India is celebrating Diwali, the festival of lights. But Indian feminist author Rita Banerji is not celebrating it, because she does not like the Diwali story. She thinks the gods and the traditions people celebrate in India, contain the seeds of violence against women and girls. She says:
Diwali is the annual, Indian festival of lamps, and the Hindu god Ram is the hero of this festival. The story goes, that Ram’s wife, Sita, was abducted by the Sri Lankan king, Ravana, (who usually is portrayed as an ogre in Indian myths to contrast with Ram’s godliness). Ram collected an army and went to battle Ravana, defeating and killing him, and rescued his wife. When he returned to India with Sita, the Indians celebrated his victory and valor by lighting thousands of oil lamps. The lamps symbolized the victory of light over dark, i.e. the power of ‘good’ over ‘evil.’
So Diwali, with its lamps, lights and fire-crackers is a bright and noisy celebration of Ram’s victory and goodness. This is a man who went to war for his wife! Doesn’t that make him an ideal husband material for any woman? Young, unmarried Indian women are often told in blessing, “May you get a good husband like Ram.”
Recently an Indian politician—incidentally also with the first name Ram—Ram Jethmalani, took exception to this notion and said, “Ram was a bad husband.” His remark caused an uproar in the right-wing conservative circles in India (to which Jethmalani actually belongs!), that for long have nurtured a vision of India’s future as one that would resemble Ram’s kingdom – the Ram rajya.
Jethmalani’s contempt concerns what Ram did after he returned home with Sita. Reportedly Ram overheard a washerman’s remark doubting Sita’s sexual “purity.” During her captivity surely Sita was raped, which in the washerman’s , as indeed probably much of the public’s perception, rendered Sita “impure.” Eager to restore his exalted status in the public’s eye, Ram decided to banish Sita to the woods, even though she was pregnant at the time.
Sita’s years in exile are paradoxically reflective of the lives of thousands of women in India’s slums and villages today, who’re often abandoned by their husbands, and like Sita they live like outcastes, in poverty, struggling to singly raise their children. Ram’s attempt to have Sita prove her “purity” by stepping into fire (from which she apparently emerged unsinged!) is also evocative of the fate of thousands of young women, in the 21st century India, who are burnt to death for dowry by their husbands and in-laws, the so-called “bride burnings.”
Sita’s life has embedded in it one other tragic element of what it means to be female in India. And that’s female infanticide. Sita was found by her adoptive father, buried alive in a pot beneath the ground, a method still used sometimes for killing female infants. Every year, thousands of girls, within the first year of their birth, continue to be murdered in various ways in India, just because of their gender.
So it turns out that – the myths, the gods, the history, and the traditions, we continue to eulogize and celebrate in India, contain in them the seeds of violence on women and girls.
Do we have the conscience to say – Sorry Ram! But you are no role model for men in India today?
I think for starters, we need a major re-haul in the concept of Diwali as it stands. I propose we re-name it “Sita-wali,” and observe it as a day of confession and atonement for the wrongs done by society towards Sita and the women and girls of India.
Unless India learns to do that, it remains a spiritually hypocritical nation, stuck in the lies of misogynistic myths and traditions.
Religious or spiritual ceremonies are not only unscientific, unjust and unequal, most of the times they are anti-women. Gods and religions were created by men who strongly believed in patriarchy. We do not need to waste our times on gods. There is absolutely no need to make a bunch of patriarchal gods women-friendly gods. We do not live in gods’ weird world, because that world does not exist. We should rather inspire patriarchal men to be better men, to resist themselves from being influenced by misogynist gods and to stop harassing, torturing, abusing, killing women. The time has come to bury misogyny with mythology and return to reality.
Shan Shylesh says
Do we have the conscience to say – Sorry Ram! But you are no role model for men in India today?
Pardon, First do we have the confidence to say that it is just a Tale of myths?
Riya Parikh says
Even if we do have the confidence to say that it is a tale of myths, how will it change the situation?
Myths, fictions, bed-time stories.. Most of them are written to teach us something.
