Ladies Day – Sathya Sai Baba vs. genuine female emancipation (up-dated)
Posted by robertpriddy on March 8, 2011
The male chauvinist who proclaimed himself the creator of the world and of man and women, Sathya Sai Baba, decided in the mid 1990s to try to engage women by introducing a ‘Ladies Day’ on every November 19th. This came after at least five decades of his full marginalisation of women in his ashrams and organisations… made to sit at the rear of every event and not on chairs (as men he wished to flatter were). Thereafter, there was the one day a year – Ladies Day – when women did not have to sit on the ground and got prominent places! Otherwise nothing changed! Living in a male chauvinist environment, he wanted to prolong the traditional roles assigned to but a tiny handful of all females in India. Everyone who saw anything of Sai Baba’s ashrams know that it was a man’s world above all else and women took second place, if that, at best in all things that mattered except service to men in general.
One quote of Sai Baba from Ladies Day 1995 much bandied by devotees was:
“Women should take the correct path then men will follow suit, as it is the women who have to take the leading role. The wife is half of the husband; if she becomes good, then her husband, who is the other half, will also become good.”
In other words, women are to lead men be being good first and foremost, so she must bear the burden for the male traditionalists.
Sai Baba made many other typically insubstantial claims, such as:-
|The typical ‘spiritual’ religious ploy of putting women on a spiritual pedestal, but trampling on their rights in everyday life, Sai Baba did not recognise women on a level with men in his ashrams, and never spoke out against India’s worst crimes against them: massive prostitution, countless dowry deaths (i.e. cynical murders of young wives) , social nihilation of widows etc.|
|scans from: Sanathana Sarathi Nov-Dec 1995||The Vedas propose countless practices which are only given massive lip service in India today, and with reason, they are mostly useless or worse, redundant and revanchist in the more enlightened world of today|
For decades he evidently imagined that his ‘teaching’ on women was divinely inspired, though it was simply a reinforcement of the subjugating attitudes and conditions that had always ruled. His views were 90% traditional Indian fare, that is – for the status quo in a country where women are exploited to extreme degrees in the home and workplace, who have traditionally been excluded from nearly all male occupations, who can be seen to be treated by most men as subservient, second-rate citizens! Remarkably, Sathya Sai Baba claimed (19/11/ 2010 shortly before his 85th birthday and death) that his Ladies’ Day would be of major importance in forwarding women’s rights through future generations! Considered on the background of the world struggle for genuine female emancipation from their traditional roles and social suppression as represented by the suffragettes in Britain and now expanding throughout the world, Sai Baba’s claim reminds of his many other delusions of grandeur.
While still Indian President, Shrimata Prathiba Devisingh Patil, attended this Ladies’ Day at Prashanthi Nilayam, worshipped Sai Baba and gave an address to the crowds about women. It was wholly evident from this address – along with many of his statements about women and their role in life and society, that the values they supported are very largely opposed to those of International Women’s Day, the 8th of March (see Wikipedia).
On Ladies Day, 2010, woman President Patel of India said:
“Today, we are gathered at Puttaparthy to begin the 85th Birthday celebrations of Sri Sathya Sai Baba.I pay my regards and I wish him the very best on this occasion. His progressive views on the role of women are inspiring.“ (see http://www.ssso.net/091110/191110.html)
Progressive views? Surely, about the last word one can associate with Sai Baba’s views – especially on women – is ‘progressive’? That the first female President of India finds them so speaks volumes about the lack of real female emancipation – even intellectually – in India. Sai Baba saw women first and foremost to be a home maker, a mother and a chaste second-string to her husband. He never so much as commented on the huge number of murders of brides and young wives due to dowry disagreement or other dissatisfaction. (eg. dowry deaths in Delhi alone were put at 6 1/2 thousand official figures. Unofficial ly at 25,000. BBC World TV).
“Today is 19th November (1999). It is celebrated as Ladies’ Day to remind you of the importance of the mother.” (Sai Baba, Sanathana Sarathi, 12/99. p. 365). It was he who should have been reminded, since he let his own mother live in isolation (her husband having left her) and in penury (see full account and photo of the tiny shack in which she lived while he rolled in luxury in his ashram nearby).
Neither Sai Baba nor President Patil expressed anything supportive of the most central modern feminist ideals – equality of women with men throughout society, not least in the workplace as regards equal opportunities, rights and – not least – equal payment for equal work. Instead, Sai Baba continually harped back on the mythical past of Rama’s rule and the example of Savitri – a women whose intense prayers brought her dead husband back as a blessing from the death deity!
International Women’s Day already has its centenary this year, 2011! If the following is progressive, I would like to know in what sense and to whom it applies (i.e. surely not fully grown Indian men?) … “You should conduct yourself according to the wishes of your mother. Do not disobey her.” (Sai Baba – Sanathana Sarathi 12/99, p. 365).
