[In this exclusive interview with The Male Factor (TMF), Vedic Philosopher and Author of “A Happiness Guide to Modern Women“, Indira Meshram explains various aspects of women’s career and personal life choices in Vedic system. In this part of the interview, she explains women’s role in her family and outside in Vedic India. This interview is a part of the series Vedic India.
This is the last part of the original interview.
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TMF – If women really get fed up by their career-oriented life, why they don’t jump to get married even in their ‘40s? My study showed men at any age group are at least three times more eager to marry or to have a stable relationship than women.
Indira – As we discussed earlier, the longer a person remains unmarried, the harder they find it to commit themselves to a relationship which will require them to make major changes in their life. In addition, single women who are working and living independently generally adhere strongly to feminist ideas which dictate that they should not be dependent on any man. They understand that in a marriage the woman is often required to take a more submissive role and they are reluctant to do so. Even if they begin to realize that their life is not entirely complete without a husband and children, after decades of believing that “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” they find it extremely difficult to bring themselves to make the commitment.
According to the scriptures, no one can be independent in this world. We are forced to function under the laws of nature, whether we realize it or not. Superficially it may seem that in a patriarchal society, women are dependent while men are free to act as they please. But in all situations, we are under some authority or the other, if it is not one’s family members (In a traditional society the wife was under the supervision of her husband who in turn was under the guidance of his guru and the elders in the family), it is likely to be one’s boss at work. Even the wealthiest person in the world, who may think that he doesn’t accept orders from anyone, is under the control of the Supreme Lord’s laws in the form of material nature and is helpless in the face of disease or death. The sensible thing to do, then, is to stop trying to be in a position of control and instead willingly accept the authority of God and perform our duties according to His directions in the scriptures.
TMF – The traditional gender roles were designed around the spiritual needs of humans; so, when spirituality vanishes from our lives, the need of holding onto the traditional roles disappears as well. What do you think about that?
Indira – It is true that traditional culture works most effectively when it has a spiritual basis. As we discussed earlier, traditional gender roles make sense when both husband and wife are striving to have a peaceful atmosphere at home and want to help each make spiritual progress. Without this aim in mind, the husband will think “Why should I be the only one earning money to support the family?” and the wife will think “Why should I do all the work in the house and be obedient and submissive to my husband?” As per the saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side” – each person begins to think that he or she is being taken advantage of while others are enjoying. Thus, as you said, when spirituality vanishes from one’s life, people tend to focus on their immediate needs and begin to question the traditional roles.
Unfortunately, this has not made people happier. In my book, I have explored the paradox that women have far more opportunities now than a few generations ago, but are, ironically, more dissatisfied than before. Similarly, men and children are also troubled. Modern culture with its strong emphasis on “I, Me and Myself” has made people confused, lonely and often quite depressed. Therefore, rather than resigning ourselves to the fact that traditional culture cannot work without God-consciousness, I suggest we make a sincere attempt to revive both spirituality and the traditional culture that supports it. I have personally experienced how it can make one’s life serene, joyful and more meaningful.
TMF – Do you think the rise of #MeToo movement is the result of feminists repenting sexual revolution they once cherished?
Indira – As I have documented in my book, many women realize that sexual revolution which was supposed to have given women the freedom to enjoy without being judged, in fact, led to them being exploited by unscrupulous men. However, feminists refuse to concede that the sexual revolution has been detrimental to women in any way. Their idea is that society should make provisions to allow women to do whatever they want. This means that women should be able to dress any which way they like, date whoever they want, and go to nightclubs in the middle of the night if they wish, without worrying about being taken advantage of. In their view, the #MeToo movement highlights that currently, such protection is not available for women. Feminists don’t repent the sexual revolution; in fact, by the #MeToo movement they are demanding that everything should be done to ensure that it continues to flourish and women are not inhibited in any way or by anyone.
Certainly, rape is a horrible crime and no woman should be subjected to it. But apart from creating awareness and demanding stricter laws, its prevention requires one to analyze the root of the problem. The feminists refuse to see the connection between the sexual revolution and the current mentality of many men who view women simply as sex objects. Rape has been there for as long as there have been men and women, but it has become more commonplace today because both men and women no longer adhere to high moral values. Slutwalks claim that a woman may act or dress like a prostitute but she should not be treated as one. They are unrealistically expecting all men to be perfectly self-controlled and respectful while living in an environment that encourages sensual promiscuity. Both men and women are responsible for where we stand today, and both will have to change for any real change to happen.
