Gender Equality: Hindu Samhati stands as a vanguard for an increasingly lost cause

A few weeks back on 14th March, West Bengal took a step back in its progress for women empowerment and gender equality when a misogynistic ‘fatwa’ issued by fundamentalists cancelled a women’s football match at Harishchandrapur,Malda. The football match was organized by Progressive Youth Club of Chandipur village in Harishchandrapur police station area as a part of their golden jubilee celebrations and the block administration had earlier given permission for the football match.  
However the match was later cancelled with the excuse of law and order issues given by the block administration and then national-level players who had come from various places across the country had no choice but to return. When asked about this issue,Club president Reja Razi said, “The women’s football match was to be played between Kolkata-XI and North Bengal-XI. National-level players such as Krishna Das, Sujata Kar, Arjuna-awardee Santi Mallik, Fifa referee Anamika Sen, captain of national handball team Anita Roy and many others were supposed to be present on the occasion. There was great enthusiasm about the event among local people. But last week, some moulavis (Muslim clerics) raised their objection to the women’s football match. We had approached the block administration and the sub-divisional officer for help. On March 11, a meeting was also held in the presence of BDO between us and the fundamentalists who were against the match. The next day, many more clerics said a women’s match would be against Islam. They also threatened to make a stronger agitation if the match was held. The BDO then ordered to stop the match.” 
BDO Biplab Roy acknowledged this by saying, “We had to cancel the football match because of a possible deterioration in law and order situation.”
Locals who were initially highly enthusiastic about the match were upset when the event was cancelled. A local villager, Pijuskanti Das said, “Are we going backward? When the government is inspiring women to come forward, such a dictum is disappointing.” 

Indian women football players (Source:
We highly echo the sentiments of this villager as the cancellation of such sporting events, which provide a platform for sportswomen to be empowered, has sent out a message against the cause of gender equality and secularisation in West Bengal. We are extremely appalled at the sorry state of affairs because firstly India is a secular country according to its constitution so no religious laws should be enforced and secondly women have been traditionally respected and worshipped in traditional Indian society so their freedom to pursue their ambitions, should not be curtailed. Infact, their ambitions and aspirations should be supported just like how Hindu Samhati President, Sri Tapan Ghosh encouraged the ambitions of 26 women football players in a tribal village in Minakha when he felicitated them and distributed clothes. 


Shri Tapan Ghosh with the tribal girls and women football players.
Comparably, Hindu Samhati also strongly upholds what Hinduism in its pristine form has always conveyed regarding gender equality for women. Hindu society has traditionally been progressive in the cause of woman empowerment and Hinduism is the only religion in the world which promotes gender equality whereby God is worshipped in the feminine form as well as the male form. Without honouring the feminine forms, one cannot claim to know God in his entirety. Hinduism also respects womanhood and warns men against indulging in crime against women. In the Vedas, prominent women scholars are mentioned as women in the Vedic period, more than 3,000 years ago, were epitomes of intellectual and spiritual attainments and assigned a high place in society. They shared an equal standing with their men counterparts and enjoyed a kind of liberty that actually had societal sanctions. The Vedas have volumes to say about the significant female figures of the Vedic period, namely Ghosha, Lopamudra, Sulabha Maitreyi,Vac, Khona,Ambhrni, Romasa and Gargi, who were highly intelligent and greatly learned women. The ancient Hindu philosophical concept of ‘Shakti’, the feminine principle of energy, was also a product of this glorious period. We can conclude from these facts that women have the most visible and prominent presence in the Hindu Dharma out of all religions because feminine spirituality has always been a part of the core of the Hindu Dharma.In later periods, Hindu women became significant freedom fighters, warrior queens, and social reformers. We can glean the tenacity and power of Hindu women warriors from the examples of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, Rani Durgavati of Gondwana, Kota Rani of Kashmir,Queen Rudramba of Andhra Pradesh,Rani Chenamma of Kittur and Rani Avantibai, who bravely fought against invaders with great courage and skill. 


Similarly, Hindu female freedom fighters fought bravely and contributed towards the achievement of independence of the country as seen in the notable example of Sarojini Naidu,a Bengali by birth and popularly known as “the nightingale of India”. She contributed towards the freedom struggle by joining politics during the wake of Partition of Bengal in 1905. She travelled to various places in India and delivered lectures on social welfare, raising awareness among women about the freedom struggle and encouraging them to participate in it. In 1917 she even helped to launch Women’s Indian association. Later, she also became the first female governor of any Indian state and the first Hindu woman to be the president of Indian national Congress.
Just like Sarojini Naidu,many other Hindu women fought for freedom namely Sucheta Kriplani, Kasturba Gandhi,Durga Bai Desmukh and Matangini Hazra. Likewise, Hindu women were also social reformers and leaders who fought for women empowerment and other social issues. Savitribai Jyotirao Phule was a prominent Indian social reformer and poet who played an important role in improving women’s rights in India during British rule and founded the first women’s school in Pune in 1848 along with her husband. She also worked to abolish discrimination and unfair treatment of people based on caste and gender. Similarly,Pandita Ramabai, founder of Arya Mahila Samaj in 1882 and Vandaneeya Lakshmi Bai Kelkar,founder of Rashtra Sevika Samiti in 1936 are also remarkable examples of women social reformers who dedicated their lives for the betterment of women in society. In the case of Bengal, it has always been deeply rooted in women empowerment and gender equality, even more than other Indian provinces in the past centuries as we can see from the outstanding examples of Rani Rashmoni Devi, Shree Shree Ma Anandamoyi and Maa Sharada Devi. 
Rani Rashmoni Devi (1793-1861) was a great philanthropist who built the famous Dakshineshvar temple,repaired the sacred ghats on the banks of the Bhagarathi river,made considerable endowments to the Hindu College (now called The Presidency College) and the Imperial Library (now called The National Library) in Kolkata. She also had a road constructed from the Subarnarekha River to the Hindu pilgrim center of Puri for the welfare of pilgrims.

Shree Shree Ma Anandamoyi (1896-1982), a Hindu female mystic was born in Khera, present-day Bangladesh and was held in great reverence even by Mahatma Gandhi. She travelled to many places, preaching compassion and spirituality, and was instrumental in the setting up of many hospitals and other charitable institutions. Unfortunately, her Ashram in Bangladesh was recently destroyed by Islamists. 

Sharada Devi (b. 1853), the wife of Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, was a Hindu saint who lived in the 19th century. After Ramakrishna Paramahamsa passed away in 1886, she continued to guide her husband’s followers till her own death in 1920. Portraits of her and Ramakrishna are worshipped together by followers till date.

However, in recent times, West Bengal has been losing its foothold over women empowerment and gender equality as it has been dubbed by many as being “Talibanized”. It is slowly becoming a place where Islamists are enforcing their sexist unjust religious laws and then threatening people of other religions to follow such laws, as seen in the recent case of the Malda football match cancellation.It would also be a fallacy to say Bengali is slipping back in prehistoric times because women were even more empowered and respected in the ancient times especially in the Vedic period compared to present-day West Bengal. Hence, in the remembrance of our Hindu women scholars, saints, warriors, freedom fighters and social reformers, we should valiantly fight against any barrier which oppose the empowerment of women and impede gender equality in West Bengal. Currently, we need to reinforce the notion of the strong Hindu woman in West Bengal before one more football match is stopped, before more women are silenced, confined and hidden away. We should all come together and join this fight for gender equality and women empowerment for the women of West Bengal based on the Hindu Dharma!
Source: WHN Media Network
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