BY BADRI RAINA
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 anadarsh 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 dowry 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 right-wing 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 right-wing 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 (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, by the 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 right-wing 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 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.
(Badri Raina is a well-known commentator on politics, culture and society. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)