The Muse

The sheer variety of symbols and artefacts in use across the ages and geographies does not necessarily point to a multitude of assumptions and values from which they spring. The study of mythology and folklore then, is a reverse approach to anthropology. This blog is dedicated to my favourite symbols, tales and artefacts - both ancient and contemporary.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Concept of Reputation

This article is a companion to my answer to Ramayana: Was Lord Rama right in sending Mata Sita to the forest?

Reputation is a resource. There is no denying it. Individuals and organizations can and do learn how to weaponize/market this resource, and it is the only resource available to the utterly destitute. Like any resource, reputation by itself is a source of power.

e.g. Brand Equity is defined as the amount of money that can be raised by an organization solely based on its reputation. Coca Cola is said to have the highest BE in the world - exceeding several national economies. Building BE is a legitimate and vast area of study in management.

Reputation is also not real. To stretch this metaphor from a quote by Abraham Lincoln, reputation is a product of the character of the individual, the circumstances surrounding her, and the decisions taken by her. It is a shadow of the tree, where the individual is the tree.

The concept of reputation goes hand in hand with Plato's allegory of the cave. That is to say, at any given point of time, we do not see people as they are, but as a combination of
  1. What we want to think about them,
  2. What they want us to think about them,
  3. What we have heard about them, and
  4. What we actually see them saying and doing
Simply put, we cannot see the tree, we can only see the shadow. And in order to get a correct idea of the tree, we have to see multiple shadows cast under multiple lighting conditions. And then there's the added complication of the tree being a living being (i.e. growing, aging, changing with the seasons, falling ill, dying).

Thus the quest for keeping up and seeing through a reputation is never-ending, extremely important, and ultimately futile.

But when the need to maintain and increase one's reputation becomes a greater drive than using that reputation for some purpose, we call that condition vanity, pride and ego.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Divine Paradox - Part I - Which came first, Deity or Story?

A Deity is more than a character in a mythological story. However, we cannot know the nature of Deity without portraying the same as a character and weaving a story around him/her/it. This is the Divine Paradox.

Sunday, November 2, 2014


Yet another Facebook debate (Albeit sparked by me).
Science is a religion because it is a world view of considerable complexity with a number of major tenets. Most of these major tenets are as follows: the universe is real, and therefore a valid object for examination; it is of value for human beings to examine the universe; the universe makes sense - that is, it follows certain laws and is predictable;
The neophyte scientist, recently come or converted to the world view of science, can be every bit as fanatical as a Christian crusader or a soldier of Allah...we have emotional as well as intellectual motives to smash the idols of primitive faith. A mark of maturity in scientists, however, is the awareness that science may be as subject to dogmatism as any other religion

The notions of science themselves become cultural idols,... In its laudable insistence upon experience, accurate observation and verifiability, science has placed great emphasis upon measurement... But by virtue of its success, measurement has become a kind of scientific idol... It is as if they were to say, "What we cannot measure, we cannot know; there is no point in worrying about what we cannot know; therefore, what cannot be measured is unimportant and unworthy of our observation."

perhaps we shall soon be able to say: "There is nothing beyond the limits of our vision. If we decide to study something, we can always find the methodology with which to do it."

When we are able to say that "a human is both mortal and eternal at the same time" and "light is both a wave and a particle at the same time," we are speaking the same language.
These quotes are taken verbatim from a book called "The Road Less Traveled" written by M. Scott Peck, an M.D. in Psychiatry. A similar opinion has been expressed by sociologists, anthropologists and scientists like Carl Sagan. Sociologists BTW are the blokes who define what religion and science are.

My point is this, to most of us, the Universe, just like a computer, is a 'black box'. We don't really know anything about the hardware or the software, but we know if we put in certain inputs in a certain way, we can expect certain outputs. To that end, we have to use an operating system.

Science and Religion are both operating Systems through which we experience and understand the known (and unknown) universe, and most importantly, make it do something useful. Some OS like Linux, focus on understanding the machine/universe at a relatively deeper level so that we may better control it. Other OS like Windows, focus on getting the job done, without having the user spend valuable time and energy in training themselves in esoteric fields such as programming.

Science is like Linux. Supercomputers are run on it. All CGI companies use it. Android OS is based off it. But its popularity will always be limited because most people don't need to use supercomputers or make CGI.

