Surpanakha’s Daughters

March 20, 2008

This is an old article I just found while searching for something else. I guess I wrote it for Rediff, which for some reason didn’t run it. Well, perhaps it’s a little rude towards a sub-section of Indian women. But let me hasten to add that I am a *huge* fan of Indian women. Really. I have said so many times before, including on Rediff. I personally find Indian women on average much more straightforward than American women, and not into game-playing and self-aggrandizement. They are also, in my personal opinion, far more attractive and sexy as well. So it’s not *all* Indian women whom I aim this broadside at, but a tiny minority of harpies amongst them.

Well, perhaps it’s a little relevant considering the ‘historic’ battle between a woman and black man in the US, as well.


Surpanakha’s Daughters


Rajeev Srinivasan on the ill-effects of thoughtless ‘feminist’ legislation


That was the name of a dance-drama choreographed by Mallika Sarabhai: the title, and the performance, were meant to tell modern Indian women to no longer look to the traditional Hindu role-models, such as the pancha-kanyas: Ahalya, Draupadi, Kunti, Tara and Mandodari (see the illuminating monograph by Pradip Bhattacharya ). No, these are passé, retrogressive figures, and today’s with-it Indian woman should rather emulate a lust-crazed Titan/Asura woman who relentlessly pursued a married man who showed no interest whatsoever in her! A very fine exemplar indeed!

There were also elements of half-baked victimhood and Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Germaine Greer thrown into this mix: some far-fetched and laughable equating of Titans with the allegedly oppressed women of India. That Rama mutilated Surpanakha by cutting off her breasts and nose — although for a shape-shifting Titan this probably wasn’t as final as it would be for a mere mortal — has been used as a metaphor for allegedly wife-beating Indian men.


At the time, I was amused by the zeal to borrow the White Woman’s Burden and femi-nazism and to customize them for local consumption. After the recent coming-into-force of a radical law that is supposed to empower women, I am no longer amused, I am a little alarmed. This is a dangerous law, pushed through by those ubiquitous busybodies known as NGOs, the subject of a damning indictment recently by Radha Rajan and Krishen Kak in NGOs, Activists and Foreign Funds: Anti-Nation Industry.


The net impact of this is likely to be far more negative than anybody anticipates: a perfect example of the Law of Unintended Consequences. I think, in effect, this is a direct assault on the institution of marriage.


Ironically, radical feminists of the US are now finding that, much to their surprise, their successors, young women, are not so much into bra-burning and butch rejection of men as exemplified by the slogan: “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”. There is a reaction to the excesses of feminism, and women are beginning to appreciate the joys of an old-fashioned household with a male and female married to each other. I suppose eventually this will filter down to affluent urban Indian women too.


And that is the root of the problem with the new domestic abuse law: it is a construct, for, by and of affluent urban women. The purported beneficiaries of this law, on the other hand, are poor, oppressed, disempowered, rural women, of which, alas, there are many in India. But the affluent urban woman simply has no clue as to the real problems of oppressed rural woman. She wouldn’t recognize the rural woman’s problems if they were presented to her on a platter.


I feel obliged to emphasize that I am a huge fan of Indian women – I made this clear in a previous column “In praise of Indian women” . I reserve my ire for a small, shrill and vocal minority: two types of urban Indian women neo-colonialists. One is the well-meaning but dumb type: like the bimbos who appear on chat shows on English-language Indian TV and embarrass themselves and their viewers with their inanity.


The second is the more dangerous, malevolent variety, the kind that is a fifth-columnist for anti-national interests. Harpies of this variety are many, and legendary, and I could name names, but shall not, discretion being the better part of valor. They are the loud women shrieking like banshees about every issue that suits the vested interests of some NGO (which often go hand in hand with some moneyed foreign government).


But these people have clout, and their intention is malign. They are thick with the powers-that-be, and are successfully pushing their vested interests and agendas on to an unsuspecting public, with drastic, long-term and negative effects. They have adopted the White Woman’s Burden, which accepts the white (generally American) woman’s vanity that her problems are universal, and her solutions are as well.


