A FEW OF SATHYA SAI BABA’S CONFUSED AND TRADITIONAL VIEWS ON WOMEN
In 1995 Sathya Sai Baba instituted a 'Ladies' Day' at his ashram on November 19th. On that date in 2011, the first woman President of India, Shrimata Prathiba Devisingh Patil, attended and addressed the audience at Prashanthi Nilayam. She is worshipful of Sai Baba and it was wholly evident from this address - along with many of Sathya Sai Baba's statements about women and their role in life and society - that the values she and he support are very largely opposed to those of International Women's Day, the 8th of March (see Wikipedia). Patil 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? That a female President of India finds Sai Baba's views so aceptable speaks volumes about her lack of understanding of real female emancipation. Neither she not Sai Baba nor
President Patil express 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. What may to some seem progressive on this matter in India is seen in most modern societies are backward-looking and unacceptable. Sai Baba regards the woman first and foremost to be a home maker, a mother and a chaste second-string to her husband. ("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)
His 'teaching' on women is 90% traditional Indian fare, that is - 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, and who can be seen to be treated by most men as subservient, second-rate citizens, not least by the families of their spouses with whom they must invariably live! The role widows are relegated to in India is the utmost of unacceptability. In talking about women and the role and ideals they should adhere to, Sai Baba continually harps back to the mystical past of Rama's rule and example of Savitri - a women whose intense prayers brought her dead husband back as a blessing from the death deity! Just before his 85th birthday that that Ladies' Day on November 19, 2010 Sai Baba boastfully emphasized what major importance his Ladies' Day would have in forwarding women's rights across the world through future generations! That claim is almost megalomaniac considering 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 global importance. His Ladies's Day was first announced in 1995, but International Women's Day already has its centenary in 2011!
Hilary Clinton expressed very clearly what women toay strive for, namely the right to decide for themselves what they wish to be, aim for and to choose the lives they aspire to - which of course requires a 'level playing field'. Such a conception is entirely foreign to Sathya Sai Baba, who sees such things as expressions of ego, selfish desires and the like!
"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')
But the patience, fortitude, compassion, and sacrifice of women are surely also - even primarily- the very qualities which have made women endure without revolt the vast injustices of patriarchal and male chauvinist societies throughout history without challenging them properly?
“Women should realize that, irrespective of their education or position, their foremost obligation is to protect the home. For lakhs of students and children who go to school, the mother is the first teacher.
From the moment of birth, for every one the mother is the preceptor. If such a teacher leaves her home to teach other children, who will teach her children? 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)
This is interesting thinking indeed, for each woman must teach only her own children, so “who will teach”. The answer to that is that 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 implies he has made in the above, however, is that it is due to the negligence of the home by women that the whole world has become as it is… and we know how Sai Baba sees the world through extremely jaundiced eyes as a place where unrighteousness rules and almost everything is wrong. He puts the burden of the home and the family on women, and 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.
Lacking democracy and ‘rights’ for women
Sai Baba does not allow women on his Sathya Sai Central Trust, nor can more than a very few ever be seen in leadership positions in his organization, especially in India. He avoids women on most occasions, a frequently observed and reported fact even by some 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 are doctors at his hospitals. Women are in general not provided with the same facilities as men at ashram events, such as chairs at conferences, nor are they allotted places on his much-envied veranda. At darsan Sai Baba often simply walks past the women's side and lavishes his attention on men and boys. All in all, Sai Baba must all be very confusing to women devotees! Not least, at Sai events in the ashrams they have to sit at the back and on the ground, while men are always to the fore. But there is one day of the year - Ladies Day - introduced in the 1990s, when women get a more prominent place! Numerous students have reported that he is a strong misogynist.
In a turnaround from his “women’s place is in the home” talk, he 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 sees it as exemplary that cheap women’s labour is exploited in the most boring and repetitive work of telephone exchanges. These women must work long hours, then be home makers supreme etc. etc. This is much closer to the exploitation of women than respecting and honouring them.
