Tax consultant and Prolific writer
One of the classic contributions of Periyar on gender equality aptly described as Dravidian Feminism (திராவிடப் பெண்ணியம்) by Dr.Prof.Sundaravalil in the work “How did woman become a slave?”. This topic now under the title “women’s empowerment” is the perennial subject of discussion for centuries, but still nothing more than lip service is paid to the cause of equality for women in India, though guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and is an accepted principle all over the world. In patent disregard of this mandate of the Constitution, Indian Parliament is yet to pass Womens’ Reservation Bill recognising even the limited 30 per cent reservation for women as against 50 per cent prompted by equality!
Women throughout the long history of mankind have always been considered by men as their property owned by them as chattel. In Hammurabi’s Code formulated by a King of Babylon (present day Iran and Syria), the philosophy of the author, an ancient law giver and a precursor of Roman law is “Eye for an eye and arm for arm” as the law of punishment for a crime. His Code requires the husband to be compensated for loss of his wife to another by thirty shekels of silver as against compensation for killing a male at sixty shekels. The Bible in Deuteronomy 22:28-9 decrees payment of fifty shekels to the father of a girl, who is seduced by a youth, if she is an unmarried virgin, besides having to take her as his wife.
Another offshoot of the aspect of the law has been that marital rape is not an offence in fifty three countries as found in a study in2006. In India, it is now sought to be recognised as an offence by a legislation.
In Greek democracy, in fifth century before Christ, a woman was forbidden to be a Judge, even if she has a good education engaged in business or in philosophical discourses. Even today women do not have a fair representation in all services in all countries. The appointment of only a third woman judge to the Supreme Court recently is hailed as unprecedented. It is only as recently in 2013, after long battle for voting and other rights, the US Supreme Court had three female Judges deciding in favour of legality of same sex marriage overruling the objections of four male Justices.
Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code provides for minimum imprisonment along with fine for the offence of adultery unless committed with consent or connivance of the husband. The framers of this law did not propose to make adultery an offence in the original draft of the legislation in 1837, but this section was inserted on the recommendation of Second Law Commission in 1845 before it became law in 1860. It is this addition, which is now under adjudication of the Supreme Court for one of the wrong reason, that section 497 favours woman by sparing her even where she is a willing partner to the crime of adultery, while it is the man alone, who is subject to punishment overlooking the reason behind it. This inference of undue favour to women was met even at the time of enactment of the Indian Penal Code as recorded in their commentary on the Indian Penal Code by Ratanlal and Dhirajlal reproduced as under:
“The condition of the women of this country is, unhappily, very different from that of the women of England and France; they are married while still children: they are often neglected for other wives while still young. They share the attentions of a husband with several rivals. To make laws for punishing the inconstancy of the wife, while the law admits the privilege of the husband to fill his zenana with women is a course which we are most reluctant to adopt. We are not so visionary as to think of attacking, by law, an evil so deeply rooted in the manners of the people of this country as polygamy. We leave it to the slow, but we trust the certain, operation of education and of time. But while it exists, while it continues to produce its never failing effects on the happiness and respectability of women, we are not inclined to throw into a scale, already too much depressed, the additional weight of the penal law”.
The crime of adultery with such heavy punishment of law is strangely condoned, if it is committed with the knowledge or connivance of her husband, an outrageous admission of the theory, that the wife was created as a plaything of her husband for his pleasure as was observed by Nietzsche in “Thus Spake Zarathustra’. She can be sold or hired out, while marriage should rest on mutual respect, trust and love.
One more aspect is the lot of Muslim women, who have to face degradation because of the triple talaq, which it is understood on good authority of scholars, is not actually validated by Quran. Much worse is the law or rather the practice of Talaq-E-Biddat, the halala, even where her husband is prepared to accept her back, having to go through a temporary marriage with another usually the father-in-law or brother-in-law as an intervening arrangement, a shocking unholy practice sanctioned in the name of religion, supposedly in the Shariat law. A Muslim lawyer, who supported this law, was brazenly abused and beaten up as shown in the National Television in The Times of India dated 3rd August, 2018 indicating the popular dissent to such practice. All India Muslim Personal Law Board succeeded in revocation of the decision in Shah Bano’s case, which enforced the sanctioned pension by the husband to wife, Shah Bano, 75 years old, left destitute by her husband by withdrawing the little financial assistance granted by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court in 23rd August, 2017 did express its horror on this unilateral act, but was met by a chorus of protests from Mullahs, Imams and Qazis questioning the decision with the unfortunate reaction of the Government to restore the pre judgement law. But it is the judiciary, which has come to the aid of Moslem women as pointed out by Ms. Shazia Ilmi in an article published in The Times of India dated 3rd August, 2018 in following words:
“The rot is deep, but justice must not elude the victims of triple talaq and nikah halala forever. Actually 22 August, 2017 will stand out in the annals of Muslim Personal Law in India, as a day of constitutional justice for the innumerable victims of arbitrary clerical rulings and fatwas. On that day a five judge bench of the Supreme Court took the bull by the horns, extricated the truth from the scriptures, and declared unilateral divorce practiced as talaq-e-biddat unconstitutional and un-Islamic.”
It is in the above context, one has to examine the claim that Hindu women fare better than women of other religions, because the Hindus accept women as goddesses, but conveniently forgetting that it is the Hindus, who sanctified Sati, burning the wife with her dead husband, till the British abolished it .
Science understands the difference between man and woman as biological, the male with one X and Y chromosomes, while a female has two X chromosomes enabling reproduction because of this difference, but this difference cannot justify further man-made differences. Anthropologists have pointed out, that this biological difference is so trivial, so that it does not justify a differential treatment. In this rapidly evolving society, the differences will get minimised and finally vanish as mankind itself may vanish along with the earth, if this planet like some other stars fall from the skies from time to time ceasing to be a part of the universe. While it lasts, any gender difference is a matter of bio-ethics.