This is not true at all. The white West is not the norm; it only accounts for less than 20% of the world’s population. And white women’s problem of being treated merely as pneumatic sex objects is not necessarily applicable to the rest of the world. Nor are their solutions working. For instance, the ancient Semitic prescription of a woman as worth 56% of a man (see my 1998 column “Speaking of Women” ) is still valid: after all the high-decibel screeching, women in the US still only make 72 cents to the dollar made by a man in the same job ( )! And what about the Equal Rights Amendment, may I ask? Did you mumble “sank without a trace”?


I think this has something to do with desert West Asian prejudices, carried forward faithfully by Semitic ideologies: that a woman is ipso facto inferior at best, chattel as worst. This prejudice simply doesn’t exist in Indic culture. Women become more powerful with age, in stark contrast to the West. Women in various sectors in India – education, banking, medicine, high-technology, law – do not complain about wage discrimination, for instance. They generally get paid just as much as men do.


There are two reasons for this: one, the traditionally high status of women in Indian society; and two, more broadly, Indian expectionalism – the fact that India is, in a very real way, different.


The fact of the matter is that women have been forever held in high esteem in Indian society. Going back to hoary antiquity, women were involved in every aspect of Indian life: Lopamudra, Maitrayi, Gargi, woman sages; Avvaiyyar, Meerabai and other Bhakti saints; warrior queens like the Rani of Jhansi; poets like Akka Mahadevi; and innumerable others. Furthermore, the idea of Woman as equal – in fact superior – to Man is inherent in Hindu thought: for instance the very idea that feminine Shakti is the potent Principle that animates the male Purusha, and the enigmatic Ardhanariswara that fully accepts the inherent feminine in the masculine, and vice versa. Unlike in the West, women are looked up to India, and, literally, worshipped as the Goddess, Devi.


Here’s a good quote from the historian Will Durant: “Women enjoyed far greater freedom in the Vedic period than in later India. She had more say in the choice of her mate than the forms of marriage might suggest. She appeared freely at feasts and dances, and joined with men in religious sacrifice. She could study, and like Gargi, engage in philosophical disputation. If she was left a widow there were no restrictions upon her remarriage.” (from The Story of Civilization – Our Oriental Heritage”).


Furthermore, there is some reason to believe that India is and was exceptional. It is not like other nations. I say this fully expecting guffaws from Sepoys (Rajiv Malhotra’s cruelly accurate term for Gunga-Din-type water-carriers for westerners) — but consider: Americans are convinced that their nation is unique (see the recent “Blessed Among Nations: How the World made America” by historian Eric Rauchway) based on just one century of affluence. Why not make the same claim for a nation that was the wealthiest in the world for millennia (refer to Angus Maddison “The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective”) and also was the world leader in creativity and intellectual property?


India is different, and there is no point in pretending that western solutions can simply be imported to become panaceas for India’s problems. For local problems, because Indian society is so complex, we need local solutions. Interesting little tidbit: Gloria Steinem spent two years in India, and she got her ideas on the empowerment of women after seeing the power of Devi and Shakti worship.

Now I shall proceed to the ritual mea culpa that is required from all Indian men, and admit that, yes, there have been abuses such as female infanticide and dowry deaths in India. This is regrettable, and I don’t condone it, nor do I excuse it because violence against women is endemic in the West as well. But let those who haven’t sinned cast the first stone: white people are massively guilty of violence against women. The percentage of women murdered by ‘intimates’ in the US is higher than that in India, and the rates of gender-based violence are greater. (See sources like the National Organization of Women and the European Women’s Rights Commission )


Several of these quotes here, by the way, are courtesy of the website, an excellent sourcebook and a labor of love by Sushama Londhe, and in particular its page on women


If you look at the historic roots of the devaluation of women in India, as in Veena Oldenberg’s ( book “Dowry Murder: The Imperial Origins of a Cultural Crime”, it is clear that, along with many other things, imperialist whites perverted what was once a sensible system. So, the White Man’s Burden created dowry deaths, and now the White Woman’s Burden is to fix it? Thanks, but no thanks, enough of your bright ideas!


The anti-dowry bill that was ramrodded through Parliament without adequate thought is an excellent example of improper legislation. On paper, it sounds as though it will prevent people from demanding or giving dowries, which presumably will make the birth of a daughter seem even more of a joyous thing. But what has been the impact? Dowry is thriving even in the most educated and ‘progressive’ parts of the country, for instance in Kerala. A particular irony is that it is most virulent in Kerala among Christians who, if you were to believe NGO-succubi rhetoric, are emancipated and forward-thinking.


