Mainstream, VOL LII No 19; May 3, 2014
Why Women Should Not Vote for Modi
Monday 5 May 2014
by Pallavi Borgohain
The essay discusses the reasons behind why women would vote for Modi as an alternative in this election and then also seeks to give reasons as to why it is not advisable for them to lend their solidarity to Modi.
The need for this piece was realised quite some time back, since the beginning of the crusade led by the forces of Modi, for cleansing the system and leading the nation and not letting it bend before any potent or impotent forces.
My usage of the name of Narendra Modi and not the name of the political party, that is, the BJP, is because of an obvious fact that the entire campaigning for the party is carried on in the name of the candidate for the PM’s post. Modi smiles at us from almost each and every corner, claiming that he has become the synonym for the BJP in this election. It is then pertinent to think about the reasons behind Modi’s popularity. One reason that I can see for his popularity is that the common man or woman indeed thinks in the way he does. So irrespective of his electoral victory or defeat, what remains important here is the issue of patriarchal protection. It is important that I state here that, but while doing so by no means do I intend to communicate that the other political parties and their leaders are not or less patriarchal; however, the problem in the current context is with the reconfiguration of a political leader to the position of a father-figure in the party and by extension of the whole nation.
It is clear that in the current scenario, there is rhetoric of primarily three varieties of waves in motion. The foremost is the anti-Congress wave, the second is the Modi wave (or Bhajpa leher), and the third is the anti-corruption wave (or the AAP wave, at least in Delhi) as is popularty understood. My arguments here are based on the feminist understanding of the implications that we would face after bringing a self-proclaimed Hindutva force to power. I very well understand that my usage of the term ‘feminist understanding’ would deterministically lead to many women disassociating themselves from the ideas that I intend to bring here as a reminder. However, I urge them to widen their scope of comprehensibility and shed their inhibitions about feminists and feminism. A change in perception is required; that would make Indian women, situated in the maze of traditional affinities, see a feminist as not somebody who breaks the family but as an agent demanding a reversal in the existing unequal social fabric.
Let us first discuss the reasons behind women lending their support to Modi. Understanding it would not be difficult if we do not intend to overlook the inherent and pervasive presence of patriarchy in society. One of the reasons could be Modi’s promise to take care of the inflation leading to an increase in the household expenditure, since this is one area which a woman is expected to manage efficiently. So women would for once like to assume that the new government would bring with it some cure for price rise. It is, for all practical purposes, understandable that the impact of price rise is hugely felt by an ordinary home-maker who has to take care of her home in the limited budget. An immediate reflex action of this would be a reduction in the amount of consumption of a woman, since patriarchy has trained women to be self-sacrificing in nature. They are forever under the guilt of not having done enough for their family by not being able to do a wise allocation of the limited resources. So it is the hope of being able to give more to the family that might drive them closer towards the BJP.
I see protection as the other reason for which they are likely to go for Modi, because of the effect of the ‘Brahmanical patriarchy’ that exists in society. After extending due acknowledge-ment to the fight that the common women have time and again been conducting against patriarchal violence by either the state or men in society, I would like to state that these acts of rebellion are not to be read as a complete rejection of patriarchal domination. We have to understand that it is only a section of people who have become conscious of the situation and are in a position to reflect upon the implications of not rejecting these forces. The fact that there are people who think otherwise cannot be overlooked. It is in this context that I locate my argument that the rest of the women in society would vote for a religious fundamentalist political party. Women are likely to vote for Modi since they would agree with the allegations made by the Hindutva forces against the polluting influence of Western culture and would see the solution lying in the revival of the earlier pure Indian (essentially Hindu) culture which accorded high status to women, which at times considered women as embodiments of goddesses to be worshipped. So it is this original Indian culture that they foresee coming with Modi against all other forms of polluting influences.
Women could also vote for a Modi sarkar because they have been conditioned to believe since the beginning of their existence that they are the custodians of the honour of the family and their community. By doing so the religious patriarchal forces have tried to create an artificial distinction with regard to all the other religions (specifically Islam) and have success-fully kept women of ‘their’ community busy with the work of protecting this uniqueness and distinctness by remaining pure (Hindu women not falling for Muslim men, for instance). It has also gone to the extent of giving women a false sense of responsibility towards their comm-unity; so it is this notion of responsibility upon women that I am bothered with since it has in itself the potential to create and see an artificial category of enemy (Muslims) against which our soldiers should fight. In this case women are handed the ideological weapon of religious patriarchy to launch attack upon the infiltrators into the Indian (Hindu) women’s modesty.
