A society which values its womenfolk must necessarily reach great heights

“A society which values its womenfolk must necessarily reach great heights in social wellbeing and cohesiveness. And our Hindu tradition has always stressed the importance of women and their wellbeing”, Justice C.V. Wigeswaran, at the 3rd Annual Nahammal Kasipillai Memorial Oration held recently at the Sivananda Nilayam, Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam, Wellawatte.

As Chair of the Memorial Oration Event, the Retired Judge spoke of the contemporary situations, imbibed in context of Tamil, Hindu, Western heritage and philosophies and spirituality.

[Portrait of Ms. Nahammal Kasipillai, at Sivananda Nilayam, on Jan 16, 2008]

Full text of remarks by Retired Supreme Court Justice C.V. Wigeswaran, at the The 3rd Annual Nahammal Kasipillai Memorial Oration, on January 16th 2008:

Guru Brahma Gurur Vishnu Gurur Devo Maheshwaraha
Guru Saashat Parabrahma Tasmai Shree Guruve Namaha

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our roles are changed today. Mrs. Duraiswamy who chaired the first memorial meeting two years ago has kindly consented to deliver this year’s memorial oration. The oration itself has taken on a professional hue during the last two years, in that when I delivered the first Kasipillai memorial oration, we were too close to Miss. Kasipillai’s demise that more of her life and achievements were predominant in our minds at that time. Last year Miss.Mathivathani Ponnambalam spoke on her experiences in the Gem industry as well as her experiences during her school days when Miss. Kasipillai was Principal and this year the oration is centered around the theme “The Woman and the Changing World-the Hindu Response”.

The role of the Hindu woman in society was a theme close to the heart of Miss. Kasipillai. She was concerned about the Hindu values of the past and the social norms of the present ear and strived hard to evolve a happy blending of both standards.

She was aware of the difference in perspectives. The Hindu way of life being steeped in religious thoughts and behaviour looked not at man or woman individually. Man an woman had their roles to play in a wider spectrum of family, society, and mankind in general. The purpose of life was to have a happy childhood (Brahmachariya), HAPPY MARRIED LIFE (Grahasta), happy retreat in life (Vaanaprastha), and contented meditative life (Sanyasa). In this process male and female had different roles to play to complement each other’s life. The wife was to be protected and cherished. She ran the home. The husband and children rallied round her in the home while the wife and children looked upon the man of the house as the pater familias of the family. The respect expected to be given to the man of the house by the lady of the house bordered on obedience. Often there was considerable age difference between husband and wife, and this attitude of mind in a society which respected its elders and valued the ideal of duty was easy for the younger wife who respected and yielded to the husband’s wishes wand wants.

Inretreat or Vaanaprastha life in the woods, the woman had to cater to the needs and comforts of the husband, while he spent most time in study and contemplation. While the husband followed the contemplative path or the path of Gnaana or wisdom, the wife followed the path of Karma Yoga. Neither of the religious paths was greater than the other. Infact by following the path of Karma Yoga some of the women had reached a perceptional dimension of a very high order. You are aware of the story of Vasuki, the wife of Thiruvalluvar.

Sage Konganar had a very vicious temper eventhough a celebrated Siddhar. While he was in meditation, a stork which flew above him had dropped its faecal excretions his body. The moment he looked at the stork with anger in his eyes, the stork got burnt to ashes.

Such a powerful Siddhar after this incident went to the house of Thiruvalluvar for alms. Vasuki was drawing water for here husband’s use I his worship and prayers. She would not discontinue her dutiful service towards her husband merely for the sake of the sage. She was little late in ushering the sage into their house. Konganar was furious and looked at her if to burn her. The lady was calm and dignified. She merely asked him “Oh Sage Konganar! Did you think I am a stork?”-“Kokkendru Ninaiththaayo Konganavaa?” goes in Tamil words used. The Siddhar was surprised that what happened in private at his Ashram was known to this lady doing service to her husband. He understood her greatness, he hailed her as a “Pathivirathai” or chaste wife and went his way. Such was the power of Vasuki who merely did sincere service to her husband relegated to the Ashram premises.

How was this possible? Just as much as today many of us are able to get the grace of our Gurus like Sathya Sai Baba and others, when we sincerely pray to them, whenever we are in the ancient way of life, the husband was positioned in the role of a Guru and the wife’s love and faith in her husband worked wonders on them.

I have often wondered what grace is. I have seen Muslim friends, Christian friends and Hindus often relating many a miraculous incident in their lives which they attribute to Grace of Allah or Lord Jesus Christ or Hindu Gods or Gurus respectively. Even the late Balangoda Ananda Maithri Thera, a Buddhist referred once to the Grace of Sai Baba. Is Grace extraneous or an internal process catalyzed by something extraneous which culminates in miraculous incidents? When so many from different religions speak of their respective Gods or Gurus, there appears to be something internal that takes place within all of us-the working of faith and the consequent rendering of miracles.

It is the faith in us whether we be Hindus, Christians or Muslims which really promotes and sustains miracles. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa used to relate a story. There was this Guru on this side of the river. He was a little egotistic and assessed himself quite high. A young girl from the other side of the river used to cross the river and bring milk to the Guru. One day the river was in spate. The girl was delayed. The Guru was furious. He scolded her when she finally arrived saying “If you had faith in me, the river would have allowed you to pass unhurt. Your lack of faith has been the cause for your delay”. The girl was taken aback. She decided to have full faith in the Guru. The next time a heavy rain brought rush of waters to the river. She simply thought of and prayed to the Guru and walked across the river with faith. The river allowed her access.

The Guru was surprised to see the girl. “How did you come in this inclement weather?” he asked. “I prayed to you; I had faith in you; I simply walked across the river, and here I am”, she said. The Guru was pleased. He went to the river and thanked the river for allowing the milkmaid free access and stepped into the water for a similar access across. The river simply knocked him down and dragged him away. The Guru did not matter. The faith in the girl mattered. The story explains the inner power of faith. The extraneous Guru was not important. The inner working of the mind or heart of the girl was what mattered. So too the husband did not matter. The faith of the wife did matter.

