[In this exclusive interview with The Male Factor (TMF), Vedic Philosopher and Author of “A Happiness Guide to Modern Women“, Indira Meshram explains various principles of women rights and safety issues in Vedic India. In this part of the interview, she explains the factors for a successful marriage in Vedic India. This interview is a part of the series Vedic India.
This is the second part of the original interview.
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TMF – If ‘nurturing ought to be based on nature’ (pg 5 Respect and Protection) then contrary to keeping women protected, they should be taught more self-defense techniques, don’t you think so?
Indira – You are suggesting that by nature women are physically weaker, so the nurturing should be such that they can overcome that weakness. But research has shown that a woman’s nature is such that she wants to be protected and a man’s nature is such that he wants to provide that protection. It is not just to do with physical weakness or strength. Teaching self-defense may help a woman overcome the need to be physically protected by a man but emotionally she may still desire the security of having someone look out for her.
The point I was making in that particular section was that Vedic culture takes these intrinsic tendencies of men and women into account and provides a framework such that they can both work according to their natures, not contrary to them. The common understanding is that the restrictions placed on women was just unfair and resulted in their exploitation. But actually, in a properly structured society, women are happy to remain sheltered by loving family members. They don’t need self-defense; not just their husbands, but most men in their community would be ready to even lay down their lives to keep them safe. How wonderful it would be if we could revive such a culture!
TMF – Since human morality is at all time low nowadays, what’s the harm in the state protecting women and not leaving them at the mercy of some humans (read the husband)?
Indira – The harm is that it becomes a vicious cycle. The more the women turn to the state the more they turn away from their families, and the more families disintegrate. We see this vividly in the Western countries. The state provides all kinds of support for single women but at the end of the day it remains an impersonal machinery which can never replace the support of a loving family. Yes, in case there is no loving family, the state must step in. But the point is that because the state is prepared to step in, women are encouraged to leave the shelter of their parents’ home or walk out of their marriages, even under circumstances that are not completely intolerable.
The sad part is that many such women realize only too late that living alone comes with its own set of problems, that are often more severe than the situation they left behind. The state must provide protection in dire situations, but in general one should expect one’s family to be the primary source of protection and comfort.
The more the women turn to the state the more they turn away from their families, and the more families disintegrate.-Indira Meshram
TMF – If one is always protected, one loses one’s ability to safeguard oneself from dangers. So, how practical is the Vedic notion of always making a man responsible for protecting a woman?
Indira – The Vedic society is structured in such a way that everyone has a specific role to play and they are satisfied in that. Nowadays everyone is expected to be expert at everything. The result is that everyone is immensely stressed and mostly depressed at not having achieved that pinnacle of perfection. So, its true that if women are always protected, they may not be able to safeguard themselves against a possible danger when the men are away. But then society was such that the chances of that happening was rare. There were various practical ways of achieving that. Mostly people lived in large joint families so the women always had some male family members around even if the husband had to travel for work, or the husband would ensure that the wife is at her father’s home if he had to go away.
TMF – In the information age, when we have access to abundant information in all spheres, it is normal for everyone to have some opinion about everything. How can we ignore that in the most important aspect of one’s life – marriage, especially when we promote arranged marriages?
Indira – Arranged marriage does not mean that the women are not allowed to give their opinion on who they want to marry. If the person, or the kind of person, they want to marry is someone suitable, then the parents would take that into consideration.
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TMF – You have very well described the benefits of child marriage and how those marriages sustained beyond a lifetime, but that is only possible when our devotional values are held high. When those values degrade, even child marriages are bound to fail. That might have worked in Vedic culture because of people’s high moral standards, but how can that work today?
Indira – I agree. Notions such as child marriage require a complete framework around them, and can certainly not work unless every member involved – the bride, the groom and their parents –understands what it entails. I would say it would be extremely difficult, but not impossible in today’s time. There may be some families who have the culture of accepting a young girl as a daughter-in-law and lovingly guiding her and instructing their son to stay by her side no matter what, but I expect such people are few and far between.
TMF – When we see marriages failing even after 37 years of togetherness or more, how can we say that growing up together can actually bolster a relationship?
Indira – It is not just growing up together that bolsters a relationship. It is growing up together, while being secure in the knowledge that you are in it for life. Such a marriage fosters mutual respect and understanding. This means that sometimes people grow up to be very different people; their priorities may change over time, their nature may change, their health or wealth may deteriorate – so many things may happen in the course of one’s marriage. But if one is committed to the relationship one will tolerate all the changes, and that will actually strengthen the relationship. If one doesn’t have that attitude, one’s marriage may break up even after 20 or 30 years.
TMF – If women unmarried till 30 years of age really felt panic as you have observed (Pg 23), how are so many women still unmarried even at the age of 40?
Indira – Sometimes the longer one waits to get married, the harder it becomes to actually commit to the relationship. The more time one remains alone, the more one becomes set in one’s ways and is reluctant to make any changes to accommodate another person in one’s life. So, even though women may feel some anxiety at the age of 30, they continue to wait for that perfect person to appear, and before they realize they are 40 and still unmarried.
TMF – I agree that too many expectations from marriage can actually lead to a disaster. So, how should one restrict one’s expectations from marriage?
Indira – One cannot artificially restrict expectations. Everyone has expectations. But if one’s sense of duty is more prominent than the disappointment one feels due to failed expectations, then one will not think of ending the marriage. Rather than trying to repress one’s expectations, one should realistically assess one’s expectation, communicate them to one’s spouse, strive towards those that can be fulfilled and perhaps park aside for the time being those that cannot. Ultimately, if one accepts that this relationship is for life, then automatically one gets reconciled even to a situation where all of one’s expectations are not met.
