(This booklet was a joint publication of POW (Andhra Pradesh), POW (Telengana), PMS (Delhi) and Istree Jagriti Manch (Punjab). Considering its importance we are publishing it.)
Why This Booklet
Since the last two years, an RSS BJP Govt. is in power in the Central Govt. The period preceding the general elections 2014 was marked by anti Muslim violence in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh. This violence was organized and orchestrated by Hindutva forces. This single example is being used here because it helps to bring out several important aspects of the BJP RSS regarding women. Western Uttar Pradesh was already in the spotlight of women’s organizations for its Khap Panchayat dictated so called ‘honour killings’ by the dominant landed peasantry in cases involving predominantly inter caste marriages by women from the dominant castes. Alleging eve teasing of a Hindu girl, the RSS BJP poured communal venom into this area and continually harped on ‘Bahu Bet Izzat’ in this campaign which they sought to extend to the rest of the state and also to the rest of India. The stated part of their campaign was the so called threat to Hindu girls from Muslim boys who wanted to marry them after converting them. This they called ‘Love Jihad’. The unstated part was their tightening of patriarchal upper caste shackles on upper caste educated women who are choosing to assert choice in marriage. It also threw a curtain on the systematic female infanticide practiced in this region against Hindu female infants by members of their own castes. Both parts are opinions dear to the ideology of the RSS BJP, for whom shackling women’s right to choice is an integral issue for maintaining upper caste Hindu purity.
Semi feudal India nurtures patriarchy and the subsequent status of women as secondary in each level of society. However, the understanding of the RSS regarding the status of women is related to their specific world view which includes upholding the caste system, patriarchy and viewing all minorities as the ‘other’ who have no right to belong to India. Now that they are in power the views they have been propagating have become more menacing. There must be discussion on many of them which concern the women of India and we must also understand the sources on whose basis the RSS stakes claim to legitimacy of its views.
Not all Hindu majority communalism is Hindutva. The Congress in India practices a soft brand of majority communalism. It includes allowing attacks on minorities especially Muslims. But it also involves taking along minorities as an electoral base showing the fear of the hard variety or Hindutva or Hindu nationalist forces out to form a Hindu Rashtra.. The RSS BJP Central Govt. is the coming to parliamentary power of the latter forces. In considering the effect on women, the penetration and even hold of these forces in all other wings of the Indian state- the judiciary including its highest levels, the armed wings and police and in the bureaucracy- must be kept in perspective.
The concept of Hindu Rashtra has more to it than simply the dominance of Hindus who anyway are an overwhelming four fifth of the population. It is a concept which treats all minorities- especially Muslims – as enemies (and also considers that the Dalits are not meant to be considered as humans at all). Thus, its characteristic is that it keeps its followers busy targeting internal enemies, while foreign colonial powers earlier and imperialists now are to be befriended. Thus, it is a very useful tool for ruling classes of India to distract people’s anger against the pro imperialist policies on which all parliamentary parties are one.
The first clear conception of this concept of Hindu Rashtra was given by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in his novel ‘Anand Math’. This was written in the second half of the nineteenth century after the defeat of the first war for India’s independence in 1857. This war was a shining example of Hindu Muslim unity and as the British themselves acknowledged, almost succeeded in uprooting them from India had it not been for the collaborator Indian feudal kings e.g. the Raja of Scindia , whose help the Governor General of that time gratefully mentioned.
Anandmath is historically placed in the Santhan or Sanyasi rebellion in the late 18th century which occurred in North Bengal. The novel has two distinct features- admiration for the British and hatred for the Muslims. Bankim wrote about the Santan rebels in the novel that they would go to the villages and ask if people wanted to worship Vishnu. ‘When the crowd collected they would torch the houses of the muslims……..the Santhans would plunder all their assets and distribute the spoils to the new converts’. In the last paras of the book, it is stated ’Our mission has come to an end’ to which the protagonist states that ‘Yes, the Mussalman rule has come to an end but the power of the Hindu is not yet established.’ To this he is given various reassurances. “There is no hope of a revival of the True Faith if the English be not our rulers’ It is then explained that the True Faith has a subjective part and an objective one. While ‘we know the subjective part of the True Faith’ it is the English who know the objective part…’The English are great in objective sciences and they are apt as teachers’. The protagonist is reassured,’ Your mission has been fulfilled. You have done good to your mother and established the English Rule’. In the course of the book, the ‘mother’ is identified as the ‘country’ and is shown in three forms- all forms of Hindu goddesses. It was in praise of this ‘mother’ that the Vande Mataram was written. It would be relevant to know a little bit about the author, Bankim Chandra. He was appointed directly to the post of Deputy Magistrate in 1858 by the then British Lt Governor of West Bengal, becoming the first Indian to be given such a post after the War of 1857. When he retired in 1891 as DM, he was given the titles of Rai Bahadur and CIE by the British crown.