Whatever the shortcomings their respective husbands may have had, the inner faith, their surrendering spirit, the ideal of duty they pursued, made the chaste women of yore powerful human beings not to be trifled with.

Times changed. The inner content of the human beings was lost sight of. The larger perspectives of community harmony and family wellbeing were taken for granted. The ideal of duty was forgotten. Outer social standings of these units of family and society became more relevant. Thus the complementarity of sexes made way to equality of sexes. The protests and agitations by women in the Western communities cam about from a definite social necessity among the Western nations, where women were not considered as complementary units in a familial get together, but a chattels to be used and discarded or tolerated.

There was a basic difference between the Western and Indian view of life. While human beings were viewed as functional units of a society by earlier ancient culture the world over during the past five centuries or so, the Western mind evolved differently mostly by dealing with concrete objects. Reasoning and questioning were the hallmarks of the so called scientific mind. Annie Besant, the Great Lady of exquisite spiritual values and an outstanding orator among the Theosophists, once said, I quote “Ahamkara, the “I” making principle produces the mind and this mind in its lower separative form sees difference everywhere. As this developed, the man’s sense of separateness of his own personal “I am I” increased. “I am myself”; “You are yourself”; “This is mine”; “That is yours”-these feelings of the personal self grew and flourished exceedingly. This underlying tendency moved some of the keenest minds in the West to formulate this sense of “I” ness, of “My” ness into an ideal. The ideal of the single, independent man, man in isolation as a self reliant, self independent being the single man standing by himself with a right to exercise all his powers for his own advantage”. (unquote)

Jean Jacques Rousseau in his social contract gave form to this ideal of man as an independent being clothed in his rights. “Man is born free. None has any title to his obedience. None may command him without his own consent”. These were the ideas that Rousseau put forward to build up his theory of social contract, whereby the free man gave up some of his natural rights in exchange for protection from the society in respect of the rest of his rights.

So the concepts of individuality of man and woman, equal rights between the sexes, emancipation of women and so on came to the forefront. No doubt the mixing of Islamic and Western cultures with the ancient Hindu culture brought in its wake social perspectives foreign to the indigenous way of life. Woman being a complementary unit in an equal partnership picturised by the idea of Artha Naareeswarar was relegated to a position of a slave and an object of lust. Naturally the liberation movements of women the world over became a reaction to the state of being that had crept into society.

Women actually enjoyed a privileged position in society in India in early times. She was protected, cherished and respected because she gave birth to the next generation. If I am not misunderstood let me say that one of the proud boasts few years ago in Jaffna Peninsula, when the present occupation Army from the South had not recaptured the area, was that a young woman can wear her expensive jewellery and walk along any street of Jaffna even after sunset without in any manner being harassed or abused. And this was true. Obviously the Tamil youngsters had understood the values and perspectives of our ancients. A society which values its womenfolk must necessarily reach great heights in social wellbeing and cohesiveness. And our Hindu tradition has always stressed the importance of women and their wellbeing.

It is my pleasant duty to introduce Mrs. Sivanandini Duraiswamy to this audience, where most of you know more about her than I do. Her social, educational and cultural activities, all of you are familiar with. Therefore let me refer to the lesser known facts about her.

This contemporary illustrious Sri Lankan Tamil is accomplished both in Arts and Fine Arts. A Graduate in Arts of the University of London. She plays the piano and the Veena with equal ease. She has held many exhibitions of her paintings in Beijing, Manila and Colombo. She has studied sculpture and architecture having done research study on Hindu Art under the guidance of the Director of the Museum in Calcutta under the auspices of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture.

She is the author of many books including “Remembering Hindu Traditions”, “The creative touches of the chisel- Hindu sculpture and architecture” and “The Foot falls on Time- A story of our saints and sages”. She is presently President of Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam, which conducts many projects-educational, religious, cultural and social and Hindu Council of Sri Lanka.

She has won many awards for the innumerable social, literary and educational services rendered by her including Zonta International award, Colombo Kamban Kazhagam award and the Peace award by the Justice Ministry. She has traveled extensively with her late husband who was career diplomat and has been involved in peace initiatives for quite sometime. She has presented many papers on various aspects of Hinduism at different fora in Colombo and abroad. There is no doubt that Mrs. Sivanandini Duraswamy who claims to be elder to me since her younger brother Sanathkumaran and I were classmates at Royal, but who looks at lease fifteen years younger to me, will refer in detail to the Hindu response to women in changing world.

I would call upon her to deliver this year’s Nahammal Kasipillai Memorial Oration on the theme “The woman in the changing world-Hindu response“.

I thank the Kasipillai family for giving me this opportunity again to be involved in a function which remembers Miss. Nahammal Kasipillai, a unique Hindu woman of yesteryears.

Related: Remembering the legacy of Ms. Nahammal Kasipillai
_____________________
by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai~Email:dushi.pillai@gmail.com

The woman in the changing world-Hindu response

Full Text of speech delivered by Ms. Sivanandini Duraiswamy, at the The 3rd Annual Nahammal Kasipillai Memorial Oration, on January 16th 2008 at Sangarapillai hall, Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam, Wellawatte, Colombo 6:

The Oneness of humanity based on the Omnipresent Atman inherent in each being, is a fundamental principle in Hinduism leading to human dignity, human rights and equality of the sexes.

Hindu traditions always respected womanhood for a woman is the embodiment of Shakti that is Energy. The Grace of God manifests as the Divine Mother for the good of mankind.

And even the Lord is regarded as Ardhanarishwar, the embodiment of the masculine and feminine principles and from this flows the idea of woman being equal half of man. Swami Vivekananda says that in the highest Reality, there is no distinction of sex. Sex is a mere vesture worn by the Soul to perform one’s duties in this world.

