Right-wing reaction

Sinister pattern

Print edition : May 11, 2018

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat addressing a rally in Indore. A file picture. Photo: A.M. Faruqui

The recent rape incidents and right-wingers’ reactions to them are expressions of the dual-faced politics of Hindutva while dealing with gender issues.

EARLY this year, two Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders caused a stir by participating in a march in favour of the alleged rapists of the eight-year-old girl in Kathua. The march in Jammu saw liberal use of Bharat Mata ki Jai slogans and more than an occasional waving of the tricolour. It struck no one that slogans hailing the motherland were raised after the murder of one of her daughters. If one were to ignore the backdrop of the girl’s rape and murder, the slogans and gestures could easily have been from a Republic Day celebration.

The local media reported the crime but the national media treated it as just another incident of assault on a girl and chose to ignore it. It was not until the lawyers of Jammu came out in the open in support of the alleged rapists and a national daily published a report based on the charge sheet filed in the case that the world woke up to the gory details. Shockingly, political leaders of the ruling dispensation were actually lending their voice to those accused of rape and murder.

Why? The victim ticked most of the boxes in the Hindutva hate file. She was a Muslim, a girl, and innocent. Hence, the brutality of the crime. It was no ordinary criminal assault, however despicable any assault can be. It was seen by many as a harbinger of things to come if the Hindutva forces, with their twin hatred of Muslims and Dalits, are to enjoy a free rein.

Are Kathua or Unnao not expressions of the dual-faced politics of Hindutva while dealing with gender issues? Delhi University historian Charu Gupta, the author of Sexuality, Obscenity, Community: Women, Muslims and the Hindu Public in Colonial India, said: “Of course, they are. Accentuation of religious differences takes place all the time, whether at the time of violence during Partition or the 2002 Gujarat pogrom or the Bosnia killings. In all such instances, rape becomes a way of expressing political supremacy. It is taken as a marker of undermining the other community. It also derives itself from the concept of honour and ownership of a woman’s body.”

She added: “The violence in Kathua and Unnao is a classic case of a woman not being seen as a human being but as somebody to be marked, used, and so on. Rape in such cases is used as an instrument to humiliate men by assaulting their women. So, it was a case of humiliating Muslim and Dalit women in Kathua and Unnao. It was a question of masculinity, political and sexual identity, an attempt to be much more aggressive compared to Muslims and Dalits.”

Will this kind of violent assertion not lead to a Gujarat kind of flare-up? “To an extent, yes. I really fear this. There are precursors like the Gujarat pogrom and the Muzaffarnagar riots. There has been a movement of crime from the individual to the community. There is a pattern. Kathua is not an isolated example. To that extent I do feel the fear is not completely out of place,” Charu Gupta said.

It is a viewpoint that is contested by Aditya Mukherjee, professor of contemporary history, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). “I don’t think they will do genocide after 2002. That got them a lot of bad press internationally. They are likely to go on the pattern of Muzaffarnagar, [of] controlled violence. It does not give them as much bad press, but leads to communalisation of people, and they gain political benefits. The BJP has understood that. They won’t do any genocide, but their aim is to put the minorities down. No doubt about that. And as long as they can keep Muslims, Dalits and women down, all is fine for them,” he said.

Continuing pattern

The pattern Charu Gupta and Mukherjee refer to continued post-Gujarat 2002. Shortly after Narendra Modi was sworn in as Prime Minister, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti was appointed Minister of State for Food Processing Industries in November 2014. The BJP Member of Parliament from Fatehpur in Uttar Pradesh shocked the nation with her comments at an election rally in Delhi. At Dwarka, a middle-class residential area, she asked the electorate to choose between “Ramzaade” and “Haraamzade”, the sons of Ram and illegitimate sons, respectively. Her words resulted in a logjam in Parliament before a feeble apology put the proceedings back on an even keel. Apology aside, she had succeeded in drawing a line between legitimacy and illegitimacy.