Android is to Linux what Technology is to Science. Again in the case of Technology, just like with Android, most people neither  root their android devices or realistically use a fraction of the awesome features that android actually has (features, not apps).

Religion is like Windows. It is popular because it takes care of the mundane. It is uncomplicated and intuitive. The hole in the wall project would not have succeeded with Linux. Like Windows, Religion gets the job done. And it can be just as fascinating to the nerds as Linux.

So to speak of your specific objections:

a) scientists are human and therefore science is not free of subjectivity, emotion and personal biases. Science is not universal - it is a platform where consensus can be built or broken about the way we understand the world.

b) religions are also based on research and deal with the basic political, economic, social and legal realities - in case it isn't clear to you, these things have logic and rationality at their foundations

c) The problem is not with religion - it is with human nature and our tendency to be dogmatic.

The age of an ocean is a question that makes sense to a geologist. To the religious, that age is an irrelevant number - because it doesn't affect the way we treat that ocean and its resources and the organisms in it.

And all religious people are not Literalists. Remember, Buddhism is also a religion.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


My parents at the Kumbha Mela, Allahabad, May 2013
Millions of bards and stalwarts of prose,
Have previously tried to compose,
Their versions of this miraculous tale,
And some have succeeded where others fail

Among their number, O Father let me be,
Allow me Mother, to show what I can see.
This tale immortal of The Headless One,
I dedicate to my parents, to the Earth and the Sun.

Shiva watches Parvati Sleep. Courtesy: eyeburfi2.tumblr.comOur Mother, ruler of the nine-doored town,
Armed with a ladle and jewelled crown,
Protectress of life, mistress of time,
Fount of mercy and wisdom sublime.

Our Father who roams every realm,
Skull in hand and crescent on his helm,
Lord of the Endless, Himself the End,
His Grace, no one can comprehend.

Outside Her city, by nine gates bound,
Lies a terrifying charnel ground
'Tis the threshold between death and birth,
And play and illusion, sorrow and mirth.

Our wandering Father here finds repose,
And with our Mother on a deer-skin lies, 
Their passion creates, compassion preserves,
And their wrath dissolves all worldly ties.

 While They rested on Their bed,
Malice raised its ugly head,
Envy, sloth and empty pride,
Gnawed at Creation from inside.

Then giants and elves and creatures small,
Aesir, Vanir, Madyr all
Claimed Eminence and the spoils of war
And shook the nine realms to the core. Parents of the world couldn't bear
This sight of Creation in despair

Our Mother rose and drew Her sword
And cut off Her head of Her own accord.

The venom they spewed and the blood they shed
In their belligerence and hatred
Now flowed from Her neck as one stream
Her bodiless mouth opened in a scream.

And then the fount of Her blood divine,
She drunk as though as it were wine,
Her bellicose children stopped and stared,
For this sight had all of them scared.

Courtesy:, Product code: HM68
Our Father who meanwhile lay unstirred,
Now opened His eyes and averred,
Behold young ones! Don't avert your eyes,
Contemplate Her sacrifice.

See how all wounds of foe or friend,
Equally doth Her heart rend,
No matter which among you wins,
All shall bleed if one of you sins.

You who clamour for Eminence,
Regard her and dispel your ignorance,
For the universe emanates from Her
And in Her alone will find its end.

Discard your envy, quell your greed,
Help your sibling in times of need,
Shed your lethargy, check your ire,
Lest you fall prey to your own desire.

Having quoth these words, He closed His eyes,
And Our Parents both dematerialized.
This tale of Götterdämmerung,
Was since that day forever sung.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Scepticism v. Mythology

Sceptics question everyone and everything. That's a good thing to do. Humans as a species owe a lot to the work of sceptics - who dared question the unquestionable, and led us to break not only the barriers of human knowledge, but also the chains of slavery and discrimination.

So in the months following my induction training, I spent a lot of my free time reading about the work of sceptics, rationalists and feminists. Among the many websites I frequented were,,, Professor Steven Dutch's Pseudoscience blog and the Facebook posts of Feminist India community. I also happened to read a few wonderful books such as The Philosophy of Hinduism by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. All of it fascinating and eye-opening stuff.