Hindu civilisation has thus always placed woman on par with man and given her an equal place in the family and society. In ancient times man and wife together offered their sacrifices and a man had to pray jointly with his wife and for this same reason no unmarried man could become nor a widower remain a priest if he was already one.

The women participated in Vedic ceremonies together with the husbands, fought in battles when the necessity demanded, authored prayers and participated in the affairs of society in an equal manner.

In early India, there are references to women administrators and warriors, poets and craftswomen, philosophers and thinkers. Greek historians describe how an Indian Queen fought the armies of Alexander much as two thousand years later the Rani of Jhansi defended her kingdom against the British. Scholars and thinkers like Gargi, Maitreyi, Avvai, Karaikkal Ammaiyar, Pandima Devi and others appeared on the scene from time to time..

Down the corridors of time, we are able to see several cameos of the Hindu woman being sketched, as the fellow traveller in dharma-sahadharmini or the Lakshmi of the home-grihalakshmi, or as the student brahmachari, teacher acharya or administrator, all being educated and deeply rooted in the Hindu concept of

-“Aatmaano mokshaartham jagad hitaaya cha,” thinking of not merely self emancipation only but also of the welfare of others.

Thus we see that the Hindu response should link up the present woman with her Vedic, Upanishadic and Thirumurai counterparts where women acquired education in an atmosphere of equality participating in ceremonies and traditions.

The highest form of education was open to both boys and girls. High literary attainment has its beginnings in childhood education and this enabled women to become scholars and philosophers, keen debators and brilliant teachers.

Women have always been given not only the highest level of respect and freedom, but also protection and safety and has always been given not only the highest level of respect and freedom, but also protection and safety.

These emancipated women made extensive contribution to society and this is an intellectual reference point in the Hindu world.

Furthermore, in the Vedas, when a woman is invited into the family through marriage, she enters “as a river enters the sea” and “to rule there along with her husband, as a queen, over the other members of the family”. (Atharva-Veda 14.1.43-44)

The Vedic tradition has held a high regard for the qualities of women as seen in the honor it gives for the Goddess-those of Lakshmi the goddess of wealth, Sarasvati the goddess of learning, Durga (the goddess of strength and power), Kali (the power of time), and others that exemplify inner strength and divine attributes. Even divine power in the form of shakti is considered feminine.

Let us take examples of women in Vedic and Upanishadic Traditions:

There are a dozen names of woman spiritual leaders of the Vedic wisdom, such as Visvavara, Shashvati, Gargi, Maitreyi, Apala, Ghosha, and Aditi. Every one of them lived the ideal life of spirituality, being untouched by the things of the world. They are called in Sanskrit Brahmavadinis, the speakers and revealers of Brahman.

Some like Apala and Aitreyi were composers of hymns; some were rishis like Lopamudra and Vach, others like Vishpala and Mudgalani distinguished themselves in battle and still others like Gargi and Maitreyi excelled in spirituality and made strides in establishing the foundation of Sanatana Dharma.

Such women scholars represent the full flowering of the feminine spirit in its effort not only to worship the Divine but also to guide human kind in its forward march. They made extensive contribution and did empower themselves. These are the bright luminaries in the firmament of Hindu womanhood. These women to whatever ages they may have belonged, have become immortal, have passed into classics.

Women in the Epic eras were also women of great repute namely Sita, Draupadi, Savitri, Damayanti to mention just four.

The immortal Epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata speak of a number of accomplished women. A verse depicting the resplendent and gracious qualities of the Ayodhya women, another that Sita, Kaushalya and others performed the Sandyopasana and holy sacrifices, reflect the true position of women in society.

Though Sita’s life was full of struggle and hardship, she was innocent and pure. She gave up all comforts to serve her beloved husband and uphold sanctity, faithfulness, virtue and moral standards. She made her decision and her ability to fearlessly withstand Ravana and holding her stand make her a woman of character and fortitude.

Women in the Tirumurai

Mangayakarasi and Thilagawathiyar were rare gems of Hindu womanhood.

Queen Mangaitkarasi stood alone with the Chief Minister of the Pandyan Kingdom as the ruling monarch changed into Jainism. She fought against the atrocities of the Jains and brought back Hinduism into the Pandyan land which had become a Jain kingdom.

Thilagawathiyar was Saint Appar’s sister who courageously and fearlessly brought back her brother Thirunavukkarasar into the Hindu fold from Jainism.

From very early period we also have women who excelled in Bhakti devotion to the Lord. Women of the Bhakti movement for example are Karaikkal Ammaiyar, Andal and Mirabhai who sang their experiences in the understanding of Godhead. They made extensive contribution to religious devotion during the classical and medieval ages.

Karaikka Ammayar is, as Saint Serkilar refers to her, ‘the mother who sang the first pathikam and the one who founded the Tevara Pannisai’.

Coming nearer home, the Tamil Sangam produced the celebrated Dame Avvai, an erudite poetess who also excelled in diplomacy negotiating between the ancient Pandya and Chola monarchs of her time.

Inscriptions describe women of the later Chola period, who distinguished themselves in battle, built temples, tanks, hospitals etc and their participation in administering land and supporting religion.

Besides women being Brahmavadins and scholars in spirituality, we also see that women have been in administration as well These women administrators in the Stri Rajya concept protected the country during the absence of the king or when the king was incapacitated. For example we see

-Prabhavati Gupta, the daughter of Chandra Gupta ruled for 13 years in the 5th century.

-Queen Didda of Kashmir and her statesman-ship in the 10th century

-Akkadevi, the Chalukyan Princess was the Provincial Governor in the 11th century appointed by the Chalukya King Jayasimha II

-Rudramba Kakatiya of the 13th century promoted the welfare of her subjects. Marco Polo describes her as an efficient administrator and a lover of justice, equality and peace.