TMF – You have explained very well why love marriages fail. But even arranged marriages fail today? What do you think is the reason behind all these divorces?
Indira – I don’t think it is a question of whether it’s an arranged marriage or a love marriage. It is the attitude with which one approaches one’s married life. The system of arranged marriage that exists today has almost nothing in common with the system followed in a traditional Vedic society. Earlier the most important consideration was to examine the prospective bride’s or groom’s personal character and conduct. But these days the two main criteria are the educational qualifications – in order words, one’s earning potential – and physical appearance. So while the method of entering into marriage may be different, at the end of the day whether it is an arranged or a love marriage, if one’s desire to ‘have fun’ and ‘have a good life’ is greater than one’s sense of duty, it is likely that as soon there is conflict between husband and wife, they begin to contemplate divorce.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, I would like to emphasize that unless one is God conscious, unless one takes shelter of the instructions given in our scriptures about how to lead life, it is difficult to even have a peaceful, family life. Speaking for myself, after I married my husband, I realized how different our personalities and backgrounds were. Romantic ideals quickly fly out of the window when one is hit with the practical realities of managing a household. If both of us were not committed to following the Vedic injunctions – such as not seeking divorce, developing a service attitude and being patient and tolerant – our petty conflicts could very well have taken a nasty turn and we may have separated. Instead, here we are, twenty years down the line – parents of two lovely girls and happily living our lives in the holy land.
TMF – You have mentioned about a long-term study conducted by the economist Kenneth Couch on divorce; however, today’s big budget/celebrity divorces seem to prove that study wrong. What is your opinion about that?
Indira – The study found that a woman suffers financially after a divorce, even she subsequently has a successful career. This means that if the same woman had remained married, economically she would have been better off. In case of celebrities this may not be apparent because they are already wealthy, but according to the study they would have been even wealthier if they had continued to stay married. The point is that apart from being emotionally damaging, a divorce can create a huge financial liability for women, particularly if there are children involved. Naturally, finances may not be a concern if one seeking to exit a severely abusive relationship, but more often than not, divorces occur for other reasons. Unfortunately, ending a marriage puts most women in a far more vulnerable position than if they were to remain with their spouse, even if they are incompatible on certain accounts.
TMF – When people adjust their lives to stay ‘happily married’, isn’t ‘happiness’ just a word with no real sense?
Indira – The modern value system sets us up for unhappiness! We are taught to give maximum importance to our individual needs. This becomes a problem when we interact with other people, particularly in an intimate setting like in a family, and there is a conflict. We immediately feel dissatisfied if we are expected to make some adjustments to resolve the conflict, for we feel that our personal happiness is being threatened by making that change. Apparently, the solution to such situation is to make changes with the expectation that in the future the other person will also, similarly, make changes to cater to my demands. Unfortunately, in the long run this creates further conflict because one cannot conduct relationships as though they are business transactions. When people focused on their own needs are in a ‘give and take’ relationship; they are likely to feel that they are giving more than they are receiving. Any adjustment that they make can lead to resentment and unhappiness.
The Vedic system works in a very different way. Individuals do not measure their happiness solely on the basis of whether their immediate needs are getting fulfilled or not. A large part of their satisfaction is derived from performing their duty, which involves serving others. So, the husband may work very hard to maintain his family and the wife may work hard at home to handle the household, but neither of them resent it. On the contrary, in a house where God is in the center, they are happy to do whatever is necessary to develop a peaceful environment where each family member can make spiritual progress. In a culture that emphasizes service, rather than individualism, conflict resolution is not such a big issue because people do not expect that each their whims and fancies should be satisfied. They are genuinely happy to serve others and see that they are happy. So, a husband or a wife would not feel bad about making changes in his or her life; they welcome it if it means that their spouse will be happier and more comfortable.
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TMF – When compromise is essential in every marriage to work, there can’t be any absolute happiness that a single person or a MGTOW can achieve. Then why marry?
Indira – Certainly, if one is not prepared to compromise, one should not marry. I’m not quite sure what you mean by absolute happiness. If it means getting your own way in every situation and only doing what you think is right, without considering anyone else’s point of view or needs, then yes, it would be very difficult to have a successful marriage, or for that matter have any successful relationship. Even if two people are largely compatible, there are bound to be differences of opinions on certain matters. At that time if one considers that bending even an inch means that I am compromising my happiness, then it would be difficult to maintain the relationship.
If one is not prepared to compromise, one should not marry
In a society based on Vedic culture, the concept of ‘absolute happiness’ is radically different from our current understanding. Absolute happiness is achieved when one re-establishes one’s long-forgotten relationship with God. One may think that it is a very esoteric concept and may be out of reach of the average person. But, if one takes guidance from those who have dedicated their lives to serving God, even regular people can make rapid progress towards this goal. This can be done by including some activities in their daily routine such as chanting the holy name of the Lord, reading scriptures, and offering to the Lord whatever is cooked at home. You may be wondering what this has to do with our discussion of whether marriage should be avoided since compromising with one’s spouse affects our absolute happiness. If marriage is understood to be a relationship in which both husband and wife help each other, particularly to achieve ‘absolute happiness’ by progressing in their spiritual life, then making a few compromises here and there will not appear to be of great consequence. In fact, for individuals seeking such spiritual success in the company of a partner, it is better to be married than remaining single and focusing only on one’s own happiness.
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