But soon enough I noticed a common theme running in all these sources. Almost all of them had some degree of distaste for not only religion, but also serious (and unexplained) objections to Mythology and Stories.

Being an avid fan of storytelling and mythology myself, and a feminist and rationalist to boot, I was deeply concerned with this undercurrent of anti-narrativium among my fellow sceptics. And that's why I decided to write this.

Stories & Mythology - the What and the Why
Human senses are not what we would call perfect. Even beyond the physical limitations of the organs involved, human senses are highly discriminatory. For example, we possess the ability to focus on a single conversation even in the midst of a noisy crowd. Our brain naturally edits a lot of recurring sensory information - e.g. the sounds of our bones as we are walking, and fills in a lot of absent information e.g. optical illusions regarding light and shade. In addition to all this, we can be trained - consciously or unconsciously and to ignore certain stimuli or see/hear things that are not there. Simply put, human senses are not completely objective.

Human memory is also very different from say a computer hard-drive memory. Its primary function is not the recording of the facts or phenomena themselves, but our physical and emotional response to and the respective consequences of said phenomena. It is precisely because human memory is thus imperfect that newsmen use the word 'report' or 'story' as opposed to 'fact' or 'truth' to describe a news item. This is also why the scientific method relies on reproducibility of research/experiments.

Ponder on the ramifications of this for a minute. We do not see or hear objectively. When we narrate our experiences, it is always coloured by our own biases, not to mention the imperfection of our memory. The recipient of our narrative - our audience, so to speak, is also biased - and will see and hear what they like, not what we tell them. It takes several iterations (and by multiple persons) of observation, recording, and discussion to arrive at the objective truth. It is why the cornerstone of even modern Science and Engineering is the Approximation Theory.

It is this lack of objectivity that gives rise to a form of communication called 'Story'. A story is a structured description of events, real or imaginary. However it is essential to note that any story, no matter how fictional, is never a lie.

A story is an attempt to understand and depict a truth. This truth may be mundane or profound, objective or subjective, local or universal. Storytelling therefore belongs to the same class of intellectual exercises as a scientific hypothesis or a scholarly article. Needless to say, a story can have other functions also e.g. entertainment and social engineering. But without a shadow of doubt, storytelling was the first attempt at an intellectual exercise by human beings.

Just as the entire body of scientific knowledge is composed of scientific hypotheses, laws and theories and the techniques and experiments associated with them, the body of stories endemic to a particular group or culture is known as a Mythology. For example, Norse Mythology is the collection of stories endemic to people of Scandinavian origin. Again, a mythology may or may not be explicitly connected to Religion. For example a Comic Book Universe such as the DC Universe or the Marvel Universe is an example of modern, secular mythology.

'Sacred' Stories and the problems with Religious Mythology
Stories are born out of both observation and imagination. Even the most esoteric narratives, such as James Joyce's Ulysses, have a basis in reality. Modern mythologies such as the Harry Potter 'Verse are equal parts wish fulfilment and speculation about the nature of human relationships and power dynamics. Likewise, the most faithful narrations of historical events will have gaps filled in by conjecture and speculation.

Even the most die hard sceptic and rationalist will have no trouble with most such stories. They acknowledge the utility of imagination in all walks of life, and the value of allegory and applicability as form of communicating timeless ideals. What they do have trouble accepting, is the concept of 'Sacred' Stories.

A 'sacred' story is a part of the mythology (religious or secular) which is accepted as being 'canon' i.e. official and true by the fans of that mythology. e.g. In the Sherlock Holmes mythology, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories are obviously canon, but the various film and TV adaptations are also considered canon. In the case of religious mythology, 'sacred' stories are usually collected into what eventually becomes the scripture.

The problems with 'sacred stories' go beyond just the obvious.