Atleast the Blog Post is pointing out with the line, “Do we have the conscience to say – Sorry Ram! But you are no role model for men in India today?” that Ram or Lord Ram cannot be considered as a Role Model for present times. Which, does change a few mindsets.
sudhir kumar says
Factually incorrect. there was no uproar on jethmalani’s comments.
It was in the news because jethmalani is a well known person. Even after that no one called for any action or anything. Traditional indian culture gives everyone right to have their own views. You can denounce God. You can denounce whatever you wish. Sole principle law governing us all is the Law of karma , and every one has that of their own. A better writing was expected from someone like Tasleema. Just to prove your point, you need not demonise entire hindu culture and its people.
“Sole principle law governing us all is the Law of karma”
Is it really? Do you have any evidence for that hypothesis? And what about the law of the country you live in? Most Hindus live in India, so I’d have thought that the laws of India govern them, and the Hindus living in other countries are similarly governed by the respective laws of those other countries.
“Just to prove your point, you need not demonise entire hindu culture and its people”
Show me where she did. As far as I can tell, her point is that traditional Hindu cultures tend to have a problem with misogyny and violence against women, and that this problem is made more intractable by the fact that many of them actually believe myths that appear to justify such misogyny. This is not the same as ‘demonising’ an entire culture.
roger ivanhart says
I agree with David but would go further. It seems incomprehensible that anyone would deny the existence of misogyny and violence against women – except perhaps a misogynist or, at the very least, someone who is blind to the plight of others.
Tragically for many beliefs and religions the eradication of misogyny would leave the realisation that those beliefs and religions are based on male-inspired myths. In that way, perhaps, a whole culture could be effectively demonised.
However, is that so terrible if it leads to women being treated as equals, free from domination and violence?
Another excellent post, Taslima.
Buzz Saw says
I would add to what David said and also point out that it was not Taslima who said anything about Jethmalani. Taslima was quoting someone else. Now, you could perhaps call Taslima out for not calling out the author herself, but any outrage that people may or may not have had toward Jethmalani doesn’t seem to be relevant to the overall point of this article. You really seem to be making an issue out of trivialities.
At google news, every result but one for “Ram Jethmalani” is about his “bad husband” comment, including a BJP reaction and reports of calls to assault him.
Ram Jethmalani appears to be a man with an actual conscience, rather than one who just parrots whatever he’s been told.
That is worth admiring.
Dr. Amit Ranjan says
Fantastic! Feminism is ultimate atheism! It’s true, my mom had similar story to tell, she didn’t, as well as my wife, like Ram for the very same reason that he banished Sita [or, probably as some other tales of Rama, ordered her killed, but compassionate Laksamana left her in jungle and brought a deer’s heart as an evidence of the murder.
The brahminical story is the tale of barbaric tradition of oppressing and exploiting women & weaker sections of the society. It’s high time that we stop referring to such mythology a valuable guide to our modern life. Much has changed and such scriptures, even if they are claimed to have some message, have long lost their values and important in our lives.
Let’s forget god and remember humanity.
This cynicism at its best. To most folks who celebrate the festival today, it means nothing more than sharing joy and lighting diyas to represent triumph of the good over the evil. Lets please view it as just that! It is not a celebration of female infanticide, or misogyny, or female suppression in any form.
I wish people who want to associate negativeness with everything would just take a day off today, light a lamp, share warmth with people around them and experience what Diwali is really about.
roger ivanhart says
Most people look at a bed, feel the mattress, admire the covers and say: “This is a wonderful bed”.
A few of us, like Taslima, look under the bed and see how much dust and dirt has gathered there. We say: “Yes, this is a good looking bed but look what the fine covers are hiding!”
Many people hate us for spoiling the illusion of fine living.
Again, nowhere in India is Diwali celebrated as a day that glorifies the oppression or suppression of women. But yes, there are other Indian and world-wide religious practices that lead to suffering of women which need to be condemned and corrected. Intellectuals of the present world are tasked with this delicate job and will need to comprehend and internalize the subtle difference between criticism and cynicism. Associating benign celebrations with something they do not represent will only account to cynicism and not constructive criticism that will actually help bring about any change.
