New Delhi: Indian scriptures like Manusmriti give a very respectable position to women, Delhi high court Justice Prathiba M. Singh said on Wednesday, August 10 at an event organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).
“I really think we are a blessed lot of women in India and the reason for that is our scriptures have always given a very respectable position for women and as Manusmriti itself says that if you don’t respect and honour women, all the pooja path that you may do has no meaning. So I think our ancestors and Vedic scriptures knew very well how to respect women,” Bar and Bench reported as her saying.
Interestingly, she was asked to speak on the challenges, or the “unseen barriers” women are facing in our country today in science, technology, entrepreneurship and mathematics (STEM).
An article published earlier in The Wire explains the rules prescribed for women in Manusmriti – one of the many texts among the many Dharmaśāstras of Hinduism. While Manusmriti states that “women must be honoured and adorned”, it also says that “a woman must never seek to live independently”.
“Even in her own home, a female – whether she is a child, a young woman or an old lady – should never carry out any task independently. As a child, she must remain under her father’s control, as a young woman, under her husband’s; and when her husband is dead, under her sons,” it says in chapter 5, shlokas 148 and 149.
“Though he may be bereft of virtue, given to lust, and totally devoid of good qualities, a good woman should always worship her husband like a god,” it adds.
Reacting to Justice Singh’s remarks, Kavita Krishnan, secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association and Politburo member of the CPIML, wrote on Twitter: “The Manusmriti lays down the law that a woman who makes love to a man of a higher caste incurs no punishment; a woman who makes love to man of a ‘lower caste’ than hers must be isolated and kept in confinement. If a man from a subordinate caste makes love to a woman of the highest caste, he just be put to death.”
“For a judge to call all this ‘respect’ is worse than absurd – it is downright scary that the rights of women in India lie at the mercy of judges like Pratibha Singh,” she added.
My thoughts on Delhi HC Judge Pratibha Singh’s blather on women & culture and so on. pic.twitter.com/eWdk9yBECM
— Kavita Krishnan (@kavita_krishnan) August 11, 2022
In her address to the FICCI audience, Justice Singh advised working women to strengthen the Indian family system’s core values and to live in joint families so as to receive greater support for their careers.
“That way, we share our resources. Sharing is caring, we do not need to be selfish to say ‘I need my time, I need this.’ You can be a little more adjusting and compromising, but the benefits of a joint family system are far more than what in a nuclear family,” she said.
She further said that Asian countries do much better at respecting women. “I can tell you that in fact Asian countries do much better in respecting women in households, in workplaces, in society, in general and I think that is because of the cultural and religious background that we have that our scriptures tell us,” she said.
She also said that India is much more progressive about women being in leadership roles. “I really think we are lucky to be in a country like India where India is actually much, much more progressive about women being in leadership roles. I am not saying we need to ignore the violence and the bad things that happen to women at a lower level, but yes at the higher level, in the middle level, we are seeing women growing,” she added.
During the course of her address, Justice Singh went on to say that women should never seek sympathy. “Don’t ever go and say my child is ill, I want to go home, I want to do this, I want to do that. You can always take an off, but you don’t need to give the reason. Just say it is a personal difficulty.”
She added that investing in a robust domestic help system was essential so as to avoid stress relating to domestic duties.
Institutionalisation of gender roles
The high court judge’s remarks come at a time when “duties” of many married women in India are still dictated by their in-laws. For instance, among the many other articles written on this subject, Greater Kashmir published a piece on the instances where women have been compelled to quit their education and jobs after marriage.
A Business Insider article published in May said that married working women is still a relatively new concept in India as only 32% of them are employed, as per a National Family Health Survey (NFHS) survey.
The report cited a LinkedIn report saying, “Indian women face the strongest gender biases among Asian Pacific countries, where the regional average is 60%.”
When it comes to women in leadership roles, India is seeing a steady increase; however, the diversity in boardrooms appears to be moving at a snail’s pace, says a 2022 Deloitte report.
The report revealed that women hold 17.1% of the board seats in India – an increase by 9.4% from the 2014 edition, when the Companies Act, 2013 mandated having one woman member on every board. But only 3.6% of the board chairs are women, down by 0.9% since 2018.
Justice Singh also said that women lawyers make the best spouses, since they understand the difficulties faced in litigating disputes.
Reacting to her remark, Krishan asked in her Twitter post, “Does she mean women lawyers knowing the difficulties faced in litigation are less likely to start disputes against the husband and his family?”