Furthermore, the dowry act and a similar act about rape have turned out to have a fatal flaw: they are being misused for blackmail or revenge purposes by affluent urban women who have a grudge against a man. Since asking for a dowry is a serious, non-bailable criminal offence, women casually allege that a man and his family have made such demands: and the burden of disproving this is on the man, and he is usually in jail, held without bail. Similarly a man accused of rape is immediately arrested and held. Since the judiciary has an obvious soft spot for women, this means serious harassment of men.


It is interesting that it is not the purported beneficiaries of these laws, that is poor, rural women, who are filing all those cases of dowry harassment. It is not women who actually are victimized in dowry deaths, or their relatives, who file these suits. It is educated, well-off urban women who misuse these well-meaning laws to harass often innocent men. This is State-sanctioned discrimination, which does not seem to excite any lawyers.


The same will happen with the Protection of Women from Domestic Abuse Act of 2005 as well. It is highly intrusive, because it defines ‘abuse’ exceedingly broadly, and holds that a single act of such ‘abuse’ is sufficient justification for its application. The crime is cognizable and non-bailable, and can lead to one year in jail and/or Rs. 20,000 in fines. This act applies not only to married couples but also to those living together. And by definition the accused is always a man or his relatives, as though a woman and her relatives were simply incapable of being nasty. This is, frankly, extreme prejudice.


Therefore, a woman who feels peeved because she has been scolded by her husband or boyfriend — and I assume this will be extended in due course to roommates who are not even in a sexual relationship — can with impunity abuse a man as much as she wants, physically, sexually, mentally, emotionally or economically, and then she can continue to enjoy living under the same roof. Whereas the man goes to jail at once and cannot get bail. And guess who will misuse this act the most? Yes, the same educated, urban, ‘liberated’, westernized, affluent woman determined to enslave/dominate her husband.


Furthermore, most of these provisions apply to children as well, and interestingly, a suit can be brought on behalf of a child by anybody at all. Expect the friendly neighborhood virago belonging to some interfering NGO to be quite busy doing this.


It would appear that under these circumstances the best bet for a man is to not get married. Or even live with a woman. Why bother to have any kind of relationship with a woman other than a one-night stand? Or perhaps men should seek solace in the arms of other men. Or, if you are rash enough to get married, prepare to live in sheer terror of the woman. You may not scold her (verbal and emotional abuse), withhold money for any of her fantasies (economic abuse), seek sex (sexual abuse), kick her out (she cannot be ejected), or in any way say or do anything she doesn’t like. Otherwise, you will find yourself in jail pronto, protesting your innocence under the draconian non-bailable-offense provision. Guilty until proved innocent, a perversion of jurisprudence.


In other words, this will wipe out the traditional family consisting of a married man and woman and their children. And this comes at a time when elsewhere, the decline of the traditional family is blamed for a raft of social psychoses and abnormalities, and governments are desperately trying to figure out ways to make families more viable. Singapore even tried ‘Love Boats’ to get its reluctant Chinese yuppies to marry and reproduce.


Here is what may happen: people will not stop having sex (I have news for the NGO harridans – Indian women like sex, after all they inspired Vatsyayana) and therefore there will be many more unmarried and casual couplings, and the spread of diseases such as AIDS. There will be more unwanted pregnancies and abortions, more unwed mothers, pressure on the government to come up with new handouts for supporting single mothers, and the eventual disappearance of the man from the family. This has happened with blacks in the US – a generation of fatherless children – and partly as a consequence, fully 30% of young black men are in prison. This disaster is what we want for Indian families?


A cure worse than the disease: Congress and Old Left politicians are infamous for this. Examples abound. They hiked agricultural wages in Kerala, ostensibly to protect farm laborers. Result? Paddy cultivation came to a grinding halt as it was no longer profitable, and the laborers lost their jobs. Similarly, the Central government opted to plan and control the economy in excruciating detail. Result? Stagnation, loss of competitive advantage, loss of entrepreneurship, and virtual collapse of the economy.


It is the same geniuses, chivvied on by ill-intentioned NGO shrews, who are behind this insane law. Do you really want these Big Brothers and Big Sisters in your bedroom?