If lighting lamps in celebration of good over evil and spending time with loved ones is criticized as an oversight of the “dust inside the bed”, the dust would rather seem to be inside the vantage point and not the bed 🙂
You know, it’s perfectly possible to enjoy Diwali as a secular festival-“lighting lamps in celebration of good over evil and spending time with loved ones”–and still point out the misogyny underlying the story behind the festival.
I’m an atheist. I still enjoy Christmas, but that doesn’t mean I can’t point out that the New Testament is full of made-up stories that reflect the (often barbarous) culture of the times in which they were written.
roger ivanhart says
Excellent comment, and so true.
Rita Banerji says
Thank you Taslima for reposting this!! Looking over the comments I’m laughing at what Summne writes here. In one way he is right — the Diwali festival other than the big fireworks show of burning Ravan doesn’t really feature Ram anywhere. The “idols” that people are worshipping are that of Lakshmi — the only form that females are acceptable in — as wealth. We can put a garland around Lakshmi tagged “Dowry” and then put her up besides Ravana for the final fireworks show. I’m sure that’ll appeal to many!
I agree with this view of Rama. However, as almost always in India, this interpretation of Diwali being in honour of Rama does not hold good in all parts of the country. In South India, while Diwali is seen, as in the north, as a celebration of good over evil, the story is that it relates to the killing of the demon Narakasura by Krishna on what is known as Narakachaturti day. This is followed by a celebration in honour of the good Asura kind Bali, who was granted a wish to be remembered at least one day each year, when he was pushed by Vishnu in his Vamana avatar.
It’s interesting that the stories are different for the same celebration.
The same happens in the West.
The celebration’s real meaning is obvious if you look at the lights: it is an astronomical celebration. Every religion has a “light” celebration, either at the winter solstice or a month or two away. The stories are excuses; really it is about the fact that the days are short and it’s dark a lot, so let’s light some fires.
The Christian version is “Christmas”, with a particularly flimsy and inappropriate story. Actual celebrations are the same as they were in Pagan Europe — light fires and candles and decorate pine trees. (And give presents, which happens in pretty much every holiday celebration.)
The Jewish version is “Hannukah”, which has its own convoluted myth, but again the giveaway is that it’s all about lighting candles.
There’s probably a Chinese winter lights festival which I don’t know about.
I am glad it made you laugh Rita. That’s quite a mature way of looking at things without being cynical. And yeah, because he is disagreeing with your viewpoint, it is quite safe to assume that someone like summne finds dowry acceptable and appealing (in addition to women oppression, suppression, and misogyny that is)
Gregory in Seattle says
Actually, the story is worse than that. After rescuing Sita, Rama refused to take her back: he had fought to regain his honor, not his wife. It was not until she literally walked through fire (her agni pariksha) that Rama conceded that she had remained pure. The incident with the washerman happened later, and was in response to Sita being noticeably pregnant soon after her rescue.
Gregory in Seattle says
As for Diwali, it seems that it originated as a harvest festival: every religion (it is also observed by Jains, Sikhs and some Theravada Buddhists), sect and community have different — often times contradictory — reasons for the celebration. From what I’ve read in the past, the link to Sita is noted only among those of Hinduism’s Vaishnava denomination.
Ah, a harvest festival.
Some core ancient reasons for festivals:
(3) it’s cold and dark and the middle of winter
(4) it’s hot and dry and the middle of summer
Diwali is certainly not only the celebration of return of Lord Rama but also of the triumph of good over evil. This post seems like a desperate attempt to attract controversy. Don’t take the leverage that Hindus are peaceful to throw any mud that you feel like. I strongly oppose that Hinduism has replete stories of injustice to women. In fact, Hinduism was very libral to women historically which of course changed as a result of Muslim rule in India. Taslima: Have an abundant knowledge of the background that you are shouting at.
Watergate, the strategy of insurgencies, destroyed by our own insecurities.
