A Sanskaari Feminist

My “Right is Right” friend asked me an interesting question. Hypothetically, what would a Sanskaari Feminist look like? Can one even exist? I’ve been thinking about this question for years now with little success. Trying to reconcile my quasi-traditional Telugu Brahmin upbringing with my feminism is tough. While putting my son to bed today though, I had a lightbulb moment. Look no further ladies and gentlemen. A Sanskaari Feminist looks like me (and a few of my friends too, but since it’s my blog, mostly me).

For the purpose of this discussion Sanskaari is defined as someone who follows Hindu tradition. Feminist is defined as someone who believes in and is vocal about gender equality. For simplicity, the Sanskaari Feminist is assumed to be female. Here is my take on the three defining traits of a Sanskaari Feminist.

She questions everything
Not just tradition, she questions new ideas too. What is the significance of a Mangalsutra? What is the reason behind the Kanyadaan? Why should a woman change her name after getting married? Why do women in the household have to eat last? Why is Western corporate attire needed in India? Why is packing a lunch box regressive? What is the need for #FestivalShaming? Why is Indian food “inherently unhealthy”?

She accepts or rejects reasons, not actions
A woman packing lunch boxes for the entire family isn’t good or bad. It’s good if she likes to do it. Bad if she’s forced to do it. A woman wearing her mangalsutra everyday isn’t “traditional” and regressive. Perhaps she truly believes in its significance. A woman who works in an executive role isn’t exactly feminist if she meekly hands over her earnings to her husband and/or in-laws at the end of each month letting them take away her financial autonomy. A woman wearing a mini skirt and going out drinking/partying isn’t exactly being feminist if she lets her boyfriend force her to sleep with him (operative word being force, not sleep).

You can enjoy drinking, have male friends, read 50 shades of grey, send your child to daycare, not live with your in-laws and still be Sanskaari. You can cook and pack lunch, wear saris to work, perform Varalakshmi Puja, recite shlokas, follow your specific sub-culture’s traditions and still be Feminist. The point is, it needs to be your choice. It needs to be an informed choice.

She understands Dharma Evolves
For all its misogyny and adoption by the British, the Manusmriti was never intended to be a universal code. Neither were any other codes of conduct defining dharma. Dharma differed from Rama to Krishna and from Sita to Draupadi. The Sanskaari Feminist understands that traditions from thousands of years ago can’t be kept alive just for their own sake. Neither should they be abandoned just because they’re thousands of years old.

When it comes down to it, there is just one law of Hindu Dharma. Do what needs to be done in the given context, with your given resources, to the best of your ability. Do not fear the consequences (karma). There are many nuances of course, but this is the fundamental principle. It is not my place to judge someone else or mete out punishment.

I’m a Sanskaari Feminist because I am reasonably well informed about Hindu traditions and philosophy. The main battle of feminism is against patriarchy and rigid gender roles. This battle is not incompatible with a philosophy where dharma tells you your duty is to do good.

I believe society has, in general, forgotten some of the guiding principles of Hindu philosophy. We have instead become fanatical about judging right and wrong and creating an absolute, monolithic “Indian Culture”. This is where the paradox of the Sanskaari Feminist arises. If the current right wing is consulted, women like me are the enemies of Indian Culture. If we take a step back, however, we can see that feminism is in fact an important part of being Sanskaari.

8 Replies to “A Sanskaari Feminist”

  1. Wah! The nuances & subtleties of knowing, understanding & making an informed choice. Being happy about who you are & your choices. And willing to raise voice for others of your own gender. Simple said – 👌👍

  2. Sanskaari feminist 😁 That’s a first! That would be me too. I don’t wear short clothes cause am not comfortable in them but hate it when someone tries to judge a girl for wearing those. My life looks pretty conventional right now so people are surprised when they find out that I “don’t cook”

    1. Well, yes. Creative definitions aside, we’re definitely not Sanskaari. The Hero thinks it’s cheating to change the definition of the word Sanskaari just to make it apply to me 🙂

  3. I’m with the hero – redefinition = cheating!

    Facetiousness aside, like I was saying to you: I’m always skeptical about culture as an idea vs. culture as a collective lived experience. While there are some core ideas each culture is based on, those ideas don’t stay static, they morph into whatever the lived culture is. The core ideas on which a culture is based – even if they were once wholesome and well intentioned – change based on how they’re put into practice. And they lose the likelihood of going back into their original state.

    In effect, Sanskaari gets redefined, often along rigid patriarchal lines. So those of us that pit ourselves as feminists, those of us that are gay, queer or otherwise non-confirming, are all inherently pitted against Sanskaar.

    1. Ah, so much to think about. There’s no way around it – No way am I (or most of my friends and readers) Sanskaari in the traditional sense of the word. That said, why does one group get full rights to define what’s Indian or what’s Hindu?

      You’re right of course, cultures and their core ideas are ever changing and dynamic. In that context, perhaps I’m trying to define a new normal. maybe I’m just ahead of my times with my definition? 🙂

  4. Loved your post.:) that’s exactly what a sanskari feminist would look like. A turmeric-milk guzzling, Ganpati stotra chanting, ready to educate anyone who offers unsolicited advice on how women should behave, rebel without cause nodding in approval!

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