The RSS was established in 1925, conceived as a militant wing of Hindu Nationalism. The Hindutva forces conceptualize the establishment of a Hindu rashtra, which in essence is upper caste patriarchal, chauvinist rule. The RSS has several organizations including its electoral wing, the BJP. British colonialism was looked on by it as a liberator from ‘Muslim rule’. Similarly, Imperialism is not among its targets in semi colonial India which is groaning under imperialist loot. Another notable feature is that these forces were patronized by the feudal kings who were supporters of colonial rule. Hindutva forces glorify feudal Hindu kings and use several of them as their symbols even now. As will be detailed later, their vision of ‘Bharat Mata’ is also picturized on these lines.
The Hindutva attitude to women is defined essentially by the ‘Hindu Code’ encapsulated in the Manu smriti. They are sure that if society is run along the social codes it prescribes, there would be orderly social existence. Thus this is of special relevance to women from even the upper castes among the Hindus, so that they are aware of how they figure in the Hindutva scheme of affairs.
There are several ancient versions of the Manu smriti which is held to be the word of Brahma (Hindu God of Creation) and is dated between 2nd and 3rd century BC (200-300 BC) but the translations do not talk of any differences between these versions. It consists of 2690 verses divided into 12 chapters. According to information posted on the website of The Hindu newspaper on this topic, this was one of the first Sanskrit texts translated by the British colonialists and used by them to settle disputes among Hindus! Several translations into English of the Manusmriti are available (e.g. sacredtexts.com, nirmukta.com, hinduvadi etc sites on the internet also carry the verses pertaining to women). There do not seem to be disputes on the existence or translations of these verses. They are used as they are by different sections to explain their respective positions.
The Manu Smriti codifies the caste system. It is in the perspective of this Brahmanical code that the rest of its prescriptions must be viewed. So while Hindutva apologists quote verse 3/56-‘where women are provided place of honour, the gods are pleased and reside there in that household’, there are many specifications about what ‘honour’ implies apart from the sharp division that this does not include honouring of Dalit women. Verses 2/213,2/214,2/215 talk about it being in the nature of women to seduce men. So ingrained is this understanding that there are verses which tell the Brahmin not to even look at his wife while he is eating. Another says wise men won’t sit next to their daughters, sisters or mothers so that their own carnal desires are not aroused.
Verses3/8 to3/15 tell wise men what type of women to marry (from the colour of hair to the type and sound of a woman’s name). Women are declared inherently disloyal as they have a passion for men (and by implication no intellectual attributes at all), they are impure and represent falsehood (9/15). Brahmins who cohabit with Dalit women can be forgiven but woe betide the Dalit male who even looks at a Brahmin woman and woe betide that woman too. Though twice born castes i.e. upper castes are allowed intercaste marriages they should avoid marriage with Shudra women. If a Brahmin marries a Shudra woman, he will be thrown out of his caste and so also will his children.
Verse 5/150 specifies that women (a female child, a young woman and old women too) may not work independently even at their place of residence. Verses specify that a woman’s main role is to obey/worship her husband and do his bidding alone even if he is a pervert, is immoral and has no good qualities. If a woman is proud of her family and antecedents and does not honour her husband the King should have her thrown to the dogs. Women cannot be independent, and must be in the custody of their fathers as children, in the husbands when married and in that of sons when widowed.(5/151 and also9/3)Women also do not have the right to perform religious rituals, nor take religious vows nor observe fasts.(5/158). Another wonderful specification (9/80) says that a barren wife can be superseded in the 8th year, one whose children die in the 10th year, one who has only daughters in the 11th year but a quarrelsome wife can be superseded without delay.
