Meena Kandasamy is the emerging face of Indian literature. She is from Chennai. She is basically a teacher and teaches college students about the nuances of poetry and literature. She is an established poetess now. Besides she is a social activist, writer, blogger, peace activist and a fine human being with a heart that beats. She likes to describe herself as a woman writer who is obsessed with revolutionary Dr.Ambedkar’s message of caste annihilation. Below it we present one of her article published in Boloji.com.
Doing It Everyday – 5
This denial of space in the mainstream, this marginalization is being exploited by the Sangh Parivar. For instance, reliable sources claim that the Akhil Bharateeya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP—the Students Wing of the Sangh Parivar) has a large contingent of Dalit students, who are tempted into joining by the offer of ‘prestigious positions’ within that organization. Keeping an eye on future vote-banks and prospective card-carriers the RSS never makes a wrong move in its political expansion. Towards this end, icons of Dalit identity are systematically brought into the pale of saffron. For instance, in Coimbatore, on 10th July 2004, the RSS-ABVP conducted an ‘Ekalavya 2004’ function to give free notebooks to poor Dalit students. Color photographs of Dr.Ambedkar adorn the covers of Vijaya Bharatam on April 14th. Remarking on this phenomenon, Teltumbde observes:
“The co-optation process started from the systematic inclusion of the greatest dalit icon-Babasaheb Ambedkar into the Sangh Pariwar icons. They made him Pratah Smaraniya and variously propagated as though he was a staunch Hindutvawadi. They started celebrating his birth anniversaries, organizing festivals and seminars; publishing books with systematic vision of saffronizing him. Although, they chose the day of his death anniversary for their infamous demolition of the Babri Masjid, they have been celebrating the demolition day with the images of Ram and Ambedkar placed alongside. For gullible dalit masses reared on symbolism by the degenerate post-Ambedkar dalit leadership, the cooptation of Ambedkar meant change in attitude of the Brahmin camp. If Ambedkar symbolized concern for dalits, Sangh Pariwar did not lack in resources in making exhibitionist demonstration of this concern. It helped certain eager dalit elites to cross over to the resource rich Sangh Pariwar. Although, dalit masses did not follow these opportunist dalit elites it certainly helped in softening the anti-dalit image of the Sangh Pariwar and at the same time blurring the dalit identity.”
The same has been true of the Tamil Nadu example too. Here the Sangh Parivar prides itself in its ability to fund movements led by Dalits who are made to speak of the need to return to Hindutva. Such disgruntled sections and breakaway minor leaders from a most-backward caste party or a Dalit party were immediately bestowed with BJP tickets to parliamentary elections: Two of the five BJP candidates contesting from Tamil Nadu in the 2004 General Elections had such a ‘deserter’ background. Though they had earlier been models of militancy and staunch opponents of Hindutva, position and the dream of power could change their perspective overnight.
But people aren’t as easily turn-coat as politicians, and overnight changes in the worldview cannot be incorporated into the masses. Their percolation into Dalit lives is slower, but nevertheless vigorous, as can be seen from the sudden spate of building separate temples in Dalit areas. This not only gives them new Gods to pray too, but also subverts the eradication of the remnant forms of untouchability. Estimates given by the VHP, peg this number of new temples at 120, but it is just the tip of the iceberg. All over Tamil Nadu, the actual number of made-by-Sangh-Parivar temples might be a hundred times more, for a temple is, more often than not an idol, holy ash and kumkum, and someone to attend to it on holy days.
We need to also mention here that such participation of dalits in Hindtuva rituals/ celebrations has done nothing to remove untouchability or casteist oppression and discriminaton. Caste crimes are as crude, and as stark as ever. This is because despite all the wooing of the Dalits, the Sangh Parivar always tacitly aligns with the oppressors. Its largest following and economic support are from the castes that have a history of oppressive and caste-supremacist behavior. In southern Tamil Nadu, the RSS-VHP-Hindu Munnani finds its mutual counterpart in the Thevar community dreaded for its claims of aggressive masculinity and caste supremacy. That is why Praveen Togadia planned to do a Trishul Diksha at Madurai during the birthday celebrations of Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thevar organized by the Thevar Peravai. Similarly, Fuller notes that Maravars (another oppressor caste) had the maximum participation in the Vinayaka Chaturthi. This consolidation of caste-interests, also makes the Sangh Parivar a power block, giving the illusion of its being capable of swaying Hindu interests.
Wooing the Women
Like all movements of religious fundamentalism, the Sangh Parivar uses women as tools and makes them upholders of morality and decency. Their teachings implore women to understand the greatness of chastity and the need for unswerving loyalty to their family. The family here is the central agent of control, and women are required to adjust and not revolt against its authority. Women are portrayed as the custodians of culture and upholders of tradition—so, women’s liberation is to the Sangh a ghost of a riddle, an un-asked question that anyway requires no answers.
