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President 'praises' publishers whose books laud sati, oppose widow remarriage

By Shamsul Islam*
It is mandatory for every President of India to take the following oath prescribed under Article 49 of the Indian Constitution before occupying the august office:
"I, [Name] do swear in the name of God/solemnly affirm that I will faithfully execute the office of President (or discharge the functions of the President) of India and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law and that I will devote myself to the service and well-being of the people of India.”
There is no ambiguity on the character of India polity which is explained in the Preamble of the Constitution. It is a democratic republic, formed to secure for all its citizens, justice, liberty, equality, fraternity and dignity. Surely, President Ram Nath Kovind has not been exempted from this constitutional obligation.
However, sadly discarding totally this commitment he graced and addressed the centenary celebrations of Gita Press at Gorakhpur on June 4, 2022 in the presence of the Uttar Pradesh governor and the chief minister. According to the Press Information Bureau press release:
“Speaking on the occasion, the President said that Gita Press has played a very important role in taking the spiritual and cultural knowledge of India to the masses through its publications… The President noted that apart from the Bhagavad Gita, Gita Press publishes books like Ramayana, Puranas, Upanishads, Bhakt-charitra etc. It has made a record by publishing more than 70 crore books till now and has the distinction of being the world's largest publisher of Hindu religious books. He praised the Gita Press for providing religious books to the public at cheap prices even despite financial constraints.”
Continuing with his praise of Gita Press he told the gathering:
“‘Kalyan’ magazine of Gita Press has a prestigious place as collectible literature from the spiritual point of view. It is probably one of the most famous publications of Gita Press and most widely read religious magazine in India. The President noted that of the 1850 current publications of Gita Press, about 760 publications are in Sanskrit and Hindi but the remaining publications are in other languages such as Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu, Bengali, Oriya, Tamil, Kannada, Assamese, Malayalam, Nepali, Urdu, Punjabi and English. He said that this reflects the unity in diversity of our Indian culture. The religious and spiritual base in Indian culture is the same from east to west and from north to south.”
He also referred to Gita Press’s “plan for setting up its branches abroad, the President expressed hope that through this expansion, the whole world would benefit from the culture and philosophy of India. He urged Gita Press to enhance its relations with the Indians diaspora living abroad, as they are the messengers of Indian culture, who connect the world with our country.”
The address suggests that the President, who heads largest democracy of the world, was convinced of ideological contribution of Gita Press as transmitter of “spiritual and cultural knowledge of India”. To the President, however, India means Hindu India -- he underlined the fact that it was “the world's largest publisher of Hindu religious books”. He even went on to share the exact count of the publications of Gita Press which numbered 1850 and printed more than 70 crore copies of its publications.
What is, however, not known is, whether while idolizing Gita Press, which publishes ‘Hindu’ literature, he knew it has also propagated Sati and beating of women. It also publishes mass popular religious ‘Hindu’ literature which opposes remarriage of widowed/ divorced/ discarded, seeking employment by them and even reporting rape. A perusal of some of its publications shows this. According to Gita Press literature only this way for Hindu women would help them attain swarg or paradise.
It is the largest publication house in India which publishes literature espousing the '‘Hindu’' way of life for Hindu women on a very large scale. The low-priced publications are available throughout the country, especially in the Hindi belt, and are even sold through government allotted stalls at railway stations and government roadways stands.
Geeta Press has published more than a dozen titles on the subject, the most prominent of which are “Nari Shiksha” (Education of Women) by Hanuman Prasad Poddar, “Grahsth Mein Kaise Rahen” (How to Lead a Household Life) by Swami Ramsukhdas, "Striyon ke Liye Kartawya Shiksha” (Education of Duties for Women) and “Nari Dharm” (Religion of Woman) by Jai Dayal Goindka and a special issue of magazine “Kalyan” on women. These are available in English and other Indian languages. The English titles are popular with the non-resident Indians.
The authors extensively quote from ancient texts like Shiva Purana and Manusmriti. They borrow heavily from these and other ‘holy’ texts, upholding a subservient woman/wife as the ideal Hindu woman. For instance, in the book titled “How to Lead a Household Life” which is in question-answer format, when a question is posed, “What should the wife do if her husband beats her and troubles her?” Swami Ramsukhdas offers the following advice to the battered wife and her parents:
"The wife should think that she is paying her debt of her previous life and thus her sins are being destroyed and she is becoming pure. When her parents come to know this, they can take her to their own house because they have not given their daughter to face this sort of bad behaviour."
And if her parents do not take her back to their house, learned Swamiji’s pious advice is:
"Under such circumstances… she should reap the fruit of her past actions. She should patiently bear the beatings of her husband with patience. By bearing them she will be free from her sins and it is possible that her husband may start loving her."
Swamiji who has no qualms about thrashing of wives by the husbands and claims it to be Heavenly ordained is quite compassionate towards animals. While responding to the question,  "What dealings should a person have with rats, lizards, mosquitoes and bugs etc., which live in the house?”, his sagely advice is to be merciful towards these creatures, and Swamiji wants no harm done to them. He decrees:
"A man should regard these creatures as the members of the family because they live in it by making their home. So they are entitled to live in it. It means that they should be nourished as far as possible…It is not proper on the part of the people to kill them as some people do."
