ardhanareshwara3

Published in Corporate Dossier, ET, Feb. 08, 2013

There is increasing talk of diversity in workforce. The logic being women are important for business as customers and as workers. And even in a lot of boards of Indian companies women are getting board seats. What does mythology have to say about gender diversity? Did the seers have something to say about gender diversity?

In the forest there is diversity. In the field there is order, man-made order, where we decide what is crop and what is weed. But the fact remains that diversity and order will always be at odds with each other. We have to trade one for the other constantly, asking ourselves how much diversity we want and how much order do we seek.

Until very recently, women were not seen as equal to men. They were seen as inferior beings. The assumption was that the workplace does not need them; their place is only inside the home.

Today, the world has changed. Women establish and lead workplaces. Their contribution to the world has been recognized as equal to men. And so there is need for the presence in the boardroom and the parliament. But as this is not happening naturally, regulatory measures are being taken to force the change.

The seers did not care much for gender. What mattered to them was the formless beyond the form, the thought behind the thing, the mind behind matter. The biology of the flesh was but a vehicle of what really mattered.

Unfortunately, what is true in ideology does not always find expression in reality. We find in the epics a genuine discomfort with female ascetics and even female leaders such as Gargi, Maitreyi, Arundhati, Anasuya and Sulabha. As humans, we struggle to realize our full potential, of seeing humans as humans, beyond their gendered selves, but we do not always succeed.

A man cannot conduct a yagna unless a woman accompanies him. A temple is not complete unless images of men and women together occupy both the inner shrine and the outer wall. A god without a goddess or a goddess without a god are visualized as ‘hot’ and ‘fiery’ lacking the grace and generosity of those who are engaged with the opposite gender. Implicit in these ideas is to include gender diversity.

But gender diversity based on rules can be cosmetic. It needs to be the outpouring of genuine faith in the value of diversity. No woman, or man, likes to be valued because of the biology they are born with. In the business world we would rather be valued on merit. Value placed on the body over merit is at one level rather disconcerting. But at another level, it is necessary especially since one gender has traditionally been sidelined in favor of the other.