By Javed Anand
Foeticide, infant mortality among girls, dowry deaths, khaps, honour killings. Which of these values, Bhagwat Ji, have we imported from the West?
Respected Bhagwat Ji,
First you said that rapes and gangrapes happen in India, not Bharat, because the former has embraced Western ideas and abandoned Indian values. You’ve spoken again now, to put women in their proper place:
serving their husbands in their marital homes. Some people think you’ve put your foot (make it plural) in your mouth. But I say, right on, keep talking. Young India, the middle class especially, is listening. And I am sure you’ll be hearing from them soon. Meanwhile, permit me to point out that your views are pretty close to many voices from the Muslim world: from the Taliban in Pakistan to the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia. Perhaps it’s time votaries of Hindutva and champions of Islamic fundamentalism came together in a new coalition of the culturally constipated: “Us vs the West”.
While you give some thought to my humble suggestion, Bhagwat Ji, I confess that my desh bhakti, fidelity to “our values”, keeps hitting the wall of some inconvenient facts. To begin with, what does one say to Swami Agnivesh when he claims that upper caste Hindus are the biggest mass murderers (“terrorists” is the word he once used) on earth because they annihilate the female foetus in millions every year? How does one explain this unholy fusion of Western technology with Indian values? Thanks to this ongoing slaughter, our Bharatvarsh is now among the very few countries in the world with a sex ratio highly skewed against women.
Let’s take the example of Gujarat. Bhagwat Ji, your “laboratory of Hindutva” is amongst the worst offenders in this respect. According to the 2001 census, there were only 883 girls per 1,000 boys in the state in the 0-6 age group. In the electoral list of first-time voters for the 2012 Assembly polls, there were only 601 girls per 1,000 boys. Does the plight of the Bhartiya kanya or nari ever figure in your meetings with Narendra Modi Ji?
Here’s a checklist: Foeticide, infanticide, higher infant mortality among girls, rampant discrimination against the girl child, dowry deaths, khap panchayats, “honour” killings. Which of these values, Bhagwat Ji, have we imported from the West? The Oxford Hindi-English dictionary defines “pati” as husband, master, lord, one who controls… Is this a Western denigration, corruption of the word? Or is this how it really is: the husband as owner (pati) of his wife, something similar to a lakhpati, crorepati? Doesn’t it gel very well with your idea of the marital “contract”?
Am I stretching the canvas too wide? Okay, then let’s stick to rapes and gangrapes. Surely these crimes have something to do with the place of women in our sanskriti, samaj. What about the frequent rapes and the parading naked of dalit women across India/Bharat? Or the gangrape of Muslim women (before being flung into flames) in Naroda Patia (and elsewhere in Gujarat in 2002) under the watchful eyes of then BJP MLA Dr Maya Kodnani and the active participation of Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi? I do not recall a single statement from any leader of the Sangh Parivar in the last 11 years denouncing such monstrous conduct as being foreign to our sanskar? Do you, Bhagwat Ji? And what about the uncle who a week ago was accused of raping his two-year-old niece? He could be from anywhere but this particular uncle was from Gujarat.
So much for “our values”. As to “their values”, first, which Western country should we talk about? The US, with 28.6 rape incidents per 1,00,000 population, or Canada with a far lower 1.4 incidents per 1,00,000 population? (Source: UN Survey of Crime Trends, 2006) Second, while it is no one’s case that rapes do not occur in the West, when will we stop pretending that sexual violence against women is something we have learnt from them?
Patriarchy, no doubt, is the common inheritance of men and women across the globe, but, Bhagwat Ji, there is a big difference. Thanks to a strong feminist movement that took birth in the West some 50 years ago, incidents of rape notwithstanding, in large measure women have fought and won for themselves the right to dress as they like and go where they want, the moon included. The Western male has been forced to give women respect and concede their right to the public space to an extent that we cannot even begin to imagine. That’s what women in India are now demanding and parampara-be-damned is their slogan. What shall we do?
Young couples locked in a tight embrace, lip-to-lip, hip-to-hip, inside buses and metro stations, public parks and shopping malls. This is a common sight today in Paris, London, Amsterdam, New York and elsewhere and not many seem to have a problem with that. The “dented, painted” women locked in such togetherness are often dressed in ways — mini-skirts, hot pants — that defy all our notions of maryada. Whether this flaunting of sexual passion in the public space is a good thing or not can be debated. But one thing is for sure: girls and women are not pinched, groped, pounced upon or mauled in buses, trains and parks in the West the way they are in Mumbai, Delhi.
I believe we need more, not less, infusion of certain Western values — respect for women’s autonomy, for example — in India. Bhagwat Ji, what do you think?
The writer is co-editor, Communalism Combat, and general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy