11:00 AM - 1:00 PM (UTC-6)
INDICA USA Presents a Seminar on INDIC FEMINISM
Sumedha Verma Ojha
Author, columnist and speaker
Author, The Curse of Gandhari
Activist & Volunteer
Global Ambassador, Speaker
Author, The Educational Heritage of Ancient India
Hindu American Foundation
I am writing to invite you for a Seminar on Indic Feminism being organised by INDICA USA on the 7th November.
Yes. It is time. Time for 15% of the world’s population to make their voices heard.
If feminism is a way of putting women in the centre of the discourse what explains the absence of six hundred million voices? The voices of Hindu women, Indic women?
Join me as I explore this issue with a brilliant panel of women.
My academic exposure to this issue was when I was getting my degrees in Sociology from the Delhi School of Economics under the tutelage of doyennes such as Veena Das, Andre Beteille. I was immersed in Western Feminism and even chose Simone De Beauvoir as my M Phl. Dissertation topic. However, I am also part of a rooted family and community, so I did not end up as a brainwashed Indian Feminist.
The history of Feminism gives any thinking person pause for thought.
From its beginnings in Revolutionary France and the 18th and 19th century fight against discrimination in property rights, suffrage, education, working conditions , all rooted in a Christian European context, feminism has not really moved much in terms of its structure and epistemology.
However, Europeans have succeeded in universalisation of this concept , in fact exported it wholesale to the world and it has been accepted as a valid tool for theory, practice and policy.
The First Wave feminism of the 19th and early 20th centuries was followed by the Second Wave in the 1960s when culture, politics and power differentials came to the fore. Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer, Dorothy Smith were the flag bearers of the movement.
The movement was and is essentially led by white, Christian women although in the past few years attempts have been made to include different world views and an analysis of gender. This is the so called Third Wave which includes a critique of earlier essentialist feminism as also points of view of gays, lesbians and non-binary sexual identities. Feminism of women of color and of Islamic women are given a place in the Third Wave.
Feminism is a flexible, portmanteau concept which is often used to refer to many different aspects of women and society. However, there is a glaring and puzzling gap in this theorising; the theory and practice of 15% of humanity is simply missing. Women of the oldest civilisation and religion on the planet simply do not have any emic voice.
The Indic/Hindu space has been captured, exclusively almost, by a particular ideological position; that of the conflict theory of Marxism. The woman question then, is always posited in terms of contempt for the epistemology, structure and understanding of the Indic tradition; the Vedic corpus and the Dharma Shastras. The traditional organisation of society is seen as implacably against women, traditional being a synonym for regressive, exploitative and backward. This must be replaced by modern, progressive, western feminist ideas as per this narrative.
This paradigm did not ring true to me and will not to the many strong women and men in the Indic community. I have spent the last two decades researching and thinking about this issue, to culminate in a book on this topic next year.
This Seminar will strike a blow against this strand of thinking.
Through a new and properly focused study of works in Indic languages in the original versions (especially Sanskrit) it is time to arrive at a fresh and clear understanding of what was posited in these works about women. Then, evidence from history, archaeology, numismatics, epigraphy and other sources must be compared with theoretical approaches to come to some more valid conclusions about Indic women. These will be more valid simply because they will be evidence and not ideology and opinion based. This will be an emic rather than imposed and artificial understanding. A contrast between Western and Indic Feminism must also then be made as they work in practice.
This all-woman panel will make a start towards doing this, towards putting in place an Indic framework for understanding Indic women and considering different aspects of women’s lives. The varnashrama system and the four purusharthas are a good starting point for building the theoretical edifice of Indic Feminism. It is crucial to see how this will work in practice.
Aditi Bannerjee will discuss Vedic Role Models of women exemplars. In a tribute to the central role of education in Indic society two of our eminent speakers, Deepa Salem and Sahana Singh will be talking of the gyaan parampara, the knowledge tradition as it engaged with women. Preity Uppala will speak of toxic feminism which has lost its moorings and become a negative force and contrast it with the divine conception of women in the Indic tradition. Neha Srivastava, an activist working on the ground and engaging with real issues will talk about a Dharmik and indigenous approach to feminism. Suhag Shukla will add her unique insights encompassing both grassroots and policy issues as the Executive Director of the Hindu American Foundation.
I will, at the end, put all these elements together in a structure based on the Dharma Shastras focusing on Rishis Gautama, Yagyavalkya Baudhayana and Manu. The four purusharthas provide a framework for self realisation and the varnashrama dharma for the lives of women in practice, including all aspects ; social, economic and cultural.
The thrust of this Seminar, of all the speakers, is to put tradition in perspective; align it to our contemporary needs and circumstances. At the end therefore we will have a panel discussion on the current context of the speakers’ ideas.
We will welcome questions as we hope to spark off an intellectual churn waiting for the amrit of a Dharmic, Indic , paradigm of feminism to emerge.
I look forward to your participation and engagement with us in the Indic Feminism seminar on the 7th of November.
Come, let’s talk!
Sumedha Verma Ojha
Member ESG Council, Indic Academy