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There is no chance of the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It
is not possible for a bird to fly on – Swami Vivekananda.
Swami Vivekananda and the Women’s Question
IRIN MUSTAFA MANDAL,
ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF HISTORY,
K.C.COLLEGE, HETAMPUR, BIRBHUM.
E – MAIL : irinmandal@gmail.com.
Among the modern Indian reformers and leaders, who stood for
complete equality of men and women, the most outstanding was
Swami Vivekananda. He was highly sympathetic towards the oppressed
position of Indian women and insisted on their regeneration and
argued for gender equality. His theory towards that equality was of
gender interdependence so that both genders can live peacefully in the
society. This was based on the Vedic notion of spiritual sex equality in
the highest reality of parabrah man. His attitude towards femininity
was markedly condenscending. Since post – independence India still
has problems of women which are to be solved in a meaningful way, in
the Indian feminist literature; his position has much scope of using to a
feminist deconstruction towards a paradigm shift in the Indian society.
To this end following is an attempt to analyze and examine this
concept of womanhood, the ideas he stood for on women’s equality
and education. As a renaissance personality Vivekananda contributed
to the making of the nation with dichotomies on man – woman
relationship, his thinking was always based on the Hindutvavada.
Fore words
It is the Hindu culture and Vedanta philosophy on which
Vivekananda’s position on women is based. According to Vedanta
philosophy, men and women and all beings are divine in their essential
nature. Men and women have been endowed by nature with the
organic capacity to enquire into and realize this great truth. Men and
women have equal access to education. Hindu culture Views all social
evolutions as the process to truth into the texture of human
relationships. This view of Hindu culture provides the values of
freedom, equality and dignity and the sacredness of the human
personality. As per the Vedic philosophy, men and women are
essentially the ever pure, ever free, ever illuminated Atman, the sexless
self. Associated with body and mind this Atman becomes conditioned
as male and female. In this realisation of manhood of man by man and
the womanhood of woman by woman, in the context of the equality of
the marriage relationship, Hindu culture recognizes a significant
experience of spiritual education. It points out that there is no real
independence in this sphere for either man or woman: here
interdependence is the law , it alone leads to happiness and fulfilment
for both. But true interdependence cannot come if man is free and
woman is unfree . To elaborate this in the words of Gandhi “ woman
has as much right to shape her own destiny as man has to shape his and
rules of social conduct must be framed by mutual co – operation and
consultation (Sharma, 1981:PP-49) towards realising the true
interdependence."1
In the modern times, the history of women shows that they have
come across many changing statuses. The Vedic period is said to be of
complete equality for women. There came the feudal period, foreign
invasions which took away women’s freedom, and the national
movement against foreign domination, which also took women rights
and sexual equality as important with other issues. But now gone are
those days and women of post independent India encounter many new
problems which urge them to rise to the highest level of self
development, self –expression and self- esteem. In this millennium
equal access to education for both men and women is an important
step towards greater gender equality and empowerment of women. In
post independent India even though there has been perceptible rise in
the activities directed towards women’s emancipation for social,
economic and political justice, most of the women in the rural areas are
illiterate and trapped in a Vicious circle of poverty and deprivation. It is
therefore realized that the women have to be provided with the vital
educational inputs. If they are to become a powerful force in the
society and participate in the developmental and decision making
process. Through education the gender inequality( created through the
erotization of dominance and submission as feminists argue) is to be
rectified. Since the man- woman difference and dominance /submission
define each other it is necessary to identify the socio-cultural factors
that influence the formation of female identity. Contemporary
feminists argue that gender rules are culturally determined and
inequality between the sexes results from socially constructed power
relationships. Even though women have gained many rights, their gains
have not eradicated sexism or revolutionised the gender relations.
Therefore, post modern feminists argue for identifying the fundamental
difference between men and women for the purpose of emancipation
and equality. That is women must seek an identity of their own and not
just “disappear” into the mirror image of men as happened in the past.
This aims to construct women’s specific, unique subjectivity and which
women’s subjectivity would remain hidden . Swamiji’s ideals on
womanhood premised upon Vedanta can be suggested as the guiding
principles for women to identify themselves regarding their status -
ethical, ontological, religious and social. In today's context, his ideas
have vital strength to be used for a critique of modern thinking or a
change in perspective. It is for helping such a necessity that the visions
and views of Vivekananda are important in the modern or post -
modern context.
COCNCEPT OF WOMANHOOD:
Vivekananda concentrates and believes in the ideals that Vedanta
Says on the women’s position. He glorifies the ideals contained in the
rich Indian heritage and Vedic Scriptures. It is in the background of
Vivekananda’s understanding of the causes of the degeneration of
women in the modern age that he evolved his ideal of “Indian
Womanhood”.
Vivekananda saw that there is no distinction of sex in the highest
reality of parabrahman. He observes, “The more the mind becomes
introspective ,the more the idea of difference vanishes. Ultimately
when the mind is wholly merged in the homogeneous and
undifferentiated Brahman, such ideas that this is a man or that a
woman do no remain at all....... Therefore, though outwardly there may
be difference between men and women in their nature, there is none.
Hence , if a man can be a knower of Brahman, why cannot a woman
attain the same knowledge ? He said, “The idea that one..... is born
superior to another has no meaning in the Vedanta , that between two
nations, one is superior and the other one is inferior has no meaning
what so ever. Put them in the same circumstances and see whether the
same intelligence comes out or not”.(Bose, 1998:PP-285-86).2
According to this position of men and women are also given same level
of development. He said, “We should not think that we are men and
women, but only that we are human beings born to cherish and help
one another. There were times when Vivekananda’s mind was dwelling
in a transcendental realm and those times gave rise to expressions like
these : “There is neither man or woman (in Vedanta) for the soul is
sexless......It is a lie to say I am a man or a woman or I belong to this
country or that. All the world is my country, because I have clothed
myself with as my body.”(cw. vol.2, pp- 14) Such was his sense of
identity at that moment .He never tried brushing off the well meaning
concerns of men who would ask him about women’s problems. “Hands
off”, he exclaimed, “women will solve their own problems. Men had no
business attempting to solve them for them."(CW. VOL.6, PP-23)Always
Swamiji’s call had been that women have to develop their own
personality and try to know themselves and their problems.
