There were three news reports in the newspaper last week which troubled my conscience. First, The editor Ravindra Kumar and publisher Anand Sinha of ‘The Statesmen’, a Kolkata based old English Indian newspaper, were punished for reproducing an article because it hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims. The original article was written by a Journalist, Johann Hari in ‘The Independent’. Second, Pakistan accepted the ‘Shariat’ law in the swat valley and declared cease fire with Tehrik-e-Nifaz Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM), a militant group of ‘Taliban’ nature. Third, an autobiography of a nun ‘Amen’ was released recently which revealed many hidden facts of mal-practices in Kerala catholic churches. All of these stories are very much connected with the religion and gender bias.
I browsed through a few pages of history of some major religions and tried to find out the state of women in different religions. I found that women are apparently subsided in most of the religions. Every religion talks about the highest place of women in the scriptures but contrary to it, women’s conditions are pathetic and palpable in practice.
Islam, which is considered the most unfavorable religion for women. The pages of history speak this in details. Johann Hari writes in his article that it exists from the days of Prophet Mohammad, who married a nine-year old girl and had sex with her. It is said that she was not abused child but ‘blessed’ child, if you ask some mullah for clarification. One must read the book ‘Jewel of Medina’ written by famous journalist Sherry Jones for details. In a recent case in Saudi Arabia a ten year old girl was married to a 58 year old man. When the mother of a girl reached to the court then court discarded the plea and said that her mother could not file the case and even, child could not file the case until she reaches puberty.
Have you heard that a rape victim was punished and convicts were left free? Yes, it happened. A gang rape victim in Saudi Arabia was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in jail because she was moving around in a car with the man who was not her relative, Guardian reported this news on November 2007. Mukhtaran Mai was punished to be gang raped in a southern Punjab village in Pakistan by village council called jirga; BBC reported the news in 2004.
What kinds of religion suggest these atrocious acts? Women are thrashed, abducted, molested, raped, beaten, murdered in Taliban ruled states and some parts of the Middle East countries. The reason was as ‘simple’ as that because they started moving freely, joined jobs for their livelihood, started studying or they were not wearing hijab. Mrs. Shirin Ebadi, noble peace prize winner, also expressed concern about the fact that certain Islamic countries still did not officially recognize women’s rights, particularly those of wives.
Now, I would like to come to my own religion, Hinduism. Here also, women are suffering from the male chauvinism from mythological age to the 21st century. Sita went through Agnipariksha in Satyug and women were burnt for centuries because of Sati pratha. In 1987, Roop Kunwar, a young bride from Rajasthan immolated herself on her husband’s pyre following the religious practice of Sati pratha. Her brother justified her act by saying that she would become the goddess then. Hindu widows were alienated from the Hindu society from centuries and when, Deepa Mehta tried to show that in her film ‘Water’ then Hindu extremists came on the streets, protested and shooting has to be stopped in Varanasi in 2000. She had to complete the shooting in Sri Lanka. For many years, female feticides and infanticide were practiced in India. And the reason was as stupid as that ‘who will perform the last rites of the elderly people’ or ‘how the family lineage would enhance’.
In a recent case of Mangalore, Women were beaten by Hindu male chauvinists because Indian culture does not allow women to go pubs but the same time ‘does it allow molesting and beating of women in public place’. The answer by these idiots possibly would be: No. They did that because it was necessary for saving the culture of the land or saving the religion. As, they are the only people left on earth to do the same.
Another major religion in the world is Christianity. It is considered the most advanced and liberal religion. Yes, it in true in many aspects. The silver lining in dark clouds is that hardcore malpractices are not in this religion. Child marriage, Sati Pratha, forceful gentle mutilation or female circumcision, atrocities for having relation with opposite sex, and honor killing do not exist. But, gender bias exists in some other forms. Women priests are not appreciated, they can work as nun and serve the male priest but they can not be elevated usually as bishop or pope in religious hierarchy.
Sister Jesmi, who was a nun from Congregation of Mother Carmelite (CMC) until August 2008, writes in her book ‘Amen’, ”At a retreat for novices, I noticed girls in my batch were unsettled about going to the confession chamber. I found that the priest there asked each girl if he could kiss them. I gathered courage and went in. He repeated the question. When I opposed, he quoted from the Bible which spoke of divine kisses,” she writes. Sister Jesme revealed that another time; a nun forced her to have sex with her.
I know that religious issues are always surrounded by electric fence and if any one would try to pass it then s/he will surely get the shock. Salman Rushdie, Deepa Mehta, MF Husain and Tasleema Nasreen are few victims. But these issues must be raise and challenged for the sake of reformation in the ideas and ideologies for our future generations. All the above mentioned malpractices in different religion are like fungal diseases and from the ages, these are the reason of deep scourge on existence of ‘womanhood’. I don’t have disrespect in my mind and heart for Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity or for that matter, for any religion. But we need to look in to reform it for the better development of all, not only for one section of society.
None of the religion is made to oppress any one. It is made for better functioning of society and to make people god-fearing so they don’t commit crimes. Ironically, misinterpreted religions are used for oppressing the people in the name of god and religion. All the religion in the world deserves respect and I do respect all of them. Religion and religious guru, mullah, and priests should accept the rational questions and it will elevate the stature of religion in the eyes of the common people.