BJP needs to convert the modern Hindu woman
By M J Akbar
The BJP seems caught in a bit of bind. It is beginning to look like the punter who lost a flutter on the football match and then a fortune on the action replay. Its original mistake was a misconception; its contemporary error is a misperception.
The historic flaw is its belief, at some gut level, that India is a secular country because the minorities want secularism. Indian Muslims do have a vested interest in secularism, since it ensures equality and democratic power, but that is less than half the story.
In 1947, a politicized Indian Muslim elite partitioned India to create Pakistan. Over the last six decades Pakistan has been unable to live with fellow-Muslims who happened to be Bengalis, driving them into a separate nation; marginalized minorities and turned the country into the Islamic Republic of Bloodistan. The obverse does not work in India, however much Rama Sene-style zealots might salivate at the prospect. The reason is quite simple. India is a secular country because Indian Hindus, who constitute the majority, and therefore have a proportional impact upon the political ethos, have created and defended a Constitution that is a remarkable triumph of reason over the temptations of sectarian passion. India is secular not because Muslims need it, but because Hindus want it. There is nothing new about it. The Hindu Mahasabha did not win a single Hindu seat in 1937, even in an age of separate electorates, and did not do much better in 1946 despite the fact that Muslim League swept the Muslim seats in an environment darkened by raging communal storms.
Logic suggests, therefore, that if the BJP wants to define itself as a “Hindu” party, it should tread the middle road of coexistence rather than the extreme path of discord. Harmony requires more courage, commitment and moral consistency than conflict.
The misperception arises out of a peculiar inability to comprehend the dimensions of an extraordinary Indian cultural revolution that has seeped across divisions of caste and community, with its epicenter located in Hindu society. The new Indian woman is all around us, seeking a place on a college campus, en route to the workplace; participating in television as activist, audience and artiste; on the sports field; on the street; she is everywhere you look — most of all, at home.
The revolution is not limited to the urban rich. A week ago we were forced, by that inedible curse called the traffic jam, to take a secondary road through villages from Dehradun airport to the academy in Mussoorie. Women, compelled by circumstance and male prejudice, were carrying large utensils of water on their head from source to home. The younger women were in jeans, or some variation of it. Women everywhere share the common aspiration for modernity and economic success.
The more ardent flag-wavers have missed this pervasive and continuing emancipation, which started tentatively in the 1980s but has acquired an unstoppable momentum now. There is change wherever the eye falls, in whatever the senses pick up: dress, public icons, shifting sexual mores — and examination results, where women are asserting their will to be future leaders. The new Indian woman has claimed the mantle of independence as the means of empowerment. She wants freedom, to choose, at a life-changing level; career above marriage if she so desires; or, at an incidental level, a pub over the confines of home. She is demanding the prerogatives of men.
Cinema, that persistent barometer of behaviour, has long abandoned the image of a sati savitri naari at the feet of her pati parmeshwar. The new Indian woman is increasingly contemptuous of any cage, gilded with gold or paste, in the name of tradition or any spurious ism. She barely bothers to hide her contempt. Fear, or trepidation, might make her hesitate occasionally, but this is a circumstantial restraint. Check her inner will.
One is not suggesting that this is true of everyone; but this is the role model that is influencing attitudes of decisive numbers. You cannot chase this generation out of a pub without sending a nationwide signal advertising your gender bias. The girls in the Mangalore pub did not go to drink senselessly; they went there to exercise the right to go there. Those who attacked the pub, incidentally, had the full support of conservative reactionaries from all religions. While reactionary politics might persist among some ethnic groups, it is becoming malodorous to the young. Religion remains an important aspect of Indian life; the Hindu young celebrate Durga Puja, Holi and Diwali with as much joy as their elders. But their faith, regrettable exceptions apart, is socially inclusive, not aggressively exclusive.
As India becomes an increasingly younger country, it is this culture that will tip power towards one party or another. If the BJP cannot get the vote of the young, modern Hindu woman, it has no future.
( Times of India Column : 6th April 2010)