Why 'Bharat Mata ki jai' is not a chant for feminists

Kanika Gahlaut
Kanika GahlautMar 29, 2016 | 16:10

Why 'Bharat Mata ki jai' is not a chant for feminists

Criticism of Bharat Mata Ki Jai as a slogan to be promoted, the latest of the "cultural consolidation" gems to have emerged from the RSS stables and lit another fire of dissent in the country, has come in from quite a few quarters. Some Muslim leaders have said that they can only pray to Allah, and are not comfortable with the deification of country. They say they are happy to say Jai Hind or Hindustan Zindabad. Some Sikh leaders have backed this, saying Sikhism does not have space to worship a mother and raise slogans in her name.

Academic Irfan Habib has weighed in, saying that "Bharat Mata" is a European concept introduced in India, as nowhere in medieval or ancient history is there evidence of India being personified as a woman. This along with Madar-E-Wattan, the Muslim equivalent of the slogan, followed the example of European nationalism.

There is enough reason for feminists too to object to forcible adoption of the slogan or even critique and object to its promotion by state or its elected representatives, as is being done currently. An MLA was suspected for not saying the slogan in Maharashtra assembly, with both Congress and BJP leaders coming out in support of the slogan.

Amit Shah has endorsed the slogan, saying ninety nine percent Indians will agree to chant the slogan, and he and his government will convince the remaining one per cent. Following the furore, RSS has now given a statement yesterday saying while it should not to be forced, they would like us to create an India where everyone would chant it voluntarily.


One reason for its rejection by feminists of course is that with the high crimes against women from female foeticide to sexual assault and widespread subjugation of women and discrimination against them from home to public sphere, it is ironic that Indians would want to add one more goddess to worship to the list, while the poor reality of women in the country remains unaddressed.

Deification of women is seen by many feminists as part of the problem of the relentless cycle of misogyny - women are put on pedestals and in the process of their deification, they are dehumanised.

The other is the imagery and perception of "Bharat" in the public imagination. If you look up the meanings of the word "Bharat" these are the top mentions:

Bharata (term), the original Sanskrit name for the Indian subcontinent.

Bhārat Gaṇarājya or simply "Bharat", for the Republic of India.

Bharata Mata (Mother India), the national personification of India as a mother.

Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award.

Bharata Natyam, a classical dance form originating in Tamil Nadu, India.

In persons, the top name that comes up is "Bharata (emperor), a legendary monarch of ancient India after whom the epic Mahabh?rata is named".

Yet, when it comes to baby names, Bharata or Bharat or Bharath are baby boy names, despite Bharata being a land which can be a unisex baby name (Hindu names are often unisex) or a female personification of nation as in Bharat Mata.

Sites describe Bharat as a name of a boy, with the meanings given: "Descended from Bharat, Universal monarch, Very clever great good person (Brother of Rama and son of Kaikeyi)".

In this context where Bharat Mata is a woman but is embodied in masculine forms/qualities, Mata is merely a birther to "brave sons of the soil", and is to be defied only or predominately in this capacity. This is regressive imagery: the entire battle for gender equality is based on the premise that sex be removed from the equation and women be seen in their multi faced personas.

With this slogan, we would legitimise the regressive role of woman as baby machine, and worse, because of the confusion with Bharat the King, who according to Hindu mythology is founder of the Bharata dynasty and the ancestor of the Pandavas and Kauravas in the epic Mahabhārata, it is the sons of Bharat who are praised and hailed.

Which such masculine imageries of Bharat, "Mata" is only relegated to the sidelines of this celebration, her job to look on lovingly as the brave sons shine on from ancient battlefield to modern day cricket field. The term "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" carries too much mythological baggage of patriarchal concepts.

Sections of feminists would distance themselves from such a personification as communicated by the chant "Bharat Mata Ki Jai".

Last updated: March 29, 2016 | 20:43
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