Posted by Vishva News Reporter on March 5, 2004

= CREATOR bRH`m's  maayaa-shkti = IS FEMALE


As per the knowledge contained in the SCIENCES OF CREATION AND LIFE  called veD, a female form in creation is to be revered, respected and worshipped as it is the primary power of nature called pRkRUti which creates all physical forms visible in this universe.....Creator bRH`m creates his wish to be many through his female creative shkti (power) called mHaa-maayaa...all creations are from mHaa-maayaa...all forces of nature are created by mHaa-maayaa.....

That is why in veDik lifestyle a female is revered, respected and worshipped as a creator, provider of sustenance in life and into which all creations are de-created and then again recreated in the eternal cylce of creator bRH`m's wish to be many in the form of bhokt-aat`maa meaning a soul which becomes enjoyer of creations and created.....

However, in western civilization being female has shown to be a traumatic experience as shown by recent history wherein women in western civilization have to fight to get their existence recognized by men...their existence from being a individual female person, female person in a family and female person in governance of societies, states and international domains of human existence....(preceding knowledge shared on this PVAF web site by SRii chmpklaal Daajibhaai miisTRii  of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada as part of learning the SCIENCES OF CREATION AND LIFE  called veD)

Please click on the next line to read an article from SULEKHA EXPRESSIONS  on treatment of feminity in bhaartiy (Hindustani) culutre in Encarta Encyclopedia.....       

Women and Hinduism in U.S. Textbooks
 by Dave Freedholm

Published on Wednesday, February 5, 2003 in SULEKHA EXPRESSIONS

In a recent article on Sulekha, Sankrant Sanu examined Microsoft Encarta's treatment of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. He concluded that Encarta's portrayal of Hinduism was decidedly skewed and negative in comparison to the more even-handed and sophisticated treatments granted Islam and Christianity. Sanu's article [i] prompted me to look closer at the world religions textbook I have often used in my teaching. This textbook, Mary Pat Fisher's Living Religions (5th ed., Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002), is published by one of the largest textbook publishers in the U.S. and is an often-used text in American colleges, universities and prep schools.

In my view, Fisher's book is, on the whole, a very good textbook and, in comparison to others, presents relatively balanced and sympathetic portrayals of the world's religions. But, that being said, I have always contended that Hinduism and, in comparison to the other major world religions, does not receive equal treatment in Fisher's book and is at times painted in decidedly negative ways. What follows is a brief case study comparing how Fisher treats women's issues in Hinduism, Christianity and Islam.

Fisher gives relatively short attention to women's issues in Hinduism despite her claim in the introduction to the 5th edition that “coverage of women's contributions and women's issues has been increased.”(p. 13) Fisher's treatment of women's issues in Hinduism comes in the context of a longer section on devotion to various forms of the devi. Her transition sentence is quite telling and reveals the overall tone of her coverage of women's issues in Hinduism:

Worship of the goddess in India and Nepal continues to exist side by side with social attempts to limit and confine women's power. (p. 105)

Fisher goes on to accent the historical and contemporary “ambivalence” in Hinduism towards women which is revealed in the contrast between the veneration of the feminine in Hindu thought and practice and the pronounced patriarchalism of Hindu society.
In the three short paragraphs that follow this opening, Fisher stresses what she sees as the negative treatment of women in Hindu society. She notes that while the ideal of Hindu marriage is for husband and wife to be “spiritual partners,”

A women's role is usually linked to that of her husband, who takes the position of her god and guru. For many centuries, there was even the hope that a widow would choose to be cremated alive with her dead husband in order to remain united with him after death. (p. 105)

This is a rather astonishing shift of gears which leaves the impression that sati was somehow the ideal historically in Hinduism. There is no explanation or qualification of this claim. The uninformed reader, most of whom are young American students, would assume that sati, the burning of widows on their husbands' pyres, was and maybe even is the normal expectation for Hindu wives.
What Fisher does not say is that sati was never widely practiced in India and in the modern period is very, very rare. Also, as Madhu Kishwar (editor of Manushi, one of India's foremost feminist journals) writes of the practice of widow burning “There is absolutely no evidence that any of our vast array of religious texts sanctified such murders as sati.”[ii] As well, Fisher fails to note that sati is universally abhorred by Hindu leaders, thinkers and practitioners. Placing such an unexplained and unqualified statement in this context is very misleading and unfair. As Yvette Rosser has said:

Defining Hindu practices through a discussion of sati is no more accurate than defining Christianity by delving at length into the "Burning Times" in Medieval Europe when as many as nine million women, and even children, were burned at the stake as witches through the encouragement and official approval of the Christian Church. The burning of women does not define Christianity any more than the burning of widows defines Hinduism – both are long discarded practices of the past.[iii]

In fact, given that the objective in the American classroom should be to help students gain an appreciation of a minority religion's central ideas, the topic of sati is as irrelevant and unsuitable as witch burning would be for a discussion of Christianity.
If this isn't disconcerting enough, Fisher concludes her brief treatment of women's issues by again contrasting the ideal view of women in Hindu society with the very bad treatment that women actually receive. She says:

By the nineteenth century, however, wives had become the virtual slaves of the husband's family. With expectations that the girl will take a large dowry to the boy's family in a marriage arrangement, having girls is such an economic burden that many female babies are intentionally aborted or killed at birth. There are also cases today of women being severely beaten or killed by the husband's family after their dowry has been handed over. Nevertheless many women in contemporary India have been well educated and many have attained high political positions.

Again, Fisher does not indicate in what manner horrible practices such as infanticide and dowry murder are linked to Hindu thought and practice (because, of course, they are not). She simply implies that they must be linked, because there are such societal problems in India they must somehow be related to Hinduism. This would be akin to claiming that because there is considerable violence against women in American society it is due to Christianity!
All in all, the above paragraph is a rather remarkable string of sentences which seems to claim that some women in India have succeeded despite the widely prevalent “slave” status of wives, infanticide of female babies, and dowry violence and murder. The uninformed reader would assume from Fisher's four paragraphs on women's issues that, due to Hinduism, women are very seriously mistreated in Hindu society and have very unequal status. Before commenting further on this, it will be helpful to look at how Fisher deals with women's issues in her chapters on Christianity and Islam.

In contrast to Hinduism, Fisher's treatment of women's issues in Christianity concentrates not on the historical role of women in Christian societies nor on the current attitudes towards women in contemporary Christian societies but on Christian feminist theology. In so doing, Fisher completely separates societal treatment of and attitudes toward women from Christian institutions and theology. This is a move that Fisher refused to make with Hinduism. Given that Christian societies have not been any less patriarchal than Hindu societies, either historically or in many current contexts, one wonders why Christianity is exempted from the same responsibility. Would it be any less true, for example, to declare of Christianity that “Devotion to Mary in Christian societies continues to exist side by side with social attempts to limit and confine women's power”? As well, why doesn't Fisher note that domestic violence against women and murder of wives and girlfriends is a widespread (and, by the way, is statistically far more frequent than in Indian society) in Christian societies?

Well, one of the reasons seems to be that Fisher contends that patriarchy and the mistreatment of women is not consistent with the ideals of Christianity. In fact, she goes to great lengths to make this clear this in her section on women's issues, explaining that,

The Church institution has historically been dominated by men, although there is strong evidence that Jesus had active women disciples and that there were women leaders in the early churches. (p. 354)

Also, acknowledging that one can find statements in Christian scripture that “seem oppressive to women” (p. 354), Fisher explains that Christian feminist theologians have tried to “sort out the cultural and historical as well as the theological contexts of such statements” (p. 355) and have looked to stress the positive “role models for women in the Bible.” (p. 355) Fisher also recognizes that while church dogmas about Mary “may be inflated, they nonetheless reveal a wellspring of hope for women.” (p. 355)
What is interesting here is that, in contrast to her portrayal of Hinduism, Fisher has tried to paint Christianity in the best possible light with regard to women's issues. In her Hinduism chapter, Fisher went to great lengths to emphasize the large inconsistency between Hindu veneration of the devi and the supposed widespread mistreatment of women in Hindu society. However, the same inconsistency between the actual treatment of women in Christian societies and the egalitarian ideals of Christianity is ignored. In fact, in the case of Christianity, Fisher goes to great pains to highlight feminist reinterpretations of Christian history and theology so as to show the true egalitarian ideal of Christianity! Of course, the efforts of Hindu feminists like Madhu Kishwar to interpret Hindu history and thought in egalitarian ways are not mentioned in Fisher's textbook. The reader of Living Religions is then left with a very stark contrast between the violent patriarchy of Hinduism and the feminist egalitarianism of Christianity.