In the Vedic and Upanishadic age Maitrei, Gargi and other ladies
of revered memory had taken the places of Rishis through their skill in
discussing about Brahman. When such women were entitled to spiritual
knowledge, Swamiji asks, then why shall not the women have the same
privilege now? What has happened once can certainly happen again.
History repeats itself (CW,VOL.7:PP-215). He felt that it was much
against the ancient ideal of India that women were not given enough
opportunities for self – development. It is the spiritual ideal of Sita or
Savitri that Indian women have been following through the ages. It is
necessary to intensify the ideal of womanhood in the Indian women so
that they may feel the necessity of coming up along with men. Indian
women should try to attain greatness and strength that Sita had shown.
On Indian womanhood he said,” The highest of all feminine type
in India is mother, higher than wife. Wife and children may desert a
man, but his mother never.Mother is the same or loves her child
perhaps a little more. Mother represents colourless love that knows no
barter, love that never dies. Who can have such love? – only mother;
nor son, nor daughter, nor wife.”(CW.VOL.6:PP-149). He saw their love
as eternal. He pointed out the universality of Hindu worship of
motherhood in other religions also. He asserted that” In the religion
Jehova, Jesus and Trinity are secondary; there the worship for the
mother – She the Mother with child Jesus on her arms.The emperor
cries - Mother, the beggar in the streets cries Mother!A million voices in
a million ways, from a million places- from the pallace, from the
cottage, from the church cry Mother, Mother,Mother !Everywhere is
the cry Ave Maria,Ave Maria."(CW.VOL.5:PP-506).
Swamiji was critical of Radha – prema, the divine love which
Radha had towards Shri Krishna. He opined, through the preaching of
that love broadcast, the whole nation has become effeminate – a race
of women!The whole of Orissa has been turned into a land of cowards;
and Bengal running after the Radha prema,these past four hundred
years has almost lost all sense of manliness!The people are good only at
crying and weeping;that has become their notional trait.Look at their
literature, the sure index of a nation's thought and ideas.Why the
refrain of the Bengali literature for those four hundred years is strung
to that same tune of moaning and crying.It has failed to give birth to
any poetry which breathes a true heroic spirit.(CW,VOL.5:PP-345). In his
opinion sex love can never be the property of the masses. The
preaching of the Vaishnava Gurus about sex – love rather than
renunciation was beyond the comprehension of the common
people.Failure to grasp and assimilate that high ideal of divine
love,naturally made at it the worst form of love between man and
women. These notions suggest that Vivekananda identified two
concepts of women 1. Woman, the mother, de – eroticised(maternal)
and 2.woman, the fallen, the sexual being (carnal). The former is pure
and latter is with negative quality of effeminacy i.e lethargy, cowardice,
immaturity etc. Robert Goldman observes ,”In many texts women are
idealized as pure, spiritual and nurturant when they are de – erotised
and placed in purely defined and sexually tabooed blood relationships
such as those of mother, sister or daughter. In other words, when
emphasis is placed on their sexuality, they are often vilified for this
aspect of their nature and condemned as temptress, seductress or
whore.”(GOLDMAN.1993.PP-375 -76).3
Vivekananda studied about the history of the Indian women and
women of other places and compared those with that of the Vedic
concept of women of the Aryan race." Aryan and semitic ideals of
women,"he said," have always been diametrically opposed. among the
Semites the presence of women is considered dangerous to devotion,
and she may not perform any religious function even such as the killing
of a bird for food; according to the Aryan a man cannot perform a
religious action without a wife (CW.VOL.5,1997:PP-229).To him, "The
ideal womanhood centres in the Aryan race of India." The same held
true in ancient Rome and Greece."Then he shows how the position of
women degenerated,i.e. in the feminist point of view the origin of the
patriarchal ordering of the society.
Swamiji found that the advent of various priest class, change in
the system of marriage, rise of the Vedic idea of personal purity,
development of monasticism etc as the reasons responsible for the
degeneration of women in the later periods.Swamiji observed that the
development of all monasticism,whether it is Buddhist or
Christian,always contributed to the degeneration of women. According
to him,under monasticism,”All the blame was cast on to women, and
even the proverbs warned against them.”What is the gate to hell?” Was
one of them to which the answer was “woman”. Another one "Who is
the blindest of the blind? he,who is deceived by women.Even though
Buddha was one of the greatest of men,Swamiji said,he introduced for
the first time the community life of the religious houses and thereby
necessarily made women inferior to men.Therefore by learning from
the defects of monastic ideals he evolved a different conception of
womenhood.In the West he found this ideal in the wife and in the East
in the mother. In Buddhist monasteries also ,he opined that the
abbesses could not take any important step without the advice of
certain abbots. Therefore they enjoyed an inferior position to men.
Swamiji saw the chastity as the most important virtue of the women.
When he was in America he denied the incidence of widow –burning in
India. He explained this old custom on the ground that the wives loved
their husbands so much that they could not live without them.They
were one in marriage and must be one in death. Lastly Swamiji agreed
that widow - burning is occuring in India. This Swamiji might have
deliberately done for the political reason that was used by the
colonialists to justify their domination by depicting the inferior position
of women so that needs outside help to get them emancipated.
Feminists are critical of the Indian cultural symbols which glorifies
the women's role as mother-goddess. She is projected as the
productivity and the welfare, spreading happiness and nullifying both
wrongs and the perpetrator.This notion of motherhood has served as
an institutionalised form of oppression for the subjugation of women.4
Swamiji seems to have explained the bad condition of women in
India on the ground that Hindu men had such respect for women that it
was thought best not to allow the women out. The Hindu women were
held in such high esteem that they were kept in seclusion. He saw their
seclusion as a part of protecting the chastity of women, which keeps
the society pure.(CW.VOL.7:PP-292). He also favoured the outcasting of
unchaste women on account of keeping the society pure.He explains
how women's biology affect their position which is similar to the
feminist argument of "biological determinism" as the cause of the
subordination of women.He saw that the women's chastity is
influenced by Nature and said ,"The tendency of Nature is to multiply
the population, and the chastity of women helps that
tendency.Therefore, being more anxious about the purity of women,
than of men, every society is only assisting Nature in the fulfilment of
her purpose."(CW.VOL.5:PP-214).Almost all nations of the world,
therefore, tried to preserve the chastity of women and this lowered
their position.But this argument is challanged by the feminists, given
the changing role of women in the modern society and development in
reproductive technology.
Vivekananda compared the position of Indian women with those
of the West. In this comparison he found no reason for the inferior
position of Indian women.He mentioned "Nowhere in the world are
women like those of this country."Then he said about the Indian
women,"Look at our girls becoming mothers below their teens!.......I
now see it all."He understood the paradox of Manu's dictum,"The gods
are pleased when the women are held high in esteem" and seeing the
reality of women's position says ,"We are horrible sinners and our
degradation is due to our calling women "Despicable worms,gateways
to hell and so forth."(CW.VOL.6,PP45-46).He was aware of their
subordinate position.He was not satisfied with the condition of women
during his days.
Swamiji had seen the misery of his own younger sister,
Yogendrabala, who committed suicide, and it had deeply affected his
thinking, "If women cannot act , neither can men suffer," he responded.
The tragic death by suicide of Vivekananda's sister as well as his
experiance with western women had made him conscious of the
degradation of Indian women. According to him the principal reason
why India has degenerated is that there is no respect of women. Even
today despite the constitutional guarantee of gender equality, woman's
position has not improved for the better.
Swamiji came to the conclusion that,” Asia laid the germs of
civilization, Europe developed men, America is developing women and
masses.”
EDUCATION FOR WOMEN
Swamiji found education as the best and only device to solve all
problems of women and thereby emancipate them. According to
him,for women problems can be many but none that cannot be solved
by that magic word “education”. He conceived of an education by
which character is formed,strength of mind is increased, intellect is
expanded and by which one can stand on one’s feet.
He said that in ancient times when......religion first began, women
of the present day had degenerated. They thought of nothing but
eating and drinking, gossip and scandal. Therefore he prescribed an
education that would create great, fearless women – women worthy to
continue the traditions of Sanghamitra, Lila, Ahalyabai and Mirabai –
women fit to be the mothers of heroes (CW.VOL1,PP-5). Hence his
message to the Indians was “Forget not that the ideal of thy
womanhood is Sita, Savitri, Damayanti.”(CW.VOL.4,PP-479-80). For him
“development of true ideal of womanhood was the primary goal of
education.” He said, “ In the period of degradation when the priests
made the other castes incompetent for the study of the Vedas, they
deprived the women also of all their rights. All nations have attained
greatness by paying proper respect to the women.That country and
that nation which do not respect women have never become great, nor
will ever be in future. The principal reason why your race has so much
degenerated is that you have no respect for these living images of
Shakti”(CW.VOL.7,PP-215). His view reflects that of Marx’s in whose
theory social progress can be precisely measured by the social status of
their fair sex(women).5 He put the blame of the low status of Indian
women partly on the barbarous invaders and partly on the people of
India themselves. They have all time been trained in
helplessness,......(VOL.5:PP-342). His great heroine was the Rani
Luxmibai of Jhansi, who led her troops in person at the time of the
Indian mutiny.
To make a begining in women’s education, his argument centred
on chastity, because it is the heritage of Hindu women. Firstly
,“intensify that ideal within them above everything else, so that they
may develop a strong character by the force of which, in every stage of
their life, whether married or single, if they prefer to remain so,they
will not be in the least afraid even to give up their lives rather than
flinch an inch from their chastity”(VOL.5,PP-542).
Therefore he advised, ”Educate your women first and leave them
to themselves; then they will tell you what reforms are necessary for
them. In matters concerning them who are you? Liberty is the first
condition of growth.” He advised the Indian women to believe in India
and Indian faith.”Be strong and hopeful and unashamed, and
remember that with something to take, Hindus have immeasurably
more to give than any other people in the world.” Swamiji suggested
such an education with which women will solve their own problems.
However he disapproved of their modern education. He warns that,
“Getting by heart the thoughts of others in foreign languages and
stuffing.......brain with them and taking some University degrees you
consider yourself educated?......education which does not bring out the
strength of character, a spirit of philanthrophy and the courage of a lion
is not worth being called education.”
Swamiji supported the indigenous system of education in which
the history and culture of one’s own nation would be taught. For this he
insisted on the old system of education for females also. He
emphasized women studying religion, science, arts, housekeeping,
cooking, sewing, hygiene etc. Along with these japa, worship and
meditation formed an indispensable part of teaching. He desired that
schools for girls be opened in every village. For imparting education he
finds it necessary to train bramhacharinis who would go to the villages
and other places and do hard work, without any hesitation. For this he
planned to build up Matha which he could not materialise during his
lifetime.
In his view, educated women would inculcate virtues and values
amongst the children and thus prepare the new generation of people
who could distinguish themselves in virtues and values .The
development agenda of the 21st century also acknowledge education as
the key to women’s empowerment for the same reasons as Swamiji
foresaw in the 19th century.