And there is another piece of heavenly advice for a rape victim and her husband.
"As far as possible, it is better for woman (rape victim) to keep mum. If her husband also comes to know of it, he too should keep mum. It is profitable for both of them to keep quiet."
Can a woman remarry? The answer is very straight forward:
"When once a girl is given away in marriage as charity by her parents, she does not remain virgin any more. So how can she be offered as charity to anyone else? It is beastliness to remarry her."
But can a man remarry? No problem:
"A man can have a second wife for an issue in order to be free from the debt which he owes to manes (pitr-rin) according to the ordinances of the scriptures, if there is no issue from the first wife."
But this is not the only reason for which a man is allowed re-marriage. A man, "whose desire for pleasure has not been wiped out, can get remarried because if he does not get remarried, he will indulge in adultery and go to prostitutes and will incur a badly sin. Therefore, in order to escape the sin and maintain the decorum he should get remarried according to the ordinance of scriptures."
Of course, no widow is allowed to remarry. However, she may be allowed to choose to be some male's concubine.
"If she cannot maintain her character, instead of indulging in adultery here and there, she should accept her affinity for a person and live under his protection."
Is it proper for woman to demand equal rights? The answer is quite unambiguous:
"No, it is not proper. In fact, a woman has not the right of equality with man… in fact it is ignorance or folly which impels a woman to have desire for the right of equality with man. A wise person is he/she who is satisfied with less rights and more duties."
A man is allowed re-marriage, otherwise he would allegedly indulge in adultery and go to prostitutes and incur a badly sin
This literature about Hindu women openly preaches and glorifies the ghastly practice of Sati. To the question: "Is Sati Pratha, viz., the tradition of the wife being cremated with the dead body of the husband on the funeral pyre, proper or improper?” the answer is:
"A wife's cremation with the dead body of her husband on the funeral pyre is not a tradition. She, in whose mind truth and enthusiasm come, burns even without fire and she does not suffer any pain while she burns. This is not a tradition that she should do so, but this is her truth, righteousness and faith in scriptural decorum…It means that it is not a tradition. It is her own religious enthusiasm. On this topic Prabhudatta Brahmachariji has written a book whose title is Cremation of a Wife with her Husband’s Dead Body is the Backbone of Hindu Religion, it should be studied.”
Swamis in this series of literature while demanding the restoration of practice of Sati go on to tell us:
"There is absolutely no doubt that a woman who happily follows her dead husband to the cremation ground receives on every step benefits of Ashawmedh Yagya [Ashvamedha means horse in Sanskrit and Ashawmedh Yagya was a sacrifice of a horse in the Vedic tradition used by the ancient Indian kings to prove their imperial sovereignty]… It is a Sati woman who snatches her husband from the hands of yamdoots (angels of death) and takes him to swarglok (Paradise). After seeing this pativrata lady the yamdoots themselves run away."
It is not only “Nari Shiksha” which starts with a chapter captioned “Sati Mahatmmey” or 'greatness of Sati’ but Gita Press has also published a special issue of its Hindi journal “Kalyan” glorifying Sati which was idolized by the Indian President in his address.
Apart from glorifying Sati, the Gita Press publication “Nari Dharm” produces dozens of shlokas from ‘Hindu’ scriptures to establish that women are not capable of enjoying independence. This book begins with the chapter “swatantarta ke liye striyon ki ayogeta” (incapability of women for independence). Another notable facet of this literature is that long a list of rituals is laid down to be practiced by pregnant women so that 'bright, talented, brave and religious inclined son' is born.
Gita Press is allowed open circulation of such anti-women literature through book stalls provided by the Indian Railways. Minister of State Manoj Sinha replying to a question in Rajya Sabha on August 8, 2014 informed that Gita Press was allotted 45 stalls out of 165 allotted to social/religious organizations for putting on sale their publications at railway stations.
Surprisingly, as per the details provided by the minister the allotment seemed to be restricted to Hindu and Gandhian organizations. It will be interesting to know that this allotment was ordered by Kamalapati Tripathi in 1980 when he was minister of railways in the Indira Gandhi ministry.
Moreover, major bus stands like ISBT (Kashmiri Gate Bus Terminus, Delhi) have Gita Press stall. The mobile vans of Gita Press often sell such obnoxious anti-women literature even in the premises of the Supreme Court and Central Secretariat in New Delhi from where the Democratic India is governed. These Gita Press publications are available at Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh run book shops also.
The President, by praising such publications, in fact, contradicts and violates Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code which are frequently invoked to ban rationalist or progressive writings. Sadly, the Indian judiciary which is very fond of intervening into issues of public interests finds nothing objectionable in this dehumanizing propaganda under the garb of religious literature.
Kovind whose appointment as President in 2017 was welcomed as a proof of demolition of casteism and restoration of the honour of Dalits of India by idolizing Gita Press has hugely disappointed so far as the fight against male chauvinist Hindutva world-view which has been the foremost enemy of an egalitarian Indian polity is concerned.
Sadly, a Dalit President of India has not only failed the persecuted Dalits and women but also the Preamble of the Constitution of India!
---
Formerly with Delhi University, click here for some of Prof Islam's writings and video interviews/debates. Social media: https://facebook.com/shamsul.islam.332; twitter: @shamsforjustice; blog:http://shamsforpeace.blogspot.com/

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