Just begun your periods? Not getting married? Not able to conceive? Having sexual tension with your spouse? Monetary issues? Not being able to get along with your mother-in-law? Husband suspects you're having an affair? Seeking a second marriage?
Manglik? Kal Sarpadosha? Shani Maha Dasha? Planets. Paap. Penance. Priests. Purity. What is it about religion and women in this country that sees mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters, sisters-in-law, grandmothers, colleagues, friends and aunts push each other into a penitent, pervasive silence?
Making our relationship with God that of a woman and her man. Always transactional, asking for things she cannot have then and there. Being forced into a meditative coercion. Bending down, prostrating herself on a hard, cold, ground, drinking cow’s urine and swallowing bitter ayurvedic concoctions to aid conception, marrying trees and stray dogs, being touched by older godmen.
Brainwashed into believing she is less – that a higher body can actually change her fate. Why do we want to equate a woman's sex life to a staunch sadhana – why can't a woman desire freely in this country? Why since time immemorial are women being exploited in the name of wish fulfillment? Why are women such bakras for these fake gurus?
Mother of controversy
Most recently, we were introduced to a self-styled godwoman Radhe Maa – a case was filed against her by a housewife from Kandivali who had registered a dowry harassment complaint against her husband and his family. Today, she is the butt of many a jibe on the internet – mostly because of the way she looks, in a sleazy, red skirt and knee-high boots, and the sight of her ample cleavage.
Radhe Maa has, in some slanted way, busted the overarching and asexual patriarchal stereotype that we associate with spiritual leaders clad mostly in unstitched saffron and ornate wooden clogs. How she’s no sati herself. And yet, even in her tainted avatar, Radhe Maa screams on almost all national television channels: "I’m not obscene. I’m a mother. If a mother loves her children in her house, how can you call that obscene? I’m pure and pious."
Is a sexually tantalising character like Radhe Maa any different from a largely greying Asaram Bapu then? Whose sex gyaan videos are all over YouTube, even today? Whose booklets claim that masturbation or homosexuality results in wastage of energy, thereby making males physically and mentally weak.
"Don’t have sex during amavasya, purnima, Shivaratri or Holi. A child conceived on these days will be born handicapped. Even if a child is not conceived, intercourse on this day will lead to impotence and the man could face several other problems." That's what he preaches. The same man is today embroiled in a highly talked about sex scandal — arrested by the Jodhpur police for allegedly raping a 15-year-old girl in his ashram. Also framed in 2008 for the sudden death of two young boys in his ashram at Motera in Gujarat. His media manager Sunil Wankhede, however, insists, that he doesn’t possess any sexual desires himself as he is not a "common man".
Or someone like Gurmeet Ram Rahim, who ordered 400 of his disciples to undergo castrations to supposedly bring them closer to God. He is now facing a strict CBI investigation. Ram Rahim – popularly known as the "guru in bling" - leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda in Haryana - is also facing trial for conspiracy over the murder of a journalist in 2002, as well as battling claims that he was sexually exploiting female followers.
Why must sainthood like Satihood always include sexual abstinence and sobriety? What if karma and kama were actually related?
What if Radhe Maa had been a man?
For centuries, women in India have been salacious sex slaves to a hardened, cold spirituality that relies on subordination of a woman’s soul. Their wombs being blessed immaculately by the sudden appearance of the Surya Devta, per say, or mighty sages with miraculous powers to redeem a woman’s barrenness – Like Veda Vyasa in the Mahabharata. Where Draupadi’s vastra haraan was also a way of showing Lord Krishna’s divine benevolence – her shame salvaged by his timely interference. How devadasis were oppressed in southern India over centuries, despite the tradition declared illegal across India in 1988. The National Commission of Women recently estimated that around 48,358 devadasis are being forced into prostitution, with temples distancing themselves conveniently from their plight.
How the idol of Ma Durga during the auspicious five-day festival in Kolkata too commences with idol makers scooping up fistfuls of damp clay from Shonagachi – Asia’s biggest red light area. If our religious iconography exults in a sensual foreplay, then why are we in denial as a nation of how religion is one of the biggest avenues of a woman’s harassment?
How women throng mutts and temples with a vengeance, like it were a modern-day fertility center. How their minds are so easily influenced by a semi-clad man who freely extends relationship and conjugal advice? How our faith makes us blind and easily tamed to control by the opposite sex? How priests in saffron and white dictate our fate? Playing proxy parents and husbands? How our esoteric cultural lineage that attracts thousands of tourists annually, and earns us hefty foreign exchange, is actually a complex mix of moksha and mardangi?
Of tyaag and Tantrism?
Of vipasana and vasana?
Where women like Radhe Maa and men like Asaram are probably pretty much the same…