-Sembiyan Mahadevi and Kundavi of the Chola era were also keen administrators

o Devi Ahalya Bai Holkar, the queen of Indore (Madhya Pradesh) has set an excellent example of efficient administration. Her contribution to encourage free trade and the concept of the welfare state is very admirable.

Women from earlier times had also been freedom fighters defending their land. For example:

Rani Chennamma of Kittur (in North Karnataka) was the first woman freedom fighter of India against the British. Rani Chennamma was known for her chivalry.

Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi was one of the most brave and legendary of warrior women of India. Disguised as a man, she rode out to battle against the British, but was unfortunately killed.

The hilltop fortress of Chittorgarh was another example of the warrior spirit of the women. Honor was more important than death to them, and the women also would rather die than submit to the enemy and certain humiliation.

Women like Sri Sarada Devi and Kasturbhai Gandhi of the more recent past were no ordinary people.

Sri Sarada Devi life was an ideal way of living in which service and worship went together inspired by a universal love embracing all living beings in the fragrance of motherliness.

Kasturbai Gandhi worked from behind scenes unobtrusively to help her husband in his work.

These women demonstrate in unparalleled ways how the highest form of spirituality can be easily combined with normal domestic work and how an ordinary woman can reach the pinnacle of purity and perfection in the midst of her thousand and one daily chores.

Having gone through all these examples, we distinctly see that it was in an atmosphere of equality, education and accomplishment that the Hindu woman acquired knowledge and spirituality and were able to wield authority.

Marriage came after education for one of the main purposes of education of girls was/is the preparation of marriage. Marriage was viewed not as the end in itself but as a means for the continuation of the family.

The husband and wife are spiritual partners, each of whom complements the other and both proceed towards the spiritual goal.

To us Hindus, marriage is a spiritual sacrament and through marriage a man and a woman fulfil their dharma. Their union results in the perpetuation of the human race forming an essential part of nature’s pattern-motherhood-

Motherhood means the family lives on. Its sanctity is stressed in Hinduism. To preserve this sanctity, the ideals of chastity, modesty, faithfulness and purity which lead to the iviolability of marriage, an idea that is generally ingrained in every Hindu woman. Swami Vivekananda speaks of the ideal of womanhood as motherhood and adds, ”If nations are made by men, it is women that make men in as much as the foundations of character are laid in the nursery.” This is very true, for the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.

[Ms. Nahammal Kasipillai]

Having said this, where are we now? As Nahammal thought have dropped down into abysmal depths?

We realize that the Hindu woman and the ideals of Hindu society gradually changed with time and lowered the position of women. There are several reasons for this.

o The development of monasticism during the Jain and Buddhist eras brought down the position of the Hindu woman. To remain pure, free from dhukka was all important to man and all the blame was unfortunately cast on women!

o Education was denied and this denial reduced her position and decision making capacity in society.

o Furthermore, the position of women in the medieval Hindu society in India deteriorated-with the codification of the Manu dharma shastra and the Muslim invasions. Hindu society was a helpless witness to the detioration of the woman’s position. The interaction of the alien invasions on the old Hindu traditional life, resulted in these unfortunate developments. In order to protect the purity of the girl child, of the young widow these repressive measures, alien to our culture had to be adopted. Education was relegated to the background.

o It was during this time that child marriage which was unheard in earlier days came into being. The position of widows became bad; and perhaps this may have been one of the causes that led to sati, which in later times took a turn for the worse. Sati was a voluntary act totally unrelated to Hinduism

Unfortunately, the high standards of the earlier eras have declined primarily due to the outside influences that have crept in because of foreign invaders, either militarily or culturally. These foreign invaders who dominated India mostly looked at women as objects of sexual enjoyment and exploitation, and as the spoils of war to be taken like a prize.

When the position of women declines, then that society loses its equilibrium and harmony. Women were later denied the right to inherit property, to transact business, to educate themselves and to be independent.

With the advent of colonial rule and the destruction of the village economy, the position of women deteriorated further, with the women becoming less educated, less healthy and less represented in the professions. They were frequently subject to violence both in the home and outside.

The institution of dowry crept in which is an insult to our self-respect and honour. The Dowry system in the Hindu society is a social practice unrelated to religion. Dowry and its socio-economic consequences impact young women adversely in certain cases. Wife beating takes place in certain sections of society, though bride burning is non- existent in Sri Lanka.

Fortunately, these repressive measures touched the Sri Lankan Hindu woman only marginally.

In urban Hindu societies for example even funeral rites essentially male dominated, are now increasingly performed by girls in the absence of sons. The girl child is not totally undervalued though in rural societies traditional practices accord preferential treatment for favour the boys especially regarding food and education..

Though basic education in Sri Lanka is compulsory and the girls have the same opportunities in the educational system as boys, yet in rural areas preferential treatment is given to boys regarding education and food.

With the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the basic dignity and rights of children in the world was not only recognised but ensured. These Rights include their rights to survival, protection and development.

Education of women empowers them and today besides following her traditional professions of either being a teacher or a nurse, she is a doctor, or an engineer, or an executive, or a banker, or an administrator.

An educated mother gives greater importance to the education of her daughter and this has a positive impact on the future generation. While an uneducated mother, particularly in rural areas gives less importance to education.

There is a need for change.

One can use Hinduism to emancipate the woman and empower her through its concept of the omnipresent Atman or Self present in each being regardless of caste, race or gender. All individuals are therefore one in essence and equal in social standing. This is the Hindu ideal, which should be accepted by both men and women. This has been reflected in the United Nation’s resolution.

The modern ideal of the ancient Upanishadic concept is today the United Nations declaration that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

These ideals should help rectify some of the wrongs and the injustices perpetrated on the woman and reclaim our tradition in order to contribute our due role in the strengthening of Hindu society.

