Mind your language

Bahuguna Joshi-Mayawati Ugly Spat

Ram Puniyani

After the 2009 General Elections UP is seeing the struggle for Dalit votes. While Rahul Gandhi could make substantial inroads into UP, Mayawati was humbled quite a bit due to the election results. Before the elections there was a popular impression that BSP will romp home with bigger electoral percentage, after the elections this image stood shattered as Rahul Gandhi’s efforts to establish a rapport with dalits in particular looked to be working to the advantage of Congress. Infuriated by this Mayawati intensified her vitriol against Congress by saying that Rahul’s steps to identify with dalits at social level is all Natakbaji (drama) just for political purpose. She also dragged Mahatma Gandhi’s name and his work to connect up with dalits in the same category, a drama bereft of any substance or for real benefit of dalits.

Then came the unfortunate and condemnable statement from the state Congress Chief, Rita Bahuguna Joshi (July 2009) about the deteriorating law and order situation in UP, where the rampant atrocities, rape in particular, against dalit women are compensated by giving 25-50 thousands. She questioned if money is all what matters in such cases, then women have to ask Mayawati how she herself would feel if she was given a crore of rupees as a compensation of rape. The utter insensitivity, crudity and anti women nature of the remark deserves a severe reprimand coming from any body, more so from a woman, and that too holding such a high position in the hierarchy of the ruling party.

What followed was also equally condemnable, she was arrested under the charges related to anti Dalit atrocities and her house was burnt. Mayawati asserted that it is an insult of dalits. Quite an opportunist twist to a highly condemnable remark! The remark is against the gender sensitivities, and Mayawati gave it an anti dalit twist to gain sympathy and to ensure that the dalit vote bank is retained-won back, from the inroads made by Congress.

One recalls that similar comments were made by Mayawati herself about the Mulayam Singh’s Government to pay compensation to rape victims. She had directed similar comments to female kin’s of Mulayam Singh. Unfortunately her comments did not come under the scanner of critical media and people’s gaze.

Rape has been an ugly and dangerous weapon of the male dominated society against the women, in forcing them to subjugation, to enforce the patriarchal aggression against women. Times and over again it has been used, in history and currently also it is being used with that purpose. Different social commentators have looked at it from their political angles. One recalls the incident when Kalyan Subedar’s daughter-in-law was brought to Shivaji as a gift. Shivaji returned her with full honors, something which is worth appreciating. To this incident Hindu Mahasabha leader and Hindutva ideologue Savarkar criticizes Shivaji, as to why he forgot that many Hindu women were molested by Muslim, rulers, why he did not follow the policy of retaliation in this case. Savarkar adopted similar attitude to the women victims of partition tragedy and said Pakistani women should be subjected to similar treatment, a policy of tit-for-tat should be adopted.

Communal ideology is the most concentrated expression of patriarchal norms of society. One is puzzled as to how come women themselves are indulging in such a language totally seeped in the male dominated language, patriarchal psychology?

At one level it is surprising, the insensitivity of some women to use such a language. One has to remember the transformation process of gender relations is not a linear one. During this phase of transition the political forces working for status quo, working for restoring the caste and gender hierarchy of feudal times, communalize the social space due to which such a language becomes the dominant language. The result is a section of women themselves become the victim of this mindset or such a language.

During the initial period of the rise of women’s movement, it had to break a popular myth that women themselves are the enemy of women. This was based on the observation of active participation of women relatives in the matters of dowry or bride burning. The dominant role of mother in law or sister in law in subjugating the position of daughter in law. There have been painful instances during communal violence in Mumbai 92-93 and Gujarat carnage when a section of women helped ‘their’ men in violating the modesty of women from other community! Especially Gujarat carnage is full of these tragic incidents when some Hindu women played this ugly role. Gujarat carnage will also be remembered for the absurd remark of BJP associate George Fernandes’ comment as to what is the big deal if rape is taking place in Gujarat; it is an old phenomenon anyway!

One can understand this from the point that the male dominated discourse is the dominant language of society and that’s how Rita Bahuguna Joshi and Mayawati despite being women themselves resort to such expressions in pursuance of their political agenda of coming to power or retaining the power. This also shows the state of affairs of law and order in UP, this also shows the communalized mind set of women themselves. Communal issue is not just an issue related to diverse religious communities. At core it is an attempt to suppress the rights of equality of women and dalits in society. Interestingly in case of Mayawati, both these hierarchies have mixed up and she is shifting form one to the other suppressed identity to pay back Bahuguna Joshi and is resorting to caste instead of gender, which is the issue in this case.

The issue of gender equality is the core issue, along with the annihilation of caste, which needs to be addressed by the social movements. The awareness of these issues needs to be broadened to different layers of society, including women themselves of course, to make the transition to a just society and to avoid such ugly repetitions of such a dirty language.