Senior women ministers display hypocrisy when it comes to #Metoo

Written by Vidya Bhushan Rawat | Published on: October 24, 2018

We need to stop letting women becomes cogs and diversion tactics in the Brahmanical propaganda machinery that justifies caste violence and discredits institutional discrimination.


Smriti Irani
 
In 2004, two women ministers said that if Sonia Gandhi became the prime minister of the country they would tonsure themselves. Sushma Swaraj and Uma Bharati threatened that they would live like widows and shave their heads and do what is prescribed for widows. Sonia Gandhi had refused the post and fortunately they didn’t have to act on these threats.
 
In another incidence, Swaraj spoke passionately in Parliament during a debate on the Nirbhaya case. She was full of anger and called Nirbhaya a ‘Zinda Laash.’ Nirbhaya was still alive then. Her connotations were clear that a woman who is violated is a dead one.
 
Today she is the Minister for External Affairs and under her was another Minister, a very 'famous' editor and author who was accosted by many colleagues for being a sexual predator but she refused to speak on the issue or take a stand.
 
She has been seen on TV studios on days like Karwa Chauth or Teej for quite some time and has been celebrating with 'suhagans', a symbol she never refuses to flaunt. In the Brahmanical setup, a woman is 'empowered' and 'respected’ as long as she is a 'sugahan' and our ministers deliberately portray that.
 
She has truly got a new competitor in Smriti Irani whose life story is 'inspiring'. Irani follows the same traits and flaunts the 'married woman status' as the Sangh Parivar would want her to do in the greater interest of 'protecting 'bhartiyata where a woman is allowed to 'work' or go out but at the same time, protect our 'sanskriti' and 'family'. The first duty of a woman is to protect her family and 'sanskriti'.
 
For the last few days, we have witnessed women fighting for their right to enter Sabarimala temple. Women above 10 and below 50 are not allowed to enter the temple. The reasons are clear. They menstruate and it is considered 'dirty' in all religious practices. The Kanya pujan during Navratris worships the girl child but not the woman she becomes. It happens in Nepal too with the famous 'Kumari', the living Goddess, who is worshipped until she attains puberty. In many Dargah’s, women are not allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum if they are menstruating. Irani says that as a mother of two Zoroastrian boys, she can’t go to the fire temple because women are not allowed and she 'respects' the tradition.
 
A religion is not a religion unless it allows the flexibility for change. Religions here refuse to change. They remain caged in the old traditional practices dictated and dominated by the powerful clique in every religion. Women are the carriers of these practices and traditions that humiliate them. Hence both the ministers and many others like them only play that role which keeps the Brahmanical patriarchy happy as they hail from those organisations.
 
Now, to justify her position on not allowing women in Sabarimala temple, Irani brings the Zoroastrian women's issue but it is true that you can't liberate women through religious sanctity. Even when the entry of women in Haji Ali Dargah came, many women rose against it. Today, they can easily enter the sanctum sanctorum of the Dargah.
 
The problem is not that Smiriti Irani can't have her views. Both the ministers have proved that being a woman does not guarantee that you will stand for your own gender’s rights. They might even be unaware of the fact that their current position in the party is due the constitutional guarantee that women are equal to men and is divorced from religious morality, which doesn’t consider them equals.
 
Smriti Irani said, “I am nobody to speak on the Supreme Court verdict because I am a current serving Cabinet Minister. But just plain common sense. Would you take sanitary napkins steeped in menstrual blood and walk into a friend’s home? You will not. And do you think that it is respectful to do the same when you walk into the house of God? So that is the difference. I have a right to pray. I do not have the right to desecrate. That is my personal opinion.’
 
She is entitled to her personal opinion but she actually re-enforced the age-old belief that 'women are dirty when they menstruate'. It is due to this belief many women in our villages are still kept in gaushalas and not allowed to sleep in their houses during periods. It is this belief that doesn’t allow them to go to the Hanuman temples on Tuesdays. It is this belief which makes them feel ashamed of themselves and their bodies. I don’t know how can the Ministers attend important cabinet meets if they feel menstruation is dirty and women should not go to a 'friends' place.
 
India’s #Metoo movement must address the root cause of the problem and create a better environment for all. The chaotic wave that has engulfed the country was a long time due but name calling will only take us this far. The war between men and women won’t stop until we overthrow the value system which is feudal and patriarchal. The Brahmanical patriarchy in India is not merely a powerful instrument to culturally suppress India's Bahujan masses but also use the Savarna women to divert the real issues of caste discrimination and the institutional violence that Bahujan Samaj including its women face on a daily basis in India.
 
#Metoo will succeed if the women's movement understands and accepts the Brahmanical monopoly on our culture and institutional oppression of the communities through its rigid traditional and cultural practices.
 
We need to see through the Brahmanical smokescreen. We need to stop letting women becomes cogs and diversion tactics in the Brahmanical propaganda machinery that justifies caste violence and discredits institutional discrimination. We need to work to change our social environment and ensure that our office spaces, public transport and social platforms remain democratised and all of us respect consent and the right to dissent.
 
No movement should become a detriment to freedom. Twitter revolutions world over have only resulted in worse situations. Take Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia and India where social media is used effectively by religious rights. See how they occupy the space and take the moral high ground.
We know what happened to Anna's anti-corruption movement in India and who benefitted from it.
 
When the Khap panchayats were killing Dalits for falling in love with the girls from upper caste Hindu families, we did not have a strong voice. We did not have an intense campaign that could jolt the Brahmanical discriminatory mindset.
 
Now, many activists suggest people to not fall in love. They should not love boys and girls beyond their caste limits and these voices are coming from the sections who are worried about their innocent young being killed.
 
#Metoo should not be confined to a few individual stories and let the larger part disappear. The atmosphere remains tense and superficial without a holistic closure or learning. Based on #metoo conclusions, people think that every other person is bad.
 
A country like India will face far-reaching repercussions. People won’t let girls to move out. Many won’t employ them. Parents will justify caste marriages even though many studies show that violence happens in all types of families. In such cases, the right-wing narrative becomes more acceptable than the modern narrative. Those who have raised the issues are well equipped and secure. They are well connected and know how to use media. But for the millions of people who have to seek permission from their parents, brothers, husbands and society to complete everyday tasks, things have not changed. They do not change overnight. We all have a duty to create a better and safe environment instead of brushing it away or throwing the burden on law enforcement agencies. Awareness and confidence are needed for change.
 
Hundreds of new excuses will be created to deny women freedom and equality and it is, therefore, more important for all of us to work for a better future and not fall in the trap of the past. The world has changed and it would serve men and women better to adapt to changing times. It will be impossible without challenging rigid and age-old social and cultural practises which make the institution of caste.