Review of an article

The below mentioned article was published by Economic and Political Weekly, Volume 28, No.14 ( April 3, 1993).  Economic and Political Weekly joined hands with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to this work.


Uma Chakravarti in her article ‘ Conceptualising Brahmanical Patriarchy in Early India’ in terms of Gender, Caste, Class and State has made an attempt to help people trace the tight Hindu Brahman reins that exercised excessive oppression and demonic constraints on women and how their sexuality was/still is deemed as destructing.

Ms Chakravarti begins her article by drawing to light a dependent relationship between gender and caste hierarchy. The gender here is the weaker of the two; females, who solely uphold the caste structure and ensure the purity of lineages in families due to their biological superiority of bearing a child.

Therefore, she successfully justifies that men and the society play a pivotal role in maintaining the stringent lines between the high and low castes. For centuries they have propagated ideas that women should be controlled more severely than animals, as they are governed by insatiable desires and would not think twice before shedding their inhibitions.

A woman should in no way be able to copulate with a low caste man, as it would according to the Hindu orthodox spoil the blood lineage and also upset the balance in nature. A married woman if sleeps with a low caste man is considered an abomination as she would not only bring dishonour to the family but also pollute her husband.

From Mahabharta to Jakata Tales, Satapha Brahmana to Buddhist texts preach how the innate nature of a woman is indeed, sinful. The Satapha Brahmana expresses fear that the wife might go to another man and also states that a woman, a low caste, a log and a crow are the embodiments of sins and the devil himself.

Whereas, a story from Jakata Tales attacks women and their integrity by expressing the view that women can cheat even if held in arms by their husbands, they are that conniving and adulterous in nature.

What stood apart was revealing the politics of a casteist society, men soon realised that unless women imposed self-control, they will never be successful in yielding the desired caste and class hierarchy. Thus, this led to the birth of  a philosophy called ideal wife or husband worshipper;  Pativrataistri.

The ideology was propagated that an ideal wife is one who adheres to all the whims of her husband and does nothing without his consent.  Moreover, it would be rewarded by placing her on the way to salvation and heaven after death.   

According to Manu, who in the Hindu mythology is the progenitor of humanity, the uncontained nature of women drive them to seek satisfaction anywhere with anyone. They demand to be tamed and physical force should be applied if necessary. He voices that is a burden of the man to constrain his wife in order to nurture his interests of begetting a heir, a genuine progeny.

Among many other excerpts from different times and tales, Ms Chakravarti is trying to reinforce the idea that the Hindu orthodox scaled all lengths to warrant that the caste hierarchy is maintained and devised a way to subjugate the weaker sex and the weaker section of society simultaneously.

Rituals like Child marriage was conceptualised to tighten the noose on caste lineage purity from as early as possible. Sati or widow burning was introduced to protect property rights and also to ward off the burden of an unwanted member in the family who always ran the risk of tarnishing the image by giving in to her uncontrollable whims.

But her work is repetitive, she tries to establish her belief that I’m sure stems from intense research that women were seen as sinful and rituals, folk tales, even ideology was formulated to keep disastrous linkage of different castes, mainly high and low castes at bay.

Citing examples from tales of how women were punished or condemned to death due to their adulterous ways becomes over-bearing as Ms Chakravarti delves deep into the same issue rather than raising diverse arguments.

She mentions how reports suggest that Mesopotamia was a civilisation that worshipped women for their child-bearing ability and regarded them in high esteem, whereas there are no similar reports for the Harappan civilisation.

Talking about class barriers, when Aryans conquered regions in India and killed men to be able to subjugate their women, turned into Dasis ( maid servant) ; they were used as sexual objects and later were made to work on farms, seen as productive labourers. This reduced the high class women or queens to just child-bearing machines as it were the Dasis who were given to priests as gifts or used for amusement etc. An extra set of hands yielded more produce, therefore benefitting the king in every way.

The article experiences large bouts of hollowness on class or gender defined roles, even caste argument extends itself to the extent that it was deemed an undisputed necessity to control women and their actions to ensure that no other man could plant his seed in them.

At the end, her literary work draws the attention to various punishments that would be levied on women to dampen their will to indulge in acts that did not conform to the contours of the society they lived in.

Her subject was how concepts of patriarchy took shape in the Hindu sect but she failed to mention in detail anything apart from how gender and caste hierarchies are interrelated with scores of examples than presenting a reasoned view.

Her literary work is easily accessible and coherently put but lacks a framework within which it ought to have flowed. The paper doesn’t acquaint the reader with anything that hasn’t been published before. It has a repetitive tone that sets in the monotony. It could have covered the caste, class and State aspect in much detail but failed to as Ms Chakravarti tended to establishing credentials for her work than produce debatable views.








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