Female gendercide: “Shakti” the empowered female in Hinduism and its scientific relevance

  • Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Updated on 31.10.2016.

 Infertility

One of the main reasons for female gendercide is the concept of exclusive paternal lineage that is why people want to have sons. There is no scientific/genetic evidence in favour of exclusive paternal lineage. The contribution from the nuclear DNA comes equally from both the father and mother (50% each). This is 25% from the paternal grandfather (and maternal grandfather as well). If we trace back by 7 generations this contribution would be about only 0.78% from the paternal ancestor (and maternal ancestor). Given the fact that 96% of the human genome is similar to that of the chimpanzees (only 4% difference in the genome but so much of difference as a creature), the possible similarity of a person with an ancestor 7 generations ago with only 0.78% of nuclear DNA contribution, compared with other human beings in the population, is self-explanatory. Therefore, the issue of female gendercide based on the concept of exclusive paternal family lineage does not have any scientic basis. This is true in relation to maternal lineage as well. But male gendercide is not an issue! The interesting fact is that, in contrast to the nuclear DNA, the mitochondrial DNA comes from the mother exclusively (with no paternal contribution). The mother had received it from her own mother and her female ancestors. Therefore, genetically there is slightly more contribution from the mother. The mitochondria is the main source of “energy” or “Shakti” in the living beings. In Hinduism, “Shakti” (“energy”) has been depicted as a female since 20000 years that the recent scientific evidence provides support for as the mitochondria run exclusively through the female line. The aim of the research was to highlight this link between the age-old concept in Hinduism and modern science. This fact could be used as evidence against female gendercide. Besides the social problems, there could be other potential scientific consequences if the number of females reduces drastically.

Reasearch paper presented at the RCOG World Congress 2013, Liverpool, UK, 24-26 June 2013.

“Shakti” the empowered female in Hinduism and its scientific relevance.

