The avalanche of gross remarks made by NDA ranks against women in recent times even in Parliament, state assemblies and public gathering, reveal a streak of medieval misogyny
On the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s departure to London for an important international (Commonwealth) conference, two abominable incidents of gang-rape (one in Kathua and another in Unnao) surfaced in the Indian media and generated huge waves of outrage and public protests.
What made it worse was the fact that several members of the ruling BJP were allegedly involved in both, some as perpetrators, others as friendly members of the system trying to silence the surviving victim (one was already dead), threaten relatives (the father of the surviving victim died mysteriously in police custody) and generally help deflect blame and distort the narrative in the media. What was really galling was the silence of the Prime Minister, a brilliant communicator and self-professed supporter of Indian women (whom he unfailingly refers to, not as individual citizens but as, India’s mothers, daughters and sisters).
He raised the issue of rapes while addressing an audience in London and even then took care to decontextualise them first. Rape is a terrible crime, he said, but a rape is a rape (Balatkaar balaatkar hota hai). How can politicians use such painful (dardnaak) incidents to score political points? “So many incidents happened under your watch compared to ours…,” and so on.
What was really galling was the silence of the Prime Minister, a brilliant communicator and self-professed supporter of Indian women (whom he unfailingly refers to, not as individual citizens but as, India’s mothers, daughters and sisters).
Rape as a subject for public discussion and political debates may be unappealing as the Prime Minister said, but on grounds of human rights, the unending wave of most gruesome gangrapes in India, is introducing the netizens of the world to a new way of seeing India’s power politics where men head politics, governments and the judiciary. It thus becomes questionable when names of eminent local male politicians are found linked to not just these rapes but also to several earlier incidents of caste violence and lynchings of Dalits and minorities in the name of cow protection. In most of these cases, the perpetrators were driven not so much by lust or momentary loss of control, as by a deeply entrenched idea of revenge against the victims’ people.
It is interesting though that when the ruling dispensation faces the media on such issues, it does so through many vociferous women leaders from its ranks. Their steady line is “let the law take its course”, followed by whataboutery and eventually how too much discussion in the media may actually be driving the rise in crimes against women.
But when even major dailies in the US and Europe began publishing withering critiques deepening India’s shame, and some 49 senior retired bureaucrats and 600 internationally renowned academics sent angry letters to the Prime Minister asking for immediate redressal, the ground began to shake. And once the IMF chief, Christine Lagarde, in an uncomfortable message on April 12, asked India’s Prime Minister by name, to take better care of India’s women, the Prime Minister finally spoke obliquely of the heinous crimes against women being swiftly and severely punished.
The Prime Minister is a frequent traveller and in all his public appearances abroad, showcased carefully by professional event managers, he always forcefully projects his government and himself as staunch upholders of women’s rights. Even domestically, in his first speech from the Red Fort, he had announced grandiloquently how he was going to walk the extra mile to uplift his Indian mothers, daughters and sisters. He went on to express his deep regret over the oppression of women under the Congress rule and urged all parents to keep a watchful eye on their sons instead of curbing the freedom of their daughters drawing thunderous applause and many glowing editorials in the media.
Like the late Victorian ministers, the BJP has at its command a band of feisty indoctrinated voices that it now pits against feminists. Despite their titles and band of deferential bureaucrats pushing back their chairs and putting the papers in front of them at official events, these spokeswomen are hardly independent or autonomous of male authority. Male power is the sun from whom they draw all their light and warmth
In November last year again, when Ivanka Trump came to India (to co- host an annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit), the Prime Minister waxed eloquent about India’s rising women power and how much he had done to promote women’s welfare. On March 8, International Women’s Day, this year, official sources seeded the media with many stories about how the PM had personally penned 1500 letters to chief ministers, chief secretaries, principal secretaries and district collectors in all states, another 400 letters to leading women in various spheres (from sports to industry to Bollywood), and made many phone calls to village-level women members of Panchayats, all to promote and strengthen his much-publicised projects for India’s ‘mothers and daughters’ (Ujwala, Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao etc). Even his old tweets were retweeted on how great women had inspired him all his life, in particular one Kanwar Bai who had sold her goats to help build public toilets, so essential for his Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
But, by now all available hard statistical evidence is destroying the illusory Achhe Din! The alarming farm crisis has affected a large number of women. It is a sector that employs the largest number of rural women who have traditionally reared cattle as well. Demonetisation and an unofficial but effective ban on cattle trade in even non-BJP-ruled states, together have all but destroyed the average woman’s capacity to generate income and contribute to the GDP. Gender is clearly in India at least, a political system working largely through a male network in legislative bodies, corporate circles and the judiciary where women remain virtually invisible. Significantly, as many as 48 sitting MPs and MLAs from the ruling coalition have officially declared to the Election Commission pending cases of crimes against women against themselves.
Post-Nirbhaya, the BJP made oppression of women under the UPA rule a big political issue during the 2014 elections. But the avalanche of gross remarks made by NDA ranks in recent times even in Parliament, state assemblies and public gatherings, reveal a streak of medieval misogyny.
A woman parliamentarian’s laughter at what she saw as a bombastic speech drew such ire, that apart from being called a derogatory name by the Speaker and thereafter being trolled crudely and incessantly, even the day she demitted office as a parliamentarian, the presiding politician chose to body shame her by saying she should now go out, lose some weight and add it to her weak political party!
Like the late Victorian ministers, the BJP has at its command a band of feisty indoctrinated voices that it now pits against feminists. Some of them have politically impressive positions with inflated titles but little actual authority, all of them dress near identically with vermilion in the parting of their hair, bright saris and mangal sutras.
Interestingly, they all seem to have borrowed political tactics and rhetoric from feminist and literary events and the same Jholawala activists that they decry! But in defending the rapists, questioning forensic evidence and hinting at some anti-national design the victims’ communities may have had, they still wear the veneer of honourable men and women.
Despite their titles and band of deferential bureaucrats pushing back their chairs and putting the papers in front of them at official events, these spokeswomen are hardly independent or autonomous of male authority. Male power is the sun from whom they draw all their light and warmth. Male power remains central and systemic in all political interactions in Bharat that is India today: coercive, legitimated, and epistemic. It is the regime.
Source- National Herald