Our Society in Asia has a pre-determined role for a girl-a wife, a mother and a homemaker and the woman particularly in rural areas, internalise this subordination and very often is unable to extricate herself out of it!

She finds that society itself often legitimises her sub-ordination, primarily because of gender issues.

She invariably has multiple roles to play-at home a mother and homemaker and outside a co-worker with her husband. All her work goes unrecognised and merely taken for granted. This is sad because in actual life, besides her reproductory functions, she is an equal partner in any family enterprise be it in the field, farm or market place.

The imperative of social justice thus is urgent making education and training of skills necessary for the woman’s advancement in life

Access to education is a basic human right and it will no doubt be the agent of change in the status of the woman linking her to broader concerns of national development and developing in her a culture of self-reliance, a positive self-image and the capacity to participate in decision making at all levels on equal footing.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. If you educate a woman you educate the family.”

Education thus is an instrument for upward mobility for the entire family, empowering the woman and giving her the knowledge and skills.

As we have already seen, Hinduism has within it a liberal inheritance in education that lends itself to social justice and reform.

This must necessarily be re-asserted because the many facets of educational development will contribute to equal opportunities and to equitable gender relations.

The rising cost of living has compelled the woman to enter the work force in order to supplement family income.

However, working outside the home has often resulted in the dislocation of family life, neglecting her children and her important role of loving, caring and looking after them. In the newly evolving nuclear family unit, man and wife have a shared responsibility of the family with the understanding that the wife is an equal partner.

The presence of the woman in various occupations outside the home makes her more vulnerable. She is subject to discrimination and physical abuse in the work place. She generally undergoes all these hardships mainly because she is unable to express her grievances and she is not adequately heard. She does not participate in the decision-making process.

The woman identifies herself with her family nurturing and nourishing her children making family life a positive experience. The family is a source of love, security and at times one of power and prestige.

However, the very family system that provides security to the woman also locks her into her home and often she, has no means of correcting a situation like wife beating, incest, rape etc. sexual harassment, which in its extreme form constitutes violence against women, has been on the increase both in the home and outside.

National legislation should incorporate deterrents against rape, incest, domestic violence and sexual harassments in order to prevent such acts. The legal institutions and processes impact both positively and negatively on various aspects of a woman’s life. Some women have find it difficult to obtain access to justice while other do not wish to be heard in public.

All these problems led to women agitating for relief leading to the-

The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) of 1979 provides a framework that can help governments to integrate all aspects of the woman’s well being into law and policy.

In the 1950s of the last century, when it was realised that political clout was necessary for women’s enhancement-

The agitation of women brought about the United Nations Commission of the Status of Women (in 1952) that recommended the Convention on the Political Rights of Women.

The granting of political rights to women is important because by participating in the legislative, executive and judicial organs of government they could influence positively on issues affecting them, make themselves heard effectively and become part of the decision making process.

However, it is sad to note that after about half a century of the granting of this right, the number of women in high positions of political power and influence is still small.

This merely shows that the acquiring of political rights by law is only a partial solution. Changes in law and in administrative rules will not be effective unless there is attitudinal change among the men and women themselves for which awareness raising at all levels is necessary.

A return to the ideals of the ancient Hindu society where women participated in administration and public life can remind the woman of her inheritance of equality.

Thus one needs to assert Hindu Values in a Changing World

It is a time to reclaim our traditions in order to contribute our due role in the strengthening of Hindu society. There is much that needs to be done. One needs to lift the down trodden, help the poor, protect the environment, assert our Hindu values in a changing world and contribute to the common humanity that we all share. We women need to take our place in the tasks ahead.

Today, ethnic conflicts in various parts of the world add a new dimension to women’s problems with the woman being thrown into the unexpected role of providing for the family

for which she has no skills resulting in the number of female-headed households dependent on relief handouts, increasing.

Gender issues have had relatively low priority in the context of the policy imperative to resolve such conflicts and violence. In Sri Lanka, the ethnic conflict has created problems mostly for women and children face. This trauma has yet to be adequately addressed.

One of the first effects of war is the displacement of civilians, the breakdown of mutual support mechanisms and the reduction of food and medicines. Refugee camps also leave mush to be desired with hardly any privacy for the women and girls.

It is clear that there is a pressing need for the women to be in the decision-making and social service programmes and the Hindu women need to take their role in these responsibilities. Disruptions of all kinds place extraordinary stress on women.

In this fast moving world values are changing; men and women are tempted to yield to the convenience of the moment.

Women are seeking equal rights and equal opportunities and think of themselves as individuals with rights and privileges. A woman also has her aspirations beyond the husband, children and home. In order to fulfil her aspirations she must be given equal opportunities to achieving them .

Sex stereo-typing in vocational and professional courses are gradually giving way to women’s participation in non traditional occupations and technology.

Education will link women to broader concerns of national development and to develop in them a culture of self-reliance, a positive self-image and the capacity to participate in decision making at all levels on equal footing.

As her ancient predecessor, the young woman today must participate and decide on important issues affecting her future, her safety and her economic and social rights. She must emancipate her very thinking and believe in her own worth.

The strong adherence to our Hindu cultural identity and the socio-cultural traditions rooted in the culture should not offer resistance to modernising influences and technical changes. But at the same time the social expectations that require the woman to preserve, sustain and closely adhere to the age old Hindu values should also be acknowledged. One should not throw the bath water with the baby.

According to Swami Vivekananda ‘No peace and harmony could be brought about and no improvements could be effected in any society, until and unless the women and masses who form a greater part of the population are educated.’

And in the words of Rabindranath Tagore the ideal woman is envisaged as, ”the woman in whom the streams of intellect and emotion emanating from the vast univese are not hindered from mingling in a deep and beautiful harmony.”

In concluding this presentation, I would like to say that there is a need for Hindu self-assertiveness where our values, traditions and ethos will inspire us to defend ourselves against those who deny our right to be.