Nixon wasn’t impeached because of the Watergate break-in. He was prosecuted because of the overreaching abuse of power he employed to cover up the break-in. It is the coverup and excessive zeal in protecting the initial misdeed that nails you.
Guerrilla tactics, often terrorism, are used by a weaker force to defeat a more powerful one. The simple truth is that in a face-to-face battle the weak seldom win. Al Qeada was never, and likely will never be, powerful enough to pose a serious threat to the existence of the nation. As traumatizing as having people hijack and use airliners as weapons was/is it isn’t going to destroy the US.
But that wasn’t the point. Insurgency tactics are all about provocation. Cause the the larger force to overreact, do something stupid, expend its resources in a useless show of force that breaks off allies, discredits the nations standing, and demoralizes the populous. That is how insurgencies win.
It plays upon the insecurities of the nation. We picture ourselves as powerful tot eh point of being unassailable and above it all. Multiple terrorist attacks shattered that illusion and tasked us with defending the other illusions that makes up our self image. We responded in a big, violent, ruthless, and vindictive ways because that is part of our national character. Parts of our national psyche nurtured by a century of story telling and myth making.
We are also generous, liberal, energetic, forgiving, and even handed … even just … but those parts don’t make for good stories. It is hard to write movie script about everything going right and justice prevailing because everyone did the right thing. After school specials are inherently uninteresting.
Back to the problem at hand. The Hindu God Ram has his wife carried off by Ravana. The subtext is: why did Ram allow his wife to be carried off? Sure – things happen. But Ram is a God. No matter what happens from this point on Sita becomes the embodiment of Ram’s failure and her being carried off is the dividing line between the perfect past, and the clouded present.
Anyway, he raises an army, why does a God need an army to defeat Ravana, and rescues Sita. All is presumably well and good but the distant darkness comes home to roost.
But then Ram hears the whispering of a washer woman questioning Sita’s virtue as she may have been raped. It raised questions. Why would Ram, a God, worry about what a washer woman said if he was secure in his own virtue. Is this the blowback from his own failings? Is he projecting his own failings onto Sita and making her pay for his doubts.
He, they, presumably took her word for her virtue before Ram married her. Why not take her word now?
What I see is the typical ‘golden past myth’ that overlooks the fractured between and within people. Ram was in denial, Ravana must have been a known threat. He was careless, he failed to protect his wife. He was harbored hidden doubts about Sita’s virtue and his own worthiness. He trusts her word as long as he maintains constant surveillance on her but doubts her word and loyalty once she is away. As a God, a worthy God, certainly Sita would want to tell the truth. It is his own doubt, the locus of his self-worth being made available to the whisperings a washer woman, and his willingness to have the character of his marriage judged by outsiders to the relationship that makes him overreact.
In effect Ravana has succeeded as an insurgent. He committed an outrageous act bought Rams self-confidence and virtue as a God into question. Ram recovers from the kidnapping of his wife by getting her back but the blow to his self-confidence has shattered his self-image and trust in both himself and Sita. At this point a few months of couple’s and individual therapy might allow both him, and the relationship, to grow stronger. But, needing a good story, and Gods generally not deferring to marriage counselors, this opportunity is lost and his nagging doubts break up the marriage, cause Sita and his child to live in exile and poverty. Meanwhile Ram puts on a brave face and hopes nobody notices his failure and growing insecurity.
Given a few years Ram is frequently drunk and spends most of his days hanging out in brothels and holding wild orgies in an attempt to fill the hole left then Sita left. He sometimes thinks back to the good-old-days before Ravana messed it all up. He secretly thinks that Ravana and Sita are together laughing at him.
It is a very old story that can be read many ways. It has played out countless times with innumerable players.
And here we go again. I imagine you are against people celebrating Christmas because of the whole “immaculate conception” thing, which is probably very misogynist.
Of course, you were also the person who thought to tell people how they should name their kids. Does the phrase “control freak” mean anything.