Thus the role of upper caste women is clearly to be confined to the domestic sphere and totally subservient there too to the men in the household. Given the Manu Smriti’s view about women’s nature, this would be of predominant necessity to curb women’s freedom in order to ensure absolute purity of the caste line and prevent it being sullied by Dalit lines. For Dalit women, of course, it is implied that the only role expected is of absolute subservience to the upper castes. The importance of listing so much detail about the Manu Smriti also lies in the fact that under the current RSS BJP Govt. this ancient dogma for bigoted Hindu upper castes has been elevated to a symbol of ‘nationalism’.
In order to fully understand the logic of certain issues concerning women in various aspects which are being stridently raised under the RSS BJP Govt., it is necessary to dwell on other aspects of the Hindutva outlook. The Hindutva forces had nothing to do with the anti colonial struggle of the Indian people; rather, as mentioned, they looked on the British as the force which liberated India from ‘Muslim rule’. The RSS particularly, uses the terms ‘nationalism’ and ‘patriotism’ to defend an upper caste, patriarchal, chauvinist viewpoint and to completely break in public perception the actual relation of these terms to the concrete anti imperialist task of the people of India in this semi colonial country. Thus its invocations of ‘nationalism’ are to cover up the desperate pro imperialist drive of its Govts. It is important to remember this as this drive is affecting women through the fashioning of several policies. It is equally important to place that the Hindutva forces have the patronage of the feudal forces of India who form the social basis of imperialism. Thus their only interest in the peasantry is to mobilize it for communally divisive issues. It is firmly opposed to the anti feudal tasks of the Indian peasantry and is an aggressive exponent of feudal patriarchal culture.
Bharat Mata to cover up the sale of India and Defence of Feudal Values
The term Bharat mata was probably first used in a play by Kalyani Chandra Banerjee in 1873 in a play by the same name. The Ananda Math of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, written after the defeat of the war of 1857, firmly emphasized the portrayal of the country as a Bharat mata, a Hindu goddess to whom was sung the hymn Vande Mataram and who was under threat from the Muslims. Abinandranath Tagore, the nephew of Rabindranath Tagore, made the first depiction of Bharat Mata. His painting was of the Bharat Mata as a Hindu ascetic woman, four armed, wearing a saffron robe, holding sheaves of wheat and also a string of obviously holy beads. This was in 1905, at the time of partition of Bengal and the Bharat Mata was also the Banga Mata.
The Hindutva forces have moved from defining the country as a ‘fatherland’ to the concept of a Bharat mata. In essence she retains the spirit of Bankim Chandra’s Bharat Mata- she is imperialism friendly and allows the sale of the country, its rich resources and the cheap labour of its women and men. The depiction of the RSS’s Bharat Mata is all revealing. This Bharat Mata is a heavily bejeweled woman decked in gold and jewels and wearing a gold crown, i.e. invoking the image of a feudal queen. Thus there is no identification with over 80% of women of India who are ordinary, who work and who would be subjects not daughters of a queen. This Bharat Mata is variously depicted on or with a lion, evoking images of Hindu goddesses and thereby making out all religious minorities as ‘other’. She sometimes holds a saffron flag and at other times a tricolor depending on which organization of Hindutva forces uses the image. But the characteristics of this particular Bharat Mata are indisputable. Using the term like a shield, the BJP Govt. proceeds unhampered to open one sector of the economy after the other for FDI (including strategic sectors like railways). Chanting the name of ‘Bharat Mata’, the BJP Govt. beseeches foreign capital to ‘make in India’ and repatriate profits while employing women workers also in low paid contractual jobs with no implementation of statutory laws like ESI and PF both of which empower women, and without equal pay for equal work. BJP’s policies displace Adivasi women from forests and women peasants from land, to hand over land and resources to corporate. The ‘Bharat Mata’ invoked by RSS BJP seems to have absolutely no objection to exploitation, humiliation and repression of Dalit women or women of the minorities. Obviously, the thought of her also does not hamper their identifying with caste panchayats and khap panchayats who order killings of upper caste girls for exercising choice in marriage, their opinion that upper caste educated women must adhere to family ordained caste directives absolutely in marriage, that young girls should not be given cell phones, that unmarried upper caste girls should be beaten and dragged by the hair by Sita and Durga brigades for going out with male friends, wearing nontraditional dresses or having a Muslim or Dalit companion, that Satis could be facilitated but worshipped definitely.
