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Can’t Blame Only Colonialism For Violence Against Women, Mr Naidu

If only we could erase the colonial era, women would have the respect they deserve, right? Wrong.

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There are some Indian ministers who cannot help referring to India’s great epic, the Mahabharata — the source of all wisdom and crazy theories, including how the internet and satellite technology existed in Ancient India — and then, there is the Vice President of India.

In a convocation ceremony at Kurukshetra University, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu blamed foreign and colonial rule for the lack of respect towards women in India. You would expect the Vice President to remember his Mahabharata at Kurukshetra at least. Alas, there was to be no poetic justice!

What’s the Mahabharata got to do with Mr Naidu’s comments, you ask? A lot, I say.

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Women in Ancient India: A Brief History Lesson

At Kurukshetra, Mr Vice President completely skipped one central character of the Mahabharata – Draupadi.

Yes, I am talking about the character whose name often comes up when society has to blame women for something as simple as... well, existing.

The Draupadis and Helens of the world cause wars. Women, especially those who are deemed beautiful by social standards, are the root of all problems, they say.
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If only we could erase the colonial era, women would have the respect they deserve, right? Wrong.
(Source: She The People)
A painting that depicts the disrobing of Draupadi in the Mahabharata.

Let’s talk about how much respect the fire-born Draupadi received in the Mahabharata.

She was made to be the wife of five men, treated as a mere object, as a bet in a game of dice, and disrobed in public until the attempt was stopped, thanks to divine intervention.

Not to mention her abduction by Jayadratha, the husband of Duryodhana's sister, while in exile. Reminds one of another abduction in Indian mythology. Remember Sita from the Ramanaya?

If only we could erase the colonial era and return to the golden bird age of India, women would have the respect they deserve in this idyll of ancient Indian tradition and values, right? Wrong.
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The Return of ‘Bharat Mata’

If you think that the movement to make people understand that they need to stop seeing women only in relational terms — as mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives — and start seeing them as individuals is finally succeeding, I have some bad news.

According to Mr Vice President, our country is called ‘Bharat Mata’ (Mother India). Indian tradition has, therefore, always accorded a lot of respect to women.

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If only we could erase the colonial era, women would have the respect they deserve, right? Wrong.
“The Splendour that is India”: An Image of ‘Bharat Mata’ from the 1970s.
(Image: Columbia.edu; altered by The Quint)

At the risk of unsettling my fellow Indians’ faith in the image of the Motherland, here are a few facts about the figure’s inception.

The figure of the ‘Bharat Mata’, moulded in the avatars of Goddesses Durga and Kali, emerged in the late 19th century.

Some historians have noted that early images of ‘Bharat Mata’ depicted her as a helpless victim, shackled in chains, and as a mother figure in need of protection by her sons.

Are we really making a case for women’s individuality and freedom based on this?

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Too Loud a Silence

Mr Naidu went ahead and said that not only the country, but the rivers of India are also given female names and worshipped. If only he could see the polluted state of many of these worshipped rivers in India today!

When asked about the wave of protests in India, the Vice President said that “protests should be peaceful and no one has the right to destroy public property. Violence cannot be a solution.”

Sure, a keen interest in preserving public property is noble and legit, but considering that the protests were centred around the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl and the alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl, shouldn’t his worry have been better focused on actual human lives?

The Vice President did not mention the two rapes. At all. To me, it was a silence that rung too loud. It brought back echoes, in fact, of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent comment at an event in London, when he said, “Don’t politicise rape incidents.”

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So, forgive me if I don’t simplistically blame colonialism for violence against women in India.

Mr Naidu, what needs to be changed is people’s mindsets. Socially ingrained ideas of violence against women — ideas that have gained currency because of their continual association with skewed notions of Indian tradition and values — need to be done away with.

It’s definitely not easy, but your uninformed comments and your silence on issues that really matter do not help the cause.

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