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I am always surprised about how religious fanatics are extremely concerned about the morality of women. The menfolk’s morality or immorality is not their concern and neither do you find it preached about in our churches’ pulpits.

Every culture has its own customs and traditions to protect and guard the womb. The dress restrictions for young girls and old women in India, is not as much as it is for young and middle-aged women. More than age, I feel the criteria here is fertility and the womb.

Have you noticed that purdhas or traditional dresses like sarees and salwars are imposed only on fertile women rather than infertile (pre and post-menopause) women? Even the imposition of dress codes in colleges can be related to this. College managements in India have traditionally disapproved of dating, love marriages (problems with police or the registrar office), and fashionable clothes; because in India educationists also act as moralists and don’t want the womenfolk in their college to be attracting attention from the menfolk. To ensure this we have the dress codes in a few of the ultra-strict city colleges in Chennai.

Young girls in India can happily play with boys on the streets wearing only their undergarments or nothing more. But the minute they reach puberty, they will be cautioned by their mothers not to “speak to boys.” In India, people also have the disgusting habit of holding a grand function in which all friends & relatives attend, when the girl attains puberty. I don’t see anyone celebrating a boy’s attainment of puberty in India.

In this protectionist environment that Indian girls grow up in, sex education becomes a bad word. One of my classmates, who attained puberty in standard VII, didn’t know anything about her body’s changes and thought she had got blood cancer. The only sex education, she got was from us – her classmates, who were also an ignorant lot. We reassured her that she didn’t have blood cancer, it was just her “chums.”

No one teaches our girls the need for hygiene during one’s periods. I know of many Indian families, who for cost-cutting measures still make girls wear cloth pads for their periods. Cloth sanitary pads are Ugh! Spotting, wet, dirty, clumsy, leaking; in short torturous for a 11 or 14-year-old. When parents can buy beautiful, sequined clothes and gold jewellery for the child’s birthday, why can’t they buy whisper or tampons?

When I was in my standard VIII, in the “sex education” class, we were taught by our teachers, if you get “too close to boys, you get pregnant.” Lucky for me, my mother told me all about the birds and bees. She didn’t want me to know about sex from my ill-informed peers, dirty magazines or from the net. My friends were very surprised that my knowledge of sex came from my mother and they were soon besieging her with all their questions. Some of my Christian friends, even wanted to know if it was okay to touch the Bible during your periods from my mother.

In India, a girl who loses her virginity before marriage is immediately labelled a “slut” and a “prostitute”. But if a boy does so, his parents and relatives will gloss over the event, his friends will dismiss it as “boys will be boys” and he will become a hero among his peers. If its bad for a girl to lose her virginity before marriage, why is not bad for a boy also?

In many countries, girls have become out castes if there is no blood found on the nuptial bed, in proof of her virginity, even if her hymen had been broken due to sports activities or her hymen was absent or elastic. I remember recently, reading an article in the newspaper that girls were going in for hymen reconstruction surgery, as they felt it (virginity) would become a major problem with the boy, their parents had fixed for them.

Also, it’s the woman who gets pregnant in a pre-martial or extramarital affair; No one knows the father, but everyone knows the mother and can ostracize her. So to protect property, money and the family, a woman’s sexual activities have been greatly controlled.

That is why, even though economics state that women also go to work in India, women are supposed to return home at a particular time, not have any men friends, not go for social activities unless accompanied by the husband or some other member of the family and never ever flirt with any man other than the husband (even her fiance).

That is why traditional households prefer a girl, who’ll stay at home. Women are encouraged to be teachers, because the job ensures that they are chaste, the children looked after (timings) and the housework doesn’t suffer.

Earlier, all the Mills & Boon heroines would be virgins, while the men would have had “casual affairs” with other women, but never experienced love + carnal lust in one woman before this.

Now, with liberalisation Mills & Boon heroines are girls, who have had sex with one guy, with whom it was boring & uninteresting (they are never, ever promiscuous). Then comes the hero with whom they have the perfect, passionate love affair (and even here they are passive, never aggressive or making the first move in the bed).