The issue for the women’s movements to seriously ponder and also to take to the masses of India’s women is the irony. Calls to worship Bharat Mata and to hail her are to coexist with the rule of a patriarchal order supported by the framework of semi feudal India. The exploitation of the bodies quite apart from the labour of dalit women by upper castes, patriarchal casteist codes for bahu -betis, khap panchayat ordained killings, sexual harassment by power centres at work place, feudal cultural practices, female foeticide and infanticide, sati worship, flourishing of anaemia in nearly 50% women, legalizing of surrogacy, all go along with demanding public hailing of Bharat Mata.
Uniform Civil Code
The concept of an Uniform Civil Code which was essentially to do away with the identity of minorities in issues of personal laws, was born out of the communal division seared into the Indian ethos by British colonialists and their subservient Indian ruling classes to drown the anti colonial movement. Of course the cover was ‘equality’ for all women. Thus it came to find a place in the Directive Principles of the Constitution of India. However for the Hindutva forces it has been a credo along with abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution. With a RSS BJP Govt. in power at the Centre, moves have started to slowly force this attack on all women including women of minorities but also upper caste Hindu women by pushing through a patriarchal Code in the name of ‘Uniform’ code.
The issue of changes in civil code is linked to women’s status in society. This code pertains to personal laws dealing with marriage, divorce, adoption and distribution and inheritance of property and family wealth. Personal laws of all religions ascribe secondary status to women in India and it is necessary that women in each section themselves fight for progressive changes in the laws which apply to them. In this women will be opposed by the fundamentalist and patriarchal forces within each religion. This separate evolution of progressive practices will eventually lay the basis of a progressive and secular non patriarchal code.
It is very important for the women’s movements in India to appreciate the realities born of communalization of Indian society by ruling classes of the country. It is only by doing so that the reality of the so called pro women moves of questioning triple talaq, polygamy and promises of a pro women civil code by the RSS BJP Govt. can be exposed. Women of minorities in India are forced to look to their own communities for protection in state sponsored communal violence, be it Muslims in anti Muslim violence under Congress or BJP rule, Sikh women in the 1984 Congress led anti Sikh genocide, Christians in the RSS BJP sponsored violence in Gujarat prior to the anti Muslim violence there in 2002. Thus it is the Indian state which pushes them into the arms of the fundamentalists of their religions. Any attempt from without at even genuine reform of the civil code of the community will be assailed by the religious leaders as an attack on the community. While women of that community may well have desired that very change, they will need to stand by the fundamentalists who will depict it as an attack on identity. Under the rule of the ruling classes of India that, in fact, is what the real motive will definitely be. It should not be forgotten that when religious census of India is undertaken, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains are all classified under ‘Hindus ’and no government has changed this practice.
Thus, the issue of changes in the civil codes of communities is an issue which progressive women’s movements from within each will have to raise and a common code will be one which they will have to evolve. They can only do it in a society where the structure which sustains both patriarchy and communalization of society is done away with, i.e. a new democratic society.
Bahu Beti Izzat and Love Jihad
The coinage of the term Love Jihad by the BJP RSS was done in 1990s in Gujarat. In 1998, the marriage of a Muslim boy from Bardoli (Gujarat) to a Hindu girl in Surat after a love affair of many years was used to launch a communal campaign against Muslims. It was another matter that reports established that six Muslim girls of the area had earlier married Hindu boys and none of these marriages became an issue. Similar incidents occurred in other parts of Gujarat ( Randikpur and Sanjeli). What is interesting is that the objections to these marriages were raised by Hindu communal elements in an atmosphere where they were using every conceivable issue to target Muslims. There was a full fledged theory of how Muslim boys marry Hindu girls at the instance of ISI and Pakistan and convert them to Islam so that the Muslim population should increase and also so that Hindus could be debased. All India Joint secretary of VHP announced in Ahmedabad in 1998 that Durga Vahinis would familiarize college going girls about “Hindu’ traditions. A squad would be formed by the VHP to control the behavior of Hindu girls. Thus the whole point was that the Hindu girls were neither being kidnapped nor abducted nor forced, but were voluntarily marrying Muslim boys, from where arose the issue of ‘teaching’ them ‘their’ traditions. The last relevant fact is that the actual number of such marriages over the years is small and is directly related to the two communities historically coexisting with children growing up together in the same areas.