There was a time, when man too dressed himself as women in colourful costumes like King Louis XIV of France and the Hindu Maharajas indicating the historical fact, that female superiority over male too was once recognized as evidenced from life of Cleopatra, Elizabeth I and Empress Wu Zetian of China.
Scientific studies debunk claims of racial superiority, though such claims once ruled in Hitler’s Germany. One more example is a recent claim of cultural superiority found in the saffron wing in our own country. There are variety of reasons for a claim of superiority besides other claims of superiority of men over men, whether of colour, caste or nationality. Trivial biological differences in the human race could hardly constitute superiority on any count.
History illustrate that the claims of superior hierarchy by men or sects as in the case of patriarchy, were present in every society. Caste system in India is one such manifestation. America and Afro-Asia were all patriarchal for thousands of years. India too was steeped into this worldwide phenomenon. It is said that Kerala is a matriarchal society, but it is only for observance of law of succession. As otherwise, women in Kerala has not always been considered equal in every respect with men in this male dominated State like any other State in India.
In animal world, elephants are recognised as being managed by stronger network of co-operative females by superior social skills as against the male elephants. It is not in the case of all animals, males have all prerogatives. The dominance of male was said to be based on the fact that man is physically stronger. But the truth is he was more aggressive, since it was proved that woman too can be strong with superior skills. An article in Humanist on Gender Binary points out that men do not have natural dominion over women. In fact, mankind does not have dominion over anything. All living things with life are precious.
It was not long before, the newspapers reported from Usilampatti in the South, the practice of infanticide. Abortion of female child in the womb was also stated to have be so common, that a law has been brought into force to ban it. Since Usilampatti reports had found its way in North Indian papers as well, a Gujarati colleague once told me that the practice is not confined to the South, but prevalent all over India. He added that it was no less prevalent in Gujarat, mainly caused by the dowry system and backed by the superstitious belief, that a son is necessary for the performance of the last rites lest the parent lose heaven. He said that it was not uncommon that the practice of doing away with female children even after they become older say five to fifteen years, when the family goes on a pilgrimage to Varanasi and enter the river Ganges for the holy dip either parent bath holding the hand of the child firmly, but releasing the hand once they reach the flowing current in the midst of the river, so that the child meets her end swept away in the holy Ganges with the consolation of the parents, that the unwanted child is released from the bondage of earthly life to heaven, thanks to the end in the arms of Mother Ganga. He said, that the practice is now probably not prevalent but he was not so sure.
A lighter side of this controversy is a story of a public meeting, where a French priest was highly critical of women moving freely without any restraint, claiming equality with men ignoring the gender difference between men and women. It was met with a jeering comment from a man in the audience “Vive la difference” welcoming the difference between men and women for the pleasure caused by the difference.
A brief history of mankind as recorded by Yuval Noah Harari in his book “Sapiens” forecasts evolution of man by which he may not create superman as was predicted by the German philosopher Nietzsche but as in the story’ by Mary Shelley, the creator of the character “Frankenstein”, evolution may happen in the wrong direction resulting in Frankensteins destroying fellow human beings.
Technological evolution in this computer age is a-moral. The existing beliefs in religions, ideologies and class in all likelihood will disappear and so may well be the distinction as between male or female gender. We are living in a fast changing Copernican world with Ptolemic ideas not having shed all of Neanderthal man in us. Transition from Hitler to Gandhi has not been universal.
Happiness of man may need not any longer depend upon his sex or family life, but in physiology and bio-chemistry with artificial brain ready to take over the functions of today’s man. Happiness does not lie in “collective delusions” like fantasies of happy married life or after-life in heaven. Gender difference is, also a personal delusion, which may well be shed with development of robotics and biochemistry. Harari again has this to say on the subject –
“There is only one historical development that has real significance. Today,
when we finally realise that the keys to happiness are in the hands of our biochemical system, we can stop wasting our time on politics and social reforms,
putsches and ideologies, and focus instead on the only thing that can make us truly happy: manipulating our biochemistry. If we invest billions in understanding our brain chemistry and developing appropriate treatments, we can make people far happier than ever before, without any need of revolutions. Prozac, for example, does not change regimes, but by raising serotonin levels it lifts people out of their depression.”
He adds what he infers on true happiness in following words:
“That’s one option. Another is that the findings demonstrate that happiness is not the surplus of pleasant over unpleasant moments. Rather, happiness consists in seeing one’s life in its entirety as meaningful and worthwhile. There is an important cognitive and ethical component to happiness. Our values make all the difference to whether we see ourselves as ‘miserable slaves to a baby dictator’ or as ‘lovingly nurturing a new life’. As Nietzsche put it, if you have a way to live, you can bear almost anyhow. A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.”
The struggle of woman for equality is a slow on-going process. Even in US, where there has been significant movement for women’s rights for voting rights took a long time with considerable resistance characterized as an outrageous demand. A female Judge of the Supreme Court or a female Cabinet Secretary was possible only recently considered to be a dramatic change. The parochial system of patriarchy is slowly vanishing in India, while the situation continues to be deplorable in neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Middle as well as Far East.
The grim forecast of the author even relegating issue of gender bias to the coming catastrophe (or is it day of judgement?) caused by himself as to the future by his negligence of environment reads as under:
“We have advanced from canoes to galleys to steamships to space shuttles – but nobody knows where we’re going. We are more powerful than ever before, but have very little idea what to do with all that power. Worse still, humans seem to be in more irresponsible than ever. Self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company, we are accountable to no one. We are consequently wreaking havoc on our fellow animals and on the surrounding ecosystem, seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement, yet never finding satisfaction.”