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The sangh and its affiliates have double-standards when it comes to women’s rights

The women who signed up for jauhar don’t even seem to realise that they are nothing more than pawns in a larger game of imposing what is seen as good Hindu values on society.

analysis Updated: Feb 03, 2018 20:28 IST
Lalita Panicker
Lalita Panicker
Hindustan Times
Padmavaat,Karni Sena,Rashtriya Sevika Samiti
A protest against Padmavaat, Patna, January 25, 2018(Hindustan Times)

The horror of it all seems blunted by the ease with which over 2,000 women signed up with the Karni Sena to commit jauhar (suicide by immolation) if the film Padmavaat was released. They were defending the honour of a mythical queen and their community. The valiant men of the Karni Sena chose the infinitely easier route of vandalising public property, terrorising school children and blocking roads. As it turns out, no one committed jauhar, the film was released and the goons folded their tents and vanished secure in the belief that indulgent state governments would do nothing much to them to bring them to justice.

This in a way is representative of the right-wing and its attitude to women. Women must make sacrifices to uphold the honour of a patriarchal order; please note that the Karni Sena men did not speak of giving up their lives to uphold Rani Padmavati’s honour. A real women’s movement would challenge notions of male domination in a family. In the right-wing, women are seen as symbols of the ideal woman, the homemaker whose primary task is raising children and taking care of the larger family unit. These women, who form organisations such as the Rashtra Sevika Samiti (the women’s arm of the RSS) are mobilised when it becomes necessary . While they play a supplementary role to the men, they enjoy certain privileges on account of their position. The women in the Shiv Sena, for example, have been known to mete out justice to shopkeepers they think are cheats, resist the police when the latter are doing their duty, even beat up neighbourhood bullies with impunity.

Yet when it comes to leadership roles and decision-making, women are left out of the picture. Whatever these women undertake even by way of social work is seen as something done at the behest of men. The women feel empowered by the fact that they get the legitimacy to break the rules, exert their influence, broker peace in family disputes, tell women who are being abused to adjust and justify various regressive practices on account of the fact that they are subsidiaries of powerful right-wing organisations.

The pernicious propaganda about love jihad seeks to convey that the threat to Hindus is through the sly co-option of women by Muslims or even Christians. The Hindu right-wing seeks to portray the Hindu nation here in terms of the predatory Muslim and the pure Hindu woman who needs male protection in the form of violence against the predator.

When it comes to actual political or economic power for women, we see that the right-wing groups are not particularly vocal, and in fact, they are against any larger role for women outside of the home. If we go back to the origins of the Rashtra Sevika Samiti, its founder Laxmibai Kelkar approached RSS founder KB Hedgewar to see if women could join his organisation. Needless to say, he turned her away. It was 11 years after the RSS was founded the women’s wing took shape. Even then, it had to stick to the dictum enunciated by MS Golwakar that disparity is an indivisible part of nature. In no way were the women to be considered on a par with men. Women were always seen in relation to their association with men; they could be mothers, sisters, daughters or wives. At all stages of life, they had to heed the voice of their male relatives. It is not for nothing that the RSS calls itself the sangh parivar.

Indeed, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat is on record to say that under the social contract a woman should take care of the household and the man’s needs in return for which he will protect and provide for her. That’s not too far from the vision of the organisation’s founding fathers. In fact, Bhagwat says it is all right for a man to disown a woman who fails to keep her side of the contract.

The women who signed up for jauhar don’t even seem to realise that they are nothing more than pawns in a larger game of imposing what is seen as good Hindu values on society. They don’t seem to question why men who breathe fire and brimstone over the perceived insult to a mythical queen are quiet, even complicit, in dowry harassment, female foeticide and rape. They feel comfortable imposing dress codes and conduct on women, circumventing their freedom of choice. This is not just the tyranny of patriarchy, it is the duplicity of patriarchy.

@lalitapanicker

First Published: Feb 03, 2018 18:27 IST