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Monday, October 18, 2021

Hindu parenting: Raising daughters

Every day we watch an increasing amount of anti-Hindu activity in media and academia led by women with names like Meena, Priyamvada, and Suchitra, with more in the pipeline. So, where did Hindu parenting go wrong collectively? Can we prevent this horror show from coming to town and claiming our daughters?

Indulgent parents and grandparents raise confident and high-achieving children today. But most have not understood the importance of anchoring in civilizational values. There is no effort to instruct children in restraint and introspection. As a result, we are steadily fueling the flames of self-destruction, both individually and socially. We have given our children powerful weapons but forgotten about the suitcase with the nuclear codes.

Being the only living culture with well-established worship of the Divine Feminine, we have a lot going for us, which we can use to our advantage. Besides, the sheer color, joy, and celebration in Hindu traditions and art forms make it very easy to introduce them to the girl-child. The beauty interwoven with the Hindu ethos should appeal to the feminine inside every girl. After all, who doesn’t love Bharatanatyam, jewelry, mehndi, colorful pavadas, sarees, jhumkis, and anklets? Beyond the physical and sensory appeal, there are complex, strong women characters like Draupadi, Sita, and Savitri in our epics, which very few other cultures can boast of. 

Yet, we neither know how to use this advantage nor are we able to glamorize it. Most Hindu parents think that all they need to do is teach their daughters about traditions. Many girls are raised in traditional households, yet we see them on a Hindu-abusing trajectory. What is happening here? The quick answer is that we have not trained them to think critically about the world around them. Alternatives to Hindu Dharma are currently packaged much better, though they have nothing of real substance. Further exploration throws up more nuanced answers.

Current thinking in Hindu families is limited to being self-critical. We focus on the many things wrong in our culture and society without giving girls a window into other cultures. Being self-critical and navel-gazing all the time, without the ability to examine other cultures and religions with an equally critical eye, has led to our undoing.

How does one remedy this? One way is to shine some light on the other religions, to read and discuss with our daughters. We never talk about what other cultures and religions are really like, which is a grave mistake. Every Hindu daughter should be taught how women are treated by the different religions and how Hindu women were treated under non-Hindu rule of the past many centuries. 

Encourage your daughter to read books with perspectives that are hard to come by. A good starter book for younger teens is ‘Not Without My Daughter’ by Betty Mahmoody. Another good book to have around the house is ‘Women in Islam’ by Shri Ram Swarup.

For those who think British rule was good for women, there are articles on British oppression of Indian Women. Have them read about the treatment meted out to Hindu girls in Pakistan and how a movement like Chingari brings attention to it. Of course, in the confidence that only youth can have, many girls will insist that these things can never happen to them. But that is a topic for another day.

Girls are easily co-opted into various causes inimical to Hindus because many Bharatiya parents are unfamiliar with modern terminology borrowed from the liberal arts. Discuss liberalism, patriarchy, diversity, inclusiveness, gender pronouns, and other terms with your daughters. It will serve as a kind of inoculation before they hear it from others. Otherwise, they will encounter a twisted interpretation in their liberal arts classes at universities or by reading articles in major national and international publications.

If we stay ignorant and disinterested in these matters, children will be attracted to them as a way to appear cool and to be different. They will be led to believe that using these fashionably egalitarian terms makes them better than the frumpy old parents at home.

So go ahead, acquaint yourselves with these terms, discuss them at home, dissect their literal meanings, and unpack their suggested meanings. All this applies to boys too, but an added trap is laid for girls in the guise of feminism. Real and imagined slights to girls will start your daughter on a treacherous journey unless you equip yourself with the knowledge and wisdom to guide her safely to the other shore. We will explore these topics in detail in newsletters to follow.

Family and extended family dynamics play an essential role in a girl’s life by their presence or absence. Often endowed with a natural sensitivity, the girl-child watches whatever happens within the family and internalizes things. It is a well-known fact that a girl usually takes cues from her mother. The attitude of the mother towards Hindu festivals, attire, and values matters a lot. It is worth mentioning that making festivals fun for the family can put a lot of strain on a Hindu woman. Often, daughters are quick to notice overstressed mothers and decide that they want nothing to do with Hindu festivals at all.

Parents and grandparents play an important role in family dynamics, each in their way. If you are a mother, do you try to do everything perfectly and then end up cursing festivals? Would it be better to keep things simple but convey a sense of happiness and excitement? Are you comfortable in a saree, or do you struggle with it on occasions? Do you confuse the occasional nastiness of an in-law with sweeping negative generalizations about Hindu society? If so, what message is your daughter taking from you? If you are a father, do you ever wear Bharatiya clothes? Do you sport a tilak?

Could you step in to take charge of all the arrangements made for pujas so that there is an equal commitment to maintaining the Hindu way of life? If you are a grandparent, can you introspect on your behavior and see that it doesn’t put an undue burden on your daughter-in-law? The attitude of the coming generations towards maintaining Hindu traditions will also depend on the quiet encouragement and support extended by elders to young families.

Another factor that we need to take into account is access to the community at large. Daughters are social beings. They need to talk to close friends their age. Try to form communities of like-minded families. It assumes greater significance for people living outside Bharat, but it shouldn’t be neglected even for Hindus in Bharat.

Especially if you send children to urban schools, their friends will be influenced by western culture. They will gravitate towards anti-Hindu rhetoric sooner or later, whether they understand its true implications or not. All the more reason to curate a small group of friends and make an effort to find that one family with a daughter who shares a common interest in, say, classical dance.

Pair up and go out together with friends as mother-daughter or father-daughter teams to a concert, dance recital, and dinner. Turn it into an exciting social occasion. Visit these families at festivals if extended family is not within easy reach. It is the most enjoyable way to bond and get a social connection going. It will keep our daughters physically safe, mentally stimulated, and emotionally secure.

We do our best as busy and well-meaning parents, but we do not know how our daughters perceive the same situations. Being attentive and vigilant will ensure that we raise our daughters to be proud Hindus.

(This article was first published on hinduparenting.substack.com and has been reproduced here in full.)

(Featured image source: Getty Images/iStockPhoto)

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Rekha
Ex-software engineer.  MBA. Outspoken mom. Artist. Student of Vedic Sciences. Writes at the confluence of parenting, Hindu dharma and the arts. Twitter: @Indic_Angle

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