Friday, October 30, 2015

Setbacks of Women Writing in Nepal

The modern Nepali literature has a short history tracing back to hardly a hundred years. Nevertheless, this short span of time witnessed a prolific growth in literature but with a clear laterality from the male side. The number of female writers as compared to the male counterparts is almost in a non-existent state on the literary map of Nepal which can vividly be justified by the scanty number of books published by female authors, and women writers seen intellectually dormant in the literary discourse. But does this give the actual picture? Were female writers always passive in the making? Was this a setback from the origin? Let's dig things out from the root.

Historic-Cultural Background
This predicament seen in Nepali Literature at present time, weren’t in fact the same in the past. While describing Nepali society in reference to civilization, we actually find the dominance of Hindu religion. The word ‘hindu’ is accepted to have come in conjunction with the Indus River Valley Civilization (‘Sindhu’ dialectically accurate), and we have been following the historical explanation given by the anthropologists and cultural experts that the letter ‘si’ (phonetic: /si/) of Sindhu got transmuted, as a result of mispronunciation, into ‘hi’ (phonetic: /hi/) giving birth to the word ‘hindu’ in the long run and this has been established as the most authentic interpretation of the argument till date.

However, latest researches and findings have revealed that though this region had supremacy of Hindu society, the epicenter of this civilization also doesn’t reasonably come to be Indus River Valley Civilization. In a common context where the custom, religion, culture and political stands of human habitat starting near a water source describe the civilization of that society, we can accept the civilization of this region to have started from the banks of River Ganges thousands of years ago. We can therefore discern that Ganges Civilization is a culture that flourished between the regions lying east of Madhya Pradesh (now in India, but then part of Indian subcontinent covering Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan) and some of the regions lying to the southern belts of Burma. 

Moreover, the fossils of sea creatures found in the mountainous regions of northern Nepal prove that the whole of Nepal was once a part of Ganges Civilization. And if we look into the Vedic culture, soundly acknowledged as the archetype of Ganges Civilization, we can clearly see the existence of women writing at the very early stages of the history of world literature.

The Origin of Women Writing
If we want to learn about the origin of world literature, it is necessary for us to look into the history of Vedic texts published during Ganges Civilization. The oldest piece of writing known to mankind till date is RigVed. And, even many eras after that, we don’t find the history of women writing in continents like Europe, America and Africa. Therefore, what we can unarguably construe is that after the evolution of human dwellings on Earth which later took the form of civilizations, the women of this particular civilization had already developed themselves as a more conscious member of the society, as a scholar, thinker and philosopher.

The lucid testimonies of this development can be found in the verses of RigVed that had already appeared more than three thousand years ago. As we know that this book is not the result of a single person but a collective venture, and the contributions of innumerous women scholars of that time are really significant. Talking about that age, talking about the picture of that society with references from the book, we can see the existence of a completely different social order then. The women at that time were not only great scholars but also brave warriors. During the war between Indra (the King of Gods according to Hindu mythology) and demon Namuchi, the latter used a troop of women army to win the war. It was an age when Bratabandha (a sacred thread-wearing ceremony) was performed by girls. The culture of child marriage didn’t exist then. Women, most of the time, selected their husbands by their own will, popularly known as ‘Swayambar’. In such a state, it was not unusual for women to be at the forefront of science and knowledge.

Some of the contributors of that book like Ghosa, Nivawari, Sikata, Ratri, Vasukrapatni, Lopamudra, Vagamrini, Vishwawara, Saswati, Shachi, Surya, and etcetera were all women and moreover, Pradweshi, the writer of some of the most powerful and famous mantras (sacred hymns) of RigVed, Atri (looking at the Vedic Literature, the fifth chapter, a collection of ancient texts in RigVed, also has the mention of her suktas), Gargi (who always remained bare, was the only great female scholar of that time who could carry serious philosophical discussions with Yagyawalakya), Maitreyi (whose words from the epilogues of ancient Aryan sub-continent have been established as divine adage of worldly importance) are some of the historical examples of activeness and preeminence that women and women writing had in that age.

Similarities between the women of Vedic era and Nepali women 
We find the women of that age to be the antecedents of Nepali women claiming the pedigree from a common line of descent. Therefore, while talking about or debating on the issues pertaining to the degree of wisdom of the women of that historical era, we find Nepali society also to be the progeny of the same civilization based on lineage, and we can’t disagree with the fact that some among various other branches of that Vedic era, is the present day Nepali society.

Stages of Intellectual Degradation in Nepali Women
This great wisdom seen already in Nepali women some five thousand years ago elapsed somewhere in the historical interlude of time, which the present day Nepali women have still not been able to exhibit. Until we realize this fact, we can never know the convolutions of women writing in Nepali literature.

Going back to the Vedic women, the ordinary illustration of their intelligence, if not with themselves, used to be with the male scholars of that time. It was a time when the political bridle of the society had slowly been shifting to the hands of men and the dominance of male members in the society had gradually been rising. In such a condition, men, instead of honoring the women scholars, had been directing their exertions to push them into darkness. The action of this invasion started with the prohibition of Ved to be read by women, a book created with an inclusive effort of women as well. Under various pretexts, different social policies were established as a conspiracy to degrade women empowerment and limit them in every possible way.

Followed them were activities like the practice of child marriage and the burthen for women to look after household at a very small age, bringing up children as their duty, forcing them to go Sati along with the husband’s dead body, prohibiting them from outer knowledge, polygamy put as a sign of bravery for men and a single devotional marriage as fidelity for women, establishing a culture where the descendants get name of the male member of the family and married women get known by the name of their husbands, and most important of all, the ownership of men over entire wealth, and male members entitled to heirloom. These norms and customs ultimately fastened women with chain of restrictions and hid them inside the infinite boundary of obscurity for thousands of years. Moreover, this transitional period of history when the wisdom of women had been degrading to a phenomenal proportion, Nepali women especially had to undergo it to some more extent for another hundred years.

The Later Phases in Women Writing
With various changes in the world, some meager instigation of women writing slowly sprouted out. But unknown about their own rights and hefty issues like freedom, their writing started amidst devotional feelings and religious fallacies created to bind them again. Though some feudal doctrines, incorporating notions like 'lonely life leads to the path of God' and 'the shelter of God leads to the path of salvation', somewhat inspired them to think and write, the degree of their conscience, retarded with the dogmatic principles of society stamped on their mindset for thousands of years, couldn’t foster easily. With a faith towards concocted scriptures affirming blind convictions like tribulation of present life to be the result of grave mistakes committed in past life, and with chanting of such devotional hymns, started a frail history of women writing only some few hundred years ago.

The Present Scenario
Nepali society also couldn’t remain immune to the effects of global changes, ultimately affecting its old school of thoughts and traditional practices also. Nepali society also gradually started accepting the importance of educating girls, observing a start of Nepali women struggle to come out of the box slowly. And, same is with women in literature now.

At present, though some hopeful possibilities of changes are seen inevitable in Nepali society, attempts are still in full swing to make women, under duress and ploys, limited to household chores. And still, women in Nepali society are not treated as human beings but as mere household commodities. Tied with the threads of religion, hammered with the nails of superstition, women are enduringly fixed to the walls of kitchen, whereas on alibi of modernization, the global market depicting them as toy dolls, an item of commercial importance, an ornamental showpiece, or a mannequin for different brands of outfits. Leave alone the philosophical awareness, their conscience of identifying and understanding even an ordinary life has also been crippled. And, women therefore have been the most subjugated class in the Nepali society for all these years.

In a situation when even walking freely or wandering around fearlessly has been a threat due to the socio-criminal mentality prevalent in the society, women limited to the boundary of their house are not only fended off the issues of their freedom and rights but also are unaware of what these rights and freedom actually mean. However, in many arbitrary cases, some educated and modern women have misinterpreted women liberation as their rights to walk and dress up freely, to change their partners according to their will and to enjoy the worldly pleasures like men, etc.

Therefore, what exactly is women liberation? How was it before? How is it now? How should it have been? How do we achieve it? A clear in-depth study of its quintessence on the basis of analysis, discussions and procedural actions still hasn’t come up with a strong philosophical standpoint.

Presently, there has been a phenomenal rise in the women writing quantitatively, but qualitatively, it's still in an embryonic stage; no significant changes have been observed of the past and present, and in a condition when they have not secured even a minor representation in the society, it’s not surprising to find a very small fraction of such probable women signatures in our literature- the regular and functional signatures, the scientifically and philosophically clear signatures, the consummate and remarkable signatures.

It is not possible for this small article to give the details of how Manusmriti (Manu scripture established to dominate women legacy in society) entwined women in behavioral and practical vertex of fabricated moral principles and entrapped them inside this socio-mental dungeon. A different article might be helpful for that. The only objective of this article is to make everyone acquainted with the fact that our women scholars, thinkers and philosophers existed in the history of human civilization some four thousand years ago but they could not bring that culture along, and therefore, for more than three thousand years, our women society was forced to be limited inside the walls of room. Though their writing has started of late, it has still not been able to carve a niche comparatively. There is still the necessity of a prolific struggle to put the social norms and values to their favor.

Therefore, what I think is- the primary factor affecting the women writing in Nepali literature is a lack of clear vision in our thinking, lack of a pertinent philosophy that can sift the problems on philosophical grounds, which is pretty much same in the case of male writing also, and this contagious setback has emerged like a deadly disease decomposing the literary roots of women writing. So, let all of us discover this need, let us measure this finding on the scale of scientific vision and we are sure to come out with what actually is true and what is not.

(This piece of writing was published in the 2014 Summer Issue of SATHI.)