Published 11 October 2001
RESEARCH SHOWS that the countries with the largest percentage of women in business, government and education are Sweden, Norway, Denmark and New Zealand. But are these truly the marks of "freedom" and even if India comes further down the list, does that mean that its women are less free?
The Vedas teach that Krishna has an eternal, equal, female counterpart, Radha, who is the personification of love of God. God is, therefore worshipped in the dual Radha-Krishna form.
Throughout history, there have been great women devotees of the Lord, who are honoured and respected. On the spiritual platform, men and women are considered equal, with the same opportunity for spiritual progress through bhakti-yoga. There were, however, different gender roles.
In an ideal Vedic society, the economy was household-based and husbands and wives were partners, according to their social status. The economic base of society was primarily agricultural and centered around households. This meant that both men and women would be part of the same economic unit, though with different roles. Generally, men would be involved in ploughing and herding cows, and women would be involved in activities around the household. Kshatriyas would be involved in military and administrative affairs.
With time women also became engaged in fighting and ruling but continued to be loyal assistants to their husbands. At the same time they also played a role appropriate to their status as queens, princesses, etc. The wives of brahmins would assist their husbands in the performance of religious rituals and teaching. In each case, the men and women would be partners in a particular activity of their social order, but with different roles in the partnership.
In the modern West-influenced society, India has made adjustments. The economy is not totally agricultural or household-based. So Indian citizens might follow the standard patterns of either both husband and wife working at some occupation away from the household, or the husband pursuing a career while the woman stays at home and takes care of the children. But men and women, as in the Vedic society, have equal access to spiritual wisdom.
According to tradition and philosophy, women may take the position of the guru, or spiritual master, and this has already taken place. In our society we have seen women occupy positions of importance in the government. But the eternal question remains whether Indian women are freer than ever?