But Sai Baba bemoans this situation where women are empowered to work outside the home and earn. Again, he harps back to the past he wants to see us all return to: “Rama told Bharata that he should not permit women to take part in affairs of state. Women have their estimable role in household affairs, but they should be kept out of state politics. “Don`t employ women as ministers. The reason is: a nation’s honour is based upon its women. It is only when women maintain their respect and honour that the nation will be respected. It is not proper for women to cheapen themselves by roaming in public places.” …and… “How does the situation in the country today compare with Rama’s conception of an ideal government? The state of things today is 100% contrary to the ideas and ideals of Rama. How, then, can Rama Rajya be established here? If we desire to establish Rama Rajya there should be harmony in thought, word and deed… “ etc. . (Sanathana Sarathi, May 1995, p. 118).
Rama's rule is Sai Baba's ideal!
So now we see that Rama must have been seriously wrong, after all:- “It will not be out of place to mention here that women who have wielded power in Bharat or other countries have proved themselves to be exceptionally able and successful. There have been many kings of Britain but no one ruled the country so well as Queen Victoria. Her rule was marked by righteousness, prosperity and efficiency. There was no discontent during her reign. In more recent times, Indira Gandhi ran the Government with courage and consummate skill. She was prepared for any sacrifice in the interests of her country.” (see Sanathana Sarathi, Nov.-Dec.1995, p. 293)
Sathya Sai Baba’s view of British history is that of some outdated and revisionist old time Anglo-Indian, one wonders where he picked it up… a quaint anachronism that historians can chuckle over. Queen Victoria withdrew from all normal duties as a sovereign for decades, mourning her dead Prince Albert and causing huge constitutional problems due to her disinterest, wallowing in grief and comfortable seclusion. So there was no discontent during her reign? Not under the horrendous conditions in the British lower classes during the Industrial Revolution? Not anywhere in the British Empire? This Sai Baba is an original historian indeed, a marvellous joker no doubt… who really knows that it was not so, but doesn’t want to think or speak ill of anything? Congratulations! But Queen Victoria’s rule also saw the extremely brutal quelling of the Indian Mutiny or Revolution, did it not? The prosperity and efficiency was for the upper classes only (headed by Queen Victoria) and for the exploitation of colonies. So much for Sai Baba as a historian of Britain.
Though Sai Baba tries his utmost to praise women, it is mostly for theirretiring and loving motherly qualities - preferable very religious and extremely too! He never recommends that they could share the values and achievements which are reserved by him for the male. Some further quotes of Sai Baba help to show the entirely out-of-date and secondary role to which women are to be relegated:-
Sai Baba seems 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 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).
"You should conduct yourself according to the wishes of your mother. Do not disobey her." (Sai Baba - Sanathana Sarathi 12/99, p. 365). This is extremely out-of-touch with reality and it is unclear to whom it is supposed to apply: though it would seem he also means adult children, who traditionally have to touch (worship<) the feet of their parents?
Sathya Sai Baba makes some extraordinary claims (quote on left). Bharat (i.e. India) was safe from two world wars simply because of its virtuous women? Firstly, not all India’s women were virtuous, it would seem, since prostitution was very widespread during both world wars and has increased continually since then. Now there is a massive AIDS crisis which also involves women, of course. Secondly, the greatness of Bharat… there is a suggestion here of India’s former supposed glories. India’s greatness today – whatever it consists in – does not exceed that of other countries surely? It’s glory is harder to discover nowadays, even with all due respects. One can applaud the sentiment to respect women and make them happy… but Sathya Sai Baba is known for preferring men to women on all occasions… he spends far more time on the male side during darshan and is always surrounded only by male attendants. In his ashrams – at conferences and festivals – women are relegated to sit on the ground, while important men occupy chairs. After many decades, Sai Baba agreed to have a “Ladies day” once a year. (the remaining 364 days are actually Men’s days).
Sai Baba changes tack according to the occasion or his whims:- “…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)
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