Hindu Hypocrisy

The heavens do not tremble and threaten to crash to the ground when the fate of a 55-year-old woman becomes indelibly linked with a 13-year-old teenager, both victims of neighbourhood rape in Rajasthan. The BJP-ruled state, notorious for sati and female infanticide has now added neighbourhood rape to its crime graph statistics of the last four years show a frightening rise by 30 per cent in violent crimes against women.
Most of these are organised rapes, often conducted within the village, with the victims – despairing of justice after the travesty of a ruling in the Bhanwari Devi case – having to live with the ignominy of the perpetrators roaming free in their midst.
What must Ma Saraswati, Durga and Sita be thinking of the deeds of their devout sons?
As a Bombay-based woman reacting to the Husain saga put it, “Where was male outrage thousands of years ago when Draupadi was disrobed in open court and where is the outrage now when, everyday, women are brutally victimised inside their homes and on the streets?” Why then, this sanctimonious outrage against a painting, in the nude of Ma Saraswati?
Especially when, activists of the politically most respectable wing of the saffron family, the BJP publicly disrobed and paraded a Dalit woman around the local temple for the alleged sin of bearing a son, who was accused of theft, in Rajasthan just last year!
A 12-year-old prodigy, Samhita Arni, author of children's Mahabharata- A Child’s View, in a recent interview with The Economic Times aptly labelled Yudhishtira a “wimp”. Can a better instance of deep insight and political maturity be found?
There are few Indian women – well-versed in the Draupadi episode that has wound itself deeply in Indian art and folklore – who would not find themselves in hearty and instinctive agreement with young Arni. Even in the macho days of yore, famed for oft-repeated acts of valour and courage, while Draupadi was staked in a game of cards, not one of her four other valiant swells found such an act (by Yudhistira) at all problematic. Their silence meant consent. Moreover, they did not even lift their butts when the public disrobing of their wife began.
Sita, or Janaki (daughter of the earth), had the privilege of a more dignified response: appalled by her husband, Lord Ram's lack of faith in her – he questioned her chastity after listening to the rumour-mongering of his subjects who were sniggering about the days she had spent in Ravan's kingdom and asked that she go through the agnipariksha (trial by fire) to set their doubts at rest – Sita prayed that Mother Earth swallow her up to escape the humiliation of being a queen who had to face the shame of such suspicion.
For women, this is the most acceptable version of the tale-end of the epic Ramayana that has a myriad of endings in its manifold forms.
Today, while the daily disrobing of Draupadi's daughters continues in public, women are expected to bear the burden of their own sexuality, a sexuality that is deeply feared because it is seen as a threat.
The nude form, female or male, in their erotic beauty appear so threatening but the daily acts of making naked women in real life or disrobing women on the screen are acceptable even to “family audiences.” To keep this female sexuality from finding expression and space, rape is a useful tool apart from the use of violence through other time-tested male techniques.
“Where is the outrage now when, everyday, women are brutally victimised inside their homes and on the streets?”

Is it because in its imagery, raw and sensual nudity-female, male, female and male, female and female, male and male – strips the human stage of its hitherto well-entrenched and iniquitous vision generated through the centuries by an essentially male gaze?
For the morally outraged protectors of Ma Saraswati's honour, the issue has never been the indignities heaped on real-life women. Will the rabid rabble-rousers be content after they have ceremoniously clothed their beloved Mata? What if the build-up to this holy act whips up mass hysteria against the community that the offending painter comes from? Wasn't that the original political purpose of this charade anyway?
Having tasted blood, will they continue to thirst for more? In the name of worship and the (dis)robing of a female divine form, crude hatreds against “the outsider” are clearly being fanned.
Yet again, a Mother Goddess will be ceremoniously returned to her demure pedestal, her place of honour. Not in her mischievous and manifold avatars of Parvati, Durga and Shakti that reflect more potent images of womanhood but demure one moment, kitsch screen “goddesses” making powerful pelvic thrusts in Hindi films, the next.
Back in place, the stage would be set again for the next act in the real-life dramas against Indian women. Protected and robed, revered and worshipped as Mother Goddesses, this unique manifestation of female divinity has perpetuated a cruel duality: revere them in your fantasies as the Divine Mother, but do as you will with those in your midst.
Once Mata Saraswati has been ceremoniously robed again, this consensual, civilizational raison d’etre of Hindu society will be allowed to continue uninterrupted.
Leave me in the nude, Ma Saraswati, would say in response to past and modern day wimps, but do not make me naked. Do not rape me. Let my raw, beautiful, human form remind you that I am more than a mere goddess. I am a woman. Treat me as you would a woman.

If nudity were the issue, Ma Saraswati, the goddess of learning, would demand more of it – male nudity and female nudity – and less nakedness. This is because nudity, a natural state of being is not the product of violence.
No wonder then that for the modern day wimp – who watches hundreds of women being publicly disrobed and for whom the masterfully executed, eight-minute-long rape scenes in recent Bollywood productions (that get slicker and slicker, cloaking more and more violence), provide a weekly fix, this covering-up of Ma Saraswati is of crucial importance. He does not want to be reminded that behind Ma Saraswati there is a real-life woman.
In devoutly encasing his Mother Goddess and relegating her to a pedestal, he clears the field once again for his fun and games. He can walk again with a swagger, straddle and leash his images of woman with crudity and violence, not feel unmanned, less of a man confronted by visions of her nudity. And continue to do as he will with women.
But what if there was a shake up, with one of Draupadi’s daughters, not Ma Saraswati at the helm, who were to command a laying down of arms and a luxurious spreading out in the nude, female and male body sprawled alike, alone or side by side?
Remember the image that caused Maharashtra’s minister of culture, Pramod Navalkar's ire not so long ago – Madhu Sapre and Milind Soman not in divine but in human, nude form, using this beautiful image, regretfully, merely to sell shoes? No, that again would be too much for him to take. It would be turning the wimp’s world upside down.
(This is archived from Communalism Combat, November 1996)



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