Swamiji prescribed the secular education for the masses, that is an
education which brings all the ideals slowly down among the masses
and raises them to equality. He prefers to impart this secular
knowledge through religion that is through the Vedas. The 81 Report of
the Committee of value – based education in the year 1999 did
highlight the need to inculcate the principles of truth, righteous
conduct, peace, love and non – violence ; which are the religious values
propagated by Swamiji. This shows that the modern India also has to
accept the virtue of religion as Swamiji reiterated in the 19th century.6
ON WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT
Vivekananda strongly believes that there is a huge difference in the
attitude of Indian men and their western counterparts.Indian men
believe that the women are born to please them.The real shakti-
worshipper is he who knows that the God is the omnipotent force in
the universe, and sees in the women the manifestation of that force.In
America men look upon their women in this light and treat their
women as well as can be desired.Hence , they are so prosperous, so
learned, so free and so energetic.7
A feminist can argue that in India, little boys are told that they are
often stronger than girls.This is why he often takes a dominating
attitude towards their female counterparts.It is the value learnt at
home that affect through subtle messages parents often indicate that
the girl will be going to another household, while the boy will earn and
would inherit the family's wealth. Naturally, they grow up believing that
they are superior to women and may mistreat their partners later.Why
can't we just tell little boys to be more sensitive towards girls rather
than feeding their brains about such lame notion."There is no chance
for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is
improved".....Swami Vivekananda said," It is very difficult to understand
why in this country so much difference is made between men and
women,whereas the Vedanta declares that one and the same conscious
self is present in all beings. you always criticise the women,but what
have you done for their enlistment?"
Vivekananda glorified Indian women of the past for their great
achievements as leader in various walks of life. He proudly stated that,"
Women in statemanship, managing territories, governing countries,
even making war, have proved themselves equal to men, if not
superior,In India. I have no doubt of that. Whenever they have had the
opportunity , they have proved that they have as much ability as
men,with this advantage - that they seldom degenerate.They keep to
the moral standard, which is innate in their nature.And thus as
governors and rulers of their state, they prove at least in India far
superior to men.John Stuart Mill mentions this fact."(CW. VOL. 5 PP-
27-28 ).
Swami Vivekananda rightly observed that the condition of women
in the Mughal - ruled and Britush - ruled India was deplorable.The mid -
nineteenth century India saw women ,the great mother - power
,shackled and degenerated to mere"child producing machine" as
Vivekananda saw it.In the period of degradation, when the priests
made the other castes incompetent to study the Vedas, they deprived
the women also of all their rights.You will find in the Vedic and
Upanishadic age Maitrei , Gargi and other ladies of revered memory
have taken the place of Rishis.In an assembly of thousand Brahmanas
who were all erudite in the Vedas, Gargi boldly challenged Yajnavalkya
in a discussion about Brahman.
Swami Vivekananda was of firm opinion that women should be
put in a positions of power to solve their own problems in their own
way. The welfare of the world is dependent on the improvement of the
condition of the women.When people are discussing as to what man
and woman can do,always the same mistake is made.They think that
they show man at his best because he can fight, for instance and
undergo tremendous physical exertion,and this is pitted against the
physical weakness and non - combatting quality of women.This is
unjust . Woman is as courageous as man. Each is equally good in his or
her way.What man can bring up a child with such patience, endurance
and love as the women can?The one has developed the power of doing;
the other, the power of suffering.If women can not act, neither can
man suffer.The whole universe is one of perfect balance.(CW.VOL.2:PP-
25 - 26).
He emphasized that the women must be educated, for he
believed that it is the women who mould the next generation, and
hence, the destiny of the country.In Vivekananda's educational scheme
for India, the uplift of women and the masses recieved the highest
priority.The idea of perfect womanhood is perfect independence.8It is
the strong belief of Vivekananda that if the women are raised, their
children will by their noble actions glorify the name of the country;
then will culture , knowledge , power and devotion awake in the
country. He further opined that "With five hundred men, the conquest
of India might take fifty years; with as many women not more than a
few weeks."
CONCLUSION
We can conclude that Swami Vivekananda’s thoughts on women
were dichotomous. He emphasized on the Vedic education, side by side
he admitted the utility of modern and secular education in many ways.
Above all his sole emphasis on Hindutvavada made him less popular
among the Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and other races in
India. Modern feminists also discard him as he overlooked the
patriarchal, exploitative traits behind the Vedic notions of women. But
the honour he showed to the women of India and the efforts he made
to uplift their positions in and outside India are highly praiseworthy. His
thinking was always obscured with the colonial background, crippled
partly by the notion of Hindutva which was the problem with some of
the “renaissance personalities” of that age, such as Bankim Chandra
Chattopadhyay, Nabagopal Mitra, Aurobinda Ghosh – to name a few . I
would rather appreciate his contributions to nation – building process
of our country even in this 21st century.
REFERENCES:
1.BASU SANKARI PRASAD AND SUNIL BIHARI GHOSH ED.,VIVEKANANDA IN INDIAN
NEWSPAPERS AND PERIODICALS , CALCUTTA ,BOOKLAND AND MODERN BOOK AGENCY
, 1969:PP 49 - 52.
2. BOSE NEMAI SADHAN , SWAMI VIVEKANANDA AND CHALLENGE TO
FUNDAMENTALISM IN WILLIAM RADICE ED.SWAMI VIVEKANANDA AND
MODERNISATION OF HINDUISM, DELHI ,OUP,1998:PP 285 - 286.
3.GOLDMAN ROBERT . P “TRANSEXUALISM, GENDER AND ANXEITY IN TRADITIONAL
INDIA," JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN ORIENTAL SOCIETY , CX111.3.1993 , PP 10 - 48.
4.MACKINNON CATHERINE ,A FEMINISM, MARXISM METHOD AND THE STATE, NEW
DELHI , SAGE PUBLICATION S ,1993, PP - 201.
5.NAIR SUKUMARAN, SWAMI VIVEKANANDA , THE EDUCATOR ,NEW DELHI ,OUP. 1999 ,
PP 275 - 76.
6.ibid , PP -284 - 86.
7.NIVEDITA SISTER 1999. THE MASTER AS I SAW HIM. 9TH ED., 12TH
PRINTING.CALCUTTA , UDBODHAN OFFICE, PP 134 - 36.
8.SENGUPTA S. C. 1984, SWAMI VIVEKANANDA AND INDIAN NATIONALISM.CALCUTTA:
SHISHU SAHITYA SAMSAD,PP 125-27.
