The gang-rape and the subsequent death of the 23-year-old medical student in Delhi made the entire nation rise as one man to demand that the government deal effectively with such outrages. The people’s protests reminded one of the days in the early 1970s when, under the leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan, the whole nation rose against the Congress government’s policies, especially the imposition of Emergency.
People demand the death sentence for and chemical castration of rapists after a quick trial. The demands made in the heat of the moment are superficial. For instance, a chemically-castrated criminal on the loose can be a greater danger to women than a properly convicted fellow who may at least have some remorse and try to become saner. It may, perhaps, be useful to find out what exactly makes some men resort to rape and subsequent criminal actions like murder.
Great thinkers from ancient days have been trying to solve this problem and have devised methods which have been largely successful. Many of these methods are certain to be dubbed religious and dismissed by self-styled “secular” people. It is still useful to study them.
One such great thinker was Nannaya Bhatta, hailed as Telugu’s Adi Kavi who lived in the 12th century. He was the court poet of King Rajaraja Narendra. On a request from the king that Vyasa’s Mahabharatha be translated into Telugu, Nannaya started doing so. He completed the first chapter and was in the middle of the second — Sabha Parvam. When he came to the stage when Draupadi was dragged into the court and was sought to be disrobed, Nannaya could not continue. He could not reconcile himself to this intolerable act of humiliating an innocent, young woman. He stopped his translation.
In any case, he thought, the moment Dussasana placed his hands on Draupadi’s shoulder, all the men in the hall had already started seeing her in the nude in their mind’s eye. Is it necessary to go through with the translation? Cannot this portion be omitted? But how can the original be changed? With this tormented mind, Nannaya somehow completed the second chapter. But the torment increased manifold as he started translating the next chapter. When he was in the middle of that chapter, he went mad and subsequently died. Others completed the project (This story is based on a lecture by one of the great Telugu poets of last century, Sri Viswanatha Satyanarayana, to the Telugu students of the graduate classes in the Central College, Bangalore in 1953).
The story brings out a basic flaw in the male mind. Meant to ensure continuance of the race, sexual attraction has been consistently misused by men to torment women. Our sages have said that all women are manifestations of the Divine Mother herself and that everyone should adopt a worshipful attitude towards them. The daily prayers should begin with homage to the mother, Maatru Devo bhava. The British rulers saw the significance of this approach and encouraged the teaching of moral lessons on these lines in schools.
The text-books of those days did contain these ideas. We, in the Telugu classes, got by heart such nursery poems as “Nava maasamulu mosi nanu ganna thalli, naa viddhemula joochi nanu mechchu thalli ...” (Thalli means mother. Oh Mother! You carried me in your womb for nine months before you brought me into this world. Then, when I was growing up, you were so affectionate watching my playfulness and even mischiefs. I will never forget your affection.) The British inspector of schools who came for the annual inspection of our school in 1944 heard us repeating this poem and asked one student what it meant. The explanation by the boy so impressed him that tears came to his eyes. It seems that textbooks no longer contain such lessons.
It is not just the mother who should be respected. Women were themselves made the most important part of almost all religious observances. No ritual such as entering a new house or Griha Pravesam, or even the annual homage to one’s ancestors can be done without the lady of the house giving the start signal by lighting the lamp or the fire for oblations. Even in major ceremonies like a yagna, Aswamedha yagna for example, the ceremonies cannot be started without the wife giving the start signal. The chief priest in such yagnas is called the Somayaji and he cannot begin the ceremony without his wife, called the Somidamma, giving the signal.
Women thus were made the most important persons in all walks of life and being considered a manifestation of the Divine Mother herself, anyone who tries to take liberties with women would, it had been ordained, be visited with the direst punishment. Description of these punishments in the scriptures is so frightening that no one would venture to do any mischief to women.
In the last few decades, especially after the British rulers left, our elected governments have meddled with almost all aspects of life. School textbooks no longer contain lessons considered non-secular. The concept of God has been banished. Appointment of teachers is based on the whims and fancies of the persons in power and it is no surprise that a good number of teachers teach nor win the respect and obedience of students. There have been instances of teachers sending out pupils to buy toddy or such other intoxicants. Of late, some teachers have been caught allegedly molesting girls.
With teachers like these around, students do not take any interest in studies and a number of them become dropouts. Added to this, both parents go out to work resulting in the children being left in the care of maid servants, In a few families, grandparents do take care of the children but with the elimination of the joint family system, the situation is bleak.
The result of all these is that school dropouts who cannot get a job and who have no proper upbringing turn out to be anti-social elements indulging in actions like molesting helpless women. The least that can be done is to first recruit teachers on merit and character and revise the syllabi. Employers should create conditions so that parents, especially mothers, take greater care of their children. Is that asking for too much?
We will tighten the laws, says the government. Do that by all means and let the wrong-doers be punished. But that cannot solve the problem. Character-building education may provide the solution.
(The writer, a former news editor of The Hindu, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)