Dr Sudipta Paul

Background
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For a “Good Doctor” the patient’s interest comes first and the patient in Obstetrics & Gynaecology is a woman. While empowering women would improve the quality of their lives and that of the society, the status of women in several societies is still sub-optimal, and in some, female gendercide is rampant.
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Female gendercide – the awful picture
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In the Greece of 200 B.C., for example, the murder of female infants was so common that among 6,000 families living in Delphi no more than 1 percent had two daughters. Among all there were only 28 daughters to 118 sons.1
In India, there has been a steady decline of sex ratio from 972 in 1901 to 933 females per 1000 males in 2001. In South Asia and India, sons are preferred over daughters for a number of economic, social and religious reasons, including financial support, old age security, property inheritance, dowry, family lineage, prestige and power, birth and death rituals and beliefs about religious duties and salvation.2
According to UNICEF, “A report from Bombay (Mumbai) in 1984 on abortions after prenatal sex determination stated that 7,999 out of 8,000 of the aborted fetuses were females. A study of Tamil Nadu, India similarly found that “female infanticide is rampant” in the state, though only among Hindu (rather than Muslim or Christian) families.1
“…more than 50 million women were estimated to be ‘missing’ in China because of the institutionalized killing and neglect of girls due to Beijing’s population control program that limits parents to one child.“ – WHO 1997. Joseph Farah referred to the gendercide as “the biggest single holocaust in human history.“1
“…there are 111 million men in China – more than three times the population of Canada – who will not be able to find a wife.” As a result, the kidnapping and slave-trading of women has increased.1
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Objectives
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The concept of female as the source of power (“Shakti”) has been prevalent in Hinduism, possibly for more than 20000 years. The reason behind the concept, however, is not quite clear. Is there any scientific evidence in favour of that concept?
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Methods
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Review of literature was performed on the internet.
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Results
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The history and concept of “Shakti” in Hinduism
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Hindus form a much larger section of the Indian population – about 82%. They believe in one Supreme Power that manifests itself in all the living creatures of the world including plants and animals and can take any shape and form. Thus, Hinduism talks of various gods and goddesses that are actually myriad forms of the same Supreme God.3
Shaktism is, along with Saivism, Vaisnavism and Smartism, one of the four primary schools of Hinduism. It focuses worship upon Shakti or Devi – the Hindu Divine Mother– as the absolute, ultimate Godhead. The exact beginning of Shaktism is not clear. The earliest Mother Goddess figurine unearthed in India, from the Upper Paleolithic, has been from 20,000 BC. Thousands of female statues dated as early as 5500 BC have also been recovered at Mehrgarh, one of the most important Neolithic sites. On the basis of archaeological and anthropological evidence, it is widely believed, that the great Indus Valley Civilization is probably a direct predecessor of the modern Shakta religion. The Vedic Civilization (1500-600 BC) started later as the Indus Valley Civilization slowly declined and dispersed, and its peoples mixed with other groups. The present form of Shaktism began with the literature of the Vedic Age, evolved during the formative period of the Hindu epics, evolved further during the Gupta Age (300-700 AD), and continued to expand and develop thereafter. The most central and pivotal text in Shaktism is the Devi Mahatmyam (also known as the Durga, Chandi etc), composed some 1,600 years ago.4  The Devi Mahatmyam is a mighty and powerful text containing 700 verses praising the triumph of the Divine Mother over evil. In this text, asuras (demons) have control over all the worlds, and the devas (gods) unable to defeat them decide to combine all their shakti (powers) together. The combined powers of these devas create the mighty and powerful Devi (goddess), who in turn accomplishes the task of defeating the demons.5
“Shakti“ has been mentioned repeatedly in the long literary tradition of India e.g. Rig Veda, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Devi Bhagavata Purana, Shad-darshanas, Vedanta, Mimamsakas etc. It would be difficult to find a work anywhere in the entire Hindu literature in which there is not at least some mention of a feminine power.6
“Shakti” is a Hindu religious concept that means feminine power.7  It is interesting that the word for strength, power and virility in Hindu culture is represented by the feminine “Shakti.” The Sanskrit word Shakti means “power” or “energy.“ 5
In Hinduism, every woman is said to be a manifestation of the divine “Shakti”. The power of “Shakti”, the feminine principle, is believed to be directly present in creation in the form of our mothers, sisters, daughters and wives. The contemporary feminist author Elinor Gadon explains, “the truth of the Goddess is the mystery of our being. She is the dynamic life force within.” While she is primarily present as personified in woman, however, “Shakti” is also present in man.6
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The Mitochondria, the source of generation of cellular energy
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The main source of energy generation in the human cells is the mitochondria.8 Moreover, mitochondria are also the main intracellular source and target of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that are continually generated as by-products of aerobic metabolism in human cells.9  Changes in the structure of the mitochondria and mitochondrial genome leading to defects in its energy-generating pathway, oxidative phosphorylation, have been implicated in the process of ageing and a variety of diseases involving cardiac and skeletal muscles, the central nervous system (including eye), the endocrine system and the renal system.9,10,11 In contrast to the nuclear DNA, the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is inherited from the mother only.9
Approximately 90% of mammalian oxygen consumption in the standard state is mitochondrial, of which approximately 20% is uncoupled by the mitochondrial proton leak and 80% is coupled to ATP synthesis.12
Mitochondrial DNA encodes essential subunits of the respiratory chain and is thus critical for maintaining cellular energy production.13,14,15 Other subunits are encoded by the nuclear genome.14,15 The genetics of the mtDNA differs from that of the nuclear DNA. In particular, the mitochondrial genome is inherited from the mother that transmits her mtDNA to all her offspring.9 The other characteristic is its tendency to mutate more frequently than the nuclear DNA.14
Spermatozoon introduces a small number of mitochondria into the cytoplasm of the oocyte at fertilization, which apparently is digested soon after penetration.16 Sperm mitochondria, carrying potentially harmful paternal mtDNA, appear to be eliminated by a ubiquitin-dependent mechanism.17 This phenomenon of elimination of the paternal mitochondria has been shown by experiments in mice. Rejection of paternal mitochondria by the embryo normally occurs at the 4- to 8-cell stage in mice and is apparently dependent on mutual recognition between the mitochondria and the nuclear genome.18 In a study in nuclear transfer cloned sheep, it was observed that the mtDNA was derived exclusively from the recipient enucleated oocytes, with no contribution from the respective donor cells.19 Similar finding was observed in human following intracytoplasmic sperm injection.20
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Discussion
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The offspring inherits the main energy sources, the mitochondria, from his/her mother. Besides the inheritance of mitochondrial diseases from the mother, this could have other important implications. Considering the functions of mitochondria, several phenotypical characteristics could be transmitted from the mother to the offspring through the maternal mtDNA. Two such examples would be performance ability and the ageing process.
In absence of any female offspring, the mitochondria running in the female member of the family would not be propagated further down the family tree. It is really amazing that the mitochondria reach a dead end in the male. The father has no contribution to the main source of energy production in the offspring except some modulating influences on the mitochondrial function through the nuclear genome. However, the “paternal” mitochondria, in fact, have a ‘maternal’ source coming from his own mother, without any contribution from his father. Her mother had inherited it from her mother and so on (Fig 1).
 Figure 1 MtDNA
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The link between “Shakti” and generation of cellular energy
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Why the concept of “Shakti” or energy being female evolved in Hinduism is not clear. Presumably, the scientific knowledge of the process of reproduction, fertilization, cellular function, source of cellular energy, genetics, DNA etc was not available at that time.  The most likely possibility might be the observation of the biological reality that the females give birth to the babies. Therefore, the energy in all living beings must have come from the mother! The present scientific knowledge, however, is interesting as it provides clear link between the production of energy in the living beings and the female.
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Nuclear DNA contributions by paternal ancestors
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Paternal Ancestors            Nuclear DNA contributions
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1 generation (father)                  50%
2 generations (grandfather)     25%
3 generations                              12.5%
4 generations                              6.25%
5 generations                              3.125%
6 generations                              1.56%
*7 generations                             0.78%
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* The difference between the human and chimpanzee genome is only about 4% and about 96% is common. The Nuclear DNA contributions by paternal (and maternal) ancestor 7 generations ago would be only about 0.78%! This is self-explanatory regarding the possible similarity between the person and his/her paternal ancestors compared with other human beings in the population.
The facts documented above raises serious question reagrding the concept of exclusive paternal family lineage that is one of the main reasons for the culture, in some countries, of strong preference towards sons rather than daughters. This culture leads to female gendercide. It is evident that there is no scientific/genetic reasons in favour of that concept that has probably evolved due to socio-economic reasons. On the contrary, there is evidence in favour of maternal lineage through the mtDNA. In absence of daughters that family lineage would be lost. If the ratio of females:males continues to decrease that would reduce the diversity of the mtDNA available as the mtDNA running in some families would reach a dead end. We know that diversity enhances evolution. Therefore, reduction in diversity could have a negative impact on evolution in relation to mtDNA. Besides the negative social impacts of female gendercide, whether the female:male ratio would reach a tipping point at some stage with its potential consequences on evolution needs to be considered as well.
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Conclusions
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The scientific evidence shows a strong link between the source of generation of cellular energy and female.
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The human mitochondria (the cellular powerhouse), the main source of energy generation in the human cells, come from the mother and her female ancestors (the female line). It is fascinating that energy (“Shakti”) was considered as a female form in Hinduism thousands of years ago before this information on mitochondria was available. It is a paradox that India is one of the countries where female gendercide has a high prevalence.
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The concept of exclusive paternal family lineage does not have any scientic basis
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Whether substantial reduction in the female:male ratio (in case it happens) would influence evolution needs to be considered.
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References
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1. http://www.gendercide.org/case_infanticide.html
2. http://www.wikigender.org/index.php/%22FemaleGenocide%22 in India
3. Hinduism. http://www.indiaonlinepages.com/religions/hinduism.html
4. Mother Goddess leads to cult of Shakti. History of Hinduism. http://www.xtimeline.com/evt/view.aspx?id=112951
5. SHAKTI: THE POWER OF WOMEN IN HINDUISM. http://www.guardian.co.tt/columnist/2011/10/06/shakti-power-women-hinduism
6. Frank Morales. The Concept of Shakti: Hinduism as a Liberating Force for Women. http://www.adishakti.org/forum/concept_of_shakti_hinduism_as_a_liberating_force_for_women_1-18-2005.htm
7. http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-shakti.htm
8. Bauer MF, Gempel K, Hofmann S, Jaksch M, Philbrook C, Gerbitz KD. Mitochondrial disorders. A diagnostic challenge in clinical chemistry. Clin Chem Lab Med 1999; 37(9): 855-76.
9. Lee HC, Wei YH. Mitochondrial role in life and death of the cell. L Biomed Sci 2000; 7(1): 2-15.
10. Wallace DC. Mitochondrial defects in cardiomyopathy and neuromuscular disease. Am Heart J 2000; 139: S70-85.
11.  Winter SC, Buist NR. Cardiomyopathy in childhood, mitochondrial dysfunction, and the role of L-carnitine. Am Heart J 2000; 139: S63-9.
12. Rolfe DF, Brown GC. Cellular energy utilization and molecular origin of standard metabolic rate in mammals. Physiol Rev 1997; 77(3): 731-58.
13. Graff C, Clayton DA, Larsson NG. Mitochondrial medicine – recent advances. J Intern Med 1999; 246(1): 11-23.
14. Enriquez JA et al. Human mitochondrial genetic system. Rev Neurol
1998; 26: S21-6.
15. Smeitink JA, Loeffen JL, Triepels RH, Smeets RJ, Trijbels JM, van den Heuvel LP. Nuclear genes of human complex I of the mitochondrial electron transport chain: state of the art. Hum Mol Genet 1998; 7(10): 1573-9.
16. Smith LC, Alcivar AA. Cytoplasmic inheritance and its effects on development and performance. J Reprod Fertil Suppl 1993; 48: 31-43.
17. Sutovsky P, Schatten G. Paternal contributions to the mammalian zygote: fertilization after sperm-egg fusion. Int Rev Cytol 2000; 195: 1-65.
18. Cummins JM, Kishikawa H, Mehmet D, Yanagimachi R. Fate of genetically marked mitochondrial DNA from spermatocytes microinjected into mouse zygotes. Zygote 1999; 7(2): 151-6.
19. Evans MJ, Gurer C, Loike JD, Wilmut I, Schnieke AE, Schon EA. Mitochondrial DNA genotypes in nuclear transfer-derived cloned sheep. Nat Genet 1999; 23(1): 90-3.
20. Houshmand M, Holme E, Hanson C, Wennerholm UB, Hamberger L. Is paternal mitochondrial DNA transferred to the offspring following intracytoplasmic sperm injection? Assist Reprod Genet 1997; 14(4): 223-7.
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Comments:

“As an outsider to Hindu and Indian culture I find this discussion fascinating and appreciate the posted comments.” … By Ian MacAgy

Assistant Clinical Professor at UCSF-Fresno OB/GYN Residency Program Fresno, California Area 12.06.2013.

Dr Sudipta Paul’s response to Ian MacAgy “Thank you Ian for your valuable comments. I hope my post would be useful to the (Wo)Mankind. Would you agree with my logic, based on the scientific facts, against female gedercide?”

Ian MacAgy’s response to Dr Sudipta Paul (13.06.2013.)

“Yes. I think you speak to one of the most important human rights issues in the world…the right to exist and be equally valued regardless of gender. If part of the rationale for female gendercide (which is not limited to Indian or Hindu culture) is the belief that paternal lineage provides the bulk of an offspring’s biologic identity, your argument is valuable indeed in refuting that erroneous notion.

” Dr Sudipta Paul’s response to Ian MacAgy “Thank you Ian for your valuable comments. The preference to have sons rather than daughters is based on the concept of exclusive paternal lineage. The other associated reasons to have sons are secondary to that concept.”

In Controversies in Obstetrics, Gynecology & Infertility (COGI), Linkedin

“I Think Indian society at large does not follow or even be interested in any form of scientific or evidence based arguments against female feticide, or against patriarchal order, just look at any channel of regional TV which has more time to astrology, cricket and bollywood than even basic health issues plaguing the country. shame of the country is exposed very late only by international bodies, why not by the liberalized media? feticide of females is because of caste systems of anti-female bias in marriage, at child birth,in rearing,in education, independence to function, think, even to exist! caste is the base of most politicians, and the country’s so callled democratic free constitutional rights are under their mercy of function or non function .whatever the laws in writing, its implementation cannot be a success unless education is ensured other than thro petty politics. but the general population cannot rise above a level of consciousness to realize the root causes of all these afflictions, govt is busy formulating newer ineffective laws(PNDT ART etc) which will help the rich to bribe the bureaucrats to circumvent regulations. media is busy increasing the TRP with non serious matters. this all seems sure shot recipe for a tragedy!”

By Dr (Maj) Hari Charan

OBGYN – Asissted Reproductive Techniques Bengaluru Area, India 11.06.2013.

Dr Sudipta Paul’s response to Dr (Maj) Hari Charan “Thank you for your comments on this important issue. Major changes take time as evolution does. We could, at the least, try to improve public awareness by spreading the information. Whether people change their practice is upto them.”

In Controversies in Obstetrics, Gynecology & Infertility (COGI), Linkedin

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Female gendercide: “Shakti” the empowered female in Hinduism and its scientific relevance
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