On another Ladies Day, Sai Baba said:“As today is a sacred day dedicated to women, they should change themselves and help to change the men and the children. They should develop the qualities of sympathy, compassion; love and sacrifice. Study the lives of our great women, who were models of patience, fortitude, compassion and sacrifice. I desire that you should take up the reins of leadership and bring peace and prosperity to the nation by leading ideal lives.” (Sathya Sai Speaks Vol 28, Chapter 32 ‘When Women Are Honoured’).
Comment: The values listed – patience, fortitude, compassion, and sacrifice – are noteworthy because surely they the very qualities which have made women endure without revolt the vast injustices of patriarchal and male chauvinist societies throughout history. He never once elected a single women to be a leader over any group with adult males in it… words belied by his non-actions.
Lacking democracy and ‘rights’ for women Sai Baba did not allow women in central positions in any of his institutions except those exclusive to women. Not one is represented on his Sathya Sai Central Trust or Prashanthi Council. He avoided women on most occasions, a frequently observed and reported fact even by some very keen devotees. Women in the ashrams who work (not the moneyed women visitors with jewels and costly silk saris) are employed mostly only in traditional women’s jobs in India – washerwomen, sweepers, orderlies, nurses. A few were doctors at his hospitals. Women were in general not provided with the same facilities as men at ashram events, such as chairs at conferences, nor were they allotted places on his much-envied veranda (apart from two three on the periphery). At his walkabout ‘darsans’, he very often simply strode past the women’s side and lavished his attention on men and boys, as we know why. All in all, Sai Baba must all have been and remain very confusing to women devotees! Numerous students have reported that he is a strong misogynist, a reputation that has dogged him for decades.
“Bhagavan then delivered His discourse, in the course of which. He extolled the role of mother as the moulder of the family and the first teacher for children. In the evening, there was a cultural programme entitled ‘Naari Shakti’ (The power of women), which highlighted the glory of Indian womanhood as revealed in the story of Savitri, who brought back her husband from the Lord of death. ” (Editor Sanathana Sarathi 12/96. pp. 328 & 329)
” For Indian (Bharatiya) women, the first duty is to reform the home and run it along ideal lines! The home and the family is the basic social institution everywhere in the world. When the home improves, the whole world will be better.” Sai Baba at Prashanthi Nilayam on Ladies day – 19/10/1996. (Sanathana Sarathi, Dec. 1996, p. 334)
There is no lack of male teachers, nor of women who are unmarried or whose children have grown up. These women could teach. The faulty assumption Sathya Sai Baba implied is that it is due to the negligence of the home by women that the whole world has become as it We know how Sai Baba saw the world through extremely jaundiced eyes as a place where unrighteousness rules and almost everything is wrong. Yet he puts the burden of the home and the family on women, and hence – due to the family being central to life, the burden of the world on them, just as men have done throughout most of history! His belief is wholly untenable, of course, a prejudice of bygone ages. However, he bemoaned the fact that women are empowered to work outside the home and earn. Again, he harps back to the past he wants to revive:-
Sai Baba seemed to dither back and forth between the tradition he knows from Indian village life and the more modern approach many of his middle-class Indian ladies and most foreign devotees now hold. Women must in effect do two jobs if need be:- “A lady must look after the home first and then work outside, if necessary… she can study to get degrees, enter politics or do any other work but she should not neglect the home, which is the very foundation of her life.” (Sanathana Sarathi, Dec. 1997, p. 327-8).
No need to stick to the same opinion at all, so Sai Baba changes tack to:-
“…in the modern world, it is necessary for the women to share the burden of maintaining the family with their husbands and so the women should also pursue studies as much as possible and take up suitable jobs to share the burden of the family. It will smack of selfishness if the males prevent them from going to work for which they have acquired the requisite qualifications. Women can control the whole world for themselves by virtue of their inherent qualities of love and spirit of sacrifice.” (Sai Baba in a discourse, 19/4/1999 at Kodaikanal. Sanathana Sarathi, July 1998, p. 172)
So now we see that Rama – whose view on women is praised inordinately by Sai Baba – must have been seriously wrong, after all:-
Of course, no more than a very few women ever be seen in leadership positions in India. In a crafty turnaround from his “women’s place is in the home” talk, Sai Baba suddenly pronounced: “Women too are doing all jobs equal to men. In fact, women do work more sincerely with dedication. Svami questioned the Director of the Indian Telephone Industries when he came to see Svami, about the percentage of women employed in the industry. He said 99% of the employees were women and added that women do better work than men. They do not stop or step out till the allotted work is completed. They have the work culture better than men. It is nowhere stated in any sacred text that women should only cook and not do work like men.” (Sai Echoes from Kodai Hills, 1998, p. 48-9).
Here, Sai Baba saw it as exemplary that cheap women’s labour is exploited in the most boring and repetitive work of telephone exchanges (as they were earlier). These women must work long hours, then be home makers supreme etc. This is far closer to the degradation of women than respecting and honouring them.