By Purushottam Kumar
Tougher laws fail to ensure the protection of women. We need to get to the heart of the problem.
The surge in rape cases in India has shaken the conscience of every right-thinking Indian. People were outraged when in December 2012 a girl was gang-raped and killed in Delhi. Then in August 2013 a woman photojournalist was gang-raped in Mumbai. After the Delhi gang-rape episode there were widespread protests and demands for tougher rape laws. The furor subsided, but not because there were no more rapes reported. When such horrendous incidents occur in large cities, they hog the limelight, but when they occur in small cities and villages, they go unnoticed. Why has rape become so common in India? Despite stringent laws and the social exclusion of rapists, the situation is deteriorating. The only solution the government, the people, and the media can think of is to enact tougher laws. But sadly, so far the fear of punishment has not deterred the rapists.
Aggravating the Disease of Lust
Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (16.21), “There are three gates leading to this hell – lust, anger, and greed.” Unfortunately, present-day society is trying its best to aggravate the disease of lust. Obscenity has become common – in movies, TV serials, advertisements, movie songs, and so on. To increase circulation, leading newspapers and magazines are stuffed with pictures of semi-nude women. Internet and mobile-phone pornography is at its peak. Even in cricket tournaments scantily clad cheerleaders are brought in to entice the audience. Provocatively dressed women are used in advertisements to sell almost anything – be it men’s shaving cream, shoe polish, electronic gadgets, air conditioners, or toothpaste. A model grabbed media attention by declaring that she would walk naked if the Indian cricket team won the World Cup.
Women are portrayed as objects for gratifying the senses. Today the only cheap commodity available in India is condoms. The unwritten message: “You can have unlimited sex with unlimited partners, but just use condoms.”
People are ignorant of the fact that unrestrained sex does not satiate lust but instead aggravates it, like adding fuel to fire. Lust is an extremely powerful psychological and emotional force that produces intense craving for an object. In the Bhagavad-gita (3.39) Lord Krishna says that lust is the “eternal enemy . . . which is never satisfied and which burns like fire.” In the Mahabharata Vidura tells Yudhishthira that uncontrolled lust is one of the main reasons people commit crimes. Sex addicts go to any extreme to satisfy their lust. On the fateful night of December 16, the Delhi gang-rapists were on the hunt for sexual satisfaction and could have targeted any woman.
If we rampantly promote, propagate, and advertise lustful tendencies, how can we expect that sexual crimes against women will not occur?
The Vedas on Women
Women once occupied a coveted position in Indian society, but today they are finding themselves insecure. Indian society, which has its roots in the Vedic literature, always looked upon women not as objects of lust, but as souls who are part and parcel of God.
The Vedas unequivocally attest to the fact that both men and women are children of God and have a specific role to play in this world. This wisdom literature adores the role of a woman as a mother, as a wife, and as a social reformer. In the Vedic tradition the onus of guaranteeing protection to women is entrusted to men. We see how Lord Rama fought with Ravana to rescue Sita Devi, and how Bhima killed Duryodhana and Duhshasana because they tried to violate the modesty of Draupadi. The five Pandavas always took care of their mother, Kunti, and never left her unprotected.
Men and women have distinct yet significant traits, which the Vedas recommend be harnessed and harmonized. Srila Prabhupada always appreciated the devotional qualities of women. “Women in general, being very simple at heart, can very easily take to Krishna consciousness, and when they develop love of Krishna they can easily get liberation from the clutches of maya, which are very difficult for even so-called intelligent and learned men to surpass.” (Krishna, Chapter 23) The Atharva Veda (14.1.43–44) states that when a woman marries, she enters “as a river enters the sea . . . to rule there along with her husband, as a queen, over the other members of the family.”
The Failure of Modern Education
Today there is a big clamor for women’s education, and this is commendable. Though considered temples of learning, however, the schools and colleges are not helping women understand their God-gifted virtues. In the name of championing the cause of women, emphasis is more on making women see men as their exploiters or competitors. They are being trained to imitate men in toto – be it in dressing, lifestyle, or type of work. But such artificial emulation has hardly helped women. The obsession with the idea that men and women are the same does not hold much ground. Even a simple basic analysis shows that they are different – in appearance, thinking, behavior, speech, needs, wants, and concerns. Real education is that which can help women understand who they are and their relationship with the Supreme Lord. They should be taught that they are souls temporarily occupying a woman’s body. Men and women are equal only on the spiritual level.
