As part of SAFIC’s mission to connect the ancient Indian wisdom to modern-day challenges and highlight the relevance of the wisdom of Indian cultural and spiritual traditions to address the problems of our times, we are currently working on designing a research-based course content for a Women’s Studies course to be offered through Pondicherry University.
Culturally Anchored Philosophical and Theoretical Frameworks
Equality and Freedom are generally recognised as two of the most important values for a modern society. These are also the benchmarks often used by academics to understand and analyse the lived realities of women in a society. In India, the academic discipline of Women’s Studies and the feminist movement in general are primarily guided by the Western conceptual and philosophical frameworks, including the western notions of these values of Equality and Freedom. Often this happens in an uncritical manner without questioning whether those frameworks fully capture the intricacies and complexities of the social-cultural milieu in which Indian women live, create and experience their realities.
There is also not much exploration in Indian academic discourse on whether the values of Equality and Freedom could have different or deeper dimensions to them when seen from the view of Indian cultural perspectives. Similarly, there isn’t much questioning on whether Diversity and Harmony may offer an alternative or additional set of values to the notion of Equality (which when taken to an extreme can also lead to Uniformity) as commonly understood or interpreted in the West-centric sociological parlance. This proposed course is designed to help students in Women’s Studies and other disciples develop a critical understanding of these concerns.
Mindful Scholarly Inquiry
There is no denying that like everywhere else in the world, women and girls in India face innumberable challenges, many of which may be unique to them because of their social-cultural-historical contexts. However, a mindful scholar interested in studying these lived realities must have a good appreciation of the culturally-anchored philosophical and conceptual frameworks which can help her gain a more grounded understanding of the phenomena under inquiry as well as the deeper realities shaping the outer phenomena.
It is fully accepted that Indian culture and civilisation have evolved a well-developed view of life, human existence, human development, relation between individual and society, selfhood, womanhood, gender identity as well as the very definition of culture itself. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for a student or scholar studying the realities of Indian women to situate his or her inquiry in an appropriate framework, one that is more sensitive to and anchored in the cultural context in which women’s realities and lives are situated.
Rethinking Women’s Issues and Feminist Inquiry
When seen in the light of more culturally-anchored conceptual and philosophical frameworks, it is likely that the challenges faced by Indian women and girls may begin to appear somewhat differently. They may now appear less as women’s issues but more as societal issues which must be worked upon by all of us – individuals and societies – as we progress and gradually evolve in our consciousness. Seeing the issue from this deeper consciousness perspective, we may even more intensely recognize the need for working sincerely on these challenges because the aim is to create a greater harmony in our individual and collective lives, while valuing the diversity as the given truth of Indian societal and cultural life.
At the same time, a culturally sensitive view of the topic under investigation may also help the student see the necessity of developing social structures, systems and institutions which facilitate the full development and blossoming of the individual, regardless of the gender.
The student may also begin to see that the solution to the challenge doesn’t lie in perpetuating the conflict between man and woman – an approach often taken by the West-centric feminist approaches. Rather a sustainable change will happen only when we truly recognise the essential equality of the two genders at the deepest level of the soul, and the diverse ways in which their inner being expresses in many different outward forms – different talents, aptitudes, working styles, psychological tendencies, intellectual abilities, etc.
Wider and Deeper Cross-Cultural Understanding
A diverse set of readings will give students insights into the Indian perspectives on women’s ways of knowing and being. A key feature of this course, often missing from most women’s studies courses, will be the inclusion of selected insights from a few of the ancient Indian texts which speak of the rightful status of women – particularly the ideal that the ancient Indian visionaries and thinkers set before us. Students will be asked to examine if this ideal was ever translated into practice, and also if it is possible or even desirable to go back to the ancient ideal. More importantly, they will be encouraged to explore what ideal should be pursued for our future growth as individuals and societies in the light of the Indian view of gradual and progressive evolution of consciousness, and how can culturally sensitive feminist inquiry play an important role in this endeavour.