The world around us is experiencing profound political, economic, social and cultural changes that are impacting both positively and negatively on women. The priority objectives of the international community are the full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life at all levels and the eradication of all forms of discrimination and violence against them.

Thus as women, we must have a purpose in life and if we can say, ”I have truly lived and dedicated my life to achieving something noble,” then we are modern with all its trimmings but still ancient in our Hindu ideals. The position of women in society is the true index of its cultural and spiritual level and Sarojini Naidu summarises this up succinctly “The true shrines of liberty are in the homes of the Nations; and the women are the High Priestesses who guard the sacred flame.” This is indeed the position of the Hindu woman that Nahammal envisaged..

References:

The Bhagavad Geeta with Swami Chinmayananda’s commentaries

The Message of the Upanishads-Swami Rangananandaji

The Atharva Veda

The Cultural Heritage of India-Ramakrisha Mission Cultural Institute.

Pattinaththar and Thomas Grey

The lives of the different women

Tirumurai,

Periya Puranam

Rig Veda

Upanishad

The Footfalls on Time

Surfing the Internet.

Related: Remembering the legacy of Ms. Nahammal Kasipillai

Remembering the legacy of Ms. Nahammal Kasipillai

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

The 3rd Annual Nahammal Kasipillai Memorial Oration was delivered on January 16th 2008 at Sivananda Nilayam, Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam, Wellawatte.

Deshabandu Nahammal Kasipillai, as Principal dedicated over thirty years in building up one of the finest institutions of learning in Sri Lanka today. She passed away on 8th of December 2005.

[Ms. Nahammal Kasipillai Served as Principal of Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam 1937 to 1969, National leader Transcendental meditation-1975 to 1995 and she was honoured with Deshabandu award from President of Sri Lanka, in 1993]

The educator is remembered for many of her contributions to learning that span over generations of students, parents and teachers and leaving behind a legacy that is praised of embodying “a purity of purpose, a perseverance of effort, and a passion for service”.

The event was chaired by Retired Supreme Court Judge C.V.Wigeswaran and the Memorial oration was delivered by Ms. Sivanandini Duraiswamy.

Aaranie Karthikeyan, recalled the lifelong teacher and matriarch’s sound guidance to all those to sought it, in her vote of thanks at the Memorial Oration.

[Portrait of Ms. Nahammal Kasipillai, at Sivananda Nilayam, on Jan 16, 2008]

Full Text of Vote of thanks, delivered by Aaranie Karthikeyan:

Chairperson Justice C.V.Wigneswaran, Keynote speaker Mrs Sivanandini Duraiswamy, The Principal, Staff and students of Siva Mangaiyar Vidyalayam, President of The Past Pupils Association Ms Sarojini Kanendran, committee members, members of the Alumni and past students, Uncle Thilakan, family members, relatives, friends and well wishers of late Miss.Nahammal Kasipilliai.

Good evening,

It is an honour and privilege as a grand niece of Late Ms Kasipillai whom we fondly called Kasi granny/ or Periyamma to propose the vote of thanks today. Before I set I about the task of expressing our sincere thanks to those organising this evening’s memorial lecture, I ask that you indulge me in recounting a few cherished memories I have of her.

I would like to quote a particular verse from the Thirukurral Chapter 45 “Periyaarai Thunai Kodal”.

It translates to “it will be the rarest of rare good fortunes if though can secure to thyself the kinship of a worthy person”.

Accordingly from a tender age I was always conscious of the rare privilege that was bestowed upon me in the form of Periyamma’s close guidance, love and friendship. Her life long commitment to the empowerment of women was apparent to me both in her conversations and the countless persons who would visit her at her Vivekananda road residence for personal advice, and reassurance. A sound listener in her role as counsellor, she provided non-judgmental and sound guidance to all those to sought it. As a mentor to many, she was quick to identify the talents and capacities of all those who came before her, always encouraging of efforts demonstrating discipline, perseverance and hard work.

She would often quote to me Poet Bharathiyar’s words on the role of women in society.

My awe and respect for her life’s work took form in an essay I wrote for my Grade 8 Tamil class on the 15th July 2001 titled ‘Naan Virumbiya Periyaar’. I don’t wish to bore you with the entire contents of the essay, but just an excerpt demonstrating my admiration and appreciation of her personality at that age.

At 13 years of age, these words were a tribute to her virtues of discipline, ethics, and uncompromising stance on perseverance, hard work and honest intention. I am indeed very fortunate to have enjoyed the privilege and benefit of being a member of Ms Kasipillai’s intergenerational family. It has enabled me to appreciate and hopefully embody the maturity, wisdom and experience demonstrated by Miss. Kasipillai with regard to the essence of life.

At this juncture I believe it appropriate to express our sincere thanks on behalf of the Kasipillai family to the following persons, who have enabled us to commemorate Miss. Nahammal Kasipillai, by organising this memorial lecture on her 92nd Birthday anniversary today.

I’d like to thank Justice Wigneswaran for chairing today’s proceedings. Your thought provoking words on the role of women through South Asian history, and the transition from a community based identity to an individual rights based identity, is a topic that dominates much of the contemporary global discourse on human rights regime.

I’d like to thank Ms. Sivanandini Duraiswamy for her keynote speech. Your keynote address on the multiple roles played by Hindu women from ancient times to date, their potential and capacity which had been given a pride of place in Hinduism, conferring a dignity, respect and freedom for women, the reasons that have led to the deterioration of their status and the need for women to become agents of change-aid us to challenge the status quo, empower ourselves and to chalk out new course based on Hindu values. You have very succinctly stated how these obstacles could be overcome by the adoption and practice of Hindu values, UN declarations on women and principles of good governance by individuals, society, state and the international community. These words are a personification of the values and principles Ms Kasipillai stood for. You can be assured that your words were reaffirming to most of us here today, of our inherent capabilities and capacities to combat the challenges of our day-to-day lives.