In 2009 propaganda about love jihad was begun in Kerala and in Mangalore, a town in northern Karnataka. The Govt. of Karnataka even ordered an enquiry into this alleged phenomenon which in late 2009 gave a report that it could find no evidence of any such phenomenon though it would keep investigating. The Ram Sena in Karnataka later took to dragging by the hair those Hindu born girls who happened to have interactions with Muslim boys. In Dec 2011 the RSS in Karnataka began propaganda that girls should be stopped from using cell phones, a demand reiterated by the Akhil Bhartiya Vaishya Ekta Parishad in Uttar Pradesh in 2014. In Kerala too, from 2009 onwards, a similar propaganda was launched by Hindu communal organizations. The Catholic priests also started talking about their girls marrying Muslim boys. Huge figures were quoted. On 25th June 2014 the incumbent Chief Minister issued a statement that since 2006 (i.e. eight years), only 2667 women had converted to Islam. In 2014 itself, Aditya Nath called for converting 100 Muslim girls to Hinduism each time a Hindu girl married a Muslim boy.
Love Jihad returned in Muzaffarnagar in 2013 along with its hand maiden ‘Bahu Beti Izzat.’ In an area which is a social mix, with a significant section of Muslims, it worked electoral wonders. In reality, the actual instances of marriage between Hindu girls and Muslim boys is very small, which is why no Hindu communal leader ever quoted any figures, relying instead on the deadly power of rumours in a communally polarized situation. However the campaign of the RSS BJP definitely did result in the looting of ‘bahu beti izzat’ of Muslim women in the area with some being gang raped by long standing neighbours. There was a potent comment on this issue which bears repetition, ’Bodies of women are a more potent polarizing and organizing tool than a Ram Temple”.
On the issue of ‘Love Jihad’ it should be recounted that the Nazis too would not let any ‘aryan’ woman cohabit with Jews or others in order to protect the Aryan race. But the more desperate problem of the patriarchal Hindutva forces is the issue of ‘bahu beti izzat’. This term has to be seen with what is happening in India especially rural North India. The crisis in Indian agriculture is also increasing the demand for educated working girls for marriages. Girls go to school in tremendously increasing number, not just for better marriages but for careers, for higher education and jobs. Women are preferred in jobs as they are more sincere, less likely to organize and willing to work for lesser pay than they deserve or which is their right. They are coming to small towns and even living in larger cities in hostels, in rented accommodation in groups, in order to acquire higher education and skills for jobs and also to do these jobs in the bigger cities and in metros. Simultaneously has come an explosion in communications primarily the mobile phones and internet. This has made it much simpler for youth to develop contacts and maintain communications overcoming several barriers that the patriarchal norms impose including also barriers of caste and religion. This also is a period marked with changes in the expectations of girls and young women, to their exposure to different types of people, to different cities, and their increasing assertiveness about the kind of future they want, the sort of life they wish to lead and importantly, their choices in marriage.
English newspapers published many surveys in the aftermath of 16th December 2012. They showed that while there is free mixing of girls and boys in campus interactions, friendships between them, even rising acceptability of live in relationships, but still a majority of respondents says they would marry the partner their parents choose. In assessing this, scope must be left for the fact that now very many parents try to accommodate the choices of especially their sons; inter caste marriages between two upper castes and inter state marriages of the same type are no longer taboo. Yet these surveys bring out that for the youth of India not marrying for love is the norm. However the increased interactions, increased economic independence of women has definitely increased their ability to take their own decisions about their future. Thus there is an increase in incidents of men and women defying social diktats and asserting the right to choose. Their number in actual terms is small but as an example they have far reaching value, being quoted throughout the community and across the district. They send out alarm signals that women and also men have ignored the barricades built by patriarchal society including its caste and religious diktats and have dared to decide for themselves. This tiny minority sets patriarchal India afire.