1.       For starters, when the people of a culture elevate a story to the status of 'sacred' they inevitably end up discounting the 'imaginary' part of the story, i.e. they start insisting that the story is 100% observation, and not the mix of observation and imagination that it actually is. This can happen with non-religious stories also - see Literary Agent Hypothesis.
2.       Sometimes even if they acknowledge that the story is not literally true, they are divided as to whether it has allegory or applicability. This makes a big difference.
a.       A story with allegory has only one correct meaning - the one intended by its author. It is meant to be prescriptive. This is problematic because such stories are frequently highly ambiguous, and it is humanly impossible for us to figure out what the author really meant - especially if the author is dead or unknown (or God forbid, God Himself).
b.      A story with applicability does not necessarily have a meaning. It is simply meant to provoke thought on a topic. (Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik calls such stories 'Reflective'). This is would be unproblematic, if people actually accepted that their 'sacred' stories were applicable and not allegorical.
3.       Also, as said before, a story is an attempt to understand and depict a truth. But is the truth behind a 'sacred' story objective or subjective? Is it specific to a time and place, or universal? Mundane or Profound? These are difficult questions.
4.       And then you have something call the Moff's Law, which may be summarized as (paraphrasing Howard Taylor):
It's not over-analysis when every stray thought about the story has to be quashed lest you realize how stupid the story is.
When applied to 'sacred' stories, Moff's Law states that the biases of the narrator of such stories are sometimes so glaringly obvious, that they cannot be overlooked while figuring out the true message of the story.

Why 'sacred' stories can't be dismissed as superstition
So I totally understand if sceptics have trouble with 'sacred' stories and especially religious ones. But the question is, are we throwing out the baby with the bathwater when we ignore or denounce these 'sacred' stories?

Most 'sacred' stories predate the invention of writing, or are primarily preserved through the oral tradition. This makes them especially prone to mutation over the generations. However, when a story is designated 'sacred', special efforts are made to preserve it in its original form, which ensures that the prescriptions and/or reflections in the story are also preserved. And sometimes these values are timeless and universal. Thus to dismiss such stories as mere fantasy could and would rob us of the wisdom of our ancients.

As Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik says, "Myths are the concentrated fruit of the fears, despairs, hopes of our ancestors. When we denounce our myths we denounce our ancestors."

Another oft-ignored fact is that just like any other organization, countries and communities need a Vision, Mission and Value statement. And more often than not, 'sacred' stories provide these vision, mission and values. For example, the narrative of 'Thanksgiving' in the USA tells the story of the original passengers of the ship Mayflower and their interactions with the Native Americans. Granted, it is more of a mythical narrative than a historical one, but it nevertheless defines the values of thrift and enterprise that form the very fabric of American culture.

For those who argue that 'sacred' stories bring a lot unnecessary religious baggage, consider this, that even the most neutral of documents, e.g. the Constitution of India require a sort of religious devotion in order to function. As Indians it is our sworn duty to uphold our Constitution. That essentially makes Indian Nationalism our religion (हिंदी है हम वतन है), the Preamble our 'covenant' and the Constitution our 'sacred' story.

Indeed, for the better or the worse, humans aren't rational creatures. We never have been. As Dr Prabhakar Kamath warns in his article "A Rational Approach to the Problem of Obsessive Compulsive Religion":

While attempting to reform society, all rationalist must keep in mind the dictum that all solutions for societal problems, no matter how noble their original intents were, become problems themselves sooner or later. This is especially true in India. Don’t be surprised that someday in the future Rationalism will become a religion riddled with gods and mindless rituals! People bring into organizations their own unconscious beliefs and behaviors rooted in them and destroy the original goals of the organization.

The Solution
With the rise of highly popular secular mythologies like the various Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Manga and Comic book universes, we are able to observe at first hand the phenomena of myth-making, the behaviour of fan-bases and the effect of fan-fiction on canonical stories.

It would not be inaccurate to use this data to approximate the circumstances of the birth and evolution of the world's most ancient and enduring 'sacred' mythologies. Indeed, the most important inference that can be drawn from the observation of contemporary mythologies is that myth-making is not inherently inimical to rationality. If anything, they are complementary.

This is amply demonstrated by the fact that religious stories almost always outlive  the religions that they were born in. Nobody worships Thor or Anubis or Astarte anymore. But the stories of these old Gods still survive. They still make millions at the box office. And yet we as a generation represent the pinnacle of the triumphs of Science and Rationality.

So I say don't throw away the old stories, no matter what kind of religious/political baggage that they are encumbered with. Keep the baby and the bathwater. Keep the baby and nurture it, so it may grow and add to your wisdom. Use that bathwater to cleanse your mind of prejudices.

In writing this article, I also had a secondary motivation, viz. to codify the fundamental properties of stories and storytelling, not unlike Joseph Campbell's 10 Commandments of Reading Myth. So here's my attempt at the Fundamental laws of Storytelling:

1.       Humans are narrativistic creatures
·         We always think in stories. We are Pan narrans, the storytelling ape.
2.       A story may be fictional but never a lie
·         It is always an attempt to understand and depict a truth. This truth may be mundane or profound, objective or subjective, local or universal.
3.       All stories are ultimately the property of their audience
·         The Author is Dead
4.       All stories are inherently mutable, and never static
·         Even if the text stays the same, because the story changes the audience, so that when they hear it again, they are not the same people who heard it the first time
5.       All stories have utility
·         either to their author, or to their audience, or both

Further reading
I strongly recommend the complete works of Sir Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, especially the latter's Sandman comics. And no mythology aficionado worth her salt can go without reading Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik's blog For a bibliography of selected passages and articles see here.

And last but definitely not the least, read , particularly the sections about Metafiction, Laws and Formulas and Useful Notes. Warning: May Ruin Your Life!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Debate 2: Round - X - Ishita

Read previous round here. Table of Contents here.

Kumar Alok,
If I may, here's what I understand your entire critique to be:
  1. Feminism is a purely western ideology, and not an all-encompassing philosophy that believes in or works towards achieving gender equality because it is a rights based approach and a pro-woman stance, which is grounded in the assumption of an 'independent individual'.
  2. Because of the above reasons (and more), Indian visionaries who worked for the welfare of women in India cannot be classified as feminists.
  3. Dehumanization doesn't exist (and cannot exist) - it is a fiction that is propagated (if not created) by human rights activists, and feminists, in order to further their agenda (whatever that may be).
With that out of the way, let me address the critique.
1.  Logic is a branch of mathematics, i.e. it's a tool. Transposition (or any other logical operation) can neither create nor destroy information - it merely presents the various equivalent forms of the given information. If the transposed statement seems to be lacking information - it is only because the original statement didn't have much info to begin with. 'All Men are mortals' is a useless and redundant statement in a universe where all organisms and phenomena are mortal.
2. Before we proceed, a word on what rights and duties mean.
I refer you to W. N. Hohfeld's seminal analysis of these fundamental jural concepts, which is the basis of modern jurisprudence. Relevant conclusions:

a. The first thing to know about rights and duties is that they are FUNCTIONALLY INSEPARABLE. They are like Action and Reaction in Newton's 3rd law of motion - they are equal, opposite, and are exerted by and on different bodies. 

If you fail in your duties, the FIRST negatively affected party will always be somebody else. Any repercussions on you due to your failure to perform your duties is always secondary and enforced by somebody else (a court of law, or a vengeful aggrieved party, etc.)
e.g.  If you fail in your duties to take care of and respect your elderly parents, they are the ones who'll pay for it. They're the ones deprived of care and honour. You clearly never had any use for their blessings and emotional support in the first place, so you lose nothing.

It is also futile to talk about 'rights based' or 'duty based' approaches to anything - they are one and the same. It does not matter if you define crime as transgression of duty or violation of rights, the plaintiff will be the same person - but never the same as the defendant.

b. The only exception to this would the concept of a purely moral duty. A purely moral duty is based on the concept that no one has any rights (or the ability to defend them) - only the capability to perform duties, and that transgression of said duties affects the transgressor ALONE, by injuring his/her conscience. Moral systems linked to organized religion such as 'Karma' or 'Judgement Day' tend to escalate the injury to conscience into allegedly higher personal punishments. The problems with a purely moral duty based approach are that
  1. It is based on a lie. As proved above, regardless of injury to conscience (or higher personal punishment), it is always a second party who is first and foremost negatively affected.
  2. It removes from society the power to hold the transgressors accountable, and deprives the aggrieved of justice.
  3. This is a textbook definition of an individualistic approach.
It will be interesting to note that there is no concept of rights that is analogous to a purely moral duty. A right is always a legal concept, and always correlated with a duty. A social contract emphasizing on rights can only be sustained in a scenario where everybody performs their duties.

c. The jural concept of Privilege is defined as a lack of duties on one's part. Some privileges are legal e.g. I'm not required to respect an (armed and dangerous) enemy soldier's right to life. I have the privilege (license) to kill. Like rights, legal privileges also come at a price. The license to kill has to be earned through training and loyalty, and may be used only when authorized or in extreme circumstances.