Thank you Mrs Sarojini Kanendran for your welcoming words and nostalgic memories of Ms Kasipillai’s time as your teacher and principal.

I’d also like to express our sincere gratitude to Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam, the Principal and her staff, Mrs.Sivanandini Duraiswamy, and the Past Pupils Association lead by Sarojini Kanendran and her team who were instrumental in undertaking the necessary arrangements to make this event a memorable and successful one.

And last, but not least we appreciate the presence of all those who have participated in today’s memorial lecture, despite their heavy daily schedules, particularly during times of great uncertainty and concern due to the prevailing security situation in the country.

I’d like to conclude with a few words from Swami Vivekandana on servant leadership, which I believe articulate, the essence of Ms Kassipillai’s legacy.

“One must be a servant of servants and must accommodate a thousand minds. There must not be a shade of jealousy or selfishness, then you are a leader”.

Miss. Kassipillai embodied all these and more in her life’s work-a purity of purpose, a perseverance of effort, and a passion for service. She was a shining example for every one of us striving to find real value in life. May her blessings be with us.

Thank you.
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Email:dushi.pillai@gmail.com

Christmas hopes from Jaffna

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

“I have come to bring good news to the poor,
to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18)

As the bells toll around the globe, getting ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, a rare event of sharing experience in Jaffna was initiated by two individuals who visited Jaffna recently. “Christmas hopes from Jaffna was initiated by Ruki Fernando and Angelica Chandrasekaran. It was held on December 21st 2007 at the Centre for Society and Religion in Maradana.

Experiences shared by the individuals at the event are compiled below:

Ruki Fernando:

“I attended a Hindu wedding while I was in Jaffna. Someone told me at the wedding that they are married; they will have children; and they have to worry about their children not getting killed, abducted or conscripted. The people of Jaffna are worried; they just want to lead a normal life”.

Angelica Chandresekaran:

“People of Jaffna do not need anything except peace. They have learnt to lead a life with what is available. But they want long-lasting peace”.

Reverend Father Tissa Balasuriya OMI:

“Many Sinhalese do not know that they are the cause for the idea of “Tamil Eelam” to be created. Bandaranaikes, Jeyawardenas and Chelvanayagams opposed each other’s proposal. Sinhalese are mislead; and they are the reason for the division of the country”.

Reverend Rohan Silva OMI:

“There are Sinhalese who care for the Tamil brethren. The presence of Sinhalese brethren in war torn Tamil areas is essential. Voice for peace is quiet. When we met the people in Jaffna they wanted the Sinhala Catholic priests to stay with them. They felt comfortable sharing their stories with us”.

Dr. Anita Nesiah:

“The streets go deserted after 3pm in the afternoon due to curfew. I was told that a cylinder of LP gas is sold for Rs. 5,000/= in Jaffna. People of Jaffna are frightened; they are helpless and voiceless”.

Sivanandini Doraiswamy:

“Civilians who surrender themselves to the Human Rights Commission due to life threats are kept in prison along with the accused. They get contracted to contagious disease like chicken-pox in prison cells”.

Later a drama was performed by women who have been victims of war. The drama depicted despair, displacement and difficulties in a conflict situation. Most of these women who performed were unborn babies, when the conflict began three decades ago.

Prayers were said for peace and justice; songs of ‘Happy Christmas (War Is Over)’ by John Lennon, ‘Fallen Leaves’ by John Denver and ‘I want to live’ were played. An exhibition of photographs and reports from Jaffna was also held. The event of attend by Catholic priests, nuns and concerned citizens of Sri Lanka.

The participants have decided to fast on Christmas eve in solidarity with the victims of war.

Photographs and reports of Jaffna are displayed

Drama performed by the victims of war

Participants at the event

Reverend Father Tissa Balasuriya OMI sharing his views

Glimpses of life in Jaffna

Newspaper advertisements which appeared in the Colombo based newspapers during the season were displayed to compare the contrast in Colombo and Jaffna

“I have carved you on the palm of my hand” ((Isaiah 49.16)
This structure is in the compound of Fatima Church in Maradana

Banner for peace in the compound of Fatima Church in Maradana put up by CARITAS and Seth Sarana
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Email:dushi.pillai@gmail.com

Karaithivu Journal: Learning to Live Amidst Hardships

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

“You live and learn. At any rate, you live”-Douglas Noel Adams- British English author, comic radio dramatist, and dramatist

Tsunami claimed 35,322 lives in Sri Lanka. There were 21, 441 persons injured; and orphaned 1,500 children according to a statement issued by the Secretariat for Co-ordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) in April 2007. The statement further stated that, over 500,000 people were displaced and many more indirectly affected. Around 100,000 houses were damaged or destroyed and over 150,000 people lost their homes 2/3 rds of the country’s coast line was ravaged. The damage was estimated to be 4.5 of the GDP.

Overall in the North and the East, 77,900 houses were destroyed by the Tsunami. 40,696 new houses have up to date been re-constructed. This figure represents 52% of the requirement. Work is in progress in respect to reconstruction of 28,027 houses. This figure combined with the houses already completed totals a percentage of 88% of the houses required to be built.

The reconstruction of houses in Tsunami affected areas of the North and the East has registered a success rate of 88 % compared to the national average of 67 %. 73% of the Tsunami Internally Displaced Persons living in temporary shelters in the North and East have been re-housed in permanent dwellings. Number of Tsunami Internally Displaced Persons in temporary shelters as at Decemebr 2005 was 43, 496. Number of Tsunami Internally Displaced Persons in temporary shelters as at February 27, 2007 was 11,764.

The worst hit

Ampara district was the worst hit; 10, 500 lives were lost in this district. Resettlement process began in tsunami hit areas, but it was slow in certain areas due to the current political situation in the country. There are Internally Displaced Persons, who are still living in temporary shelters in Ampara district. Their lands come under 65 meters buffer zones, they were promised of being resettled somewhere. But promises made were not met yet. They lost their loved ones, and belongings.

