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Opinion | Sadhvis could play a more positive role

This feminist Hindutva, for want of a better expression, does nothing to promote women’s rights. In fact, the women of the Hindu right themselves are against what they call modern women who are shunning traditional roles and daring to seek out their own space

columns Updated: Apr 28, 2019 16:05 IST
Lalita Panicker
Lalita Panicker
Hindustan Times
BJP candidate for Bhopal Lok Sabha constituency, Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, with BJP national vice president Shivraj Singh Chouhan at a meeting before filing her nomination paper for elections, Bhopal, April 25(ANI)

After her opening salvo that it was her curse on Hemant Karkare, the police officer who arrested her, that led to his death during the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai, Pragya Thakur, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Lok Sabha candidate from Bhopal, seems to be on a roll. She spoke with pride about how she was on top of the Babri Masjid and helped to bring it down. She is one in a long line of so-called sadhvis that the Hindutva forces have brought in to promote the greater cause of electoral and religious gains.

You may recall earlier sadhvis who have contributed to the promotion of Hindutva. One is the now forgotten Sadhvi Saraswati who reminded Goans that they were not Portuguese and advised them to stop eating beef and take up vegetarianism to prove their nationalist credentials. Then we have the minister of state for food processing, Niranjan Jyoti, whose claim to fame was the unparliamentary language she used to describe minorities much to the delight of the lumpen crowds whom she addressed.

The words of encouragement of Uma Bharti, former Union minister for water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation, to the mobs attacking the Babri masjid are now the subject of legend: “Ek dhaka aur do, Babri masjid tod do( one more push and break down the Babri mosque).

These sadhvis and sanyasins have been a great driving force in the promotion of the Hindutva ideology. They are articulate, focused, charismatic and superb orators. The fact that they are unrestrained and virulent in their public speeches ensures that they are used to gain dividends in elections.

According to the larger Hindutva philosophy, women are the primary unit of the family and their main task is to bring up children and serve their husbands loyally. But at the same time, there has been a rise of militant Hindutva among women and this has been fully exploited by a patriarchy, which is conditioned to keep women out of serious decision making. The Durga Vahini imparts martial arts training for women but its main theme is the role of the woman as the fulcrum of the family.

The woman is not encouraged to seek a career or any role outside the house except the promotion of Hindutva. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) does have a women’s wing but its not much more than a supporting cast to the real organisation run solely by men.

This feminist Hindutva, for want of a better expression, does nothing to promote women’s rights. In fact, the women of the Hindu right themselves are against what they call modern women who are shunning traditional roles and seeking their own space.

A deeply patriarchal hierarchy uses women like Bharti and Thakur to propagate their electoral ends but never to promote a pro-woman agenda. For their pains, these women are not given any importance in the power structure. Imagine the positive difference it would make to Hindu society if the oratorical skills of these women were put to use to push real rights for women such as inheritance, equal pay, more job opportunities, more anganwadis, safe public spaces, security and so on. Instead, we hear patent nonsense like the need for Hindu women to produce more children.

The Hindutva forces could have used these women to advocate an improvement in women’s rights. What obtains now is a win-win situation for the patriarchs of Hindutva, who are able to get their message across through these skilled women orators, who will fade back into the shadows once they have served their purpose.

First Published: Apr 28, 2019 16:05 IST