Upper caste Hindu women too are victims of the bigots in RSS and the BJP

The release of Bilkis Bano’s rapists today threatens upper caste Hindu women even more than it does women from other communities. Beware, fellow women and citizens!

Bilkis Bano (File image)
Bilkis Bano (File image)

Sujata Anandan

I have been so numbed by the release of Bilkis Bano's rapists that I was not able to process or acknowledge this travesty of justice for days. But once I began to think about it, I began to be ashamed of what it means to be an upper caste Hindu man or woman in this country today. Coming to think of it, I realised the double jeopardy that Bilkis Bano was always in - she was a Muslim and she was a woman. By now we all know what it means to be a Muslim in New India today. But I wonder if women, including upper caste Hindu women, have realised what it means to be a woman in RSS country.

Wasn’t it RSS chief K. Sudarshan who had once said women were of little more use than to produce children and cook for their husbands? Current chief Mohan Bhagwat had also said virtually the same thing a couple of years ago, in addition to distinguishing between urban and rural women, those in India and those in Bharat, with urban women getting raped frequently while rural women were not so much under threat.

While we all know that is not quite true – for every Nirbhaya in Delhi, there is an Asifa in Jammu, Asha in Hathras and a Bilkis in Gujarat – we must also realise that a woman, of whatever caste or religion, is just a plaything or a brood mare for those with RSS mindsets. Sudarshan had wished for every Hindu woman to produce at least five children to compete with and help overwhelm the Muslim population in the country (as though Hindus are in any danger of being outnumbered here) and that is what they will subject their upper caste women to, keeping them barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen all the time with no other role to play in society. The lower caste and minority women will be mere playthings and there will come a time when no one will be bothered as official sanction will be allowed to the “sanskari” upper caste men to do with women as they please.

This is why I have such tremendous respect for Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr BR Ambedkar. They were as different in demographic profile as chalk and cheese, Nehru coming from a privileged upper caste background and Ambedkar having been put through multiple societal and civilisational struggles to get the education he finally did. Yet both were determined that women were important to society and the nation and bent upon giving them proper rights with the aid of the Hindu Code Bill.

All of us know that there was fierce resistance to the bill by upper caste Hindus in the Congress which was the all-important political party at the time. Even India’s first president Dr Rajendra Prasad was fiercely opposed to the bill. But Nehru and Ambedkar prevailed and as a result all women – including those abusing Nehru today and blaming Ambedkar for reservations to the underprivileged - today have four crucial rights – the right to marry of their will and free choice after attaining adulthood (child marriages were banned and inter-caste and inter-faith marriages allowed), the right to divorce (women would be earlier stuck with their intolerable husbands while the husband might marry another woman if he tired of his earlier wife without any social stigma, though, of course, divorce benefits men as well), the right to a single husband as polygamy was banned and, of course, the right to inherit parents’ property in equal proportion where earlier women were palmed off on to their husbands with a dowry and nothing more was forthcoming.

These are the things that bothers the RSS ideologues the most and they would rather that all women revert to the role of being mere chattels and sexual slaves of the upper caste men. However, it is the kind of upper caste women who have garlanded Bilkis Bano’s rapists as they came out of jail who are most in danger of being turned into their playthings because they have no escape routes from the imposition of Manusmriti upon them. The lower caste women may escape to Buddhism, as did Dr Ambedkar, and gain equal rights within society, Muslim women already have some qualified protections under the Quran that is not afforded to Hindu women under the Manusmriti.

The specifically Indian aberration of triple talaq (even the Pakistan Law Commission banned it in 1964) was limited to just the Sunni sect of Muslims and that too among those Sunnis who followed the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence, not the Malikis, the Shafi’is or Hanbalis (there are four schools of jurisprudence among the Sunni Muslims). In any case, the travesty has now been corrected not because Narendra Modi felt anything for the Muslim sisterhood (or else he wouldn’t be silent about Bilkis Bano’s agony) but because the women themselves had decided enough was enough and took the matter to the Supreme Court, the Modi government merely made some hay over that petition.

So that only leaves the upper caste women vulnerable to the RSS’ misogynistic and antediluvian policies and attitudes towards women. No woman would be able to become a doctor because bigots wish the Hippocratic oath to be replaced by the Charak oath which says all doctors must necessarily keep beards (how do women propose to do that?), they will have no right to their own property as at various times RSS ideologues have expressed the view that giving women the right to inherit creates quarrels with their brothers, their dowries which were originally meant as protection (stree dhan) should be made available to their husbands to use as they will thus rendering them completely economically and socially vulnerable and, of course, then upper caste women must prepare to share their bedrooms with multiple women that their husbands might wed and bring home (Islam limits the number of wives to four, Hindu men could marry an endless number of times).

Some of us, of course, do not fit into this mould set for us by the RSS. I recall the early days of my advent into journalism when a tall BJP leader came looking for me because I was going hammer and tongs at their policies. He could not understand how I could be so convinced about, well, my convictions. “What is a good, Hindu (he mentioned my presumed caste) Indian girl like you doing supporting the minorities the way you are?” he asked in a very patronizing fashion.

I was less circumspect in those days so I replied, I could be none of those things, including being either an Indian or a girl. He was shocked out of his wits and was convinced I had to be either a Communist or Christian because Hindu women would be malleable and obedient which I did not seem to be.

The bigots and BJP have got bolder with that attitude. The release of Bilkis Bano’s rapists today threatens upper caste Hindu women more than it does those from other communities. Beware, fellow women and citizens!

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