ABSTRACT: Swami Vivekananda propagated Hinduism when
India was under colonial rule. As a nation - builder ,he emphasized
on the role of the mass and the women in the process of the
making of the nation. His area of thrust was the Hindu women,
without their empowerment ,he thought that the nation - building
process would remain incomplete.He put emphasis on women's
education, their empowerment and purity.His ideal women were
Sita,Savitri,Damayanti of the Vedic age. He believed that there is
no difference between men and women.They both are the
embodiment of the ParamBramhan. But the feminists criticise him
as his ides are obscured with patriarchal notions.In this article, I
try to analyse his stands on women's question as well as the
feminist's view regarding his thoughts.
keywords: Vivekananda, woman, education,womanhood,
empowerment, feminists, Hindutva, renaissance.

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Vivekananda[1]

  • 1. There is no chance of the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on – Swami Vivekananda. Swami Vivekananda and the Women’s Question IRIN MUSTAFA MANDAL, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, K.C.COLLEGE, HETAMPUR, BIRBHUM. E – MAIL : irinmandal@gmail.com. Among the modern Indian reformers and leaders, who stood for complete equality of men and women, the most outstanding was Swami Vivekananda. He was highly sympathetic towards the oppressed position of Indian women and insisted on their regeneration and argued for gender equality. His theory towards that equality was of gender interdependence so that both genders can live peacefully in the society. This was based on the Vedic notion of spiritual sex equality in the highest reality of parabrah man. His attitude towards femininity was markedly condenscending. Since post – independence India still has problems of women which are to be solved in a meaningful way, in the Indian feminist literature; his position has much scope of using to a feminist deconstruction towards a paradigm shift in the Indian society. To this end following is an attempt to analyze and examine this concept of womanhood, the ideas he stood for on women’s equality and education. As a renaissance personality Vivekananda contributed to the making of the nation with dichotomies on man – woman relationship, his thinking was always based on the Hindutvavada.
  • 2. Fore words It is the Hindu culture and Vedanta philosophy on which Vivekananda’s position on women is based. According to Vedanta philosophy, men and women and all beings are divine in their essential nature. Men and women have been endowed by nature with the organic capacity to enquire into and realize this great truth. Men and women have equal access to education. Hindu culture Views all social evolutions as the process to truth into the texture of human relationships. This view of Hindu culture provides the values of freedom, equality and dignity and the sacredness of the human personality. As per the Vedic philosophy, men and women are essentially the ever pure, ever free, ever illuminated Atman, the sexless self. Associated with body and mind this Atman becomes conditioned as male and female. In this realisation of manhood of man by man and the womanhood of woman by woman, in the context of the equality of the marriage relationship, Hindu culture recognizes a significant experience of spiritual education. It points out that there is no real independence in this sphere for either man or woman: here interdependence is the law , it alone leads to happiness and fulfilment for both. But true interdependence cannot come if man is free and woman is unfree . To elaborate this in the words of Gandhi “ woman has as much right to shape her own destiny as man has to shape his and rules of social conduct must be framed by mutual co – operation and consultation (Sharma, 1981:PP-49) towards realising the true interdependence."1 In the modern times, the history of women shows that they have come across many changing statuses. The Vedic period is said to be of
  • 3. complete equality for women. There came the feudal period, foreign invasions which took away women’s freedom, and the national movement against foreign domination, which also took women rights and sexual equality as important with other issues. But now gone are those days and women of post independent India encounter many new problems which urge them to rise to the highest level of self development, self –expression and self- esteem. In this millennium equal access to education for both men and women is an important step towards greater gender equality and empowerment of women. In post independent India even though there has been perceptible rise in the activities directed towards women’s emancipation for social, economic and political justice, most of the women in the rural areas are illiterate and trapped in a Vicious circle of poverty and deprivation. It is therefore realized that the women have to be provided with the vital educational inputs. If they are to become a powerful force in the society and participate in the developmental and decision making process. Through education the gender inequality( created through the erotization of dominance and submission as feminists argue) is to be rectified. Since the man- woman difference and dominance /submission define each other it is necessary to identify the socio-cultural factors that influence the formation of female identity. Contemporary feminists argue that gender rules are culturally determined and inequality between the sexes results from socially constructed power relationships. Even though women have gained many rights, their gains have not eradicated sexism or revolutionised the gender relations. Therefore, post modern feminists argue for identifying the fundamental difference between men and women for the purpose of emancipation and equality. That is women must seek an identity of their own and not
  • 4. just “disappear” into the mirror image of men as happened in the past. This aims to construct women’s specific, unique subjectivity and which women’s subjectivity would remain hidden . Swamiji’s ideals on womanhood premised upon Vedanta can be suggested as the guiding principles for women to identify themselves regarding their status - ethical, ontological, religious and social. In today's context, his ideas have vital strength to be used for a critique of modern thinking or a change in perspective. It is for helping such a necessity that the visions and views of Vivekananda are important in the modern or post - modern context. COCNCEPT OF WOMANHOOD: Vivekananda concentrates and believes in the ideals that Vedanta Says on the women’s position. He glorifies the ideals contained in the rich Indian heritage and Vedic Scriptures. It is in the background of Vivekananda’s understanding of the causes of the degeneration of women in the modern age that he evolved his ideal of “Indian Womanhood”. Vivekananda saw that there is no distinction of sex in the highest reality of parabrahman. He observes, “The more the mind becomes introspective ,the more the idea of difference vanishes. Ultimately when the mind is wholly merged in the homogeneous and undifferentiated Brahman, such ideas that this is a man or that a woman do no remain at all....... Therefore, though outwardly there may be difference between men and women in their nature, there is none. Hence , if a man can be a knower of Brahman, why cannot a woman attain the same knowledge ? He said, “The idea that one..... is born superior to another has no meaning in the Vedanta , that between two
  • 5. nations, one is superior and the other one is inferior has no meaning what so ever. Put them in the same circumstances and see whether the same intelligence comes out or not”.(Bose, 1998:PP-285-86).2 According to this position of men and women are also given same level of development. He said, “We should not think that we are men and women, but only that we are human beings born to cherish and help one another. There were times when Vivekananda’s mind was dwelling in a transcendental realm and those times gave rise to expressions like these : “There is neither man or woman (in Vedanta) for the soul is sexless......It is a lie to say I am a man or a woman or I belong to this country or that. All the world is my country, because I have clothed myself with as my body.”(cw. vol.2, pp- 14) Such was his sense of identity at that moment .He never tried brushing off the well meaning concerns of men who would ask him about women’s problems. “Hands off”, he exclaimed, “women will solve their own problems. Men had no business attempting to solve them for them."(CW. VOL.6, PP-23)Always Swamiji’s call had been that women have to develop their own personality and try to know themselves and their problems. In the Vedic and Upanishadic age Maitrei, Gargi and other ladies of revered memory had taken the places of Rishis through their skill in discussing about Brahman. When such women were entitled to spiritual knowledge, Swamiji asks, then why shall not the women have the same privilege now? What has happened once can certainly happen again. History repeats itself (CW,VOL.7:PP-215). He felt that it was much against the ancient ideal of India that women were not given enough opportunities for self – development. It is the spiritual ideal of Sita or Savitri that Indian women have been following through the ages. It is necessary to intensify the ideal of womanhood in the Indian women so
  • 6. that they may feel the necessity of coming up along with men. Indian women should try to attain greatness and strength that Sita had shown. On Indian womanhood he said,” The highest of all feminine type in India is mother, higher than wife. Wife and children may desert a man, but his mother never.Mother is the same or loves her child perhaps a little more. Mother represents colourless love that knows no barter, love that never dies. Who can have such love? – only mother; nor son, nor daughter, nor wife.”(CW.VOL.6:PP-149). He saw their love as eternal. He pointed out the universality of Hindu worship of motherhood in other religions also. He asserted that” In the religion Jehova, Jesus and Trinity are secondary; there the worship for the mother – She the Mother with child Jesus on her arms.The emperor cries - Mother, the beggar in the streets cries Mother!A million voices in a million ways, from a million places- from the pallace, from the cottage, from the church cry Mother, Mother,Mother !Everywhere is the cry Ave Maria,Ave Maria."(CW.VOL.5:PP-506). Swamiji was critical of Radha – prema, the divine love which Radha had towards Shri Krishna. He opined, through the preaching of that love broadcast, the whole nation has become effeminate – a race of women!The whole of Orissa has been turned into a land of cowards; and Bengal running after the Radha prema,these past four hundred years has almost lost all sense of manliness!The people are good only at crying and weeping;that has become their notional trait.Look at their literature, the sure index of a nation's thought and ideas.Why the refrain of the Bengali literature for those four hundred years is strung to that same tune of moaning and crying.It has failed to give birth to any poetry which breathes a true heroic spirit.(CW,VOL.5:PP-345). In his opinion sex love can never be the property of the masses. The
  • 7. preaching of the Vaishnava Gurus about sex – love rather than renunciation was beyond the comprehension of the common people.Failure to grasp and assimilate that high ideal of divine love,naturally made at it the worst form of love between man and women. These notions suggest that Vivekananda identified two concepts of women 1. Woman, the mother, de – eroticised(maternal) and 2.woman, the fallen, the sexual being (carnal). The former is pure and latter is with negative quality of effeminacy i.e lethargy, cowardice, immaturity etc. Robert Goldman observes ,”In many texts women are idealized as pure, spiritual and nurturant when they are de – erotised and placed in purely defined and sexually tabooed blood relationships such as those of mother, sister or daughter. In other words, when emphasis is placed on their sexuality, they are often vilified for this aspect of their nature and condemned as temptress, seductress or whore.”(GOLDMAN.1993.PP-375 -76).3 Vivekananda studied about the history of the Indian women and women of other places and compared those with that of the Vedic concept of women of the Aryan race." Aryan and semitic ideals of women,"he said," have always been diametrically opposed. among the Semites the presence of women is considered dangerous to devotion, and she may not perform any religious function even such as the killing of a bird for food; according to the Aryan a man cannot perform a religious action without a wife (CW.VOL.5,1997:PP-229).To him, "The ideal womanhood centres in the Aryan race of India." The same held true in ancient Rome and Greece."Then he shows how the position of women degenerated,i.e. in the feminist point of view the origin of the patriarchal ordering of the society.
  • 8. Swamiji found that the advent of various priest class, change in the system of marriage, rise of the Vedic idea of personal purity, development of monasticism etc as the reasons responsible for the degeneration of women in the later periods.Swamiji observed that the development of all monasticism,whether it is Buddhist or Christian,always contributed to the degeneration of women. According to him,under monasticism,”All the blame was cast on to women, and even the proverbs warned against them.”What is the gate to hell?” Was one of them to which the answer was “woman”. Another one "Who is the blindest of the blind? he,who is deceived by women.Even though Buddha was one of the greatest of men,Swamiji said,he introduced for the first time the community life of the religious houses and thereby necessarily made women inferior to men.Therefore by learning from the defects of monastic ideals he evolved a different conception of womenhood.In the West he found this ideal in the wife and in the East in the mother. In Buddhist monasteries also ,he opined that the abbesses could not take any important step without the advice of certain abbots. Therefore they enjoyed an inferior position to men. Swamiji saw the chastity as the most important virtue of the women. When he was in America he denied the incidence of widow –burning in India. He explained this old custom on the ground that the wives loved their husbands so much that they could not live without them.They were one in marriage and must be one in death. Lastly Swamiji agreed that widow - burning is occuring in India. This Swamiji might have deliberately done for the political reason that was used by the colonialists to justify their domination by depicting the inferior position of women so that needs outside help to get them emancipated.