The Hindutva forces’ animosity towards the minorities and Dalits is well documented, with Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) leader M.S. Golwalkar’s oft-repeated divide of those whose pitrubhoomi (fatherland) and punyabhoomi (sacred land) are the same, that is, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains, and those whose punyabhoomi lies elsewhere, that is, Muslims, Christians and Jews.

What is not as well-documented is the Hindutva lobby’s opposition to women or a possible role for them in political life. At a rally in Indore, RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat reportedly said, “A husband and wife are involved in a contract under which the husband has said that you should take care of my house and I will take care of all your needs. I will keep you safe. So, the husband follows the contract terms. Till the time the wife follows the contract, the husband stays with her; if the wife violates the contract, he can disown her.”

The comments of Bhagwat on women’s primary role being the upkeep of the house and the upbringing of children stem from the age-old belief of gender segregation.

When the RSS was founded in 1925 it was an all-male body and for it celibacy was a virtue and women did not have a role beyond being mothers or sisters. Even when V.D. Savarkar sought to unite the so-called larger Hindu society, seeking to bring in those beyond the direct umbrella of Hinduism into the fold, he only addressed men. In the initial years of the RSS, its founder K.B. Hedgewar even refused to consider a women’s wing of the organisation. It was only in 1936 that the Rashtra Sevika Samiti was established. Even then it was to be no more than a token body.

In her essay “The Gender Predicament”—part of an anthology called The Concerned Indian’s Guide to Communalism—written a little over two decades ago, the historian Tanika Sarkar says: “The Rashtra Sevika Samiti was founded in 1936 with daily shakhas that provided physical, martial arts as well as ideological or boudhik training. It remained, however, a small and low-key affair. Though the second oldest women’s organisation affiliated to a political body, it was overtaken and completely overshadowed by nationalist and Left women’s movements. It participated in no mass struggles—anti-colonial or for women’s rights.”

However, Prof Mukherjee said it was pointless to give too much credibility to the creation of a women’s wing, as most of the women are victims of sustained indoctrination. He said: “I don’t give much weight to women’s wings. You can have a women’s wing and still be very patriarchal. The mentality of violence, of aggression, it does not go away with just the setting up of women’s wing. And when Muslims and Dalits are involved, the violence can get even worse, not to say they are good to their women. The violence is always patriarchal. Casteism and communalism are subsidiaries of patriarchal ways. Both caste prejudice and communal prejudice make it worse.”

A section of our polity sees the Kathua and Unnao incidents as just the latest instances of crime, not necessarily communal or casteist in intent. Is it a fair and accurate way of looking at two rapes and a murder? “It is criminal no doubt, but when there is a rape of a Dalit woman by metrosexual, upper-caste Hindu males, it acquires political overtones. There is criminality in the act, but there is a very critical, equally important politicised assertion of the upper-caste Hindu vis-a-vis the constructed enemy,” Charu Gupta said.

Prof Mukherjee said: “I think this is something that has been happening for a long time. On the one hand, the Hindutva forces raise women to a devi, a goddess; on the other, you have a society that is very male-dominated. And these Hindutva forces have always been pretty retrograde when it comes to the projection of women. What is new is this growth of very masculine, fascist way of power, aggression, violence, which is associated with the RSS, and all fascist forces. There has been no nuanced gender dialogue. As the fascist way of thinking grows, the first to suffer are women. Again, if it is a Muslim or a Dalit woman, the dual politics of Hindutva and patriarchal society are well served.”

The latest brutal acts draw their inspiration from the theory floated by Savarkar, who justified rape as a tool of political advancement. He alleged that in medieval India, whenever Muslim kings advanced there was large-scale murder and rape but when Hindu kings like Shivaji won against a Muslim opponent they returned their women in an honourable fashion.

He went on to justify rape in his book Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History. Savarkar’s defence of rape did not prevent the A.B. Vajpayee-led BJP government from installing his portrait in Parliament in 2003.

Willy-nilly, the year 2003 marked the first occasion when a man who talked of rape as a possible instrument of political advancement was condoned. The year 2018 takes it to another level when the identity of the victim is paramount in determining the nature of a crime. The pattern continues.

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