In the name of the mother
By Shanta Gokhale

Four words, Bharat Mata ki Jai, have come to dominate our public discourse over the last couple of weeks. We now tell people who pray to the ‘wrong’ gods, or believe in the ‘wrong’ ideology that this country, where they and their ancestors were born, is not theirs by right. We say to them, “Is desh mein rehna hai, kutton, toh Bharat Mata ki Jai bolna hoga.”

Words, words, words as Hamlet said in another context. Our generation was brought up to believe that words were not to be trusted. What counted was action. If you had strong feelings, you didn’t declaim them. You let them drive your deeds and people would automatically know how you felt. Now, the reverse is being proposed. Deeds don’t matter. Snappy slogans and pious declarations are at hand to stand in for them. Ours is said to be the age of information; but it is actually the age of self-advertisement. Selfadvertisement brings power and power is all.

When the boys in our gully played cricket, the boy who owned the bat was allowed to make the rules and also to change them at will. The threat was always, “If you’re giving me out, I’m going home with my bat.” Power play doesn’t change when boys become men and men become husbands. Husbands say to the mothers of their children, “This house is mine. If you want to live here, you will do as I say.” If a mother dares to point out, “This is also my house. I have contributed my labour to it”, she is labelled a trouble-maker and kicked out. Women must forever be obliged to their husbands for allowing them a roof over their heads. That’s what being a second class citizen means.

When Maneka Gandhi said the concept of marital rape doesn’t fit into Indian culture, she meant precisely this. Since women don’t have the right to protest or dissent, and since marriage is, culturally, a package deal in which they are the providers of food, sex and children in return for board and lodge, the question of their husbands raping them doesn’t arise. What husbands are doing is merely claiming their right according to the cultural rules in force.

So it is that the mothers of our land walk around with covered heads and lowered eyes. Our health care facilities give them, according to the most recent statistics, a 30 to 50 per cent chance of survival during childbirth depending on whether they live in cities or villages. When they lose their husbands, many are still ushered into the darkest corners of homes or packed off to holy places to live out their lives in prayer. In short, we look up to Bharat Mata while looking down on real mothers.

Governments are like husbands. The rules of our largely feudal culture allow them to be kings. Sarkar means king. If the king is an evolved human being, he allows subjects to live free lives as long as they pay their taxes. If he isn’t, he has their heads chopped off on the merest suspicion of offence. The old kings were supposedly guided by a slippery concept called rajdharma. Our sarkar is supposedly guided by a more concrete document called the Constitution. This document allows citizens to have an opinion, even a dissenting one, and to express it. But it is easy to ‘interpret’ what it says to suit present purpose. That’s how our sarkar officially resolved two weeks ago that, since the Constitution refers to India as Bharat, it follows that citizens who don’t chant Bharat Mata ki Jai are insulting it. If you don’t see the logic of that, then you are only proving you are anti-national.

Once let loose, the nationalist high horse has galloped on. Now Mohan Bhagwat has a dream. “We want the whole world to chant Bharat Mata ki Jai.” In Bhagwat’s eyes Bharat is culturally pristine. Other countries are morally depraved. That makes us automatic world rulers. Obviously the world will soon want to chant, “Bharat Mata ki Jai.”

It comes as naturally to us not to respect the rich cultures of other countries as it does to not allow multiple views in our own. Being so full of ourselves, we can’t see beyond the tips of our noses to the riot of colours beneath our feet and beyond. Else would we not celebrate with Louis Macneice the glorious fact that “World is crazier and more of it than we think /Incorrigibly plural”?