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RSS mindset of women exclusion is not 'Indian culture'

Stuck with its medieval values, the Sangh turns a blind eye to the fact that societies are not impervious to change.

 |  5-minute read |   08-03-2016
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Despite the fact that feminist movements across the globe have been fighting against the socio-spatial-temporal segregation of women, their gendered exclusions from public spaces at night has attained the realm of normalcy.

It is a given that women do not have as much right to visit places of their choice at any given time, without unsolicited invasion on their integrity, as men have. More often than not, cultural practises, traditions, religious scriptures and mythological narratives are invoked to derogate power, potential and capacity from women.

Regressive

A few months back, when Union culture minister Mahesh Sharma opined that girls wanting a night out may be all right elsewhere but it is not a part of Indian culture, he pretty much endorsed this exclusion and sounded like the regressive, holier-than-thou custodian of "Indian culture" that he was expected to be as a member of the Sangh Parivar and a minister in the Modi government.

Interestingly, renowned sociologists and anthropologists have been unsuccessful in building a consensus on the specific meaning and content of culture but the Right-wing keepers of flame of "Indian culture" claim to have grasped its intricate nuances.

In his book Culture and Society, Raymond Williams opines that culture is the reaction to changes "in the conditions of our common life". Different reactions and resulting situations have created different kinds of cultures. He makes a pertinent point by arguing that the idea of culture describes our common inquiry but our conclusions are as diverse as our starting points. Hence, the word culture cannot automatically be pressed as any kind of social and personal directive.

But, the RSS understands our culture as singular, homogenised, fixed and unalterable value system handed down to posterity unmutated. It fails to see Indian culture as a composite entity that manifests itself within the multiple contexts of caste, class, religion, region and ways of life. Stuck with its medieval values, the RSS turns a blind eye to the fact that cultures are not impervious to change and cultural diffusion through outside influences like exploration, colonisation, inventions, globalisation, etc, has already resulted in different phases of cultural change in India.

A potent example in this context would be the "Sati pratha" which was once construed as a practise central to Indian culture but today it is deemed as one of the most savage and inhuman rituals both by the law and society.

The interpretation of Indian culture as an unchanging entity, perpetually obligating, even forcing females to follow restrictive norms, coercing gender-based segregation, seclusion and exclusion is unpalatable. The prerequisites of the RSS's version of "Indian culture" have made women its flag bearers, bearing the brunt of imposed virtuosity and expected docility mandated by the inherent patriarchal diktats.

The cultural practises in India include child marriage, dowry, wife beating, imposed dress code, forbidden inter-caste marriage, inter-religious marriage, love marriage, etc. The paradox between this "Indian culture" and the rights of women in Indian democracy is pre-evident.

But, the VHP, Bajrang Dal, Ram Sene and the likes ensure that slightest of deviations would be dealt with an iron fist. Not to forget, Guru Golwalkar considered Manu as the "first and greatest lawgiver of the world" and wanted the Manusmriti to be the Constitution of independent India!

Culture

The Sangh Parivar continues to invoke citations like Pita rakshati kaumaare bharta rakshati yauvane, rakshanti sthavire putra na stri swaatantryamarhati (A woman is protected by her father in her childhood, by her husband in her youth and by her son in her old age. A woman does not deserve to be independent) as propounded in the Manusmriti to restrict women's social space, limit their autonomy and control their choices.

Spatial and temporal segregation limits women's access to knowledge that men have used to produce and retain power. In reality, for women, the temporal boundaries are even more rigid than spatial ones. The night belongs to men. Females, from a very tender age are nurtured with a strong dose of the fear of night, of venturing out alone in darkness, of the sense of danger once the sun has gone down.

Unite

This socially-constructed fear draws a clear-cut line of demarcation between the spaces and times suitable for mobility of women. Outside that prescribed time and space zone, women feel vulnerable because of the enhanced possibility of violence or victimisation.

In the 1970s, European and American women feeling the need to get united to resist fear and violence took to streets at night under the banner "Take Back the Night". These marches were premised on fighting women's fear of walking alone at night and symbolised women's walk through darkness. Mahatma Gandhi talking against cultural isolation said, "I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible".

If the Sangh Parivar in the garb of being guardian of our "culture," was not an organised political group validating misogyny, it would have felt the need of cross-cultural exchanges to reclaim the night for Indian women. Sharma, then instead of making sexist attempts to maintain the patriarchal gender system that insists upon autonomy deficits for women, would have been trying to enrich our culture by endorsing such marches.

Being an optimist, on this Women's Day, I hope that taking a cue from their European and Western sisters and overcoming all the obstacles, Indian women would unite to take back the night.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Writer

Ragini Nayak Ragini Nayak @nayakragini

The writer is a Congress spokesperson and a former DUSU president.

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