An Ideal of Women Empowerment
March 23, 2012
School of Arts and Sciences, Amritapuri
Bri. Meera S. R., Lecturer in Sanskrit, Amrita School of Arts and Sciences, Amritapuri had the opportunity to present a paper at a national-level conference in New Delhi recently.
The conference on Women Empowerment and Sanskrit Literature was organized by the Department of Sanskrit at Hindu College, affiliated to the University of Delhi, during February 23-24.
“I presented our Chancellor Amma as the embodiment of women’s empowerment. This was appreciated by everyone present at the conference. Most speakers quoted examples from history. The organizers noted that I was the only speaker to share an example of someone who represents the very ideal of women’s empowerment today,” shared Bri. Meera.
Given below are some excerpts from Meera’s presentation.
Today I would like to introduce to you a woman who is re-establishing the lost glory of women not only in India, but on a global scale. Her name is Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, but she is affectionately called Amma all over the world.
There were many seemingly insurmountable problems that Amma faced in her childhood but she overcame these hurdles to eventually become internationally acclaimed as a spiritual and humanitarian leader. Today Amma is a role model of women’s empowerment and a remarkably effective leader of the universal resurgence of womanhood.
Born in a fisherman family in a remote village in southwest India, Amma had no formal education past the 4th standard. Dark in complexion, with no financial resources or support from family or people around her, Amma had to overcome innumerable difficulties virtually on her own, to become the person she is today. She went through a period of intense spiritual austerities and finally established herself in a holistic manifestation of universal motherhood, which expresses itself in an ashram and its service wing, Embracing the World — a charitable organization in her very birthplace.
Today Amma has millions of well-wishers, who are inspired by her life and teachings. The Mata Amritanandamayi Math has been awarded special consultative status by the United Nations for the vast network of humanitarian projects initiated and managed by it. Amma has received many prestigious awards such as the Gandhi-King Award for Non-violence by the United Nations in the year 2002, an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the State University of New York in 2010. Amma has addressed the United Nations twice, and has also been the keynote speaker at the World Parliament of Religions.
Today, Amma plays a multitude of roles, including mother, spiritual master, social worker and quintessential multi-tasker, spending up to 22 hours every day meeting and talking with people, giving them solace and guidance, and taking very little rest.
Amma is a true model of the empowered woman. She says, “Women have to find their courage. Courage is an attribute of the mind; it is not a quality of the body. Women have the power to fight against the social rules that prevent their progress.”
In the Mata Amritanandamayi Math, Amma encourages all women, be they renunciates or devotees, to become educated and to take up responsible positions in various institutions. She has established a vast network of educational and charitable institutions where women outnumber men in many cases. All her schools are fully run by brahmacharinis, girls who came to her seeking a spiritual life.
In spiritual activities also, Amma gives equal consideration for women. She has established over 21 temples all over India and abroad, and in these temples brahmacharinis conduct pujas and homas with all proper vedic and tantric mantras and mudras.
Amma says, “Until recently, women were not allowed to worship in the inner sanctum of a temple; nor could women consecrate a temple or perform Vedic rituals. Women didn’t even have the freedom to chant Vedic mantras. But Amma is encouraging and appointing women to do these things. And it is Amma who performs the consecration ceremony in all the temples built by our ashram. There were many who protested against women doing these things, because for generations all those ceremonies and rituals had been done only by men. To those who questioned what we were doing, Amma explained that we are worshipping a God who is beyond all differences, who does not differentiate between male and female.”
Amma has made numerous public addresses to underscore the value and strength of women. One that was particularly focused on women’s empowerment was in Geneva, at the headquarters of the United Nations, in 2004. In that speech, she said, “The more a woman identifies with her inner motherhood, the more she awakens to that shakti, or pure power. When women develop this power within themselves, the world will begin to listen to their voices more and more.”
Amma sees that education is the foundation for freedom and power, and so she provides top-quality education for all the children in her orphanages, and when young people come to live in her ashram, she encourages them to go on with their education. There are over 500 women ashram residents most have been directed to further their studies, earn degrees, and take up responsible work for the upliftment of society.
Amma’s aim for the empowerment of women is for all women—both young and old. Amma is distributing to over a million old and destitute women the Amrita Nidhi pension that takes care of their minimum needs. Another scheme recently inaugurated seeks to train a hundred thousand home nurses to help provide care for old people. Besides providing them the training, a stipend also is being provided to each trainee.
Amma also distributes Vidyamritam scholarships to poor children, especially girls, and those who are afflicted by the suicide of their farmer parents. She conducts free marriages of many poor women every year, gifting them with gold and utensils and has built houses for many destitute women.
In today’s world, women empowerment must begin with a woman being financially independent. Therefore, over and above educating and employing girls and women, Amma has also established a vast network of self-help groups, called Amritasree, which are providing vocational education, start-up capital, marketing assistance and access to microcredit loans and micro-savings accounts from government-regulated banks, to equip women with the skills and means to set up small-scale, cottage-industry businesses. Currently about six thousand self-help groups are actively functioning all over the country which cater to nearly one hundred thousand women.
Another revolutionary project that has been initiated by Amma and that is enabling women to come forward is the fostering of technological innovation in providing vocational training to women. Ammachi Labs, set up for this purpose, has developed educational applications using multimedia, virtual reality and haptic technologies to enrich the individual’s learning experiences. From this program, the first batch of women plumbers graduated in 2011
A few years earlier, addressing the Global Peace Initiative of Women, Amma said, “There is invincible strength in woman. If she can escape the utterly dark prison cell of her mind and emotions, she can soar into the endless skies of freedom.”
I would like to share my own experience at this juncture.
I lived in such an utterly dark prison cell as a child. It was Amma who helped me escape, and because of her impact on me I stand before you now.
I was the child of an absent mother—absent because of ongoing chemotherapy in hospital. I lived with relatives, but I was nobody’s own child, and I yearned to hear someone call me darling daughter. I finally saw my mother for the first time when I was five years old: her corpse was brought home, and I watched the fires consume her. That sight became deeply registered in my mind and I was in a state of shock.
Completely alone, feeling no deep motherly love from anyone, I was in despair, and looking for ways to escape my pain—even suicide was in my mind.
At age eleven, I had my first darshan of Amma, who held me close and whispered in my ear, “My darling daughter.” It was what my thirsty heart was longing for, and I was transformed. Immediately I joined Amma’s orphanage, and after graduating from there, wanted to offer my services to this woman whose love and strength had changed my life. I thought of serving her in the kitchen; this was what I felt competent to do.
But Amma, who always urges women to rise to their full potential, had other plans. “You should shine like a star. Go and study Sanskrit.” I was shocked, but obeyed, and now you see me here today, a woman who has struggled but not been defeated. I can write the letters “MA”, and “B Ed”, and “M Phil” after my name, and call myself a research scholar in Sanskrit. This is not because of my aspirations, but because of Amma’s guidance. Amma was the perfect role model – she lifted herself up from poverty and never refused to try to do what she knew was her dharma: to help the poor, the hopeless, the suffering.
I hope that I, who have learned from her example and benefited from her encouragement, will follow her example, and someday, will inspire some other little girl in need of empowerment and motivate her to rise to her full potential.