Having discussed the reasons why women would vote for Modi, in this section I would engage myself in discussing the reasons as to why women should not vote for Modi. For the purpose of understanding this let us take the example of one of the banners put up across the country by the BJP with their prime ministerial candidate’s face on it. The banner shouts at us: ‘Bohot hua nari par var, abki bar Modi sarkar’. When we look at the kind of language that they have resorted to, we can see both the explicit and implicit elements of protection in it. It is here that we need to ask ourselves: is it protection that we want? Besides, we should also under-stand that it is masculinist protection that we are talking about. Let me explain here the ‘logic of masculinist protection’, as explained by Iris Marion Young in the wake of post-9/11 security by the American state. (Has India also seen a threat from Islamic terrorism lately?—I wonder.)
According to this logic, the state is going to protect all its citizens; however, while doing so, it would reduce the position of all its protectorates to the level of women. In that case even the male members would be considered female, therefore weak and always in need of protection. However, this kind of protection comes with its own sets of do’s and don’ts. So in case you don’t conform to the pervasive ideas and norms of patriarchy, you are not fit to get the protection that patriarchy comforts you with. It is only when you fall in line with the patriarchal character of society that you get the benefits out of it. A careful look at the notion of the logic of masculinist protection will display its deep-rooted patriarchal character, that is, it is always the women who need to be protected by the men. In this case the state is protecting its male members only after reducing them to the level of a woman. It is this secondary position that women should question. Women everywhere should ask themselves: can we place the responsibility of protecting ourselves upon men when they are exactly the ones in whom we find the manifestation of all forms of exploitative structures against women.
There is a need to understand that when women take to the streets to demand that the state ensures their safety, they are not adopting the language of masculinist protection; instead they are making their demand to ensure safe spaces for their free mobility. Women also have to understand that their friends raising their voice in the struggle against violence is not simply talking of the public place, but are also talking of safety from the male members of their family. They demand safety against marital rape, which is still not recognised. Now we need to seek a response from the bearers of: Hindutva are they going to give recognition to marital rape? I must here mention that it is because of the belief in the concept of ‘pati permeshwar’ that marital rape is still awaiting recognition. For a Hindu woman her husband is supposed to be her god, her superman and, in turn, she has to worship him. There is a complete lack of acknowledgement of the fact that women are individuals possessing the right to consent or not.
There is another example of the protectionist attitude of the BJP which is reflected in their manifesto which talks about ‘Beti Bachao—Beti Padhao’. Through it they intend to communicate the message that a girl child has to not only be saved but also to be educated. This caught my attention since it reminded me of a recent remark by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a self-proclaimed guru as well as a BJP supporter. He made a statement about lotus being the vehicle of Goddess Lakshmi. Now, let me pose this question: is it because of the prevelant Hindu notion that the girl child is an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi that they are exhorting people to save their lives or is it coming out of something else? With regard to the education of the girl child, I would want to know more about the nature and kind of education that they would propose for women. Let me reiterate here the point that though we find patriarchal embodiments in all other political parties, what makes me nervous in this particular case is their overt justification of the ideology of Hindutva.
In line with masculinist protection of the religious patriarchal forces, the incident of the Mangalore pub can be recalled, where the soldiers of the Sri Ram Sene barged into and assaulted the women present in the pub, considering it to be their duty to correct young women going astray under the influence of illegitimate Western ideology. Coming back to 2014, we saw that the leader of the SRS, also the mastermind behind the attack, Mutthalik, was given official membership in the BJP, which was withdrawn within 24 hours for all practical purposes. Not to forget the routine violent demonstration against unmarried couples every year on the 14th of February by the soldiers of the Shiv Sena, one of the ideology-sharing allies of the BJP.
Discussions on the BJP and its Hindutva ideology will not be complete till we take up the episodes of Ayodhya and Gujarat massacre. However, the BJP loyalists as well as those who have newly shifted their allegiance to the BJP are of the opinion that there is no need to go back to the Gujarat episode each time. They ask us: has there been any riot before and after Gujarat 2002? It is understandable that the current mobilisation of the population has been done by selling them the dream of the possibility of extending the Gujarat model of development throughout the country. So it is the development agenda which has been given the maximum coverage in this election.
However, the need to talk about 2002 becomes important because of the recent remarks of BJP leader and Modi-confidant Amit Shah about revenge. This is being justified by Modi and the BJP clarifying it to be an appeal for ‘ballot revenge’ on the lines of the current US President. Ironically it is also one of the two countries (the other being an Islamic country, Pakistan) which they intend to cut to size once they come to power. It is this context of a probable volatile situation that enhances the significance of the Gujarat riots. Because what happened in Gujarat cannot be the perfect example of a riot. What happened in Gujarat was more than it appears to the naked eye. The Gujarat episode was a pogrom against a particular community. It did not start from below and scale upwards; instead it had involved everyone in the State. It was a riot which happened with the participation of not just the local unemployed youths having nothing better to do and also it was not a spur-of-the-moment reaction; instead it was a planned event with professionals from different fields participating in it. So, the question is: why do I urge women in particular not to vote for the BJP? It is because of the increasing realisation that in times of any bloody conflict between two communities it is the women whose sufferings are much more than their male counterparts.
It is the body of a woman which will act as the field over which the battle between the two communities would ensue. Women, being considered as the signifier of the honour of the community, are raped by the enemy camp as an attack upon the honour of the former. This act then by extension permits the men of the latter community to launch similar attacks upon the former as a way of salvaging their pride. Besides women getting raped, tortured, brutalised and killed, they are also left helpless with their kids once their husbands are dead. On many occasions these women are forced to take to prostitution for feeding their children. And once they prostitute themselves, the same society, which had created warlike conditions in order to protect the bahu-betis, refuses to extend them their right to rehabilitation and from then on their right to a dignified existence in society is taken away. Riots leave women of both the communities with instances of unwanted pregnancies because of the rapes committed on them. It is they who have to confront such situations once normalcy returns. Riots always put women in a vulnerable position. The fear that they generate is enough reason to curb the mobility of a woman belonging to either community.
Now let me discuss the connection between the ideology of Hindutva and violence. We can see the connection when we cast an introspective glance upon the ideology of Hindutva. The ideology of Hindutva is based upon their claim to the Indian tradition which they say is genuine. This ideology finds it appropriate to see Hindus as the inheritor of their nation and hence they consider India to be a Hindu Rashtra and reject the claims laid by any other community upon it. They are not hesitant about the need to use violence as a corrective measure to deal with any form of perceived transgression on the part of the enemy. The ideology of ahimsa, propounded by Gandhi, was seen by his assassin as an act of impotency. The ideology of Hindutva believes in the force of violence as a form of legitimate masculinity. It is such justification for violence that makes me wary of giving the Hindutva forces the reins of administration in the country. The potential that it has to administer violence is what women need to see and reject, since this is exactly what the women’s struggle has been all about—the denunciation of all forms of violence based on the patriarchal assertions of masculinist protection.
I am furnishing another reason to argue against extending support to Modi. It has to do with the debate on the Uniform Civil Code. The pro-UCC stand of the BJP is seen by the women’s movement with skepticism since the Shah Bano episode and the passing of the Muslim Women’s Bill in the year 1986. Not to forget the Mary Roy case also. Rather than the language of legal protection, equality and justice, the fundamentalist Hindutva sections of society started accusing the Islamic religion for being more regressive than Hinduism. In turn the Muslim fundamentalists saw it as an attack on their community rights. The Shah Bano controversy has forced women to relook at the demand for an UCC, since they fear that if they go ahead with it in the present situation then the code will essentially be Hindu in its character.
The idea of secularism, as understood by the BJP and its allies, is that all the religious communities should be treated equally. There has to be no granting of special benefits to the minority communities. In every regard they should be treated at par and any benefit accruing out of their special status is seen as an act of discrimination. This kind of interpretation of secularism is what makes them demand the withdrawal of the special status for Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370.
The election manifesto of the party states it clearly that there is no change in their position on the three vital issues, namely, the Uniform Civil Code, Article 370 and the Ram Janma-bhoomi.
However, there is a marked shift from the earlier positions based on their overt acceptance of the Hindutva ideology to a more secular development-oriented ideology. The manifesto promises to bring in UCC as a measure of gender equality. With regard to the Ram Janmabhoomi, they insist on building the Ram temple by remaining within the limits of the Constitution. About the special position given to the State of Jammu and Kashmir, they are ready to sit at the table though they are for abrogation of the Article fundamentally. Now it is for women to understand that the party is still talking in terms of uniformity and not commonality, which means that there are fair chances that the codes will surpass many of the progressive practices of other religious comm-unities and go on codifying the many regressive practices of the Hindu community as happened in the 1950s when the process of codification of Hindu laws was taking place, overlooking the many progressive customary practices of the different communities within the fold of Hinduism.
In the end I would like to say that a lot of these apprehensions are being raised because of the character of the BJP’s campaign. It has elevated Modi to the position of a family patriarch who now intends to make a comeback and correct the problems within the immediate family (that is, the BJP) and also within the wider kin network (that is, the Hindu Rashtra). It is these manifestations of overt support to the patriarchal ideologies of the family patriarch, that is, the father, the idea of masculinist protection and resort to legitimate violence time and again that makes it difficult for someone like me to accept and welcome the much-awaited, anticipated and feared electoral victory of Narendra Modi.
1. Chakravarty, Uma, 1993, ‘Conceptualising Brahmanical Patriarchy in Early India: Gender, Caste and State’, EPW., 28, No. 14: 579-585.
2. Young, Iris Marion, 2003, ‘The Logic of Masculinist Protection: Reflections on the Current Security State’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 29, No. 1: 1-26.
Pallavi Borgohain is an Assistant Professor, Ramjas College, University of Delhi; she is also a Doctoral Candidate, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi