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An estimated 3-minute read

The Rakshasa Still Lives

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The Rakshasa epitomizes the bad guy in Indian mythology. Often portrayed as an evolutionary throwback, he has fangs, claws and a thirst for human blood. He can grow large at will and is often a shapeshifter. He is shown wearing garlands of human skulls around his neck and the good guys routinely earn their stripes by slaying one or more of them. A lesser known fact, however, is that the term 'Rakshasa' also refers to a valid form of Hindu contract of marriage in ancient India. The 'Gandharva' form of marriage, or elopement, is well known thanks in no small part to epics such as Abhigyaanashakuntalam. 'Rakshasa', however, refers to a form of marriage where a victim of rape marries her rapist, coerced no doubt by societal pressure. And yet, it was a valid form of marriage contract; a man could literally get a woman to marry him by forcing himself into her.

Mohan Bhagwat, chief of RSS, told a political gathering in Assam earlier this month that India's inclination to Western thought and ideology was to be blamed for increasing instances of rape. He went on to argue that cases of sexual violence were seldom found to occur in rural India. "Such crimes hardly take place in 'Bharat' but occur frequently in India," were Mr. Bhagwat's words as he addressed a gathering in the city of Silchar. "You go to villages and forests of the country and there will be no such incidents of gang rape or sex crimes. They are prevalent in urban belts. The Indian ethos and attitude towards women should be revisited in the context of ancient Indian values," he went on to say.

Sources at the Centre for Women's Development Studies, a New Delhi-based think tank, disagree pointing out that sexual assault crimes in rural areas are often not reported. Victims are offered cash settlements and frequently forced to marry their assailants. It is unfortunate, however, that while public opinion across the nation is trying very hard to take one step forward, our political leaders are trying equally hard to take two steps back.

The country prides itself on its management and technical education and the quality of its graduates so much so that brain drain has become a point of concern. We are incredibly quick to point out a 'person of Indian origin' when she/he is in the news for positive achievements, whether or not we have contributed to their nutrition, health, primary education and safety. It is about time that it was understood that global recognition is a two-way street. When we want our children to be educated in global classrooms, we have to accept that a bit of global culture will leak in.

India is a country of immigrants: first the Aryans, then the Mughals and finally the British, the French, the Portugese and other colonisers. Each brought their own bits to the melting pot that is Indian culture. It is frustrating that not only are our political leaders ignorant enough to refer to norms in the ancient Indian subcontinent as 'Indian culture', but that they believe that moving backwards will solve the problem that stems from our very backwardness and ignorance. The result: women are undervalued today because ancient Hindu beliefs that were prevalent in the Indian subcontinent more than five millenia ago posited that girl children could not read the Vedas or perform essential funeral rights, thus endangering one's salvation.

So it appears that the country needs a little wake-up call as to the value of women. And no subtle wake-up call either, as most are too hard-headed to grasp what is being said or done. We must communicate with those capable of grasping only coarse sentiments in terms that they will recognize. Money and financial loss or gain, I believe, are understood rather too well across almost all sections of humanity. If women, lawmakers and lawyers, teachers and doctors, sweepers and maids, labourers and clerks and typists and actors and illustrators and musicians all stopped working until going to work was made that much safer, maybe the other half would miss their collective contribution? And I'm not talking about the sort of thing where a mere fraction get fired for missing work. Sweeping collective action might just work; it has in the past.
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