Recently, Her Holiness Anandmurti Gurumaa gave a highly thought provoking, inspirational talk to the girls at a college in Nasik. The gist is as follows:
Traditionally in India, a woman has been addressed as a Devi, a goddess. On the face of it this may come across as a very noble gesture. However, actually this belies an underlying expectation of lifelong sacrifices for others. This selfish motive is disguised with a sugar coating of alleged reverence and results in a never-ending exploitation of women.
Right from the childhood, it is inculcated into a girl that her greatness lies in living for others – be it the husband, in-laws, and children. She is brainwashed into believing that a woman’s dignity lies in conforming to societal norms, customs and traditions. This is the goal of her life. There is no place whatsoever for her dreams, her aspirations, and her fulfillment.
It is hardly surprising then to see girls who have no particular ambition, pursuits or zest for life. Quite a few end up entering college to just get away from their homes, to enjoy their temporary freedom but have no objective in life other than getting married. Indeed, often education is viewed only as a means to ‘landing’ a sought after groom! And tragically, even if the girl pursues a professional career, often after her marriage, her in-laws will ask her to give up her job so that she can look after the family.
Marriage cannot be the sole objective of any girl’s life. Marriage itself brings in a truckload of responsibilities and yet more expectations. The daughter in-law is expected to abide by the rules and regulations of her ‘new’ home. More often than not, she is soon expected to produce an heir, a grandson and heaven forbid if she fails to do so! It is not that all in-laws are tormentors. However, in essence, before marriage a girl is dependent on her father/brother and this dependency is transferred to her husband/in-laws after her marriage. Her freedom and liberty are always at stake. The irony is that the girl is always led to believe that her husband’s home is her ‘real’ home – no wonder, even from God, her objective of fulfillment is getting a good husband!
Unfortunately this urge to move in to ‘her own home’ is further intensified sometimes when the girl sees her own mother being maltreated (be it by the father or paternal grandmother etc). She simply wants to escape this unhappy environment, little realizing that she may be jumping from the hot pan right on to the fire.
It is not that all girls lack a will, a motivation to better their lives by education. Nevertheless, I have seen strong-willed, educated, confident girls turning into meek lambs after marriage – desirous of only making their marriage work at any cost and suffering all exploitations, as they cannot deal with the possibility of getting ‘tarnished’ by the husband leaving them or divorcing them.
Moreover, their parents have spent so much money on the lavish wedding (and the hefty dowry!) and may even be in debt because of all this extravagant spending. This adds further emotional pressure on the girls to keep enduring all quietly.
Parents are ready to go to any lengths to get their daughters married, often incurring loans and debts, so that they can fulfill the demands of dowry – an evil yet rampant affliction of the society. Paradoxically, they never give a thought to the possibility of any untoward event happening in her marital home – like what if the husband turns out to be a drug addict, an alcoholic, a womanizer or suffer from a fatal disease like AIDS? What would be their strategy then?
There is a custom of matching astrological charts of the prospective bride and groom. However, I think it is imperative to ‘match’ medical records, especially in this era of sexual promiscuity and perversion. Women are increasingly being viewed as objects of sexual gratification. The graphic portrayals on television, easy access to Internet and pornography is aiding this further. How then can anyone know that the prospective groom is a virgin, does not have any sexually transmissible disease? We never give a thought to this. But I want you to think on these lines, as these are serious issues and concern your whole life.
It is a fact of today’s society that all the seemingly innocuous acts of girls ‘dating’ boys, going to the cinema, coffee shops; most of these apparently platonic encounters end up being an extended foreplay to sex. How would a girl know that the boy is a ‘safe’ boy? This is the reality and we cannot ignore it. It is best discussed in the open rather than brushing it under the carpet and pretending these issues do not exist.
Because of the age, because of the hormonal changes, it is natural for a girl to experience sexual urges and they should not feel guilty about that. However, they have to take a level headed decision as to what will be the right time and right way to explore these urges.
Romanticism is fine, but it has to be balanced by a composed, rational thinking. Friendship between the opposite sexes is absolutely fine, nothing wrong there. However, a girl should have a sharp sense of judgment; the boy should not end up taking advantage of her. Girls are emotionally more sensitive than boys; this is a well-known fact. Hence, they find it difficult to get over a broken relationship. This hampers their concentration on their education and also leaves a deleterious impact on their future life as well.
This brings me to the paramount question: why are you studying? Just to get a license of eligibility to get married? What after marriage? I am not disparaging a housewife – in fact, it is a very challenging job, especially the role of a mother is a very onerous one. However, it is a ‘thankless job’ and moreover without any salary!
It is said that behind every successful man there is a woman – it was the strong willed Jija Bai who was responsible for the great heights achieved by her son, Shivaji. A woman, a mother is the strongest institution in its own right. A mother is the first teacher any child encounters and she has the foremost influence in one’s nurturing and conditioning, affecting the overall personality. Becoming a mother is indeed a very responsible role for anyone to play. However, before a woman decides to do so – she should first herself become a strong, self-reliant, resilient individual and education is the key in achieving this.
Here it is important to understand that education is not just about procuring degrees – even if it is from prestigious institutions like the IITs and IIMs. It is not the degree, which is going to impart you with the qualities of fortitude, tenacity and self-belief. It is common to read in the newspapers about young people committing suicide – be it for poor marks, broken relationships or even an acerbic remark.
So, it is important to cultivate mental strength and resilience. Girls need to examine themselves and see where they stand on this front. How prepared are they to cope with life’s adversities? How will they deal with failures, with lack of fulfillment of desires, the prevalent cut-throat competitiveness – can they stay calm and think level headedly?
Girls need to become strong willed, independent individuals; this refers to both, financial and emotional independence. They also need to bear in mind that acquisition of a mere degree is not enough. It certainly helps, but is not sufficient on its own. Those who don’t have an aptitude for higher education or professional careers – should undergo some kind of a vocational training so that they can earn a livelihood.
One needs to have the feet firmly planted to the ground – be prepared for all the misfortunes, mishaps and hardships that one may encounter in one’s life. I am not saying be a pessimist but life is not a bed of roses and the sooner one accepts this, the better prepared they will be for all that comes their way.
Women have to be strong because the patriarchal society has already labeled women as a weaker section of the society. So a woman has to prove her worth every time in all walks of life. The society just waits for a woman to slip up before jumping to rip her reputation to pieces.
I once met a director of a private bank. This woman narrated her earlier harrowing days in the bank when she had no say at all, as her male colleagues would belittle her by saying that the only reason she got the post was because the position was reserved for a woman. They continued putting her down, notwithstanding her qualifications and experience! She decided to put an end to this persistent humiliation and fought for her rights and succeeded, eventually becoming the director of the bank.
Society ridicules a woman in many ways. So, either she is deemed a fool or revered as a Devi, nothing in between! However, it is every woman’s fundamental right to live a dignified life, be treated as a human being and work towards the fulfillment of her aspirations. Nobody should allow anyone to take this away from her. It should be a girl’s choice when to get married. Nobody should get married unless they want to and are well prepared for it.
And look at the way marriages are being arranged today. The only compatibility people seem to be interested in sorting is – wealth, prestige, physical appearance, social standing, and ability to give an enormous dowry! Horoscopes may be matched but no one bothers to check the compatibility on issues of personality, temperament, values, beliefs, and spiritual inclination…
In my opinion, a husband should be related to not as the lord but instead, as the dearest friend. The one with whom one can share anything and everything. For this though, first, women need to become wise and mature in their outlook to life. Be well versed with the social, political, economical, ecological environment of current times. Be a voracious reader, as books are the best tools not only to widen one’s knowledge base but also give creative upliftment (for e.g. reading poetry). One should also be well versed with practical know how – sorting out minor electrical glitches in the home, changing tyres of a car, accounting, banking, etc. How will anyone gain self-confidence if they are dependent on others even for trivial things?
Another aftermath of the prevalent male bigotry and chauvinism is the assumption that women are only good at doing household chores, i.e cooking and cleaning – how absurd is this! To dispel these unfounded statements, it is all the more important that girls learn practical skills needed in every aspect of daily life, learn and become adept in new skills. I have met women who find themselves in a helpless situation after the demise of their husbands – as they never ever learnt the basic, practical skills to live an independent life.
Girls should not only be concerned with their physical appearance, after all no one needs to tell a woman on how to beautify her! However, it is more important to enhance and beautify one’s mental and intellectual abilities. The more knowledge one seeks, the more knowledge is gained, the more beautiful one becomes. Mahatma Gandhi was not a very handsome man. But he had a beautiful mind and hence was admired by one and all.
All girls, all women should make it a priority to ‘beautify’ their brain, their mind. Reading gives the wings to soar high above the skies. They should cultivate some creative hobbies, like dancing. Dance is the best stress buster, best way to diffuse stress, anger.
Dream and take efforts to fulfill those dreams. But this will not happen by simply praying to God. Girls, you will have to work diligently towards this goal, only then will they get divine blessings. Some people complain that despite working hard they don’t get success, then they blame God. However, it is not God but one’s previous karmas, which result in failure.
Your karma is always going to be with you. No one can negate the karma theory just because some Hindu sage or seer has expounded it. It is a law of life. So, sometimes our own karma becomes an obstructive wall and we don’t get what we are looking for. But never be disheartened, always be grateful that one is alive and as long as one is alive, one can create more opportunities for oneself. So, why be disheartened?
Never get discouraged by failures. One needs to remain optimistic, remain balanced, as there will be many more golden opportunities, which will enrich you. As the adage goes – when one door is closed, there are many others that open. If you remain positive and calm, you will see other doors that have opened up for you; otherwise the negativity and depression will prevent you from seeing the other opportunities that have sprung up.
So never ever be disheartened for anything. Never ever cry just because you did not get what you wanted. The only time tears should roll down one’s eyes is when one is ecstatic, delirious in love or as an expression of gratitude.
It is always mind over matter – hence girls, believe in positive thinking and affirmations. Positive thinking combined with appropriate action brings in good karma.
I hope I have instilled zeal, a joie de vivre as the French would say, a zest for living life to its fullest, with dignity and freedom.
May this be the first day of the rest of your lives.