Earlier this month Brett Kavanaugh, a man accused by multiple women of sexual assault, was confirmed as a judge in the U.S. Supreme court. Several sisters in Sadhana shared their opinions in a statement at the beginning of Navaratri. They talked about the pervasiveness of violence against women and invoked the power of Durga Devi to stay strong in the fight for justice. They also requested their progressive Hindu brothers to speak out and share their own perspectives on this urgent issue. Below are a few of contributions from Sadhana men around the country:
The festival of Navaratri, currently celebrated by Hindus throughout the world, is a special opportunity for honoring the divine with the symbols and images of femininity. In a beautiful sequence of verses in the Devimahatmya, a text recited on the occasion of this beautiful festival, the Goddess (Devi) is praised repeatedly as the One residing in all beings (ya devi sarvabhteshu). She is present within us all as strength, forgiveness, peace, faith, beauty, compassion and tenderness.
Our festivals are unique opportunities for us to examine and critique our social practices in the light of religious ideals and teaching. Without this work, the religious life becomes compartmentalized and irrelevant to the task of transforming society.
Navaratri is a powerful reminder that that we cannot honor the Goddess in elaborate and costly ritual and dishonor women in daily life. We must turn the searchlight of Navaratri on the many ways in which gender inequality and injustice are prevalent in our world.
Navaratri is a fitting occasion to highlight the problem of domestic violence that is estimated to affect 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide. Approximately 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners (WHO). Ahimsa (non-harming), the cardinal principle of Hindu ethics, is violated in violence and injustice against women.
The victims and perpetrators of domestic violence are members of our congregations and we have a religious obligation to educate about recognizing the symptoms of domestic violence, to empower women and to foster dialogue about gender inequality. Our obligation to work for the overcoming of violence against women does not stop at the boundaries of our own communities, but must be extended to women everywhere. Hindus must be at the forefront of national conversations and the work of overcoming violence against women. The fact that the Hindu tradition does not hesitate to represent the divine as feminine makes this a sacred responsibility.
We cannot honor the Goddess (Devi) on the occasion of Navaratri, the One who dwells in all (ya devi sarvabhuteshu), and remain silent on the many ways that She is dishonored in gender violence and injustice. Let us praise her also with our actions in the world.
- Anantananand Rambachan, Minneapolis
Anantji is an Advisory Board Member of Sadhana.
I am a straight Hindu man. And maybe due to that and many other reasons, I was quite ignorant about a few 'truths' until quite late in my life: about how widespread sexual assault and abuse is in Hindu communities, how the patriarchal society is complicit in it, and just how much it is accepted as a part of normal life.
I was born and brought up in India. My mother runs a non-profit and several shelters for women in a very poor and rural part of Maharashtra. The first time I personally heard about sexual assault was in my mid-30s when I began to speak with some of the women my mother helped. My conversations with these women felt like slaps in the face of my ignorance. They were very humbling for me.
To be honest, part of me simply didn't believe them in the beginning. Their stories simply defied my past experiences and my blind faith in the Hinduism I thought I knew - both as a religion and as a culture. I always believed Hinduism was the most peaceful religion, the most open-minded faith, and so on. I thought my religion was different.
However, I started to realize that the problem of sexual violence wasn't limited to other religions. It wasn’t limited to rural areas. It wasn’t limited to any specific caste or class. I started asking the women in my life—my wife, my sister, my women friends I thought I knew well—about their experiences. Their answers shamed and truly changed me.
Every single one of these women had their own story of sexual harassment—they told me about being regularly groped, receiving dirty comments, more violent stories of sexual abuse... they told me they had accepted this as the way life simply is. I heard about the little pins they would carry in their hands to stab invisible groping hands in the buses or trains. How they pretended to be deaf and not hear the comments. How they had to carefully plan every move they made in a crowded area. I realized how unaware I had been. It took me a few times of listening to all of them to realize how ugly their reality was. What was most shocking was how 'accepted' and widespread it is.
Earlier, I always felt women were safer in the USA. I am the father of a daughter who was born and raised in the United States. Even she has gone on to recount so many of the similar things I thought I left behind in India. The cat calls, the fake smile she learned to make early on to keep men happy, the reality that a men can't be trusted.
This isn't just about Kavanaugh. It isn't just about his behavior being 'unacceptable.' It isn’t just about him being confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. It is about the simple question of human decency. And what happens when a human forgets to be that: a decent human being.
Maybe that's too simplistic, but for me this has been the biggest disappointment about both the countries I love dearly. In a nation where one of the Goddesses is Kali Ma, it is a *common* practice to treat women so inhumanly! In a nation where the modern women’s liberation movement was started (and Title IX came about), it is still common to ignore women who seek justice. The FBI did not even talk to all of Kavanaugh’s accusers and instead we were given a public spectacle of 'questioning' Dr. Ford. After what Anita Hill went through, didn't we think we learned to be better human beings?
