Lindsay Pereira: The only woman who counts in India
So what if our women still have to battle rape, abuse or inequality at work, as long as we all make sure to scream Bharat Mata ki Jai
It’s great that we must all scream Bharat Mata ki Jai now. It’s great that our patriotism is being questioned every twelve hours or so, even if it is usually by people who have no moral right to question anyone about anything. It’s great that political leaders, some of whom have been accused of everything from murder and extortion to rioting and rape, now see fit to ask the rest of us to prove how Indian we are by hailing a fictional figure that was given birth to in a novel around 100 years ago.
It’s great that we must now wear our patriotism on our sleeves, because this is what our government is obsessed about more than anything else. File pic
It’s great that we must now wear our patriotism on our sleeves, because this is what our government is obsessed about more than anything else. It would appear, to someone from another country visiting us, that India has solved every problem under its sun, leaving its leaders with an enormous amount of free time to be spent by coming up with new and innovative ways to show how great India is. It will make foreigners assume we have solved the bigger issues — poverty, water and energy shortages, corruption, illiteracy, malnutrition — that have plagued our country forever.
What I find humorous, however, at the ever-present risk of being labelled anti-national, is that this obsession with Bharat Mata comes from people who don’t really care about the real women of this country at all. Consider the facts, if you will. We care about Bharat Mata, but are perfectly okay with female infanticide which, contrary to what you might think, continues to exist. According to a recent survey conducted by the Gujarat Medical Education and Research Society, over 83 per cent of 500 women surveyed from rural areas in Gujarat alone said that their families would not be ‘complete’ without a boy. But Bharat Mata ki Jai.
Women across India often work harder than men. And yet, there are far fewer women than men in the paid workforce. Average female wages continue to be less than for males with similar profiles, with a raw gender wage gap often as high as 40 per cent. Average wage-earning attributes for women have improved, apparently, but this has also come with an increase in the discriminatory component of the wage gap. Ironically, a few female television actors get paid more than men, but only for playing regressive roles that portray women as inferior. Which explains why, in 2014, Satya Nadella, the Indian CEO of Microsoft, said that women needed to trust karma if they don’t get the pay raise they want. But Bharat Mata ki Jai.
The female literacy rate in India is less than the male literacy rate. The number of girls enrolled in school is far lower than boys, and more girls continue to drop out simply because state governments don’t care enough to cater to their needs. But Bharat Mata ki Jai.
Child marriage is illegal in India according to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, which puts the marriageable age at 21 years for males and 18 for females. And yet, according to a recent UNICEF report, it continues to be rampant. This doesn’t bother us though, so Bharat Mata ki Jai.
In 1961, the Government of India passed the Dowry Prohibition Act, making dowry demands in wedding arrangements illegal. And yet, total of 24,771 dowry deaths were reported in the country between 2013 and 2015, according to government reports. Can you imagine what the unofficial figure must be? Bharat Mata ki Jai.
Honour killings continue to be reported in north India, the High Court has to step in to allow women the right to enter places of worship because men don’t see fit to allow women access to their Gods and Goddesses. Women across urban India, let alone rural areas, don’t have access to enough public toilets because state governments don’t think of them as a priority. This is okay though, because Bharat Mata ki Jai.
Interestingly, the Constitution does not really prescribe the chanting of slogans as a condition of our citizenship. It doesn’t envisage the Indian state in terms of a motherland, but that doesn’t matter because the many custodians of Bharatiya Sanskriti have taken it upon themselves to force upon the rest of us what our Constitution does not.
We prefer to care about a Bharat Mata that doesn’t exist at the expense of Indian mothers, daughters and sisters who do. Maybe it has a lot to do with who we always have been as a people. We have always preferred fiction over fact.
When he isn’t ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org