The Bible according to Bhagwat

[Note: Mohan Bhagwat is the chief of the Hindutva rightwing RSS]

It is such a relief finally to know why and where rapes take place in this sanaatan land.

They happen because of  “western” influence, and they happen in  “India”, not in “Bharat.”

To clarify:  “India” is wherever rapes take place; “Bharat” is where they do not. By the way, not rape but “balatkar” takes place in Bharat; and that is not the same thing, is it?

So, for starters, you might ask the question:  do the thousands of dalit women, agricultural workers, adivasi women out to gather firewood or water, women out on the call of nature in the open, women who dare to defy custom in the hinterlands, girls who dare go to village schools trudging menacing distances, women who inhabit slums outside city limits who are regularly subjected to rape live in India or in Bharat?  And  all without any of the redress that may occasionally be available to women who are raped in “India,”  since in “Bharat” there is hardly ever a police thana to go to, or a social organization to seek shelter with,  or a hospital or health worker who might record and report those rapes. And of course no “western” influence there. Only expanding “development” full of predatory robber barons patronized by chief executives replete with good Bharatiya values. 

Then there is the claim that women have traditionally been so honoured and safe in Bharat.  Consider how  Shrupnakha in the  Ramayana  was honoured by having her nose cut off for expressing an amorous preference; how  Dhrupadi  in the Mahabharata  was  likewise honoured by first being staked in gambling by an adarsh husband, and then gleefully disrobed by  the male cabal, all friendly family men,  to whom she was lost in dice; or how  women in a predominant  “Bharat” then  were honoured by  being required to climb the dead husband’s  pyre  upon his death; or how they were  made safe by being routinely married off as  less than nubile children;  or being propitiated as “grah lakhshmis” who nonetheless  had the privilege of eating last and eating little; or by being burnt  off should her dowery be  pitiful; or, more recently, by being killed off in the womb to be utterly and ab initio safe from the outside world. And, altogether, by being held to the so ennobling laws of Manu. All during times when one never as much heard of the “western” world, which, one must note, was pretty much as enlightened with respect to women as the Bharat  barely sketched above.

Now this wretched  “western” world:  how the sanaatan  Bharatiya rightwing adores  its goods and services, its technologies, its finances, its industry,  its impulse to dominance,its macho militarism, its market economies and all the chicaneries  and corruptions that go with it, but how it abhors its concomitant histories of  democracy, freedom, equality. Ergo,  as  the Hindu rightwing  Bible would have it,  give us your capitalism, give us the smart phones, give us the  unconscionably unethical advertising industry, but  leave us our  Bharatiya culture at the centre of which  is the  shackled nari  captive to a plethora of lakhshman rekhas.  Let her continue to be the bulwark of family and patriarchy, while  Bharatiya men  go out to conquer the world. 

The plain fact is that, suddenly, India’s prehistoric myth-makers no longer have a leg to stand upon.  For too long have they been speaking to cross purposes from each side of a duplicitous mouth. They say they support  women’s reservation in parliament and legislatures, not to speak of panchayats and gram sabhas, to wit, their role as  social and governmental decision-makers,  they adulate  foreign women of Indian origins who  do heroic deeds as citizens of other countries (ah a Kalpana Chawla or a Sunita Williams), never questioning what they wear or who they go with,  but they do not wish any woman at home  to be her own person  in what she wears, where she goes and at what time of day or night, who she teams up with, what opinion she holds or expresses, or how she  might dare challenge the stranglehold of  family, custom, maryada, or how she  might hold the patriarchal state responsible for ensuring their free movement, their free choice of  personal,  social, and emotional mobility. They presumably expect even very successful women in offices, corporations, legislatures, educational institutions always to keep in mind that they remain in line with what their fathers, husbands, or brothers would think best for them.  And when the fathers, husbands, brothers, or sundry other kin commit rape upon them, maryada enjoins that they do not make such things public. And just to recall:  92% or so rapes in this land of ethics and honour are perpetrated within family circles.  Not to speak of the millions of abjectly illiterate and mired women who nonetheless are pressed into productive services in field, factory, shopline at much less the wages at which men might be hired. Those are unmentionable fair game for whatever male happens to take fancy.

Consider this: Hinduism is the only organized faith worldwide that has a goddess of wealth (Lakshmi) who is vigorously worshipped every Diwali day for hefty boons.  Yet India’s women own barely 2% of national assets, and even less have bank accounts.

As we write, one prominent godman, name of Asaram, who has legions of followers, among them, significantly, legions of women, the sort who routinely inhabit India’s soap operas—comfortably placed, replendantly adorned, and steeped in forms of ritual and superstition handed down by patriarchy– has pronounced that the young lady whose recent brutal rape and subsequent death are now in the eye of the storm may, after all, have been to blame for her fate.  Had she but taken “diksha” (religious initiation bestowed by a “guru”) she might have been able to mutter a mantra in her predicament that would have obviated her fatal encounter. Imagine the loads of unnecessary work this would spare the overburdened law enforcement agencies and the legal system were the advice to be adopted as national policy. Indeed, he has gone on to say that had she but  held one of the attackers by the wrist and called him brother, and appealed to other “brothers” to come to her rescue, being an “abla”  (weak and eligible for male protection, as per traditional construction of women), maybe fallen at their feet, none of what happened might have happened.  And, if you have been listening, his fiercest defence has been coming from  one of his articulate women devotees.

This has come quickly upon the heals of  yet another discourse, this time on  the nature of marriage by the  same  Shri  Bhagwat of the RSS: marriage, he opines, is a  “contract” wherein the wife agrees to keep the husband pleased, and the husband in turn agrees to keep the wife secure and fed.  After such knowledge, what forgiveness.

Gloriously, however,  there is a new turbulence underway in  post-independence  India, where  what remnants of Bharat there  remain—and  these are  still countless—are sought to be  everyday  uplifted to a  future of  reason, dignity, equality; a turbulence which most hearteningly is now being  owned and endorsed by a new generation of young males who  have seen through the  untenable and oppressive formulations of old.   Gloriously also, some women who have been objects of gang rapes  are today  boldly and openly articulate on some  media channels, speaking of their ordeals in their own voices, and, most significantly, refusing to project themselves merely as  victims overburdened by the sort of shame and opprobrium that patriarchs would like them to feel.  This truly betokens a new  episteme in India’s social and gender history, one that seems here to stay.  All that in the teeth of rightwing back-to-the-wall resistance from both major communities (notice that Abu Azmi  of the Samajwadi Party has said that he finds nothing wrong  in what Bhagwat ji has said; how those seeming opposites are often at bottom one and the same; no wonder that “honour” killings straddle both communities with equal  conviction in misogyny and patriarchy) in India who  stand  more and more exposed as each day passes.

Which is also the reason why the suggestion made by Shashi Tharoor must be zestfully endorsed, namely, that since it is the perpetrators who ought to feel the shame and not the victim,   the deceased young woman who has been the catalyst of the current historic epistemic shift must be honoured by being named, and by having the new laws under contemplation named after her.  Indeed, if jurisprudence as at present disallows such a departure in the naming of laws, then amendments may be made. One presses this point in the conviction that such symbolic determinations on behalf of nation-states can often have far-reaching consequence in reshaping inherited habits of thought.

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