The question here is of unearned and illegal privileges. These are privileges obtained due to non-performance of duty. Ancient Vedic culture is built around Brahmin and Male (unearned) privilege. Go ahead and read the Manusmriti. You are certainly capable of evaluating evidences for yourself. You may also read this text The Philosophy of Hinduism. It was written by the Father of the Indian Constitution.

d. The Hohfeldian definition and analysis of the eight jural concepts is based on the assumption that all humans are fundamentally and undeniably interdependent. It acknowledges the fact that humans have the capability, both individually and in a group, to deny or violate the rights of other individuals and groups. It also acknowledges that the dehumanized and oppressed individuals and groups have the power to fight back for their rights.

e. Essentially, if we call any right inalienable, we are not saying that they CAN'T be violated. We're declaring that denial  or violation of that right is 'unnatural' i.e. violates natural justice, and is 'inhuman' i.e. denies the humanity of the person whose inalienable right was violated.
When we declare something a human right (as opposed to say an animal right), we're not saying that possession of that right MAKES a person human. We're saying that a person has that right BECAUSE they're human. We're saying that Denial of human rights to some person is the same as Denial of that person's humanity, i.e. dehumanization.

The right to be recognized as a legal person is one such inalienable human right.  (see again Art. 6 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Even incompetents, i.e. children, the comatose, the mentally incapacitated, the unborn, etc. are not denied legal personality - their legal personality is exercised indirectly through their legal guardians.

3. Pointwise answer to your conclusions about the transposition of legal and natural personality

a. Explained above, humans have the ability to deny personhood
b. Communist or despot-ruled states need not be lawless. The difference between democracy and other political systems lies in the investiture of power and the ease of change of leadership, not in their ability to govern well and enact and enforce good legislation. Case in point: Rwanda - dictatorship and a successful model of gender equality
c. Of course it can. It is ultimately a question of 'Who will guard the guards?'.
As explained above, dehumanized people can and did fight for their rights. The citizens of India rose against the British Indian Government, as did other colonies. We didn't exactly fight a legal battle… See Civil Disobedience Movement.
d. Not a possible conclusion. See the above answers.
e.  and f.  Explained above, incompetents are not denied legal personality.

Your alleged implications do not exist.  Q.E.D.

4. Dehumanization is not just about treating people as property. As you have pointed out, property may have monetary value, and be indispensable for survival. Dehumanization is treating people worse than property
Apart from the legal definition of dehumanization as violation and denial of inalienable human rights, it is associated with objectification. This article by Martha Nussbaum, current Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, defines objectification of persons as an action which entails one or more of the following:
  • Instrumentality (using someone as a tool for another's purposes);
  • Commodification (by denial of autonomy and agency);
  • Fungibility (treating someone as if interchangeable with another of his/her category);
  • Violability (not respecting their boundaries, treating damage to their person as permissible);
  • Disposability
5. Criticisms against feminism

a. An indoctrinating ideology
As previously explained, Feminism doesn't pretend to see (or show) anything false. It is based on the stone cold reality of the worldwide inferior and despicable status of women. It traces this phenomenon to its underlying causes and tries to reverse it.

b. Originated in the West - not true, and not a valid criticism.
Feminism is about gender equality. Gender inequality is a worldwide phenomenon and must not be reduced to an East v. West debate.
Besides, as I've explained repeatedly, the philosophy that women should be socially, politically and economically equal to men isn't of western origin. As for the activism, a Western origin doesn't preclude a movement from adapting itself to Eastern outlooks.

c. Rights based approach - debunked above, all approaches are equally rights and duty based.

