Modi’s Ram Rajya is no country for women
One cannot expect a government, whose lawmakers have frequently defended violence against women, to take the issue of women’s safety with any amount of seriousness
India recently topped a Thomson-Reuters poll to emerge as the most dangerous country for women. Seven years back it had been number four on the same list. The 2018 report has hurt ‘national pride’ and led to widespread criticism on social media. The women’s ministry and the government - led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party - rushed to reject the findings of the report as inaccurate.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi was trolled severely for tweeting the results of the poll. Never mind that the BJP and its supporters had gleefully taunted the then UPA government in 2011 with results of the same poll. In 2018, India being the fourth most dangerous country for women was shameful. But the same report in 2018 is “flaky.”
What has changed between 2011 and 2018? Nothing and everything.
The ground situation for women has not changed. Women are still routinely abused, killed and raped. But our reactions have changed. Earlier, we used to outrage at the findings of reports. Now we outrage at the reports.
From lynching of minorities to safety of women - the BJP’s response to every crisis in the country has been the same - to unleash its Hindutva trolls online to create a momentum of false patriotism, to reject anything that can malign its governance. Any criticism of its governance of India is labelled as an anti-India act
There was outrage in 2011 too. We outraged about how India continued to be unsafe for women. In 2012, a year after India was placed fourth in the Thomson-Reuters poll, a wave of sexual abuse against women were reported from the northern Indian state of Haryana, when in one month almost a dozen rapes of mostly Dalit girls and women were reported. The Congress-led UPA government did not reject the report in 2011, neither did it stay silent a year later. Former Congress president Sonia Gandhi had visited the state, met with the families and promised stringent action. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) did not dismiss the reports but termed them as “alarming.”
Neither Gandhi nor the commission did anything out of the ordinary. That is the minimum we expect from our lawmakers or institutions that were built to preserve our rights. We do not expect our lawmakers to stay silent on such issues or call for press conferences to create a communal rhetoric surrounding gender crimes like BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi had done post the Kathua rape, where an eight-year-old girl had been raped and murdered by a gang of men.
“Nobody has reported anything about Zakir Hussain. Please don’t communalise rape cases. All the victims deserve justice,” Lekhi had said at a press conference, highlighting a rape-and-murder case from Nangaon, Assam where a 12-year-old girl was raped and burnt alive by three men, including a Muslim youth called Zakir Hussain.
Her rhetoric was no different than the “Us vs Them” communal rhetoric of Hindutva trolls on social media. It was no different than the false Hindutva pride, the pride in Hindustan, that had deluged social media following the Thomson Reuters Foundation report became public.
In 2018, we are on a slippery slope of misplaced national pride led by a rightwing government that believes only in whipping up nationalistic frenzy to bury issues that should lead to serious discussions and introspections. Can one expect a government that has no respect for institutions - it disbanded the Planning Commission and rendered other institutions, that have formed the core of Indian democracy since Independence, ineffectual - to seriously probe a report before rejecting it?
From lynching of minorities to safety of women - the BJP’s response to every crisis in the country has been the same - to unleash its Hindutva trolls online to create a momentum of false patriotism, to reject anything that can malign its governance. Any criticism of its governance of India is labelled as an anti-India act.
One cannot also expect a government, whose lawmakers have frequently defended violence against women, to take the issue of women’s safety with any amount of seriousness. For the first time in the history of the country perhaps, lawmakers of the ruling party had participated in a rally to defend the perpetrators of the Kathua rape. That was also a chilling reminder that sexual abuse against women was in the danger of becoming a political weapon with the silent complicity of the country’s Prime Minister who chose to condemn the rape armtwisted by global outcry.
All political parties are patriarchal. Their commitment to gender justice can at best be described as slim and perfunctory. But there is no doubt that right now, we are being ruled by an openly misogynistic political party that has zero commitment to women’s safety.
In October last year, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had visited Ayodhya to celebrate Diwali - traditionally known to be the day of homecoming of Lord Ram from exile. He and other BJP leaders had lit 1.8 lakh earthen lamps and proposed the Rs 133 crore Ramayana circuit project, sponsored by the Central government, that will include a state-of-the-art digital museum depicting the legend of Ram. The CM had also promised a 100-metre-tall Ram statue by early 2019.
Prime Minister Modi has often been compared with Lord Ram, a husband, a man, a brother, a son par excellence for whom duty comes before anything else. In January, Paresh Rawal, Bollywood actor-turned BJP lawmaker had compared the charisma of Modi to Lord Ram. In June, a BJP lawmaker had called Modi a reincarnation of Lord Ram, who will usher in Ram Rajya in the country. Ram Rajya has been the BJP’s electoral promise for many years now. What is Ram Rajya? A state where there is impeccable law and order, development, where people are happy and live in harmony with each other. A state like Ayodhya, ruled by Lord Ram.
But Lord Ram is also someone who forced his wife to walk on fire to prove her purity; who banished his pregnant wife to the forests because he could not prove her purity to the people of his kingdom; who mistreated his wife because he was loathe to give up his power and position as the king of Ayodhya. What hope is there for us mere women in Modi’s Ram Rajya?
(The writer is a multiple-award winning independent journalist and a columnist for The Washington Post and New Internationalist. She tweets at @nilanjanab)
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- Sonia Gandhi
- UPA Government
- violence against women
- Lord Ram
- Zakir Hussain
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi
- Paresh Rawal
- Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath
- Bhartiya Janata Party
- Congress President Rahul Gandhi
- Kathua Rape
- BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi
- National Commission for Protection of Child Rights
- Thomson Reuters Foundation report