Kaushikbhai Mehta leaned back on his chair and relaxed as he broached the subject of changing Gujarati customs in the countryside. This conversation was taking place at the journalist’s editorial office in Bhavnagar a week before the state went to polls in December.
Mehta smiled as he said: “The Patels in Saurashtra are facing a unique problem. Girls are getting educated and refusing to stay in their rural homes. They are laying down a condition before marriage. They want their husbands to own small businesses in the nearest town. They want to live there. They want their kids to grow up in an urban environment with all the civic amenities.”
This was an example of how the chasm (cultural or otherwise, which Mohan Bhagwat alludes to) between the city and the countryside is fast disappearing as cities expand and colonise the rural hinterland. It is undeniable that the ever-increasing traffic of ideas and conversations between urban and rural settlements is blurring out separate identities.
And from what Kaushikbhai said, it is easy to infer that our status quo-ist political leadership is unable to keep pace with the changes. They go by sacred definitions of cities and villages as had been prescribed by ancient sociologists, uneasy whenever they see these delicate areas of overlap. They brush them aside as exceptions. They remain adamant that they will not accept these emerging trends which would complicate their frozen perception of what constitutes the ideal vote-bank.
This is why even the President’s son, a suitably city-bred, mechanical engineer from Jadavpur University sarcastically dismisses the “highly painted and dented women”. It is not just the fact that this is his personal belief which makes the statement dangerous. What is significant is that he says this while speaking with reporters from regional channels in his native Birthum district. He is obviously of the opinion that he is reflecting the sentiments of every adult in his constituency.
The same logic applies to the ridiculous utterance of Botsa Satyanarayana from Andhra Pradesh. The Congress leader made light of the brutal Delhi gang-rape and asked: “Just because the country attained independence at midnight, is it right for women to be roaming around at such late hour?” Again, this is not just evidence of Satyanarayana’s twisted mind, it is indicative of what the politician assumes to be the general sentiment.
No doubt, overlooked is the fact that the savagery was inflicted on the girl between 9.15 and 10.15pm, which even by non-electrified Indian village standards is not the witching hour. Had it been a case of mere sexual assault not culminating in murder, these politicians who practise and propagate “Indian values” would have raised questions about the male company the girl kept. They would have played the ideal moral police and wondered if her parents who are from Ballia in Uttar Pradesh were aware of her spending her Sunday evenings with a “male friend” of her choice.
A few months ago, the Khaaps blamed Chinese food for hyperactive male hormones. Now Kailash Vijayvargia, the BJP’s number two in the Madhya Pradesh government, has thrown his weight into the debate by citing the Ramayana and its emphasis on lakshman rekha. His warning: “If anybody crosses the maryada, the lakshman rekha, she’ll face the music.” And echoing him is Vibha Rao, the chairperson of the Women Commission in neighbouring Chhatisgarh, who believes that women, bowled over by Westernisation, are equally responsible.
So, the man has to be protected at any cost. It does not matter what he wears, what time he returns home, whom he goes out with because it is he who is perceived to be the laying down the rules in this unwritten social contract. That is why the Park Street rave victim is wickedly described as a “deal gone sour” by none less than Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, a senior Trinamool MP. That is also why a reckless Anisur Rahman of the CPM thinks he can get away with his “how-much-does-Mamata-charge-for-a-rape” remark.
I’m sad to say that Mohan Bhagwat has got it all wrong even as he clarifies that he talked about a cultural chasm between India and Bharat and had not really distinguished between the city and the countryside. The politicians, who would love to believe that there is a degree of permanence about values and customs, do not know that their Bharat has moved on. India is a much more complex society with assertive women who step out of their homes and go to work every day. These politicians, including Bhagwat, are still rejuvenated by the idea of a medieval India.
Diptosh Majumdar is national affairs editor of DNA