So, ultimately everything in the marriage market comes down to fertility and the woman’s womb doesn’t it?

Rachel Chitra

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Being an atheist from a Christian background, people automatically assume I’m angry with God and dead against the church. For me, I’m indifferent to the whole “God exists or not” debate. While I don’t think Christ was God, I do like him for being a radical in his times. I like him because

a)he didn’t act holier-than-thou & goody-goody like the Pharesees & Sadducees

Remember, the prostitute (or in these politically correct times, I must call them commercial sex workers (CSW))? Jesus didn’t judge her. He didn’t want her stoned to death like the patriarchs of those days & today (name change: In the Middle-East countries & Pakistan they now call it “honour killings”). Of course, whether she was a CSW or an adulteress is debatable, because different versions of the Bible seem to give different accounts. Anyway, when she was brought up before him, Jesus said, “Let he, who is without sin cast the first stone.” A direct reference to men and their own state of sinfulness and also a veiled reference to the fact that all of those present had lusted after her and might have also slept with her. That means, he held the men responsible for adultery also, not just the women, who in most cases are only victims of the system.

b)He wanted women to participate in theological debates & not be mired down by the traditional responsibilities of women like housework.

Jesus says, “Mary has chosen the better part and it shall not be taken away from her.” Mary’s sister Martha is busy cooking dishes in the kitchen for all the men present, while Mary sits with Jesus and talks about spiritual things. When Martha overburdened with the housework wants Mary to help, Jesus gives this reply.

I don’t know if any of my readers have attended Christian religious meetings. But the prayer meetings always used to end with the serving of tea and refreshments. So my grandmother and myself (our house used to be the centre for such church-oriented activities) always had to miss out on what the pastor said and start heating the tea and laying out the refreshments like homemade sandwiches & vada. And the womenfolk also had a lot of cleaning up to do afterwords. If only a few menfolk in my family had pitched in, the women needn’t miss out on the meeting. But then the men had more important things to do like debate about theology. Even in church functions it was the same story.

I feel a lot of blame for this state of affairs, should be laid at Apostle Paul’s feet, who said, “Women should be silent in church, they should not cover their head, etc, etc…”

c) He was a radical. Though by birth a Jew, he made friends with Roman tax collectors, fishermen, Samaritans, prostitutes & lepers

Samaritans in those days were discriminated against and did not occupy the upper elechons of power. In his parable, “The Good Samaritan” Jesus tried to criticise the inhumaneness of the religion some religious heads practise and set a Samaritan’s actions in good light. Roman tax collectors like the tax collectors of today did not win any awards for popularity. But Jesus befriends Romans too. And not being class-conscious, he befriends fisher-folk & lepers.

I remember my English lecturer in MCC, who was a Gandhian, drew a diagram in class to explain Christ’s exemplary behaviour in embracing all communities & people from all religious backgrounds. He asked what was the centre of power in those days. We replied “Ceasar and his Roman empire.” What comes next? “The Roman Senate & powerful noblemen.” Next in the circle? “Roman citizens, tradesmen.” Next? “Jews (the occupied race)” And finally at the bottom of the social structure, you have all of Jesus’s friends: “Fishermen, Samaritans, prostitutes & lepers.”

d) He didn’t like churches minting money in God’s name

How about if someone came to your church, broke all the stalls selling CDs, self-improvement Godly books, drove out all the salesmen manning the stalls and declared that “pastors must not turn God’s house into a money-making enterprise.” Would you not be angry with him? Yet, this is what Jesus did 2,000 years ago, when he saw that the Jews had converted the synagogue into a market. He overturned all the pigeons cages, drove out all the vendors and sellers and declared “Don’t turn my father’s house into a den of thieves.”

e) “Forgive them father for they know not what they do.”

People are nailing him to the cross, after stripping him naked, mocking at him and whipping him mercilessly. And he instead of railing at them angrily, asks for their forgiveness. Truly, a great man! That’s why I guess, people started worshipping him as God. He is the one person, who truly followed his teaching of “Turning the other cheek.”

As Friedrich Nietzsche said and quoted often by Karl Marx, the last Christian died on the cross”

Rachel Chitra

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