All Vedic schools of thought encourage men and women to see each other as souls. Vedic culture bestows utmost respect on women and considers them equal to men on the spiritual level. The role of a woman as a mother is highly revered; she is considered the child’s first guru and entrusted with the responsibility of nurturing the child’s future. History is filled with stories of women solely responsible for raising a child who performed heroic deeds. Queen Kunti inculcated great virtues and valor in her five sons. Jijabai’s inspiration and child-rearing shaped the life of Shivaji Maharaj, the great Maratha king. Men were taught to address every woman except their wife as “mother.” Chanakya Pandita has written (Niti-shastra 12.14): “One who considers another’s wife as his mother, another’s possessions as a lump of dirt, and treats all other living beings as he would himself is considered to be learned.”
As a wife, a woman is supposed to equally share family responsibilities with her husband and take part in making decisions. Thus a mutual respect develops.
Srila Prabhupada wrote and spoke of the importance of the wife: “If one has a nice wife, he is to be considered a most fortunate man. In astrology, a man is considered fortunate who has great wealth, very good sons, or a very good wife. Of these three, one who has a very good wife is considered the most fortunate.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.21.15, Purport) “A wife is addressed as devi, not by her name. The husband should address his wife as devi. They must be like devi. Devi means ‘goddess,’ and the wife must address the husband as ‘lord.’ This is the system.” (Lecture, Los Angeles, Dec. 28, 1973)
The Indologist Sir Monier Monier-Williams (1819–1899), who held Oxford’s Boden Chair in Sanskrit, wrote, “Indian wives often possess greater influence than wives of Europeans.”
Men Are Not Born As Rapists
The venerable position of women depicted in the Vedic literature appears to be an anachronism in today’s India. Besides rape, also on the rise are molestation, dowry deaths, and bride burning. Indian society is failing to protect the dignity of women. Enamored by the materialistic life, Indians have willfully given up the Vedic standards of life. Materialism has spread its wings far and wide, sowing the seeds of a godless society. It is inciting people to satisfy their lustful desires by adopting any means. Men are not born as rapists or molesters. The environment mostly shapes the mindset of the people. Today the ease with which one has access to pornographic materials is appalling.
If we seriously want to stop the recurrence of these horrific incidents, we need laws to check vulgarity and obscenity. As we campaign against drug addiction, we should campaign against lust addiction. Sadly today’s educational institutions do not teach pupils to control their lusty propensities. Srila Prabhupada, one of the foremost saints of the modern era, explains in Bhagavad-gita As It Is (4.1): “The kings of all planets are especially meant for the protection of the inhabitants, and therefore the royal order should understand the science of Bhagavad-gita in order to be able to rule the citizens and protect them from material bondage to lust.”
Building a Society Where Women Can Live with Dignity
The three steps below can help build a safe and secure environment for women:
Ban pornography: Pornography is one of the most important reasons for the increase in crime against women. An article in Hindustan Times reported, “Free availability of porn movies, on internet and otherwise, as well as sale of illicit liquor have contributed to the recent rise in sexual crimes against women, says a survey by Delhi police.”*
Two young men who raped a five-year-old girl in New Delhi confessed that the porn movie they were watching on their cell phone instigated them to rape. The government should enforce a complete ban on all sorts of pornography.
Emphasize value education: In today’s competitive environment, schools and colleges focus on making their students materially competent. Almost negligible importance is given to imparting ethical and moral values. The infamous Delhi Public School MMS sex scandal is testimony of the fact that students are indulging in unethical activities. Values and principles espoused by literature like Bhagavad-gita and Ishopanishad need to be included in school and college curriculums. Once a boy or young man develops strong character by imbibing the pristine message of these sacred texts, his conscience will never allow him to indulge in any obnoxious activities. Lust should be nipped at early stages so that it does not escalate to sexual crimes.
Establish a Krishna-centered spiritual society: In a spiritual society everyone has the deepest respect and love for each other and understands that everyone is a child of God. Men do not see women as objects of enjoyment or exploitation, but as souls covered by women’s bodies. Srila Prabhupada explains:
The only way to permanently change the criminal habit is to change the heart of the criminal. As you well know, many thieves are arrested numerous times and put into jail. Although they know that if they commit theft they will go to jail, still they are forced to steal, because of their unclean hearts. Therefore without cleansing the heart of the criminal, you cannot stop crime simply by more stringent law enforcement. The thief and the murderer already know the law, yet they still commit violent crimes, due to their unclean hearts.
—The Science of Self-Realization, “Crime: Why and What to Do?”
Chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra given by Lord Chaitanya is the most potent process to cleanse the heart of lust, greed, and anger. In a Krishna-centered society, women will live with honor and dignity and have complete surety of safety and security.
*“Free porn, illicit liquor behind rise in rapes: Delhi Police survey”, Hindustan Times, May 21, 2013 (http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/NewDelhi/Free-porn-illicit-liquor-behind-rise-in-rapes-Delhi-Police-survey/Article1-1063212.aspx)
Purushottam Kumar is a member of the congregation at ISKCON Kolkata. He works at Tech Mahindra, Kolkata.