  • 9. Feminists are critical of the Indian cultural symbols which glorifies the women's role as mother-goddess. She is projected as the productivity and the welfare, spreading happiness and nullifying both wrongs and the perpetrator.This notion of motherhood has served as an institutionalised form of oppression for the subjugation of women.4 Swamiji seems to have explained the bad condition of women in India on the ground that Hindu men had such respect for women that it was thought best not to allow the women out. The Hindu women were held in such high esteem that they were kept in seclusion. He saw their seclusion as a part of protecting the chastity of women, which keeps the society pure.(CW.VOL.7:PP-292). He also favoured the outcasting of unchaste women on account of keeping the society pure.He explains how women's biology affect their position which is similar to the feminist argument of "biological determinism" as the cause of the subordination of women.He saw that the women's chastity is influenced by Nature and said ,"The tendency of Nature is to multiply the population, and the chastity of women helps that tendency.Therefore, being more anxious about the purity of women, than of men, every society is only assisting Nature in the fulfilment of her purpose."(CW.VOL.5:PP-214).Almost all nations of the world, therefore, tried to preserve the chastity of women and this lowered their position.But this argument is challanged by the feminists, given the changing role of women in the modern society and development in reproductive technology. Vivekananda compared the position of Indian women with those of the West. In this comparison he found no reason for the inferior position of Indian women.He mentioned "Nowhere in the world are women like those of this country."Then he said about the Indian
  • 10. women,"Look at our girls becoming mothers below their teens!.......I now see it all."He understood the paradox of Manu's dictum,"The gods are pleased when the women are held high in esteem" and seeing the reality of women's position says ,"We are horrible sinners and our degradation is due to our calling women "Despicable worms,gateways to hell and so forth."(CW.VOL.6,PP45-46).He was aware of their subordinate position.He was not satisfied with the condition of women during his days. Swamiji had seen the misery of his own younger sister, Yogendrabala, who committed suicide, and it had deeply affected his thinking, "If women cannot act , neither can men suffer," he responded. The tragic death by suicide of Vivekananda's sister as well as his experiance with western women had made him conscious of the degradation of Indian women. According to him the principal reason why India has degenerated is that there is no respect of women. Even today despite the constitutional guarantee of gender equality, woman's position has not improved for the better. Swamiji came to the conclusion that,” Asia laid the germs of civilization, Europe developed men, America is developing women and masses.” EDUCATION FOR WOMEN Swamiji found education as the best and only device to solve all problems of women and thereby emancipate them. According to him,for women problems can be many but none that cannot be solved by that magic word “education”. He conceived of an education by
  • 11. which character is formed,strength of mind is increased, intellect is expanded and by which one can stand on one’s feet. He said that in ancient times when......religion first began, women of the present day had degenerated. They thought of nothing but eating and drinking, gossip and scandal. Therefore he prescribed an education that would create great, fearless women – women worthy to continue the traditions of Sanghamitra, Lila, Ahalyabai and Mirabai – women fit to be the mothers of heroes (CW.VOL1,PP-5). Hence his message to the Indians was “Forget not that the ideal of thy womanhood is Sita, Savitri, Damayanti.”(CW.VOL.4,PP-479-80). For him “development of true ideal of womanhood was the primary goal of education.” He said, “ In the period of degradation when the priests made the other castes incompetent for the study of the Vedas, they deprived the women also of all their rights. All nations have attained greatness by paying proper respect to the women.That country and that nation which do not respect women have never become great, nor will ever be in future. The principal reason why your race has so much degenerated is that you have no respect for these living images of Shakti”(CW.VOL.7,PP-215). His view reflects that of Marx’s in whose theory social progress can be precisely measured by the social status of their fair sex(women).5 He put the blame of the low status of Indian women partly on the barbarous invaders and partly on the people of India themselves. They have all time been trained in helplessness,......(VOL.5:PP-342). His great heroine was the Rani Luxmibai of Jhansi, who led her troops in person at the time of the Indian mutiny. To make a begining in women’s education, his argument centred on chastity, because it is the heritage of Hindu women. Firstly
  • 12. ,“intensify that ideal within them above everything else, so that they may develop a strong character by the force of which, in every stage of their life, whether married or single, if they prefer to remain so,they will not be in the least afraid even to give up their lives rather than flinch an inch from their chastity”(VOL.5,PP-542). Therefore he advised, ”Educate your women first and leave them to themselves; then they will tell you what reforms are necessary for them. In matters concerning them who are you? Liberty is the first condition of growth.” He advised the Indian women to believe in India and Indian faith.”Be strong and hopeful and unashamed, and remember that with something to take, Hindus have immeasurably more to give than any other people in the world.” Swamiji suggested such an education with which women will solve their own problems. However he disapproved of their modern education. He warns that, “Getting by heart the thoughts of others in foreign languages and stuffing.......brain with them and taking some University degrees you consider yourself educated?......education which does not bring out the strength of character, a spirit of philanthrophy and the courage of a lion is not worth being called education.” Swamiji supported the indigenous system of education in which the history and culture of one’s own nation would be taught. For this he insisted on the old system of education for females also. He emphasized women studying religion, science, arts, housekeeping, cooking, sewing, hygiene etc. Along with these japa, worship and meditation formed an indispensable part of teaching. He desired that schools for girls be opened in every village. For imparting education he finds it necessary to train bramhacharinis who would go to the villages and other places and do hard work, without any hesitation. For this he
  • 13. planned to build up Matha which he could not materialise during his lifetime. In his view, educated women would inculcate virtues and values amongst the children and thus prepare the new generation of people who could distinguish themselves in virtues and values .The development agenda of the 21st century also acknowledge education as the key to women’s empowerment for the same reasons as Swamiji foresaw in the 19th century. Swamiji prescribed the secular education for the masses, that is an education which brings all the ideals slowly down among the masses and raises them to equality. He prefers to impart this secular knowledge through religion that is through the Vedas. The 81 Report of the Committee of value – based education in the year 1999 did highlight the need to inculcate the principles of truth, righteous conduct, peace, love and non – violence ; which are the religious values propagated by Swamiji. This shows that the modern India also has to accept the virtue of religion as Swamiji reiterated in the 19th century.6 ON WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT Vivekananda strongly believes that there is a huge difference in the attitude of Indian men and their western counterparts.Indian men believe that the women are born to please them.The real shakti- worshipper is he who knows that the God is the omnipotent force in the universe, and sees in the women the manifestation of that force.In America men look upon their women in this light and treat their
  • 14. women as well as can be desired.Hence , they are so prosperous, so learned, so free and so energetic.7 A feminist can argue that in India, little boys are told that they are often stronger than girls.This is why he often takes a dominating attitude towards their female counterparts.It is the value learnt at home that affect through subtle messages parents often indicate that the girl will be going to another household, while the boy will earn and would inherit the family's wealth. Naturally, they grow up believing that they are superior to women and may mistreat their partners later.Why can't we just tell little boys to be more sensitive towards girls rather than feeding their brains about such lame notion."There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved".....Swami Vivekananda said," It is very difficult to understand why in this country so much difference is made between men and women,whereas the Vedanta declares that one and the same conscious self is present in all beings. you always criticise the women,but what have you done for their enlistment?" Vivekananda glorified Indian women of the past for their great achievements as leader in various walks of life. He proudly stated that," Women in statemanship, managing territories, governing countries, even making war, have proved themselves equal to men, if not superior,In India. I have no doubt of that. Whenever they have had the opportunity , they have proved that they have as much ability as men,with this advantage - that they seldom degenerate.They keep to the moral standard, which is innate in their nature.And thus as governors and rulers of their state, they prove at least in India far superior to men.John Stuart Mill mentions this fact."(CW. VOL. 5 PP- 27-28 ).
