Following the Supreme Court’s historic judgment mandating equal work, tenure and benefits for women in the Army, the conversation on women’s role in Indian society has acquired a sharper focus — that of the family.
Last week, a matrimonial ad in the newspapers seeking a bride for an unemployed dentist caused much amusement when it went viral on digital media. When a brahmin looks for a trophy wife, she must be a paragon of virtue and domesticity. While that no doubt puts on full glorious display the man’s ambition and feeling of entitlement, it also, between the lines, betrays the compulsion for the woman to put chores over her public responsibilities. Now, what example would she thereby be setting before her child with such misplaced priorities?
For long, the absurd has been seen as the ideal for the women of our country.
On the day that the Supreme Court passed its momentous verdict, four employees, including the principal, of a college run by the powerful Swaminarayan Temple Trust in Bhuj in Gujarat’s Kutch district were arrested for subjecting 68 college students to a menstruation check involving a strip search so they could be quarantined in separate quarters inside their hostel. The college authorities had sought to defend their actions citing the girls’ consent to the regulations of the college hostel which authorises their isolation.
Though himself a bachelor, Mohan Bhagwat, head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of the ruling government, one day earlier, found it appropriate to expatiate on the secrets of successful married life — he claimed that it is education and affluence that drive families (read women) to divorce because they purportedly lead to arrogance in them. So now they have the additional obligation of pretending modesty, itself an overrated merit. What about forced marriages, marriages of coercion, marriages in which husbands pour acid on sleeping wives and daughters on grounds of not being gifted with dowry or a son, marriages that should have been annulled in the first place? Curiously, Mr Bhagwat is silent on all of those subjects.
What would happen to the Narendra Modi government’s beti bachao, beti padhao (might one add, beti khelao, seeing the hordes of “patriotic” Hindutva champions at sports events sometimes startling our sportswomen into playing wrong shots with their mistimed cheers) agenda if it were to listen to its master’s voice bellowing?
The “anti-intellectual” Mr Bhagwat, himself, is a votary of the “social contract” in which the husband is the protector and the provider and the wife the domestic nurturer. As long ago as in the late 1980s, sociologist Warren Farrell had critiqued the state of human civilisation with his thesis on how men were being forced to become “success objects” and women “sex objects” due to this bias inherent in patriarchy. When Rammohun Roy got the British government to abolish sati, Indians learnt to separate custom from tradition, realities from fact and the letter of ancient scriptures (even Manusmriti) from their context, meaning and spirit. Will Hindutva roll back the Indian renaissance? When will our influencers learn to assimilate, not amalgamate, ideals; go all out to banish bigotry and dogma, and injustice, rather than strengthen their albeit-loosening hold on our collective psyche?