TMF – If the Vedic philosophy prohibited women from travelling, why did you travel to 40 countries?
Indira – Vedic philosophy does not prohibit women from travelling. However, women were not allowed to go anywhere unaccompanied, for their families feared for their safety. In my case, all of my travels have been in the company of my husband and children, so it is not in violation of the culture I am striving to follow. Initially, my husband’s job and later his missionary work led him to travel extensively. We chose to accompany him so that we could remain together as a family on his stints that could often last several months. We travelled to several places of spiritual significance. Also, it gave me an opportunity to observe closely the varying attitudes and lifestyles of people in different parts of the world, which proved to be valuable research for my book.
TMF – What is wrong with people running after a flawless body? One can achieve the same without any artificial means and through yoga, meditation and diet control. Then what’s wrong in that?
Indira – There is no harm is maintaining a healthy body – as you said, “through yoga, meditation and diet control.” However, the idea of having a flawless body is flawed in itself because the material body is such that it will eventually deteriorate. It is better to spend the time in nourishing the soul within. The scriptures do not recommend neglecting the body, at the same time it is made clear that the body is just a vehicle for the person we are. The body must be maintained so that we are not troubled by disease, and aches and pains, but we should not be so preoccupied with it that it takes up an extraordinary amount of time and energy.
In fact, a healthy body can be achieved easily by following a regulated lifestyle. Speaking for myself, I was always a delicate child prone to falling sick often. My health became worse in my youth during the stressful years of studying at university and later working. However, as soon as I accepted a simple and wholesome Vedic lifestyle, of sleeping on time, waking up early, eating in moderation, having a vegetarian diet and practising spiritual life, almost immediately I experienced a positive change. You may be surprised to learn that without any elaborate health regime, at forty+ years I feel healthier and more energetic than I did when I was twenty!
TMF – If the Vedic lifestyle had provision for women decorating themselves with garlands and flowers, then what’s wrong if modern women use make-up?
Indira – Apart from the fact that most cosmetics today are full of chemicals that harm the skin and hair in the long run, and many animals are tortured to produce them, the problem with using make-up is that we accept that we cannot look attractive without them and thus, become dependent on them. As women, it is natural to be concerned with our appearance and attempt to look presentable, but it becomes a problem if we are excessively affected by it. I often tell my girls – who are in their teens – that one cannot change one’s God-given face but it is in our hands to mould our character and behaviour. So those are the aspects we should work on. The reason we are bothered about how we look is that we want people to like us. But it is better to have friends who will appreciate our qualities of kindness and truthfulness than to be with people who are attracted to our good looks. Actually, people who are gentle and good-hearted invariably look beautiful even if their natural features are not conventionally pretty. How often has a child looked up at their loving grandmother’s wrinkled face and thought that she is the most beautiful woman in the world? So, what is the need for artificial make-up?
As you said, in Vedic culture also women would decorate themselves. Indeed, it was recommended that married women should always be nicely dressed, with bindi, kumkum and various ornaments. But in time, when they were older, the same women, along with their husband, accept a renounced mood, living austerely and absorbing themselves in spiritual activities. At this time, they would be dress simply and be more or less detached to their external appearance. This is a far cry from the attitude of modern women, who are anxious to maintain their youthful beauty for as long as possible and are willing to undertake great risks to do so. I have discussed this in details in my book under the section “Beauty Isn’t Skin Deep.”
On a lighter note, here’s a helpful beauty tip for women – practicing Vedic culture automatically makes one look younger because the lack of stress means lesser wrinkles on one’s face.
TMF – If we wait for Mr or Ms right to come in our lives, we may need to wait forever. If our parents are not connected enough, they simply can’t get a good match. Then, how is the dating culture bad?
Indira – The traditional method is that marriages are arranged. According to that one doesn’t just sit at home, hoping that the right person will come along; inquiries have to be made. Ideally the parents approach their acquaintances who have sons or daughters of marriageable age. If one’s parents are not well-connected, they may talk to some friends who are, and generally spread the word around that they are looking for a match for their son or daughter. Another option these days to be turn to matrimonial websites. An important consideration is that one shouldn’t be too picky. If one has a long list of requirements, there is a definite possibility that one will end up waiting forever.
But what to do if despite all the above endeavors one is unable to find a suitable match? Earlier, if that happened, people would just accept that it is their destiny to remain life-long bachelors or spinsters. There was no question of a young women entering into relationships with several men, one after another, in an attempt to find a husband for herself. She would rather live her life alone as a respectable spinster, than compromise her chastity to be with a person who may or may not decide to marry her.
