She told us that she, like so many other Indian women, had been pressured into an unwanted marriage, despite her known preference and love for another man. Her brothers insisted that she would disgrace her family if she married the man of her choice, claiming that he was poor and would never be able to provide for her adequately. So she entered into a marriage with a man she did not love and bore his children, all the while faithful in her heart to the man she loved, who, contrary to her brothers’ expectations, became very wealthy. This woman, a devout Muslim, spoke very respectfully of her husband, saying that he was a good father and provider. However, as she said, nothing could erase her grief of having been forced to abandon her hopes to marry the man she loved. Worse, years after the marriage, she confronted her brothers and asked them why they pressured her so relentlessly to give up her true love. They actually had the audacity to say that she should have done what she wanted and that they didn’t feel responsible for what had happened to her.
When I got home that night and thought about what my Muslim sister had confided to us that day, I remembered another even sadder instance of this wearing down of the spirit that I had witnessed years earlier in India.
When I first visited India in 1971, the year after my arranged ISKCON marriage, my husband and I paid a brief visit to his maternal aunt, a widow. She was very gracious and generous: I vividly recall how touched I was when she gave me a beautiful kashmiri shawl in a dark maroon color (it suited my coloring perfectly!). But what struck me most of all about her was her intensely sorrowful face that was accentuated by deep-set, hollow eyes and gaunt patrician features. Once she noticed the compassion that must have been written all over my teenaged face, she began telling me her story.
She too had been pressured into marrying against her will and, to make matters worse, was widowed at a young age without any children. Hindu widows are notoriously ill-treated as a rule and I sensed this in the dismissive way her plight was regarded by my in-laws. The notion that widows are inauspicious and generally a nuisance runs strong in Indian society. When I noted that she looked ill, she told me that she suffered from chronic bronchitis and diarrhea, both the bane of sufferers of extreme emotional distress. It seemed to me nobody cared about her suffering and that my compassion for her plight was a kind of manna in the wilderness of her isolation. Years later I mentioned her to one of my sisters-in-law and was simply told that she had died years earlier.
The plight that these Muslim and Indian women found themselves in was dreadful, but is dwarfed by the monstrosities that we read about everyday: girls “married” before puberty dying or maimed in childbirth by fistulas that literally rip open their birth canals and leave them permanently incontinent unless surgically repaired. That horror that is widespread over the Middle East, the Indian sub-continent, and Africa, is the direct result of immature girls—children themselves—bearing children at an age when most of their Western counterparts are still playing with dolls.
The irony of all these horrors is that Indian women, far from being the stupid, lustful chattel that the swamis of the Hare Krishna movement and others who misinterpret the Vedic literature believe them to be, are celebrated in the West for their high intellect by those fortunate enough to study or work with them in any capacity. This fact alone makes the continued subservience to, and abuse by men of their less fortunate sisters a grave crime to humanity: think of what marvels and discoveries would have been achieved by our lotus-eyed sisters in India had they been given free rein to develop their natural intellectual gifts. Instead, they are often doomed to lives of little more than two-legged wombs peering out of the saris or chadors that only accentuate their anonymity.
I remember my guru, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, describe the womb as little more than the bellows in a blacksmith’s shop, with no function other than to nurture the seed of the real parent, the father. This barbaric and, I might add, willful ignorance of basic biology is characteristic of religions whose claims of “protecting” women is nothing more than a front for men whose actual relationship with their child brides is technically nothing more than the crime of pederasty perpetrated by a repressed, insecure sociopath. It is no small wonder that terrorism has developed strong roots in countries where religion is used as an excuse to crush the intellectual aspirations of women and girls--why else do the Taliban bomb schools for girls in Afghanistan? Those goons would rather rot in endless poverty than acknowledge that this is the 21st century and women everywhere are rising out of the mire of ignorance and prejudice to develop our irrepressible intellectual rights.
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