Maybe I still haven't grasped the full truth - that as a privileged straight man, I will probably never understand the damage which has been done and still continues to be done. We, men, must do more listening and actively stand behind when they need us!
- Anonymous, Chicago
Anonymous is a new member of Sadhana.
As I watched the Kavanaugh hearings unfolded, I could not help but find strong parallels between Dr. Ford and Draupadi. In my opinion, Draupadi is among the strongest and bravest characters in the Mahabharata. Perhaps the most striking image of Draupadi is of her being disrobed and insulted by Dushasana, as Draupadi prays to Krishna for protection. However, the details of this story make the story more poignant.
This scene takes place right after Yudhishthira’s infamous dice game, where Yudhishthira gambled away not only all his property, but also his brothers, himself and Draupadi. While all the Pandavas begrudgingly accepted, only Draupadi pleaded her case to the court: how could she be given away as property, if Yudhisthira had already given himself away? Much like in Dr. Ford’s case, such pleas, as well as the following insults and harassment, fell on the deaf ears and blind eyes of the men, Kauravas and Pandavas, in the court. In fact, in the entire court, only two men, out of hundreds, even spoke up. Even after the assault had ended, it took Gandhari, another strong female character, to ensure that there were repercussions. Throughout the ordeal, as isolated and alone as Draupadi must have felt, she maintained the strength and the courage to fight the injustice.
During the Mahabharata, Draupadi had to endure such an attack not once, but twice. When the Pandavas were in exile in the Kingdom of Virata, Draupadi was harassed by the military commander Kichaka. When Draupadi refused his advances, Kichaka dragged her to Virata’s court and insulted her in front of the entire court, including the Pandavas. Once again, there was no outcry. Kichaka was in a position of power, and no one wanted to come in his way (much like many of the men accused from the #MeToo movement). It required the courage and the cleverness of Draupadi to finally vanquish her attacker.
In Hindu mythology, there are many such figures like Draupadi. Often, the strongest role models we have from scripture are the women and the Goddesses. However, even Draupadi had to endure her pain while all men and people in power turned a blind eye. Dr. Ford was repeatedly questioned on why she didn’t come out with her story earlier. The simple answer is that her story, just like Draupadi, would not have been listened to.
In the United States, 1 in 5 women will be raped and 1 in 3 women will face sexual violence at some point in their lives. Throughout the hearing, senators said that they made space for Dr. Ford to be “heard”. To these senators, that is simply below the minimum standard of respect. To my brothers, please do not just “hear” women. At a bare minimum, we must listen to their entire story, from the pain felt during the actual attack to the lasting emotional impact. We must show empathy and understand their struggles. We must truly believe them. Then, we must provide the support that they ask for.
To my sisters, I applaud your strength and your courage. As hard as it may be, please do not let events such as Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation discourage you. As a society, we need you to share your story and be strong where men are not. However, that burden should not continue to fall solely upon you.
I pray that men will have the strength to understand the individual struggles than women face, hold ourselves to higher standard of respect, and work together with women to ensure a safer society in the future. We all need to be more like Draupadi.
- Samir Durvasula, Washington D.C.
Samir is an active member of Sadhana.
In 2016, I went to India with some friends and we decided to visit some members of my extended family. One of those relatives had a conversation with my father and while my bhua (his older sister) was also in the room. While I was in another room catching up with my cousins, my “uncle” told my father that the only energy that women have is lost when they give birth; in essence, once women have procreated, they lack any “useful” purpose in the world. I did not have the courage to say anything that day.
If only I could have reminded that uncle the Shakti (energy) that women have. The same Shakti that brought the cosmos into being and exists within every quark of our reality at this very moment in its balance with the Purusha (consciousness). The same Shakti that is celebrated by Hindus as the source of wealth (Lakshmi), knowledge (Saraswati), and power (Parvati) who have found a place in my uncle’s home on an altar. The same Shakti that gave my uncle a space in his mother’s womb and a space in our life. The same Shakti that made him a father and a grandfather. And the very same Shakti with which he shares no jurisdiction, because it is that same Shakti that allows room for his audacity.
कुकर्मी कुसङ्गी कुबुद्धिः कुदासः
कुलाचारहीनः कदाचारलीनः ।
कुदृष्टिः कुवाक्यप्रबन्धः सदाहं
गतिस्त्वं गतिस्त्वं त्वमेका भवानि ॥५॥
I performed Bad Deeds, associated with Bad Company, cherished Bad Thoughts, and have been a Bad Servant. I did not perform my Traditional Duties [and, instead] deeply engaged in Bad Conducts. My eyes Saw with Bad Intentions [and my] tongue always Spoke Bad Words. You are my Refuge, You Alone are my Refuge, Oh Mother Bhavani.
- Sri Adi Shankaracharya’s Bhavani Ashtakam, Stanza 5
- Tahil Sharma, Los Angeles
Tahil is Sadhana’s Los Angeles Area Coordinator