The traditional Indian joint family system has many pluses; so did, in Kerala, the matrilineal system of descent and joint families. A century ago, white imperialists banned the matrilineal system in Malabar which they ruled. Why? Because it didn’t fit in with their prejudices. We are poorer for the disappearance of these sensible constructs where sisters owned the family property, lived in their ancestral homes and had husbands come to live with them.


Through this new law, the descendants of home-wrecker imperialists are preparing another assault on the Indian family. This law is thoroughly misguided and malevolent: the end result is going to be interesting – most likely this will lead to a reduction in the birth-rate, as men may simply stop marrying and having children. At a time when India’s demographic pattern is seen as a major plus, oh yes, this would be one way of reducing the population and reducing its competitive advantage.


There is a cautionary tale – ancient Sparta. The Spartans died out partly because they gave their women extraordinary freedom including the right to have sexual relations with many men, and they responded by having hardly any children at all. Incidentally, Spartan men did seek solace in each other’s arms, as, for them, the military phalanx they were part of was the primary social group. Furthermore, it is the case that in the permissive West, and in Japan, the number of children being born is so low that they are dying out. Compare this to extra-fertile, and controlled, Mohammedan women. Maybe the dyspeptic Manu had a point when he said na stri swatantryam arhati. Stepford, anyone?


This new bill is yet another idiotic and hare-brained idea, along with the litany of other grievously harmful ideas foisted upon India by the Old Left and the NGO cottage industry: including ‘Secularism’, the ‘Aryan Invasion Fantasy’, the ‘Let’s let China conquer Tibet’ policy, the ‘Let’s take Kashmir to the UN’ idiocy, and most recently, the ‘Let’s trust the Americans and give up our nuclear capability’ syndrome.


Indians are the world champions at self-inflicted wounds, and this one goes right to the heart of Indian culture, creating a deep chasm between men and women. Indeed, the Asuras are winning: Surpanakha would be proud of her daughters. All that remains is to make it a criminal offence for a man to rebuff the unwanted romantic advances of any woman. I hear it is in the works as the Prevention of Rejection of Amorous Younger or a Tad Older Women Act of 2007, also known as PRAY-TO-WOMEN ACT 2007. Coming soon to a courthouse near you, brought to you by your favorite NGO ghouls.

1565 words, Nov 6, 2006


6 Responses to “Surpanakha’s Daughters”

  1. Ghost Writer Says:

    A minor point of correction – it was not Sri Ram, but Laxman who actually cut her nose. The parallel is entirely misplaced of course – the episode in the Ramayana is meant to teach the “Husband-Hounds” (i.e. women who chase married men) their proper place in the scheme of things. It is meant to highlight the sanctity of marriage. In fact the classic revolves around the sanctity of the family institution.

    The newly liberated urban Indians amuse me no end- the anti-dowry ayatollahs who bray loudly about “equality” have no problem accepting differential taxation for men and women in India. Though it is the income and not the person that should be taxed

  2. rajeev2007 Says:

    Yes, Ghostwriter, I stand corrected regarding Lakshmana (ever the quick-to-anger one) in fact cutting off Surpanakha’s nose (and breasts).

    I just re-read the Pradip Bhattacharya monograph on pancha-kanyas. Absolutely marvelous! I wish I had the deep scriptural knowledge to write like he does! The Hindu scriptures and epics are so full of powerful women there is no need for anybody to look outside the culture.

  3. bzbody Says:

    You went to protracted lengths to decry the law; let’s grant that said law deserved it. However, I didn’t see any thoughts on uniquely Indian solutions to violence against women (which you accept exists).

    You are not obliged to provide your own solutions each time you criticize something; however it is helpful to recognize the dynamics of how these invasive and arguably thoughtless laws come into being. Nature, as they say, abhors a vacuum, and the lack of interest on the part of (presumably) right-thinking people in proactively addressing social problems provides the opportunity for the wrong-thinking ones to impose their solutions.

    Occupying and holding political and social space is an art we have to re-learn before we can think of reclaiming our place in the world.

  4. […] Sarabhai, the TED Fellow choreographed a vile dance-drama entitled, Surpanakha’s daughters. As this superb dissection puts it, Sarabhai wants Indian women to discard their traditional role models of women of exemplary […]

  5. […] Sarabhai, the TED Fellow choreographed a vile dance-drama entitled, Surpanakha’s daughters. As this superb dissection puts it, Sarabhai wants Indian women to discard their traditional role models of women of exemplary […]

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