~ I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.
~ In Hinduism, conscience, reason and independent thinking have no scope for development.
~ If Hindus migrate to other regions on earth, Indian caste would become a world problem.
~ Dr. B. R. Ambedkar
Recently the Modi government launched a scheme in Panipat, Haryana, called "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao" (Save the girl child, educate the girl child). According to the 2011 census report the sex ratio in Haryana is 879 females per 1000 males, which is below the national average. It was 861 per 1000 males in 2001. It was most likely this figure that led the BJP ministers and RSS members to introduce this program. But this seems like a new stunt of the present government, which is trying to erase the sins which have constantly been taking place against the women in the nation.
Women in India have historically been thrust with a prescribed status given by Hinduism. In most affairs women are treated like commodities; they are often disparaged and their existence is deprecated. Since the BJP came to power, many of their so-called representatives (MLAs, MPs and other Ministers), in different parts of the country, have been making statements which indeed belittle half the population of Indian society. On one such occasion BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj stirred a controversy by asking Hindu women to produce at least four children. In a similar vein, Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Sadhvi Prachi reiterated the MP's controversial comments.
On top of all this, another BJP Joint district President Shyamal Goswami while observing the Vivekanand birth anniversary at a school said that Hindu women needed to have five children, so that Hindu religion is not endangered.
Furthermore, he said in order to protect Hinduism and Sanatan Dharam (Orthodox Brahminism) it is necessary for all Hindus to give birth to five children.This clearly reflects the mindset of the BJP politburo which is wedded to the traditional ways that are taught through all Hindu religious texts, epics, viz. Manusmriti, Gita etc. All of this is not to be accepted.
All of the above denigrating statements are made by people who project themselves as representatives of the entire state. One can't imagine what will be the future of Indian society if this continues. This needs to be further thought over by women who are fifty percent population of the country. Until one refrains from orthodox and hypocritical mentality, we can't pursue an egalitarian society.
Moreover, it does not cease here. On a different occasion BJP Madhya Pradesh Cabinet Minister Kailash Vijayvargiya made another irresponsible remark. He suggested that if women breach their moral limits, they ask for punishment. "Ek hi shabd hai-Maryada. Maryada ka ulanghan hota hai, toh Sitaharan ho jati hai. Laxman-rekha har vyaktiki khichigai hai. Us laxman rekhako koi bhi par karega, toh Ravan samne baitha hai, woh Sitaharan karke le jayega" (One has to abide by certain moral limits. If you cross this limit you will be punished, just as Ravana who had abducted Sita was punished). We can see here the practice of blaming the victims rather than culprits of a crime. Surely, this is going to encourage the latter to harass and humiliate women more.
The above mentioned statements prove that they are not willing to give equal treatment to women. In another incident Banwari Lal Singhal, BJP MLA from Alwar, Rajasthan, said that sexual harassment arises from the fact that schoolgirls wearing skirts inevitably draw attention from mischievous elements, while on the way to and from school. Hence, these remarks clearly work to safeguard perpetrators of violence on women, instead of offering better solutions to end gender bias, and this leads to the maintenance of injustice and humiliation on women, furthering their deprivation.
Sometimes it seems like there is a race to overtake and supersede each other among the leaders who are invariably stirring such controversial statements. In this competition of degrading the status of women in Indian society RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat (how can he lag behind?) while glorifying Hindu culture says "rape is primarily a side effect of westernisation and hence more common in urban areas and villages that embody the national spirit do not have a rape culture." This view of the Sarsanghchalak makes one wonder how westernised the rapists in the villages are, where 75 percent of the total rapes in India occur?
Furthermore, all these statements against women mentioned above are deeply rooted in caste and after being pronounced by Hindu nationalist political parties' representatives have an influence on some devout Hindus in the society at large. Caste is monstrous and has been a primary tool to impose innumerable customs and traditions on people. Invariably, it intends to maintain enormous social restrictions by imposing endogamy within castes in society. Historically, different treatment was provided to women as compared to men of the same caste. For instance, if a husband died then his widow (surplus woman), according to unwritten law, had to burn herself on his funeral pyre (Sati) whereas if the wife died, the widower (surplus man) had the opportunity to either accept celibacy or renounce the world. In addition, a widower could remarry by recruiting a bride from the ranks of those not yet marriageable in order to tie him within the group. This ended up promoting child marriage. Hence, caste accepted widower as a Grahastha (one who raises family) because he is considered an asset and an active member of society while the woman was considered useless. These morals and customs seem like fossils that used to be followed and have changed to some extent, although women are still in a distress condition in most places in our country.
Currently, the ruling government is very keen to avoid all these stains which definitely contribute to their hegemony over other religions and have negative repercussions at large. This is altogether the game plan of the Hindu dharma which has emerged from Manusmriti, Ramayana, Gita and Mahabharata (the major texts and epics of Hindu religion). All these pictures that have been portrayed by the party leaders with regard to women are leading to a great resentment among women but it is quite surprising that nobody has really ventured to raise a strong protest against such persisting unethical attitudes of the BJP.
Now the urgent and immediate question of mine, and all those individuals who seek equal status for women, from the BJP team is that, how are they going to address this gigantic issue of Beti Bachao and Beti Padhao while such statements are given by the same party? Basically, Mr. Modi needs to address the issues emerging among his party members and clarify whether these are their own opinions or are they speaking as political representatives of his government?
Since this party came to power, every corner of society is made to look like it is under the influence of the Modi-effect/wave. It is a wonder that how can anyone cast his vote to these kinds of persons and rely on them for the coming four and a half years? BJP ministers and RSS members are repeatedly demeaning women and at the same time trying to show that they are focusing on empowerment and uplift of half the population of one of the biggest democratic nations in the world.
The Indian constitution comprehensively deals with women's economic, political, educational, and social rights viz. equality before law for women (Article 14); the State to make any special provision in favour of women and children (Article 15 (3); the State to direct its policy towards securing for men and women equally the right to an adequate means of livelihood (Article 39(a)); and equal pay for equal work for both men and women (Article 39(d)) and so forth. Though these crucial articles do indeed talk about women, the situation of women has been deteriorating consistently. Merely launching a scheme in the name of "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao" will not be able to fight the constant downgrading of women until there is a transformation in the minds of BJP members and their orientation towards women in Indian society changes thoroughly.
Ambedkar, B. R. (1916). Castes in India: Their mechanism, genesis and development. Patrika Publications.
Vicky Nandgaye is an M.Phil. first year student in Management and Labour Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. His research area is informal sector, focusing on precarious employment of construction workers in Mumbai. He is from Nagpur, and has been associated with "Youth for Self & Social Change", an NGO which helps students, especially slum students, prepare for higher education and in soft skills development since 2009.
Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.