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I want to put tradition in perspective; align it to our contemporary needs and circumstances - Sumedha Verma Ojha

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Sat 07 Nov 2020

11:00 AM - 1:00 PM (UTC-6)

INDICA USA Presents a Seminar on INDIC FEMINISM

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

Historian, Author,

Member ESG Council, Indic Academy

Speakers
speaker

Sumedha Verma Ojha

Author, columnist and speaker

Sumedha Verma Ojha, author, columnist and speaker, was born in Patna and went to school in Bihar and Jharkhand. She graduated in Economics (Lady Sriram College) and post-graduated in Sociology (Delhi School of Economics) from Delhi University. She joined the Indian Civil Services in 1992 but switched careers after a sabbatical in 2006. Since then she has been engaged in in-depth research on ancient Indian History and Sanskrit and Prakrit works. She researched and wrote a book set in the Mauryan period based on the Arthashastra of Chanakya. 'Urnabhih' then expanded into a book series on the Mauryan Empire. Sumedha works in the area of translating and explaining the epics and bringing ancient Sanskrit/Prakrit literature to the modern world as also in the area of a gendered analysis of ancient India. A translation of the Sanskrit Valmiki Ramayan was published in 2016. She is engaged in writing a book on the women of ancient India which will set a new approach to understanding women based on the emic shastric and Indic traditions of the sub continent. She also works in the area of conservation of cultural heritage with a focus on the intangible heritage of oral traditions. The Los Angeles Library system has accredited her as an author and part of its South Asian outreach. She recently contributed to formalizing an Indic approach to heritage conservation at the Fourth International World Living Heritage Conference organised by the House of Mewar in Udaipur. In India the IGNCA, the National Museum and other museums invite her as an expert for talks on Indian history and Culture and a paper is being published by the former in its Project Mausam anthology. She contributes articles on history and culture to many newspapers and magazines including Swarajya, MyIndmakers, Indiafacts, Indian Express, Times of India etc and also works as a media consultant providing inputs in ancient Indian history. In addition she teaches courses on Indic Sociology at the undergraduate level to bring the subject to a clearer understanding of Indian society on its own terms. She is the creator of the web series Mauryalok on Mauryan period India. ( As a bureaucrat, she is also an international consultant with United Nations organizations such as the International Labor Organization , the Food and Agriculture Organization and the GFTAM in the areas of finance, taxation , audit and management) She lives with her husband near Geneva and has two children studying and working in the US. Books Published: Urnabhih (2014 Roli Books) The Ramayan (2016 Roli Books) Forthcoming Books Urnabhih Book 2 (2020 Roli Books) The ‘Modern’ Women of Ancient India (2020 Roli Books) Web Series: Mauryalok

speaker

Aditi Banerjee

Author, The Curse of Gandhari

Aditi Banerjee’s first novel, The Curse of Gandhari, was published by Bloomsbury India in September 2019. She is a practicing attorney at a Fortune 500 financial services company and has also completed an Executive MBA at Columbia University. She is a prolific writer and speaker about Hinduism and the Hindu-American experience. She is a member of the Indic Academy and Indic Book Club, which sponsored a successful six-city book launch tour for The Curse of Gandhari in September 2019 across India. She co-edited the book, Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America in collaboration with Rajiv Malhotra, and has authored several essays in publications such as The Columbia Documentary History of Religion in America since 1945 and Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs in America: A Short History (Religion in American Life) (Oxford University Press). She earned a Juris Doctor from Yale Law School and received a B.A. in International Relations, magna cum laude, from Tufts University. In her free time, she enjoys wandering the Himalayas and reading voraciously.

speaker

Deepa Bhaskaran

Activist & Volunteer

Deepa Salem is a Marketer who employs the power of messaging and narrative to create awareness and positive perception in the market. She has an MBA from Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, IL and was a management consultant with McKinsey & Co before moving into marketing roles in technology companies. She also forayed into entrepreneurship when she built and ran a tech startup. Deepa Salem is a student of Hindu dharma and vedanta, having undertaken serious study under the guidance of many revered gurus. She is also involved in organizing community religious, cultural and volunteering events. She writes and speaks on the Indic approach to self-development, mind management and happiness. Deepa has been blogging for over a decade on Hinduism and culture. A mother of three children, she is very passionate about bringing ancient wisdom and applying it in modern contexts.

