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Updated on June 20, 2015

Indo-Caribbean Women's Empowerment Organization

A few years ago someone from the Jahajee Sisters Organization sent me an e-mail about encouraging me to join them on twitter to get their posts. As someone who does blogs quite often on the Divine Feminine, women's rights and related topics, I was quite interested in their organization and philosophy. While I live in Minneapolis, they are based in New York.

Many Caribbean Hindu immigrants went to Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname from India to become indentured servants on the sugar plantations of the British. Some of the their descendants immigrated to the United States. New York, around Richmond Hill, became their new home.

Minneapolis, like New York, has both immigrants from the Caribbean and India. The prominent Caribbean mandirs in Minneapolis are: MHDS Vishnu in North Minneapolis, Geeta Ashram in Brooklyn Park, Shri Gaayatri in Northeast Minneapolis and Shree Satya in South Minneapolis. Numerous Indian temples are in Northeast Minneapolis are located near Little India Grocery and they are also located in Maple Grove.

Jahajee Sisters developed women's empowerment and leadership programming because of the lack of such an organization in 2009. They have annual Indo-Caribbean Women's Empowerment Summits and a Sisters Circle to address various issues. Domestic violence, gender oppression and women's rights are topics they promote and provide education on for women of various age groups and circumstances.

In March 2007, 20 year old Natasha Ramen, a Guyanese woman from Hollis Queen, New York was was knifed to death by her rapist who was Guyanese. There was, unfortunately, no outrage in the community about this pattern of violence against women which was so brutal. Many had come to accept this as the norm. On March 31, 2007, the first Indo-Caribbean Women's Empowerment Summit discussed domestic violence and cultural promotion of the patriarchal system which allows such violence to continue.

This patriarchal system has been with us a very long time. In Vedic times society was more matriarchal but became more patriarchal over time. Ancient Kerala was matriarchal. No domestic violence existed there. Women owned the property and the lineage was female. Parts of this system continues today. There was no poverty because everyone took care of each other. The women had a cooperative system of economics. They were not dictators, for they consulted with the men to develop the best economic system the world has ever known. Women worked inside and outside the home and they were educated and respected. This is the ideal which seems elusive today.

There were many female sages who contributed to the Vedas and taught and discussed philosophy, such as Gargi, Maitreyi, Lopamurda and Ghosa. Twenty seven Rishikas (female sages) contributed to the RigVeda. In the Hindu tradition woman was considered Divine Shakti on Earth, the energy and wealth in the household and the embodiment of virtue in the world. Women had many rights in this time and place.

In Victorian England the society was patriarchal. Jane Austen in her books describes this society as one where marriage had become a financial transaction and women were considered the property of the men. In one story she describes a widower who has all female children and can not inherit the family estate because of the patriarchal system. So the system did harm men, also. She wrote under her own name, but some female authors did not so. They often took a male pen name, so that they would be published. Vestiges of these ideas and system still stay with us today. The idea of women are property and that you can control them is a mind set that is still with us.

This philosophy has been with us worldwide and corrupted India over time, so that now it has de-valued the women. The ancient dowry system, which was meant as a social insurance policy from the father to the the daughter, has changed to the point where greedy relatives of the husband's family demand money and property from the bride's family. This is one of the reasons it became illegal in the 1960s in India to engage in dowry interactions. However, it is so engrained that it still exists today as a social custom. This is one of the reasons women are de-valued.

In the last century the population has gone down by 20 percent because females were aborted of because their sex, some were killed by relatives, some killed by midwives, some women were burned on the stove and died of complications later and some committed suicide because of dowry. This kind of thing has to stop. You can not be oppressing half your population because of their gender and not suffer the consequences. Women need to be educated and empowered instead. Then India would be great again.

Some of the priests in New York and Guyana are taking steps in a positive direction with the training of the youth. We got to get at the source of the problem by valuing all our youth and empowering all genders.

Domestic violence is a serious problem worldwide. United States has their share of incidents. This I know only too well, having worked in a women's shelter. We need to look at what century we are in now. Still we hear members of our own Congress making ignorant and derogatory statements about women. The media is full of daily comments on the behaviors of some of these individuals. Petitions are often passed around the face book page to be presented to the broadcast networks on the comments of media people who make similar statements. Some do lose their jobs over these statements.

So you see we all have a whole lot of work to do when it comes to the empowerment of women. We see how women are most valued for their looks in all cultures, not for their inner qualities and intelligence. Older women must stop in and encourage change at all places. The Devi Puja is a nice thing, but we need to magnify the girls' inner abilities, qualities and devotion, not just dressed them up like goddesses with beautiful clothing. Chose girls of all looks, too. Who are they are human beings? How do they contribute to the community?

Men must educate their sons, brothers and relatives how to treat women. Domestic violence, rape and oppression are not acceptable. Marriage is a partnership not a dictatorship. People need to discuss their differences, negotiate and avoid violence as a solution to problems. Never hit a child. It sanctions violence and gives the message that it's okay to use violence to control situations. This is not acceptable. Conflict resolution should be taught in the high schools.

Many women now work outside the home and need help from their spouses with child care and house hold tasks. Parents need to train their children to do these tasks, not just the girls. All priests need to recognize these roles are changing and be more realistic in their kathas about real people's lives. We need to start empowerment groups in other places which educated and build leadership skills.



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