Translated by J Devika
[this is an earlier version of a translation that appeared in my book Her-Self, from Stree/Samya, Kolkata, 2005. For a fuller, annotated version, please refer the book ]
[ ‘Purushadharmam’, Sharada 1 (8) M. E. 1081 Mithunam (June-July 1905- 6): 175-77]
A number of articles propounding various sorts of duties like Wifely Duty, Womanly Duty and so on are frequently seen these days; I have often wondered why nothing is being published on the Duty of Husbands, or Manly Duty, likewise. Is it that only women are unmindful of their duties? On the other hand, is it that men have no responsibilities? Such qualms do arise. The responsibilities to be borne by men and women are almost equal. It cannot be said that one party has more, or less, than the other does.
There is a Greek legend about the ancient times in which human beings had four arms, four legs, and two faces. The Gods, bitten with envy for these powerful creatures, split them in two, into Man and Woman. Although this tale is not credible, the Hindu percept that ‘the wife is half the man’ does pay some obeisance to it. If this is so, no difference should be envisioned between Woman and Man. There is no doubt that if caring for the husband is the duty of the wife, then caring for the wife is certainly the duty of the husband. Marriage occupies a crucial place in human life.
Woman is not merely a child-producing machine. The worldly-wise are well aware that men are the source of the suffering that women, by nature delicate and susceptible to the rigours of age, endure. The widower is free to remarry, but not so the widow! The saying that the ‘sorrow of the loss of a wife is remedied by taking another’ reflects how shallow the emotional ties to a wife are. If it were a woman who said this, it would be readily rejected as the fruit of ignorance. This is definitely a man’s machination! It was also a man who declared that ‘Woman does not deserve freedom’. The Prime Minister who said he had not even the time to see the English woman who had gone to him to plead for female representation in Parliament, he too, is a man. In this discussion, the comment made by the famous Mr. W. T. Stead is very interesting. He said that the ingratitude of the men of England, who have forgotten their mothers in their various efforts to achieve power and freedom, is quite astonishing.
Only gracious and gentle womenfolk will tolerate the great offences done to them by innumerable lawmakers. The efforts of illustrious figures to promote widow remarriage are thwarted by the natural conservatism of many who are said to be respectable members of the community! Marriage is generally looked upon as an auspicious occasion for men. Conjugal bliss prompts Man to pursue various kinds of enterprise diligently. It also helps to prevent him from wandering afar from morality. About those servants of the World who proclaim marriage to be the root of sorrow, the least said, the better. These friends are capable only of lamenting the negative sides of worldly affairs. The World can only grieve about them; there is little to congratulate in their attitude. We need not forget the blessings and virtues of marriage. All the joys of marriage emanate from the wife. (But) If the wife must be sweet-tempered, the husband should also be amiable to her. As in Nature in which all forces act upon each other, so also amongst human beings, emotions act upon each other. Men should necessarily be attentive towards women who respect their husbands and diligently serve them, no matter how much they may suffer in their hands. There is little doubt that those who do not heed the light of this recognition are cads. If that Great Soul who advised a virtuous woman “not to hurt one’s co-wife, even when hurt by her” had also advised Man not to ‘hurt’ one’s wife, then the sorrows of Shakuntala would not have scorched the minds of readers. Is it because no one insists upon Manly Duty that Mankind remain utterly ungrateful to Womankind, who toil all the time for the comfort of their husbands, disregarding their own distress? Does anyone revere Ugratapas, the husband of Sheelavati? Can Man expect lenience from Woman, without showing it to her? Is it not usually the case that the husband who calls his wife wicked turns out to be the vile one? Is it not proper that Man, who feels the need for freedom, should also feel it necessary to grant it to Woman? Or, is Man’s freedom merely a means of bolstering the slavery of Woman?
It is well known that variations of human character are caused by social contact. We tend to imitate people with whom we interact intimately. No matter how bad a woman’s character may be while she still lives with her parents, it is not difficult for her to imitate her husband. The Woman’s mind is simple and placid. A talented English poet has compared the female mind with a clear lake. Just as the lake turns turbulent and dirty when disturbed, amiable women will engender anguish and frustration when their minds are agitated. It is Man’s inadequacy that brings about such a situation. Rarely do we hear of men accused of adultery, but the charge is frequently made against women. Adultery implies the transgression of established laws. The evils of adultery could not have emerged in society if the lawmakers had given some keen thought to the reason why women in their ignorance often violate the laws that have all been framed by men. Man’s passion for self-gain is behind all such depravity. Therefore if women in any society turn subversive, we ought to blame the men. The great curse of humanity is that men, who ought to be alert towards the moral discipline of women in their capacity as fathers and husbands, are primarily interested in selfish gains. Therefore those Great Souls who would sermonise about Womanly Duty are well-advised to honour their obligations appropriately; if they do so, both parties will have no cause for complaint, and much to gain, besides.