d. Pro-woman stance
It appears that some good people are confused about how a gender-biased approach can lead to gender equality. I have three answers:
  1.  We live in a world which is in a state of gender imbalance and inequality. Here the ONLY approach to restore balance and equality is to boost the oppressed gender, until equality has been achieved. And there's no doubt about which is the oppressed gender.
  2. Pro-woman is not anti-man. Restoring rights to women does not take away rights from men, it takes away the unearned and illegal privileges hitherto held by men. Again, the restoration of women's rights and removal of these unearned and illegal male privileges is the ONLY approach to gender equality.
  3. Even if you include the LGBTQIA rights into the equation, you'll find that Feminism has (at least in the West) quickly evolved to include the LGBTQIA community in its fight for gender equality.
e. Not validated by Hindu scripture - Are. You. Serious?
Can any 'scripture' truly be the source and repository of all knowledge?  It is a bigoted and frankly ridiculous excuse for dismissing any philosophy.

f. "such texts place a heavy emphasis on character and a sense of right and wrong to qualify one as a human being" - and feminism does not?
The whole concept of inalienable rights revolves around humans having the basic decency to accept other human beings as fellow humans. All legal rights are ultimately tied to ethics and morality, and that's why they are called 'rights'. Feminism is after all a part of the larger human rights movement.

g. Western feminist activism is 'distinctly grounded in the assumption of an "independent individual"' - Er… No.
Western society places a high premium on 'individual achievement'. This is not to say that it does not recognize or devalues 'interdependency'. If anything, they have a better sense of collectivism than anyone in the planet. You can read about it Swami Vivekananda's epistles where he praises the social systems in the USA. Or look at how all the Scandinavian and other highly developed European countries are also highly unionised. Or see how modern jurisprudence is organized.
There are societies who actually do not put a premium on 'individual achievement'. Ancient Vedic culture wasn't one of them. Modern Hinduism certainly isn't. The Varnashrama dharma is all about the (Brahmin and Male) individual's achievement of Moksha. As explained above, the law of Karma is also essentially individualistic. So this criticism is both false and moot.

Simply put, Misogyny and Misandry are the extreme opposites, feminism stands squarely in the middle. So yes, every talk of gender equality IS feminist.

6. Regarding Swami Dayanand Saraswati. A few basic facts.
a. Swamiji was a reformer. A radical reformer, in fact. The crux and origin of his reforms was the notion that all non-Vedic scripture is a deceitful construct promoted by people with vested interests - namely the higher castes and men.
Basically, he figured out that the non-Vedic scriptures were wrong (and the Vedas were ineffable) because they denied people their basic humanity (and the Vedas didn't). He wasn't following scripture, he was following basic humanity and ethics.
b. He did not even spare the very Vedas which he considered ineffable - he rejected the Upanishads and Jyotisha (Astrology), one of the six Vedangas, and considered the 'eyes' of the Vedas. His most revolutionary reform was to make the Vedas accessible to Women and people of the lower castes. This is in direct contravention of the Manusmriti and the Varnashrama Dharma. The latter is undeniably Vedic in origin.
Essentially, he was a kite that rose against the wind, not with it.
b. Swamiji rejected the notion of hereditary caste based and male privileges. He worked actively to provide women the rights denied to them by 'corrupted Hinduism'. Clearly, a pro-woman stance and a 'rights based' approach.

All these evidences prove that Swami Dayanand Saraswati was very clearly a feminist. And he wasn't the only one.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Winter has Ended

It's been a long time since I've written anything. 2012 may not have brought the apocalypse to this earth, but it was a pretty apocalyptic year for me. And it's not like I haven't written anything in this time - I even published a short note on the occasion of Shivaratri 2013.

2013 was a great year for me. What with the Kumbh Mela, and my entry into ONGC (henceforth to be referred as the COMPANY) and the beginning of my 4 month training (mostly) in Dehradun, I've learnt so much, done so much, met so many new and awesome people.

I wrote a lot of poetry in Dehradun and Rishikesh. I spent my free time in Cambay reading up on subjects such as Origami, the Philosophy of Hinduism, Hindutva v. Hinduism (Thank you, NaMo), The Varnashrama Dharma, and Feminism and Skepticism.

But what ultimately compelled me to break my silence (apart from a steady job and proper internet access) was a Facebook debate between an academic and myself, sparked by the tweets of one Madhu Kishwar.

While the author of the tweet has subsequently gone on record saying she wasn't talking about rape at all (and I'm inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt), it did spark the debate that it did.

More on the debate in the next post.