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Women’s Rights in Hindu Society

It is known that Hinduism as a religion has controversial views on the role of women in a family, society, and their rights. Traditionally, Hindu females have been considered as the keepers of private realms of hearth and home, and the advisors of their husbands. At the same time, if a woman could not give birth to a son or her husband died, she became worthless. Moreover, she had to commit suttee, i.e. to burn herself to death on her husband’s funeral in order not to break their unity. Today, this custom is forbidden; however, women’s rights are still in doubt.

The current paper is going to analyze the article from A Research Journal of South Asian Studies, written by Tahira Basharat, an Associate Professor in the University of Punjab, Lahore. It is called “The Contemporary Hindu Women of India: An Overview.” In this article, the author tells about her experience of living with Hindu females in the Indian community and dissects their achievements in the sphere of their rights. Tahira affirms that contemporary Hindu women of India have gained equal rights with men, social and economic development, and the political liberty (Basharat, 2009, p. 247). However, the author does not mention the situation with female rights in the rural areas of India.

The aim of the critical analysis is to show to the audience that there are other sides of the issue, which have not been covered by Tahira Basharat in her article. The paper will critically view the examples Professor Basharat provides for her research and give extra samples that oppose or supplement her statements. For this aim, the additional sources will be used. They are two scholarly books, Voices of Privilege and Sacrifice from Women Volunteers in India by Adity Mitra (an assistant professor of Sociology and Women’s and Ethnic Studies), and Hindu Women’s Property Rights in Rural India by Reena Patel (a feminist scholar). Despite the thought that contemporary Hindu women have achieved their freedom of speech and choice, females in the poor urban and rural regions of India suffer from men’s domination and disrespect.

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Dr. Basharat decided to write this article in 2007 when she had an opportunity to spend time in India and communicate with Hindu women. She compares Muslim and Hindu females and their rights in the society and draws a conclusion that Muslim women “were much better off for their religion” (Basharat, 2009, p. 243).The law defended their liberties in contrast to Hindu women being worthless. Nowadays, Hindu females have scored a success in their claims and are moving forward gaining equal rights with men.

Dr. Tahira Basharat has used for the analysis her personal experience, some scientific articles and books of other scholars. She begins her article with a historical background of Hinduism and the role of females in it. The author states that, according to the Vedas, the Scripture of Hindus, “women happen to be inhuman and are subject to no primary civil liberties” (Basharat, 2009, p. 243). Then she describes a negative attitude to Indian females that has been formed by the male community. Tahira uses the Vedic scripture as her main evidence. However, she forgets to analyze the other scriptures, i.e. Upanishads, for instance. There are some of them, which praise women and identify them with the Divine Mother.

Later on, the article gradually turns into the depicting of the situation in the modern Hindu society. Dr. Basharat (2009) gives several examples, confirming them with quotations about women’s attempts to change their status in India. As the illustration, the author declares that today females struggle much more to achieve the desired social liberty. As a contrast, Tahira provides another phenomenon telling the following fact. There still exist some fundamentalists that want to protect the so-called Hindu family  and “go back to such a life when women where more without tongue” (Allen, as qtd. in Bashsrat, 2009, p.244). The idea of contrast is very successful as it makes readers understand that there are different positions in India. Even today, there are such persons who want to preserve traditions.

The next steps in the article are giving examples of attempts to return the old traditions. The author has found some information that some fundamentalists “are trying to build in the contemporary Hindu women the sense of purdah and thus object the access to complete education”. (Sarasvati, as qtd. in Basharat, 2009, p. 244). She does not explain to readers what the word purdah means. The author forgets to add that there are mostly rural areas of India where such attempts are being made. Moreover, it is necessary to add that educated women are non-profitable for the society.

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In her book Hindu Women’s Property Rights in Rural India, Reena Patel claims “Illiteracy, poverty, inaccessibility of the courts and other administrative institutions, and ignorance of the law in particular, are common exclusionary factors operative upon a majority of the people in India, particularly in rural areas” (2007, p. 62). It proves that even administrative institutions are not educated enough to help females with their problems. Besides, Dr. Basharat avoids adding that if they have no education, they cannot fight for their privileges. The reason is that they do not comprehend how to prove their rightness. Aditi Mitra argues, “With more education and financial freedom, they are eager to define their new roles and negotiate their status in Indian society” (2013, p. 153). This argument is an essential appendage to the article, which insists that Hindu women can achieve more in their fight for equality.

Going further, Tahira mentions two Indian female politicians, i.e. Indhra Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. However, the author gives no particular examples of their achievements. Therefore, readers cannot fully understand the benefits of these politicians to the Indian society. It would be better to give some specific details in the article so that readers could thoroughly examine the information and make appropriate conclusions. Dr. Basharat then tells that Hindu feminists’ movements are not the particular movements against men. They are fights for human liberty, focused on different fronts: “gender, class, caste, economic status, and the like” (2009, p. 246). It might have been an interesting statement. However, men dictate most of the rules and laws in India. In Hindu scriptures, males dominate females, and women have to respect them. That is why it is doubtfully that Hindu women struggle not against men but the society.

Tahira Basharat asserts, “Despite the low standing of women […], women have plucked up courage to step forward and have taken prominent positions in the professions, business, and government” (2009, p. 246). Moreover, she grants no concrete examples and no quantitative analysis of these data. Tahira quotes Sara Mitter (1991) explaining that women have achieved some progress in a sphere of religion; and “now many women have become spiritual teachers in their own right” (p. 246). After that, the author makes a casual mention of some goddesses in Hinduism. Nevertheless, the allusion is too short; and readers cannot comprehend the value of those goddesses.

At the end of her article, Dr. Basharat summarizes her research and tells the following fact. Despite those women struggling for freedom, there are still many of them who want to preserve the traditions (Basharat, 2009). This is the right conclusion as the author gives some understanding that she has discovered another issue of Hindu women as well. However, Tahira provides no information about the methods of her study and the number of women participating in her interviews. Readers can ask what kind of women they have been, from what areas, and what their marital status has been. It would be better to show these data to readers in details. Therefore, they could imagine the situation more clearly. Thus, the analysis has been conducted superficially; and it needs to be investigated in the future.

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Hindu women have passed a long way to their liberty; and they have achieved some changes in the developed areas of India. However, many scholars forget to refer to poor areas of India, where the problem of female discrimination still exists. In addition, if educated women are aware of the modern laws and can hold their own ones in any fight, illiterate women from rural sites can hardly say something in attempt to protect themselves. Even if they venture to set up a feminist movement, they need the professional leaders’ help in their initiatives.

People used to think stereotypically about Indian women and their rights. However, this country is economically developing, and the status of females is changing. Moreover, many Hindu women have gained their right to get higher education and marry when they are ready and not when their parents dictate them. Nevertheless, in the urban areas of India, the traditions do not change. Therefore, females suffer from men’s cruelty and dominancy. Those women have to wait long until they can earn their freedom and match other of them in the modern society. It is needful to conduct more researches and take some active measures on this subject. However, the problem still exists, and the ways of solving it are contradictious and need a detailed study as well as considerable efforts.