liberty of Man & other essays’ by the almost forgotten 19th century orator and lawyer R.G.Ingersoll in his plea for rational humanism.
“As long as woman regards the Bible as the charter of her rights, she will be the slave of man. The Bible was not written by a woman. Within its lids there is nothing but humiliation and shame for her. She is regarded as the property of man. She is made to ask forgiveness for becoming a mother. She is as much below her husband as her husband is below Christ. She is not allowed to speak. The Gospel is too pure to be spoken by her polluted lips. Woman should learn in silence.
“In the Bible will be found no description of a civilized home; the free mother, surrounded by free and loving children, adored by a free man, her husband, was unknown to the inspired writers of the Bible. They did not believe in the democracy of home…
“These inspired gentlemen knew nothing of the rights of children. They were the advocates of brute force—the disciples of the lash. They knew nothing of human rights. Their doctrines have brutalized the homes of millions, and filled the eyes of infancy with tears.”[Published by Rupa & Co in 2003; first published in 1858. ISBN 81-291-0010-8].
“So, this much about literal following of religious texts; are they not equally primitive? And are they not very similar in certain ways? It is true that in the modern world we do find a lot of progress by way of human rights, women’s rights and scientific understanding of seemingly supernatural phenomena. All this has been possible by disregarding the scriptures in literal sense. Then why we still cannot dump the religious institution altogether? Surely we can. If we stop being hypocrites, if nations stop being instruments for perpetuating religions, if people in power stop using religion as a tool for exploitation, if states do not give importance to religious sentiments above law and humanity, if common people are allowed to use common sense we can dislodge this age-old monster.
“Even now in tribal pockets throughout the world, in the jungles of Andaman & Nicobar Islands, in certain parts of Chhattisgarh in India there is no religion, And now a vast chunk of the western society proclaim themselves to be secular humanists Even among Hindus there are certain cults of nomadic singers called Bauls who do not believe in different castes, creeds, communities within the human race; according to them there are only two kinds of human beings—the man and the woman. Women enjoy equal status in their society. But they are negligible in number.
“There is something in the human brain that has taught him to break restrictions, to try new ideas. That is the beauty of the human mind. That is the secret of progress. Let us try.”
From the English translation of ‘Ami Kano Ishwar e Bishwas Korina’ by Prabir Ghosh.
For details of books by Prabir Ghosh, now being translated into English – please check www.prabirghosh.com
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