This may sound too idealistic in today’s day and age, and as you have suggested, under the circumstances, dating is viewed as a valid option for finding one’s spouse. But there are several problems with this approach. When one is dating one may get too infatuated to do a thorough background check on one’s partner. The person may even misrepresent certain facts. Or as it often happens, after a few dates, one may find that their boyfriend or girlfriend actually has no intention of marrying, and one ends up nursing a broken heart. Even one such unpleasant experience can scar a person for life.
The arranged marriage system allows a woman to conduct herself respectably, rather than being forced to bat her eyelashes and act in a provocative way to attract someone’s attention, hoping to be asked out on a date. In this system, even if things don’t work out after the initial enquiries one is not emotionally attached, so there is no harm done.
TMF – As you agreed that there may be exceptions to the rule that some women may not be interested in traditional feminine role of homemaker, for them, how is a rigid Vedic system good?
Indira – Rules and regulations are required to maintain stability in society. When we start changing the system to cater to exceptions, sometimes the exceptions become the rule, and the system itself breaks down. Consider the beginning of the second wave of the feminist movement – Betty Friedan was bored and frustrated as a homemaker. Her views were not universally accepted by other housewives, but she was vocal and determined, and gradually became so influential that women who would have otherwise been happy enough as homemakers began to question their life choices and felt dissatisfied and frustrated. Now, all over the world traditional gender roles are being called into question. All of this began with a handful of women who were not interested in traditional feminine roles of being homemakers and were allowed to air their views as though they represented the majority.
Now, in a ‘rigid’ Vedic system, someone like Betty Friedan may relinquish her family to pursue her personal interests, but she would not be encouraged to influence other women similarly. This was not done to quash original thinking, but to uphold systems that benefit the majority. It was done to prevent confusion and insecurity. It was done to prevent spawning of trends which threaten the existence of the family unit and resultantly cause chaos in the entire society.
Read my review of her book – here
What is better – structuring the society so that every eccentric individual can popularize their own whimsical way of living, even at the cost of disrupting the lives of regular people, or structuring it such that inconsistent ideas are not encouraged and normal people can live peaceful and happy lives under the guidance of scriptures and sages? Bear in mind that Vedic culture is not something conceived of by a bunch of sociologists. It is a scientific way of life based on the innate natures of men and women. It is tried and tested and existed successfully for thousands of years before facing degradation in recent times due to improper understanding and implementation. What we consider to be rigidity was simply a defence mechanism to prevent deviation and disturbances.
TMF – Despite getting a chance in IIT, you have chosen a housewife role without contributing much in the Industry or creating job opportunities. Don’t you think you have wasted one IIT seat that could change someone else’s life?
Indira – I am asked this question quite often. The reason it comes up is that we don’t have an appreciation for the role of a housewife. There are many people who have studied engineering or medicine but then decided not to pursue it and instead became famous writers or artists. They may not be contributing much to the industry or creating job opportunities, but simply because they have a glamourous life, people would not think of questioning their life choices. They are considered successful because they have money and opulence.
It is also ironic that the same people who support that women should have the freedom to make their own decisions are the ones who are likely to criticize my decision to be a housewife. What people really mean by ‘freedom of choice’ is that they have decided that everyone should be employed, but within that one should be allowed to choose what kind of a job one wants to have (although practically speaking that too doesn’t always happen in real life). Apparently being a housewife simply isn’t a valid option because it does not generate tangible income. So, their conclusion is that my life is wasted.
How then do I dare assert that my life is successful and even have the audacity to write a book giving advice to other women? Well, it has to do with having a different definition of what it means to be a success. My life is happy and fulfilled, despite the fact that – heaven forbid – I don’t have a full-time paid job, and I am eager to share my experience with other women.
As for me preventing someone from changing his life, anyone who has been to IIT knows that that may have swung either way. I mean, perhaps I prevented someone’s life changing for the worse. Just having a degree from IIT is no guarantee that one’s life is successful. There are many who is unable to cope with the pressure to drop out and sink into depression. There are others who get into all kinds of bad habits that affect the rest of their lives negatively. There are those who on the surface come out with flying colours and apparently proceed to ‘contributing to the industry and creating job opportunities’ but are arrogant and ruthless and in their pursuit of what they perceive is success end up destroying several lives.
To be honest, I was a victim of the system that I am now trying to expose. I wish I knew better. I do now and that is the reason I have written my book. I invite you to read it in its entirety before judging my life choices or the culture I am following.
—End of the interview—
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