What it takes to become a 'Daughter of India'

Other than the majoritarian male, everyone else in India has to be ideal and an idol to be worthy of becoming a son/daughter of India

Vandana Katariya and (right) 8-year-old Asifa, who was brutalised and killed by 7 men in Kathua, J&K.
Vandana Katariya and (right) 8-year-old Asifa, who was brutalised and killed by 7 men in Kathua, J&K.

Ranjona Banerji

Once in four years, we all become experts in sport. It’s like a global exercise by diehard couch potatoes. Great fun.

And in some parts of the world, it’s when we show our prowess in one of our best skills – hypocrisy. And patriarchy.

For India, women have done well at the Tokyo Olympics. They’ve been at the forefront, they’ve won medals. Suddenly, they are “daughters of India”, to be feted and adored. And as ever placed to be on some pedestal from which every human thus placed is destined to fall.

Apart from people with massive egos, no one really wants that pedestal. It’s a sad and lonely place to be. And for Indian women, it’s a prison to which they have long been accustomed.

What makes a woman a “daughter of India”? Winning an Olympic medal or almost winning an Olympic medal is apparently one way. Because being an Indian woman the rest of the time gives you no free passes.

As these Games have showcased our best talent – woman or man – and we have celebrated women in boxing, women in hockey, men in hockey and so on. We have been astounded that the women in our Olympic hockey team have had to practise with tree branches instead of hockey sticks, have fought the men in their villages and crossed massive hurdles and steeple chases to do what they’re good at.

We have been suitably angered that upper caste men threatened and bullied the family of Olympian Vandana Katariya because she was from a lower caste. For now, Katariya may be allowed to become a “daughter of India”.

And somewhere in the back of our consciousness, the stomach-churning, heart-rending story of a nine-year-old Dalit girl, raped and murdered, pushed its way into our minds, much as we resisted. There are daughters and there are daughters.

We should return to the story of the nine-year-old girl. She was gangraped by a crematorium priest and three other men, in Delhi, India’s national capital. Her body was then forcibly cremated. The priest called the girl’s mother, told her that her daughter had accidentally been electrocuted and that it would be best if she was cremated immediately. If they stopped the cremation, then the family would have to face huge legal and other problems. The mother was distraught and scared and by the time the family tried to stop the cremation they were left only with the girl’s feet. The crowd now confronted the priest and he admitted that he and others had raped and killed the girl.

Too gruesome already? This is after all not the first time that daughters of India have been treated like this. There was young Asifa, who was also raped by a temple priest and his six friends in Kathua, Kashmir. Asifa was eight. And the 19-year-old Dalit girl from Hathras, UP, raped and murdered by four upper caste men and her body forcibly burnt by the police.

Daughters of India indeed.

There are many, many more such daughters, oppressed, destroyed, demeaned, belittled, shackled. Many, many more than the minuscule number of Indian women who manage to climb several mountains to become a sportsperson or win a medal and then get feted. Or, if you are a lower caste woman, get mocked and abused in spite of your tremendous achievements.

We all know all this. We have always known.

But we carry on with the pretence. We play the game. We accept that other than the majoritarian male (I accept even they have a couple of hoops to jump through in our judgmental society), everyone else in India has to be ideal and an idol to be worthy of becoming an offspring of India. The perfect self-effacing high achieving woman. The perfect self-effacing Muslim. The perfect self-effacing Dalit and so on.

For every young or old woman whose life has been torn apart by male privilege. For every female achiever whose efforts have been appropriated. For every woman who has been diminished by being made someone’s accessory and appendage to be worthy of acknowledgment.

For all Indian women, enough. Enough with the persecution, the discrimination, the demeaning. Enough with “daughters of India” for a tiny moment when the rest of the time, we have to grapple with the horror of the other “daughters of India” whom we don’t want to think about. Those “daughters” we destroy to display our toxic masculinity.


(Views are personal)

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