Modi's Raksha Bandhan Call: Celebrating Communally Divisive Politics and Patriarchy - Sharmistha Choudhury

29 August 2015
Indefatigable in his drive to Hinduise society and create communal discord, the Prime Minister has urged ‘brothers’ across the country to observe Raksha Bandhan by presenting their sisters with life insurance schemes, the Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana (PMSBY) in particular.

This move is not only in keeping with the Hindutva agenda of imposing majoritarian cultural and religious hegemony on a diverse society, but also a nefarious device of propagating and entrenching those very patriarchal values in society that are today responsible for spiralling rates of crimes against women and women’s subjugation.

It has been reported that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi will impart a personal touch to Raksha Bandhan celebrations in his constituency, Varanasi. While the BJP has embarked upon a campaign to urge people to gift their sisters the PM Suraksha Bima Yojana on the occasion, the prime minister will lead the campaign by example. According to BJP national general secretary Anil Jain, as many as 51,000 women and girls will receive the prime minister’s gift of the insurance scheme in Varanasi. Modi will send a personal letter to all these ‘sisters’, which reads: “I am happy that you are joining a relationship of security... I had ideated to gift the insurance scheme in my Mann Ki Baat...I am confident that the Pradhan Mantri Bima Suraksha Yojana will add new dimensions of security to the lives of mothers and sisters.”

This begs the question, how can the PMSBY ‘add new dimensions of security to the lives of mothers and sisters’? (Woe betide the woman who is neither a mother nor a sister – the PM is not concerned about her security! But that is a different point.) The PMSBY is an Accidental Death Insurance Scheme, offering accidental death and disability cover for death or disability on account of an accident. It has a one-year cover, renewable from year to year and the premium is only Rs 12 per annum. On the occasion of the death of the policy holder (say, the sister), the nominee will get a sum of Rs 2 lakh. However, if the policy holder suffers ‘total and irrecoverable loss of both eyes or loss of use of both hands or feet or loss of sight of one eye and loss of use of hand or foot’, she will be awarded a sum of Rs 2 lakh. If she suffers ‘total and irrecoverable loss of sight of one eye or loss of use of one hand or foot’, she will be entitled to a sum of Rs 1 lakh.

It is clear from the above what kind of ‘security’ the prime minister envisages for ‘mothers and sisters’ – no security in this life, only in the next! That is after all, what mothers and sisters have been taught over the ages – undergo suffering and sacrifice in this life and you will be rewarded in the next! Do not stand up for your rights, ever. Be the epitome of forgiveness and forbearance, no matter how much you are oppressed. That alone is the tortuous road to divine deliverance.

Now the prime minister wants brothers to gift their sisters an insurance scheme which will ensure that the nominee – largely male members of the family – is well-rewarded in the event of the accidental death of the woman. ‘Accidental’ deaths are so common in the lives of women, especially when there is a question of considerable pecuniary benefit involved for her survivors, that such an insurance scheme as the one that Modi has ‘ideated’ as a special gift for women can only serve to increase the number and frequency of such deaths. Otherwise, the woman will have to undergo irreversible mutilation of her limbs and organs in order to benefit from the scheme! How such a scheme translates to financial security for women is thus a riddle guaranteed to confound the best brains.

Women do not need ‘security’ to be gifted to them by their brothers. Women want the right to lead a life of liberty, a life free from the shackles of fear, a life free from humiliation and charity, a fruitful and productive life, as a birthright. And this is something that Modi and his ilk are loath to ensure. Cushily ensconced in the prime ministerial beanbag, Modi has ruthlessly slashed budgetary allocations for schemes intended to benefit women. While last year a measly 4.19 percent of the budget had been earmarked for such schemes, this year it has been axed to a paltry 3.71 percent.

Take the Anganwadi scheme for example, which despite paying women employees a mere pittance, does provide for some kind of financial employment to thousands of women in the countryside and has contributed to these women coming out of the confines of home and hearth to engage in socially productive labour. However, while the 2014-2015 budget had allocated Rs 18108 crores for this scheme, the 2015-2016 budget has provided for only Rs 8245 for it. Similarly, budgetary allocations for the education sector including the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan have been mercilessly reduced.

Crimes against women, on the other hand, continue to rise. According to a UNICEF report from 2014, India accounted for as many as 33% of female children who were married before the age of 18 years in the world. It has the sixth highest rate of child marriage with 58% women married before the legally permissible age. Recently released NCRB data have shown that in as many as 86 per cent of cases of rape across the country, the offenders were known to the survivors. According to NCRB’s latest 2014 report, there were 33,764 victims of rape in the country during the year 2013. 13.1% of the total victims of rape were girls under 14 years of age, while 26.3% were teenaged girls (14-18 years), 46.1% were women in the age-group 18-30 years, 13.8% in the age-group of 30-50 years and 0.7% over 50 years of age.

Earlier reports of the NCRB confirm this rising trend. In military-infested states like Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast, the AFSPA and similar draconian laws enable the men in uniform to perpetrate sexual assault and rape on women at will and without fear of punishment, while, everywhere across the country tales of political vendetta are unexceptionally played out on the bodies of women.

It is against this gruesome backdrop that the prime minister has called on ‘brothers’ to gift the PMBSY to ‘sisters’ on the occasion of the Hindu festival of Raksha Bandhan, never mind that even a large section of the Hindu population – say in the Southern states or the Northeast – is culturally alienated from this festival. As for non-Hindus, the prime minister expectedly has no message. One is reminded of the fact that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said in Bhubaneswar on Raksha Bandhan last year that the festival has national significance, adding, “Celebrating the festival is a way to protect Hindu culture and live the values enshrined in it.” It is indeed this communally divisive politics that the prime minister’s Raksha Bandhan call has wedded with patriarchy.

Women, as we stated earlier, do not need ‘security’ to be gifted to them by their brothers. Women want rights and an enabling social-political-economic environment to exercise those rights. They want free access to education, health and employment. They want the opportunity of equal participation in all sectors. They want the freedom to form and express opinions, the freedom to be seen and heard. They want freedom from all kinds of atrocities based on their sexuality as also the freedom from such fear. They want freedom from the subjugation of patriarchy. The only discrimination they want is positive discrimination, special remedial measures that will lift them up from a condition of historical backwardness and marginalization. They do not seek to be ‘protected’ by brothers – how often have they witnessed such protection extending to limits on their lives and even honour killing – donning the mantle of ‘protector’ by virtue of their gender. The prime minister needs reminding that women are not weak that they will need ‘protection’; rather, being historically oppressed and enslaved they need liberation. n
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