speaker

Neha Srivastava

Shaktitva Foundation

Neha Srivastava is the President and Founder of Shaktitva Foundation. After completing her Masters from Columbia University, she is currently a student of public policy at Johns Hopkins University. She dons many hats, an engineer by profession and a socio-political commentator, activist and writer by passion. An ardent worshipper of Shakti, she is particularly interested in exploring the effects of colonization on native cultures which have a strong affinity towards the Divine Feminine.

speaker

Preity Upala

Global Ambassador, Speaker

Preity Üpala is a Former investment Banker turned Thought leader and Media Entrepreneur based in Hollywood, California. She works as a Geo-political Expert, award-winning International Columnist and is the director of The Omnia Institute. She hosts a popular News show called ‘The Preity Experience’ and is a much sought-after Radio and TV commentator on shows around the world. Along with being an Author, she is a political analyst with her work appearing in more than a hundred publications, including The Observer, The National Telegraph, Business Standard, Foreign Policy, Times of Israel and the Times of India. She has spoken at various Think Tanks and has been a keynote speaker at global summits such as WEF, HORASIS, BRICS and the Centre for Human Prosperity among others. Ms.Üpala has received the “Young leader of the Decade” award at the Women’s Economic Forum as well as the “Icon of the Year” at the Promising Indians Foundation. As a Certified “Dharma Ambassador”, she has given lectures to thousands of students and corporate clients on the topics of Sanatan Dharma, Feminism, Soft Power and Indian philosophy. No stranger to adventure, Preity has visited over 100 countries and imbues her literary and journalistic work with international sensibilities. Her expertise is on Foreign Policy, US-India relations, South Asian Politics, Counter-Terrorism, Conflict-Resolution and International Diplomacy. She speaks 5 languages and her literary work has been translated into several languages. She holds a B.Tech (Hons) and B. Marketing from Australia and Certifications in Nuclear Terrorism from Stanford University and Counter-Terrorism from Georgetown University.

speaker

Sahana Singh

Author, The Educational Heritage of Ancient India

Sahana Singh is an author and commentator based in Texas, USA. She is an environmental engineer by qualification who writes on a variety of issues including water management, environment and Indian history. An alumnus of Delhi College of Engineering (now known as Delhi Technological University), she made a career shift to writing after moving to Singapore. Her first book “The Educational Heritage of Ancient India - How an Ecosystem of Learning was Laid to Waste”published in 2017 has been appreciated for awakening Indians to the role played by India in spreading knowledge around the world. Her second book on the same subject will soon be published. Sahana has won several awards for journalism including the Developing Asia Journalism Award in 2008. A short animation video made by her on the world’s water crisis won the top prize at the TU Delft Urban Water Movie Contest awarded by the Delft University of Technology (Netherlands) in 2012. Her articles have been published in Reader’s Digest, Washington Post, Discovery Channel Asia, Asian Water Magazine, Swarajya, IndiaFacts and other publications. She has moderated panel discussions on water management at several international conferences including the World Water Forum. Sahana is Director at Indian History Awareness and Research (IHAR), a non-profit headquartered in Houston, USA. She is also on the board of Ishwar Sewa Foundation, a US non-profit dedicated to helping Hindu refugees. She is passionate about travelling and connecting the dots across different societies, civilizations and disciplines.

speaker

Suhag Shukla

Hindu American Foundation

Suhag Shukla, Esq., Executive Director, is a co-founder of HAF. She holds a BA in Religion and JD from the University of Florida. Ms. Shukla has helped steer the Foundation to being recognized as a leading voice for civil rights, human rights, and religious freedom. She’s been instrumental in the development of a broad range of educational materials and position papers and blogs for a variety of platforms. Ms. Shukla has served on the Boards of the Nirvana Center, Main Line Indian Association, and YWCA of Minneapolis. She was also a member of the Department of Homeland Security Faith-Based Security and Communications Subcommittee. Ms. Shukla is actively involved with Chinmaya Mission, serves on the board of the Bhutanese American Organization of Philadelphia, and is a thought partner for the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia’s Paths to Understanding Public Art Initiative. Shukla is a member of the board for the National Museum of American Religion and serves on religious advisory committees for the Council on Foreign Relations, the Humane Society of the United States, and the Department of Homeland Security’s Subcommittee for the Prevention of Targeted Violence Against Faith-Based Communities and is a member of the First Amendment Center’s Committee on Religious Liberty and the United Nations Women’s Gender Equality and Religion platform. Shukla was named one of twelve “faith leaders to watch in 2017” by the Center for American Progress