  • 15. Swami Vivekananda rightly observed that the condition of women in the Mughal - ruled and Britush - ruled India was deplorable.The mid - nineteenth century India saw women ,the great mother - power ,shackled and degenerated to mere"child producing machine" as Vivekananda saw it.In the period of degradation, when the priests made the other castes incompetent to study the Vedas, they deprived the women also of all their rights.You will find in the Vedic and Upanishadic age Maitrei , Gargi and other ladies of revered memory have taken the place of Rishis.In an assembly of thousand Brahmanas who were all erudite in the Vedas, Gargi boldly challenged Yajnavalkya in a discussion about Brahman. Swami Vivekananda was of firm opinion that women should be put in a positions of power to solve their own problems in their own way. The welfare of the world is dependent on the improvement of the condition of the women.When people are discussing as to what man and woman can do,always the same mistake is made.They think that they show man at his best because he can fight, for instance and undergo tremendous physical exertion,and this is pitted against the physical weakness and non - combatting quality of women.This is unjust . Woman is as courageous as man. Each is equally good in his or her way.What man can bring up a child with such patience, endurance and love as the women can?The one has developed the power of doing; the other, the power of suffering.If women can not act, neither can man suffer.The whole universe is one of perfect balance.(CW.VOL.2:PP- 25 - 26). He emphasized that the women must be educated, for he believed that it is the women who mould the next generation, and hence, the destiny of the country.In Vivekananda's educational scheme
  • 16. for India, the uplift of women and the masses recieved the highest priority.The idea of perfect womanhood is perfect independence.8It is the strong belief of Vivekananda that if the women are raised, their children will by their noble actions glorify the name of the country; then will culture , knowledge , power and devotion awake in the country. He further opined that "With five hundred men, the conquest of India might take fifty years; with as many women not more than a few weeks." CONCLUSION We can conclude that Swami Vivekananda’s thoughts on women were dichotomous. He emphasized on the Vedic education, side by side he admitted the utility of modern and secular education in many ways. Above all his sole emphasis on Hindutvavada made him less popular among the Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and other races in India. Modern feminists also discard him as he overlooked the patriarchal, exploitative traits behind the Vedic notions of women. But the honour he showed to the women of India and the efforts he made to uplift their positions in and outside India are highly praiseworthy. His thinking was always obscured with the colonial background, crippled partly by the notion of Hindutva which was the problem with some of the “renaissance personalities” of that age, such as Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Nabagopal Mitra, Aurobinda Ghosh – to name a few . I would rather appreciate his contributions to nation – building process of our country even in this 21st century.
  • 17. REFERENCES: 1.BASU SANKARI PRASAD AND SUNIL BIHARI GHOSH ED.,VIVEKANANDA IN INDIAN NEWSPAPERS AND PERIODICALS , CALCUTTA ,BOOKLAND AND MODERN BOOK AGENCY , 1969:PP 49 - 52. 2. BOSE NEMAI SADHAN , SWAMI VIVEKANANDA AND CHALLENGE TO FUNDAMENTALISM IN WILLIAM RADICE ED.SWAMI VIVEKANANDA AND MODERNISATION OF HINDUISM, DELHI ,OUP,1998:PP 285 - 286. 3.GOLDMAN ROBERT . P “TRANSEXUALISM, GENDER AND ANXEITY IN TRADITIONAL INDIA," JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN ORIENTAL SOCIETY , CX111.3.1993 , PP 10 - 48. 4.MACKINNON CATHERINE ,A FEMINISM, MARXISM METHOD AND THE STATE, NEW DELHI , SAGE PUBLICATION S ,1993, PP - 201. 5.NAIR SUKUMARAN, SWAMI VIVEKANANDA , THE EDUCATOR ,NEW DELHI ,OUP. 1999 , PP 275 - 76. 6.ibid , PP -284 - 86. 7.NIVEDITA SISTER 1999. THE MASTER AS I SAW HIM. 9TH ED., 12TH PRINTING.CALCUTTA , UDBODHAN OFFICE, PP 134 - 36. 8.SENGUPTA S. C. 1984, SWAMI VIVEKANANDA AND INDIAN NATIONALISM.CALCUTTA: SHISHU SAHITYA SAMSAD,PP 125-27. ABSTRACT: Swami Vivekananda propagated Hinduism when India was under colonial rule. As a nation - builder ,he emphasized on the role of the mass and the women in the process of the making of the nation. His area of thrust was the Hindu women, without their empowerment ,he thought that the nation - building
  • 18. process would remain incomplete.He put emphasis on women's education, their empowerment and purity.His ideal women were Sita,Savitri,Damayanti of the Vedic age. He believed that there is no difference between men and women.They both are the embodiment of the ParamBramhan. But the feminists criticise him as his ides are obscured with patriarchal notions.In this article, I try to analyse his stands on women's question as well as the feminist's view regarding his thoughts. keywords: Vivekananda, woman, education,womanhood, empowerment, feminists, Hindutva, renaissance.