Sinu Joseph, whose ancestral roots are in Kerala, born and brought up in Bengaluru, is an educator, a writer, a counselor, all rolled into one. An engineer by qualification, she has worked on various issues in the social space over the last 6 years. She has travelled extensively across rural India interacting with over 17,000 adolescent girls and women to really understand the practices and problems first hand.
She believes in action learning and makes sure that our work is always grounded in reality. She formed ‘Mythri Speaks’ in 2014, a grass-roots voluntary organisation that focuses on women’s health all over India by focusing on developing realistic solutions and working along with the community on addressing rural issues, especially pertaining to the environment. Working with a dedicated team of individuals, the organisation has oriented thousands of rural adolescent girls and women through awareness workshops, across Karnataka, Jharkhand, Bihar, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur and Tamil Nadu.
The Animation film ‘Mythri’ on menstruation, has reached over 4 million adolescent girls in Government schools. In one interview, she shared her profound thoughts on social work, Hinduvta, etc. Excerpts :
Question : These days, generally, after getting high academic qualification people aspire for a job that has a heavy pay. But you took up a unique and different route. What prompted you to take up social service ?
Reply : Yes, I have a problem in working keeping only money in mind. I could never understand the logic of how money should be the primary driver. That’s why I could never take to working in the IT space; it was too dull and lifeless.
Sometimes people wrongly assume that I sacrificed something to work in the social space. It is no such thing. I thoroughly enjoy my work, and it will be an insult to call it a sacrifice. Before joining the social space, I had never really known what to do. But I was always clear about what not to do.
I began by volunteering at ‘Youth for Seva’ for a few months just to see what it’s like, and after that I was offered a full-time position there. Then there was no looking back.
Question : Recently, you spoke very highly of Indian culture. Tell us what triggered you taking interest in our unique culture and civilisation ?
Reply : What really got me to dig deeper into our culture, was my sessions on menstruation, especially when I interacted with rural adolescent girls. Very often, the questions asked by young girls would be – “Why are we not allowed to go to temples when we menstruate ?” or “Am I so impure that even God doesn’t accept me when I menstruate ?” Such questions would put me in a fix because I knew so little about these things. It took me about five years to finally accept that it cannot be superstition if millions of women even today are following it. There must be more to it that I don’t know. And so began a different journey to get to the root of it all.
The next five years of my work involved interacting and learning from spiritual masters, Ayurveda practitioners and many wise men and women from across the country. But mostly, I learnt from the rural grandmothers – these women are the keepers of our culture. It is strange that a subject like menstruation, when dug deeper, can take one to the very roots of culture, science and Spirituality.
Question : Do you consider yourself a Hindu ? What are the reasons ?
Reply : Of course I do. Anyone who is born in this land, is first a Hindu. It is simply an unalterable fact, whether we like it or not. If you ask me, how can that question even be raised ? In recent times, ‘Hinduism’ might have become a religion, and so we are all forced to decide whether or not we are a Hindu. But it is first a culture, a way of living, which by nature includes every human being born in this land. It may have taken me a while to understand this, but now that I do, it is unquestionable.
Question : You said that you are an atheist. Why did you leave the Catholic Church or rather Christianity ?
Reply : All through my school years, it was very stifling to be a Christian. One, because it necessitates one to look down upon non-Christians and two, because a prominent aspect in Christian faith is guilt. Let me share a few examples of this. In school, the Christian teachers would quietly weave in disrespect for other religions. Our history teacher would tell the class that Christianity is real because the existence of Christ is documented in history, whereas Hinduism is just mythology without historical evidence.
As I entered adulthood, I noticed how if anyone went against religion, for example by marrying a Hindu, then the family and church would go on a mission to induce guilt. I have closely seen such methods wreaking havoc on the state of mind of practising Christians, whose faith then borders on fanaticism. They reach a state where you cannot reason with them anymore, as they have lost their mental balance.
When I was about 15 or 16 years of age, I started to rebel and question everything. Since then, if someone talks to me in the context of being a Christian, my instant response is that I am an atheist. To me, it simply means that I will not accept something just because I was born into it, and certainly not if it is forced down my throat using guilt.
Having said that if I am asked the same question in the context of being a Hindu, my response will be very different. In the context of being a Hindu, I am definitely not an atheist, because Hinduism doesn’t require one to believe anything that is not directly experienced. For me, experience comes before belief.
Question : According to you, what is unique about Sanatan Dharma ?
Reply : When I write about cultural practices in Hinduism, people ask why I do not write about Christianity. As a religion, Hinduism is certainly the mother of all religions, given that it encompasses all the different faiths, doctrines and theories that exist.
And, Sanatan Dharma is the grandmother of all philosophies. In other words, when we want to understand a subset, we must study the superset. In fact, it is through the lens of Hinduism that I was able to understand the techniques in Christianity and even appreciate why faith-based healing and prayers work for some people, when it is not twisted for socio-political reasons.
As I understand, the Ultimate Truth can only be reached through a path that understands and accepts all methods, and that’s what is unique about Sanatan Dharma. Apart from this, what is rarely discussed or even understood fully, is the deep and subtle science behind the Hindu tradition. Every practice is rooted in this science. When we understand the science behind it, we can’t help but be in awe of this ancient system.
Question : What are your views on Hindutva ?
Reply : Unlike the word Hinduism, which is used in the context of a religion, the word ‘Hindutva’ gives a sense of resurgence, a revival of the ancient philosophies, science and culture, that was intrinsic to this land. It is about standing firm in our understanding of our cultural and philosophical roots and not giving in to negative commentary. Is it necessary ? Absolutely yes, if plurality and sense have to prevail. It is only through Hindutva that all religions and philosophies can have the freedom to co-exist and appreciate differences.
Question : Do you think ancient Indian knowledge systems in different fields are relevant to the modern age ? How can we make it useful ?
Reply : If there is one thing I really regret not seeing enough of, it is the promotion of our native science like Ayurveda, Yoga, Mudra, Chakras and Tantra.
We give so much push for getting our history right, but not even 1/10th of that effort goes into getting our science right. Whenever efforts are made, it is to reduce our science in the name of Integrated Medicine. So Ayurveda gets insultingly reduced to herbal medicines, when it is the life science that teaches us how the body can heal itself without any medicine.
Yoga gets reduced to twisting and turning the body, when it is the most effective path for the Ultimate Union. Mudras get defined as hand gestures that seem to only have a decorative purpose, as we see at the Delhi airport.
Chakras and Tantra are not even spoken of, for fear of it being misunderstood.
Temples are only known as places of transactional prayer, when it is an energy vortex that can completely alter one’s physiology, in a very scientific manner.
This neglect of our sciences is a very sad state. Without understanding our sciences, we can never fully understand our culture. This lack of scientific know-how is why our cultural practices get reduced to a belief system or worse, get dismissed as superstition.
Just as we are attempting to introduce various aspects of our history in the education curriculum, we also need to introduce these indigenous sciences at the school itself.