By Gaurav Sharma
The degraded treatment accorded to women in the medieval age, has been the tipping point in brandishing Hinduism as a dogmatic and highly patriarchal religion.
Our history books are replete with references of women being forced to partake in Sati (self-immolation), cases of wicked oppression by the male gender, countless crude examples of coercion into child marriage, etc., among a myriad of other social evils that persisted during the middle age.
When a student of history is outrightly subjected to such a one-sided view of the Hindu society (which is how they are taught), it becomes quite natural for him/her to start visualizing Sanatana-Dharma or the eternal religion as being synonymous with a degraded version of theism, practiced by men of warped intelligence.
The propaganda levelled against Hinduism, of it being inherently oppressive towards the fairer sex, is meant to turn people against the true essence of Hinduism.
Such a manipulated notion paints a very dogged image of Hinduism; highly contrary to how it is in its unadulterated form.
A thorough understanding of the ancient Vedic texts would reveal a completely different view of women as propounded in the scholarly works of the modern historians.
When Divinity finds itself naked and incomplete without the female aspect of the Divine, it speaks volumes about the importance that is stressed upon womanhood in Hinduism.
Krishna is approached through his eternal consort Radha, Ram through Sita, Shiva through Parvati and so is the case with every spiritual form.
The whole school of Neo-Vedanta, established by Ramakrishna Paramhamsa and popularized by Swami Vivekananda, greatly emphasises the worship of Kali as 'the Mother'.
The conception that women were denied access to education in the Vedic age is utterly farcical. Several hymns of the Vedic canon have been composed by women such as Maitrayi, Ghose and Vak.
The composition of such highly sophisticated stanzas could not have been formulated unless the women were well-educated and knowledgeable.
Another social evil attributed to a 'superstitious' Hinduism, is the propagation of coerced child marriage. The Rig Veda, the oldest of the living Vedas, quashes such an argument in totum.
"An unmarried learned daughter should be married to a bridegroom who, like her, is learned. Never think of giving in marriage a daughter of very young age." (Rig-Veda 55:16)
The above statement makes it amply clear, that women, like men, were equally educated and learned and were married after reaching nubility.
The Vedic religion is also sometimes dubbed as 'backward' and 'illiberal' by arguments like women were bound within the realm of their paternal house, and were forced to live in a kind of social slavery.
On the contrary, young men and women were given unrestricted freedom to intermingle with each other. Samsanas, traditional equivalent of carnivals, used to be organized from time to time, allowing people from both genders to interact and participate in merry-making. And, many women chose their life partner from such social gatherings.
Moreover, there are considerable allusions to women marrying in older age. For instance, the female seer Ghosa married at a late age to the sage Kaksivan.
Such ennobling examples of freedom of choice in marriage, apart from invalidating Western notions of Hindus being caught in the web of 'arranged marriage', clearly highlight the maturity level which characterized the ancient Vedic religion.
The precept of dowry is also completely misunderstood by the predisposed minds famished under the tutelage of distorted history books.
Dowry was not a sum of money on which the transactional deal of women was based. In stark contrast, it was a parting gift that the woman carried with her to the new house, having sole preserve of its rightful use.
A widowed women, in the Vedic times, were given much affection and warmth. She had the right, or rather, the freedom to remarry. This can be corroborated by the following verse from the Rig-Veda(X, 18.8)
"Rise up woman thou art lying by one whose life is gone, come to the world of the living, away from thy husband, and become the wife of him who holds thy hand and is willing to marry thee."
While occupying a supreme position in the Vedic civilization, women were honoured and respected, not equally, but in a highly lofty fashion.
Turning back the pages of Vedas can indeed usher in a new era of feminism, one which is much more rooted in spiritual wisdom.