Who cares about Ram, he didn’t even exist. I’m not going to not celebrate my favorite festival cos some fictional character was a douche. You don’t have to believe in ghosts to celebrate Halloween or Christ to celebrate Christmas.
Diwali is the time for fun, food, family, lights, new clothes.
Happy Diwali everyone, I love this time of the year. Do we need good reason to set aside a day a year for all this ?
Diwali is not a celebration of misogyni. People just love firing crackers, eating sweets, and celebrating in general. May be the story of Ram is misogynistic in some aspects. Most people don’t give a damn about why they celebrate it. But the festive season is really important for India. We run our economic life around it. It would be a disaster to business if there is no Diwali. It is the season of shopping. Some very traditional businesses close their books of account on Diwali(Instead of the regular financial year ending 31st March). It is too important for us in many ways and for reasons that have nothing to do with religion, to wish away. Wanting to stop Diwali is pipe dream, a very cruel one at that. Connecting Diwali with all the misogyni in our country is just plain illogical, makes no sense. May be you people don’t know there is an alternate mytholgy about this festival in south India. Folks believe Diwali is celebrated because Satyabhama, wife of Krishna killed Narakasura on Diwali. There U go.
Agreed its completely insane. Besides the woman Sita is a very complex character and is revered in some circles. She can be viewed as a hero or victim, courageous or weak, selfish or selfless, troubled or misunderstood. As I understand it the Hindu religion looks at her in a very positive light.
No one is doubting misogyny exists in India. However every Indian couple I’ve ever met we’re always married for a very long time, their children were always well mannered college bound children, and seemed to have great families and great communities. This is in America where I live of course and not in India. Once this crazy feminist madness takes over India their family unit will be torn apart also. Trying to take away their Festival of Lights because of some offshoot misogonist theme (or even broaching the subject to begin with) is completely absurd.
I celebrate Christmas and Santa Claus for my dsughter (I’m a full time single father) and I’m not Christian at all. In fact I despise organized religion. But it’s fun for her and quite magical. I can’t imagine not doing that for her all these years because of it’s supposed historical oppressive portrayal of women or some nonsense like that.
You can apply it to anything. Are you (writer of the blog) a misoginyst because you have an iPad and they were made from slave girl labor in china and Africa? Clearly you see the misoginyst theme there too, right?
Dear Taslima Nasrin, I am reading your book “Dwikhondita” right now. I read “Nirbasan” before this one. I purchased that one from the last Kolkata book fair, it was great to read……..However, I am not enjoying reading the “nationalism of Bengali people” in the “Dwikhondita”…..I am from Assam, and although my title is Bhattacharyya, I am not Bengali, I am an Assamese. But whether I am Bengali or Non-Nengali – this question is so important for the Bengali people here……Have a great day!
This blog is hilarious. I just realized I’m a misogynist because ill becelebrating Thanksgiving in a few days. Why? duh. Undoubtedly some of those Native Americans that were slaughtered were women! The God damn misogonist Thanksgiving celebratin’ woman hater I am is going to be twirling my woman hating mustache as I chomp down that turkey breast. Yes I eat the breast and I think you know why….. Bresst reminds me of women which reminds me of my misogonist thoughts…. Muhahaha evil thanksgiving misogonist holiday.. Gobble gobble!
My God you are stupid!
Jb you do realize that is a misogonist statement because I live next door to a woman who actually really is stupid. And if she saw that she would have her feelings hurt.
You hate women and have no concern for my feelings. I bet your a racist too with a name like jb. I’m on to you jb.
Please read and respond to the post! Taslima isn’t trying to stop anyone from celebrating Diwali (or else I seriously misread this), she just wants people to repudiate the misogyny in the narrative behind it. India *does* have a huge problem with misogyny**, and to move on we must call it out when we see it, to at least bring it to attention.
**And India obviously isn’t alone at all with this problem, but that doesn’t make the situation any less dire
So related to what people have said earlier, people like parties, and they like rituals, and they like festivals.
The problem is that these religious “stories” are grafted onto the rituals and parties, which is a subtle and nasty form of mind-control.