Tuesday, March 28, 2017
PUNE: I celebrated March 8, International Women’s Day this year by signing a petition to the Twitter CEO requesting him to shut down accounts of those who tweet rape threats against women!
While urging others to do likewise, I said; “this is the least we can do to a clock set back centuries in a short span since the elevation of the BJP regime to power at the center in 2014.
I think this March 8 had provided the right moment for most of the sane minded members of Indian society to come to terms with what we really have become as the Indian society. I am sure, few will grant credence to the claim that “India is a modern democratic secular society”.
Founding fathers and the architect of the Indian Constitution tried to pole-vault us into a post Renaissance social order. Implicit in it was ending patriarchal society and ensuring gender equity. The post-independence generations did attempt to fortify the gains and to keep in check the obscurantist right wing aggression for few decades.
I remember our demonstrations in the 1970’s against Raj Kapoor’s “Satyam, Shivam, Sunderam” urging others to join us and reject the commercial exploitation of a woman’s body. Even in those days not many joined but quite a few passed by nodding in agreement.
Little did we know that somewhere in Deorala village of Sikar district in Rajasthan, a lady called Roop Kanwar was being made ready to join her deceased husband’s pyre. Forlorn red chunri vanishing in flames before hundreds strong frenzied mob clapping and chanting, barely pricked the national conscience.
BJP’s OP Gupta wanted to build a Sati temple. This vanished from the public conscience and the case was consigned to a slow judicial death. Soon the medieval cesspool settled down to its natural state, still and sclerotic. Times and tide were changing for the worse.
With rapid depletion of growth potential, Indian economy was grinding to a halt. Steadily, the progressive narrative had given way to pretentious populism. Restive population started reassessing prospects of Growth with a social justice narrative. Slowly the political spectrum was shifting rightwards and a mythology based political narrative started acquiring growing legitimacy.
The country was fast getting integrated into the global market. Technology had enabled import of a global culture which was being devoured by the Indian middle class at a frantic pace. Demonstrations outside the annual Femina Miss India Pageant lost their relevance.
The Fragmentation of the woman’s body began with Miss Beautiful Eyes, Miss Beautiful Hair and so on. The marketing principle behind this bizarre exercise was simple. If you can multiply editions, you multiply profits. Slowly, the new way of representation, “fragmented womanhood as a package of several products” seeped into Bollywood.
The neo-liberal economic development brought hordes of rural youth to urban centers. Working as security guards, household help, taxi drivers,Bollywood movies fueled their wild imagination. Incidence of rape on women living alone, shot up. The traditionalists had their own recipe; “Stop dressing provocatively”. Feudal politicians rationalized it as “Akhir, wo bachche Hai”.
The entire socio-cultural milieu became such that rape acquired the status of a causal contingency spurred by exploding economic growth (the most irresistible proposition for middle class) of which women were the hapless victims or collateral damage. Sad but unavoidable!
Soon the male establishment discovered a tool with tremendous subjugation potential and practically zero accountability. Conservative political outfits found this very convenient to silence their opposition. No moral dilemma because in any case these (the rape victims) were renegade elements who defied a strict religious and moral code and hence victims of their own creation.
So when the ABVP threatened Delhi University student Gurmeher Kaur with rape, there was not a single unequivocal reprimand by the political bosses, with not a person taking these students to task from within. Instead, the BJP Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju defended them and went on to say,“His (father of Gurmeher) soul must be weeping that his daughter is being misguided by those who celebrate on the bodies of martyrs.”
So what do we say to Gurmeher and millions like her? That this is the society we have built for you ! Perhaps one can only quote from personalities like the great American Historian late Howard Zinn who said to someone in a similar predicament, “My hope is that you will not obey the rules, when the rules are unjust; that you will act out the courage that I know is in you. ”