Safety of women

Sharda Lal
In recent times the incidents of crime against women, including minor and teenage girls, in the society have become so rampant that sometimes one feels that each one of them needs to be ‘officially’ armed like Durga and trained in martial arts and use of arms for self-defence. Though we take pride in claiming that women in India enjoyed equal status with men in all walks of life during the Vedic period and for thousands of years later, but it is unfortunate that we are a hapless witness to the circumstances leading to painful and gory deaths of women and girls like Disha Salian (in Mumbai), the daughters of Hathras & Balrampur, and so many others. They are mercilessly falling victims to the most inhuman (heinous and brutal) violence, crimes and unnatural deaths. What a tragedy!
During the Sharad (or Autumn) Navratra festival as well as the Vasanti (Spring) Navratras, the devout traditionally recite Durga Saptashati (700 verses), keep fasts and sing prayers dedicated to the glory of Goddess Durga, but we see that most of the followers of the tradition recite these just to perform the ritual and nothing more. The message and the essence of the scriptures which is to inculcate morality, strength and other positive attributes of Durga amongst the contemporary generation, including the girl child, are generally seen being simply glossed over and ignored. The following episode of immense historical and religious significance becomes especially relevant here.
‘Even after the conclusion of a six month long Shat Chandi Yagya ceremony, starting from Autumn Durga Ashtami (October 1698) and concluding on Spring Durga Ashtami day (28 March 1699) when all the ghee and incense had been burnt in the havan and the Goddess Chandi had yet not appeared physically, that Shri Guru Govind Singh Ji came forward before a big congregation of his followers at the hill of Naina Devi temple with a naked sword and, flashing it before the assembly declared: “This is the goddess of power!” Earlier, in his divine composition the Chandi Charitra, the Tenth Guru says that in the past God had deputed goddess Durga to destroy evil doers. That duty was now assigned to him. He had thus invited Pandit Kesho from Kashi to conduct the ceremony at the hill of Naina Devi.
Guru Ji asked the congregation to move to Anandpur, where on the New Year Day of 1st Baisakh, 1699, he would create a new race. On 30 March 1699, at Anandpur Sahib, Guru Govind Singh ji gave a stirring speech to the assembly about the need to protect their spiritual and temporal rights. He then asked if anyone would offer his head in the services of God, Truth and Religion. The five who came forward were Dayaram a Khatri from Lahore, Dharamdas a Jat from Hastinapur near Delhi, Sahib Chand a barber from Bidar in Karnataka, Himmat Chand Kahar, a water carrier from Puri in Odisha and Mohkam Chand Chihimba from Dwarka in Gujarat. They were designated the Five “Beloved Ones” and termed “Khalsa” (ie Purified). Gradually the number of Khalsa swelled to become a force to uphold dharma. The men folk amongst the followers were given the suffix Singh (meaning the lion) to their names and the girls and the women were given the suffix word Kour (meaning the queen).’
Through such ancient scriptures as the Durga Saptashati we learn that morality is as much the panacea for boys as a girl. We also learn from these scriptures that though the Supreme God or the Virat Swaroop or the Parmatma or the Ishwar with His other manifestations like Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh and other Gods (who may be called the Lords) have been described in masculine terms, but His or Their powers (Shakti) to create, sustain and destroy are all feminine in character. In the Saptashati, Durga or Mahamaya is the all-powerful incarnation in His creation with a combined power of all the divine beings thereby indicating that the masculine gender has no strength without the feminine. Therefore, to identify the evil and fight the demonic tendencies all should get together and put the ‘house to order’.
Durga, described as having emerged as a spirit from the waters of the Holy Ganga and given a physical form by coming together of the Lords Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Indra, Chandra, Bhudevi, Varuna and Agni who blessed her with the attractive and powerful features and power of the thunderbolt, the Moon, the Earth, the Sea Water and the Fire. Durga must have acquired her features and power not just by asking, but after undertaking a severe penance (what we call training and practice of subtle as well as martial arts in modern times) under the guidance of different powerful divine beings. She could thus wield her power and authority to protect herself & her righteous devotees and fight against evil beings such as Mahishasura in all the ten directions symbolized by her ten hands. Her three symbolic eyes represent the desire for peace and calmness of the moon, the power of the sun that symbolizes the fire of meditation.
Similar is the story of the God incarnate Vaishno Devi who when still a young girl child, was intimidated by a famous but arrogant and mischievous “tantric” Bhairavnath, the disciple of Guru Gorakhnath whose guru was Matsyendranath, Bhairavnath possessed supernatural powers, but misused them. The girl child took the form of Kali (Mata Vaishno Devi) and beheaded him. Bhairavnath realized Vaishno Devi’s spiritual and divine powers and appeared before her in his true form asking for forgiveness. The Goddess being compassionate and knowing well that though he was a “tamasic” (full of negativity by nature), but having attacked her with the sole intention to achieve his personal salvation, she not only granted Bhairavnath liberation from the cycle of life and death, but also granted him a boon, whereby every devotee, in order to ensure completion of the pilgrimage of Vaishno Devi at Katra, Jammu, shall also have to visit Bhairavnath’s temple near the Holy cave on the return journey.
It is reported by the National Resource Center for Women and by R.C. Mishra (2006) that the conquest by invaders from the West in the Indian subcontinent brought changes to Indian society. The position of women in Indian society deteriorated during this period. Jauhar became a custom among Rajputs of Sindh and Chittorgarh, etc. to save honour. Other vices gained strength over time throughout the medieval history of India. The emergence of official and unofficial discrimination amongst people on basis of caste, region and religion through favours, neglect and oppression created enough scope for unabated strife in the society. Even now, one doesn’t hesitate to shield a proven criminal and someone else may venture to deliberately implicate the projected rivals (political or otherwise) in fabricated cases. The worst affected are obviously the weak; of any gender, demography, religion caste or creed or those who have no access to the powers that be.
It is a herculean task these days to bring the society out of this state of degradation. In the present times of ‘liberalism’ and ‘unbridled freedom’ discussing about morality particularly in the context of gender related issues in the society have in general, started inviting sarcasm. The influx of drugs and ‘vulgarity combined with violent cinema culture’ in the society is diverting not only the children and the youth, but also many amongst the elders from the morality aspects, little understanding that it is eventually the morality that sustains a society. Those against such an exhortation immediately come up with a counter as to what is morality & who defines it. For them the answer is clear; a society knows its moral principles. They could be different for different societies, but the underlying principle is generally the same. It is like “Dharma – not as in religion” which can have different connotations in differing situations but the underlying principle is the same.
The first step must be taken by the governments by introducing moral education at every level as a compulsory subject through schools and colleges and also generating awareness by involving the panchayats, other local bodies and print/electronic media. Moral education can be religion neutral too. For example, speaking the truth is religion neutral and Dharma in the real sense. So is helping someone in distress. Ensuring that womenfolk are respected & protected is again a Dharma and saying no to drugs is Dharma too.
The other step to be taken must be that the perpetrators of crimes like physical assault, whether against a child, man, woman or a teenager of any religion, caste, creed or orientation must be immediately and adequately punished through summary or fast track trial within the legal framework of the country. Instead of giving political and caste/region/religion colour to such crimes, these must be resolved as pure criminal acts demanding immediate delivery of justice. The police in-charge of the locality must be made answerable and accountable in these matters.
It is only when girls (children or teenagers) & women of our country are safe that we can be rest assured that our prayers to Goddess Durga shall be answered.