In the Tamil Nadu context, the Rashtriyasevika Samiti and the Sewa Bharati are the women wings of the saffron brigade. Here too, festivals are the key to mobilization of women. The report of the International Initiative for Justice on the Gujarat carnage notes:
“The Sangh Combine has strategically drawn in large numbers of women into its campaigns by using religious festivals as a focal point. From such innocuous beginnings, it has systematically incorporated women into its hate-filled mobilization against Muslims and has even distributed trishuls among them. Violence against women from Muslim communities was unprecedented during the Gujarat carnage and women from Hindu communities participated actively in the violence.”
The same thing has been happening in Tamil Nadu for the past two decades. I am not being portentous, although Gujarat has not yet been replicated, that day is not faraway in Tamil Nadu. Here is an excerpt from the book, RSS: A Vision in Action,
“[T]raditionally, Hindu women have been the repositories of piety and devotion. Tamilnadu VHP has made pioneering efforts in this respect and the response they are receiving is truly remarkable.”
Now the back-scratching is complete. The RSS publication praises the remarkable VHP. Drum-rolls please, before we proceed to read the pioneering efforts.
“During the freedom struggle, Mahakavi Subrahmanya Bharati made use of this tradition for rousing national consciousness among women. Now, VHP has picked up the thread. During Navarathri, 1,008 deepa-poojas are regularly organized throughout the state. The spontaneous response from women-folk can be gauged by the fact that in 1987, 148,645 ladies partook in 2,842 deepa-poojas in 243 places.”
Close to one and a half-lakh women had participated in such deepa poojas as early as in 1987. Imagine the numbers today, seventeen long years since then, with the Hindutva government at the centre, alliance with the ruling parties and other favorable circumstances. A similar festival is the paal-kudam (milk pot), where large numbers of women carry milk pots for the purpose of abhisekha to temples. The minimum number is 108, the maximum so far has been 1008. Such continued holding of Deepa Poojas (in Tamil they are called Thiruvilakku Poojas) gives the women the power to participate outside the domestic sphere. This entry into the public domain gains them additional respectability in their homes. Though women take active part in all the festivals, such unique, women-only festivals give them an enhanced sense of femininity and womanhood.
On the local level, women are consolidated using activities that require them to get together and meet often such as the bhajan mandalis. Also, the practice of observing fasts, is generally more incumbent on the women of the Sangh Parivar. Apart from the health and hygiene reasons to which they stake claim; fasting, is indicative of moving towards purity, towards an ideal of self-control and sense-control. Such an emphasis on the elimination of craving and desire, aids in their project of the complete desexualization of women. They are wrapped up in protectionist discourses. Only the reproductive role is stressed time and again: matri-shakti underlines the womb: there is a control over the bodies for the project of begetting proud and valiant sons for the Hindu Rashtra.
The introduction of festivals like Raksha Bandhan into a state that had never heard of the custom, let alone practiced it, pinpoints the role of the Sangh Parivar in transforming an upper-caste North Indian tradition into a universal celebration. The fact that it is one of the six-recognized celebrations of the RSS highlights its importance in their agenda of Hindu Rashtra. (Unfortunately for the Sangh, the introduction of the Rakhi culture, results in much hilarity. Popular girls buy rakhis by the dozen, which they tie to the hands of interested men whom they want to keep at bay. A simple piece of thread can transform prospective boyfriend into protective brother, a kind of magic that can otherwise never be achieved.) In the larger, real picture it seems a grim, painful tradition because it projects women as people who need protection.
Throughout the ideology of the Sangh, we find this constant reiteration that women, like children are weak people. So the patriarchy of the Parivar romps home with its protectionist policies. Perhaps this is aimed at according a greater masculinity to the men of the Sangh.
Children are enticed into the Sangh Parivar by the tinkering of the syllabus and the tarnishing of fresh minds. Schools run by the Hindutva forces are made to observe religious functions and rituals, students are made to stage patriotic (read Hindutva) plays.
One also needs to look at the maintenance of separate identities for women: they are generally not included in the masculine Vinayaka Chaturthi processions but in the ultra-feminine paal kudam, the deepa poojas, the fasting, the bhajan mandalis. Nothing that will affect her, nothing that will allow her to assert herself, or even assert her body. This perhaps arises out of the very low opinion of women that the reactionary Parivar holds. As an example, the then Deputy Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Hari Shankar Bhabra is reported to have said, ‘Why talk of humans, even gods cannot be sure of woman’s character.’
If ideology can take the Sangh Parivar thus far, crucially cunning strategies can take them farther. Their newest targets are the Self-Help Groups (SHGs) run by women. In July 2004, 5000 women marched the streets of Coimbatore city under the banner of the Seva Bharati. All these women belonged to Self-Help Groups and are economically powerful, as well as being socially well connected. In 2003, 30,000 women running SHGs participated in an RSS function arranged for them at Kanyakumari. Apart from such consolidation of women with social awareness, the orange order reaches out to the simple womenfolk too through rath-yatras. In Tamil Nadu, it is not the powerful Durga Vahini that woos the women, but softer icons of patriarchy like Sharada Ma and the Mother of Pondicherry Ashram.
Now we have seen how the Dalits and women are being enticed into entering the Sangh Parivar in the Tamil Nadu context. Such a massive project of Hindutvaization is possible only because of the active support of the state machinery.