Women sit on sand with their children and play with them in the courtyard; men sit in circles and play cards in the backyard. This was the scene, I encountered when I visited the Tsunami Internally Displaced Persons in Galway temporary shelter in Karaithivu, Ampara district.

There are 56 families-320 family members are currently living here. They were affected by the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004. Afterwards they moved to several welfare camps, and have ended up here as their “temporary house”. They did not choose to leave their houses, but were forced by the nature. Temporary shelters are made out of cadjan leaves, neither electricity, nor ventilation is available. Scorching sun and rising dust from arid earth make them fall sick quite often. Children have nothing, but to play with sand and hard board boxes available in the vicinity. They are not pleased to continue their lives in the temporary shelter, but left with no choice. Happy to have been born as human beings is not felt by anybody in this shelter due to frustration.

Women whispered; men mumbled. Few of them wondered how a journalist can help them or have patience to listen to their sufferings. After some time they have decided to break their silence and share their everyday woes.

Sanitary problems

There are only four toilets; but have no lock. Women manage to use them; men use the open air toilets in the bushes. Water from two wells is used for cooking ,bathing and washing. No organistion cleans it when they become stagnated. The Internally Displaced Persons pool out money and clean the toilets, and wells.

No help from NGOs

They were initially helped by various non-governmental organizations, but nobody looks after them now. The Internally Displaced Persons feel that, nobody will help them in the future, as almost three years have passed by.

Forgotten community

Most of them say that they have been forgotten by the rest in the society. Tsunami affected people are not taken care of by anybody anymore, as war ravages.

Education disrupted

Parents are worried about the children’s education. It got disrupted due to displacement. Few go to school, more children do not go to school. As parents have lost their daily income after displacement, they cannot afford to send their children to school. The future of these children holds nothing.

Illegitimate Relationship

Women are forced to stay with men whom they did not know earlier, because of limited space in the temporary shelter. It leads to abuse, illegitimate relationship and extra marital affair. The Internally Displaced Persons are afraid of Tamil culture and tradition may disappear due to non-practicing of spiritual activities.

No employment

Most of the men here were fishermen before the Tsunami. They have to compete with the host community in Karaithivu. Mostly they are prevented from working in this area by the host community. If they are luck to work , they earn Rs.170/=-Rs.200/= as the daily income. Some men try to work without the knowledge of the host community, but if they get caught, they are hassled and kept an eye on in the future. “Do not blame us for playing cards. We tried to find a job; but very difficult to sort out the issue with the host community. We have families; but have no income and are frustrated” told me when men were found at the backyard while playing cards.

Jewelleries as an asset

Women either pawned or sold their jewelleries to feed their families. Some of them even sold their “Thaalikodi”-which is a traditional symbol of a married Hindu woman, tied by her husband. Women too find it difficult to work as firewood collectors or pluck weeds in paddy fields, because the host community causes problems for them. Women rarely go to some houses in the neighbourhood to do household work and earn Rs. 120/=- Rs.150/= per day.

Irregular Rations

The rations are not regular. Sometimes they receive 2 kilograms of rice, 1 kilogram of wheat flour, 1 kilogram of sugar and 1/2 a kilogram of dhal. Other ingredients for cooking such as chillie powder, oil, vegetables and fish are met by the Internally Displaced Persons on their own. They do not depend on the rations as it is very irregular.

Happiness Lost

The day they left their houses their happiness was also lost. After the destruction, they were slowly thinking of rebuilding their lost lives. But it never became a reality for these Internally Displaced Persons. Although they were not living the most luxuriest live in their houses before the Tsunami, at least they were leading a normal life without having to think what are we going to do for our next meal? Even during the peak of war, they had dry fish in the kitchen to fry and feed the family, and now they cannot afford to stock foodstuffs. All of them lead a deplorable life.

Lost hope

They are desperate; hope is lost by them about having a better future in the “promised permanent houses”. They do not trust anybody, who promises to help them rebuild their lives, because they feel that they were cheated.

These Internally Displaced Persons say they have learnt to live, while facing numerous hardships behind the cadjan curtains.

“I lost my mother, younger sister and younger brother in Tsunami. I have nobody to play with. I feel very sad when I think of Tsunami. I do not have a mother to love and care. I survive, but I could not safe my mother, younger sister and younger brother” Vasanthakumar Ilamaran (12) sorrowfully shared his bitter experience

They feel forgotten and abandoned

The Internally Displaced Persons have to share their tiny house with their extended family members

Children have no space in their cramped houses to play

“I have no work, because I am relocated here after Tsunami, and the host community does to allow me to work here. They say I am not from this area, therefore they will not let me find a job here. On the other hand, I am not financially fit to move to another place or to my home town to find a job. I sometimes do some day labourer job, but if the host community finds out about it, they hassle me” said frustrated Velupillai Puvanasingham (28).

Parents hardly have money to educate their children

Most of the them have been displaced multiple times in the past due to war

Shabby temporary houses with meagre facilities where privacy is non-existent

A first baby is an incomparable joy for any parent anywhere in the world. But Uma Lingam (34) had to worry about whether her son Thisanthan’s delivery would be a normal delivery or not due to the facilities available where she lives. She says that, there are lot of women who suffer complications during pregnancy, but nobody takes a note of these pregnant women in the temporary shelters

Many have lost hope of permanent houses

Childhood is spent in shelters

“We do not trust the politicians, who make false promises. We are caught up by Tsunami and war. The people who were affected by the Tsunami have already got permanent houses in the South. We are still suffering the cadjan curtains.Nobody cares about us, we are alone to suffer till we die” said by frustrated Edward Anton (33), who is a mason

Many fear the recent escalation in their surroundings

They want to lead a normal life

Options are closed for the Internally Displaced Persons

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Email: dushi.pillai@gmail.com