In any society, the measure of its advance towards civilization is the attitude that it has towards its women. Leaving aside about six to seven centuries when it was in the grip of colonial rule, Indian society has never been discriminatory against women.
This was the point made by Dr. Krishn Gopal of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) at the inaugural session of a seminar titled ' Stree Shakti in Bharatiya Thought and Practice', organized by the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, the Group of Intellectuals and Academicians (GIA) and Prajna Pravah a forum of teachers in higher education.
He said Indian society must introspect about the reasons why almost 40 percent of women in India are bereft of educational opportunities and suffer from debilitating diseases. He also commented on the declining sex ratio and insisted that empowerment of women cannot happen without improving these conditions.
He asked scholars and activists who speak about equality between men and women to consider the fact that Indian thought is not geared towards dichotomies, but rather is a unifying thought.
On the age old practice of Jauhar, which currently is attracting intense media attention due to the movie Padmavat, Dr. Gopal reminded participants that Jauhar was only one part of the tradition of Jauhar-Shakha in which men went to meet their deaths on the battle field and women offered the supreme sacrifice rather than being happy to be conquered by victorious armies and be a part of large harems. This was a form of resistance and not a discriminatory practice as it is being made out to be.
He outlined the ways in which in India a woman forms the pole around which the entire family revolves. She is endowed with immense qualities of patience and sacrifice. She takes care of the entire family and this is the reason why we do not have a system of sending senior citizens to old age homes. At the same time, since time immemorial, women have been at the peak of intellectual achievement.
He gave examples of Vedic Richas that have been composed by women and the compositions of Surya Savitri. Women were educated and performed yagnopavit. All these systems were lost under colonial rule.
Famous danseuse Sonal ManSingh spoke about ways in which women were central to Indian thought and practice. She traced the roots of the words Stree and Mahila both of which indicate a superior status for women. She said that only women had the strength to sustain the family, the nation and creation while facing innumerable challenges.
She reminded the audience of Draupadi's words that are enshrined in Parliament.
Women's Commission chairperson Lalita Kumaramangalam said women today needed respect more than equality which has already been enshrined in our Constitution.
GIA convener Monika Arora spoke of ways in which women are still restrained in traditional structures.
Dr. Prachee Jawdekar CEO of Parigrah Research and Consultancy said that women were the light of Shakti and that freedom was a state of being.
Professor K G Suresh, Director of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, focused on the need to preserve the family structure that was the backbone of Indian civilization.