Now comes the latest concrete example of what RSS BJP is willing to do with Bharat’s ‘matas’. The Central Govt. plans to enact a Surrogacy law which says that surrogacy for commercial reasons will be prohibited but can be done within the family for no monetary consideration other than what is needed to care for the surrogate pregnancy. Now see what the patriarchal Govt. is going to inflict on women in India. Who does not know how easy it is to prove anyone and everyone to be ‘family’ in India. Why, one can go through all levels of high powered Authorization Committees of top hospitals in the metros of Delhi and Mumbai to get a stranger’s kidney in the name of family donation, so why not a surrogate baby? Second and equally important, are relations within the family such that a woman’s opinion would count? Within the patriarchal Indian family, this sort of license will ensure all sorts of pressures on women. Obviously the Govt. is aware of these loopholes and that is why the law has been framed thus- to confuse those opposing surrogacy while indicating to interested parties that it would be ‘business as usual’; even better maybe, because the surrogate would not even be able to fix monetary issues for fear of being exposed.
Anti People policies Assault Women Too
Other policies being enacted by the Central Govt., like that by Govts’ before it, are anti people and have their edge also against women. However these policies are taking the attack on the people decisively forward. The Central Govt. first tried to amend land acquisition laws to make it even easier to seize land from peasantry for corporate. So many studies show how hard hit are especially women by such dispslacements, which destroy social patterns and the security offered by the community. Attacks on rights of the working class including on women workers have continually escalated. Apart from contractualization and resultant job insecurity, there are repeated attacks on Provident Funds, which for women workers who get to avail this right are a way of economic empowerment. Price rise has remained unrelenting, while the push for privatization in education and health further constrains women’s access to both because families remain reluctant to spend on education for girls (‘double dowry’) and women always are the last to access health facilities in the households. In addition communalization and the constant harping and emphasis on upper caste feudal values works to attempt to minimize even the rights which women have fought and won. For instance, is the attempts by the various ‘senas’ to force ‘Hindu clothing’ and a particular behavior on young women and girls, even going to the extent of physical assaults on them. While fighting the anti people policies, it is necessary to keep in mind the specific agenda of Hindutva and to educate women to fight against the same.
Some of the aspects of the understanding of Hindutva forces which have a bearing on the status of women and on their hard won rights have been delineated in this booklet. It is reiterated that the issue is not just the feudal patriarchal understanding of women as a secondary sex. That understanding is the prevalent understanding of our society, and percolates the functioning of all Govts. of all parliamentary parties and also of all wings of the state i.e. the police, the judiciary, the bureaucracy. The semi feudal semi colonial structure of India’s society provides the basis for this and abolishing of this alone can provide a framework of equality for women by abolishing the basis of male domination and which will allow the struggle for elimination of patriarchal values and attitudes to be waged at a new level. Therefore all the aspects of women’s oppression and exploitation are not the subject here and also have not been touched upon apart from being indicated as a background.
This booklet has focused on the special issues which have come into ascendancy for women as a result of the BJP RSS Govt. coming to power alone in the central Govt. for the first time in India. As has been stated, Hindutva is essentially an upper caste, patriarchal chauvinism which sub serves imperialism also by dividing the people including women on communal and caste lines thereby derailing people’s movements on their common democratic issues. In line with its understanding it pushes an absolutely feudal and casteist agenda for women. Thus their Govt. does not focus on the real issues confronting the vast majority of women and also seeks to dissipate the struggles on the real issues facing the women’s movement. The modus operandi includes having militant and/or armed groups backed by compliant police to enforce their agenda, eg. vigilante groups of gau rakshaks attacking Muslims and Dalits, vigilante ‘sita’ and ‘durga’ senas enforcing patriarchal codes for women, etc. It is essential to remember that Hindutva forces have significant penetration in judiciary and officialdom. Thus, while developing the struggles of women against pro imperialist, anti women policies and against patriarchal values, the women’s movement must also expose and fight the divisive, patriarchal designs of the casteist, communal and pro imperialist Hindutva forces.