Moving to Fisher's chapter on Islam, the reader is given a highly nuanced look at women's issues. Coming in her section on Muslim resurgence in the modern world, Fisher speaks somewhat candidly about the severe restrictions placed upon women in many Islamic societies. She informs the reader about the very serious mistreatment of women by the Taliban in Afghanistan and in other strict Islamic societies. Tellingly, Fisher attempts to show that such treatment of women is really against the ideals of Islam itself. She says,

Some customs thought to Muslim are actually cultural practices not specified in the basic sources; they are the result of Islamic civilization's assimilation of many cultures in many places. Muhammad worked side-by-side with women, and the Qur'an encourages equal participation of women in religion and in society. (p. 403)

Also, as with Christianity, Fisher plays up the work of contemporary Muslim feminists who see Islam as inherently egalitarian. She includes a long quote from Qur'anic scholar Amina Wadud, who says:

The more research I did into the Qur'an . . . the more affirmed I was that in Islam a female person was intended to be primordially, cosmologically, spiritually, and morally a full human being, equal to all. (p. 403)

What this reveals is that again Fisher has gone to considerable effort to separate the actual treatment of women in society, in this case Islamic society, from the ideals of the religion in question as interpreted by contemporary feminist scholars. In so doing, a distinction is drawn between “cultural practices,” i.e. the very real oppression and mistreatment of women in many Islamic societies, and Islamic ideals of equality and egalitarianism.
What this brief comparison reveals is that Hinduism is not afforded the same balanced and nuanced treatment with regard to women's issues given to Christianity and Islam in Fisher's textbook. Hinduism and Indian society are portrayed as schizophrenic in that they venerate the devi and idealize women on the one hand and on the other treat wives as “slaves,” encourage sati, kill infant girls and condone dowry murder. In contrast, the oppression and mistreatment of women in Christian and Islamic societies are either ignored or seen as against the true ideals of Christianity and Islam. Feminist scholarship and theology are given wide play in the chapters on Christianity and Islam, but Fisher is silent about feminism in Hindu thought. All of this leaves a very negative impression of Hinduism vis a vis the other religions. It also can, unintentionally perhaps, further stereotypes of what is seen as a backward and violent Hinduism in contrast to a more progressive and liberated West.

A number of important observations deserved to be made at this point. First, I am not trying to deny that women have been oppressed at times in Hindu society. Of course, they have been oppressed and have been the objects of violence from males, just as women have received similar treatment in Christian and Islamic societies (and in other societies as well). But what is the relationship between theology and religious practice and societal oppression of women? It is clear that religion and theology can be and is often used to sustain and reinforce patriarchal attitudes in societies, whether they be Hindu, Christian or Muslim. It is also clear that religion and theology can and have been used in ways to challenge, break down and replace patriarchal attitudes in these same societies. Which role is to be emphasized in a general introduction to a religion? It is apparent that in the case of Fisher's textbook, the former role is emphasized with Hinduism while the latter is played up in the cases of Christianity and Islam. This raises the question of fairness and balance in portrayals.

Secondly, what this short case study shows is that care needs to be taken when making editorial decisions in a textbook intended for beginning students. In this case, very little space is allotted to women's issues within Hinduism. Is it fair to leave American students with the impression that sati and dowry murder are the most characteristic and important ways women are treated in Hindu society? How would Christians feel if Indian textbooks spoke only of domestic violence against women in their treatment of Christianity and women's issues? Why isn't contemporary feminist thought in Hinduism given equal time? Why aren't Hindu ideals and the attitudes of the vast majority of Hindus which abhor sati and dowry murder talked about? Why does the author not discuss the Hindu women saints in history, the enlightened and outspoken Hindu women in the Mahabharata, the impressive statistics of the advancement of women in India in the past fifty years in a variety of fields that compares favorably to similar statistics in other former colonies, and, in many respects, with the West? Why does she not discuss the fact that in the state of Maharashtra, a large number of women priests have assumed leadership of Hindu worship?

In conclusion, this short study focused only on the way women's issues are portrayed in Mary Fisher's Living Religions. My experience in using and reading other textbooks on world religions reveals that the unfair and unbalanced way that Fisher portrays Hinduism in this case is quite typical unfortunately. Also, I would contend that this unfair and inaccurate treatment of Hinduism extends to other areas as well including portrayals of the caste system, descriptions of the meaning of some religious symbols (e.g. the lingam), and characterizations of modern Hindu movements. I would hope that textbook authors and publishers would seek to remedy the imbalance in portrayals through a process of revisions or by publishing new textbooks.


[ii] Madhu Kishwar, “Deadly Laws and Zealous Reformers: The Conflicting Interpretations and Politics of Sati,”

[iii]Yvette C. Rosser, “The Clandestine Curriculum in the Classroom,” Education About Asia, Vol. 6:3 (Winter 2001)

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