This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Sparsh Sparsh. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Why I Will Not Stand For The Use Of ‘Bharat Mata’ As A Political Tool

More from Sparsh Sparsh

By Sparsh Upadhyay:

Our ‘Bharat Mata’ is one such mother who always seeks the blood of her sons so that she could be protected. Take the case of army personnel. They fight and get killed to save their motherland. There is nothing wrong if a mother needs her sons (and daughters) when she is in danger but is it justified that the same mother demands that her children glorify her by chanting slogans such as ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’? Why would a mother want her children to call her great? Is this mother so weak that she needs to be constantly reminded that she is great? And who is this Bharat Mata? Where does she come from?

I believe that to give a face to a voice or to imagine a collective voice as Bharat Mata is not wrong. One may very well have faith in Bharat Mata as the human form of the country. But, could this faith or, for that matter, any faith be imposed in any way, or could chanting a particular slogan be the test of my patriotism?

Historical Perspective

Abanindranath’s Bharat Mata.

I, for a moment, want to delve into the history of this concept of Bharat Mata. Abanindranath Tagore was the first person to have glorified Mother India. His imagination of this Bharat Mata (which was initially ‘Banga Mata’) tells us something very peculiar and important for us to understand, especially in today’s context.

The image that Tagore painted didn’t make this Mother India look like a war figure but a social figure. She doesn’t possess any weapons as we find with Maa Kali or Maa Durga, but has things in her hands that are needed for a decent civic life. Ananya Vajpeyi in her book Righteous Republic made it quite clear that Tagore’s Bharat Mata was neither a political figure nor a Rashtra in herself but a social figure and he, through this painting, wanted to convey what a good civic life for the people of India should be.

Bharat_mata_3In my opinion, she was made with a vision that people could relate to her voluntarily due to the aura she carries in the painting and that she would inspire others to be simplistic in their living – civic and ideal as citizens (though the concept of citizenship came much later) of India. Remember, this Bharat Mata didn’t have any map in the background; no doubt this lady was made just to depict what we must become in near the future as people of the country that is Bharat.

Amongst the various versions of the Mother India, which came out in the form of paintings, I choose the one which was painted in 1940’s.

This has Bharat Mata like the Hobbesian Leviathan and is shown holding the flag, quite similar to Gandhian flag and the Swaraj flag which became very famous during the time when this painting was made. This clearly depicts that the idea of Bharat Mata doesn’t just change but she transforms herself from time to time in accordance with the political atmosphere of the country. And more recently, the Bharat Mata has taken up the weapons in her hands (she still needs protection, though), like Maa Durga and, thus, has fully changed herself into the perfect Indian Leviathan – larger than the nation (however, not democratically elected) and the single most important figure.

Bharat Mata And Vande Mataram: Parallel Watch

Apart from paintings, Bharat Mata also features in the song ‘Vande Mataram’ written by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. It was a tribute to Goddess Durga and got famous as it was hugely popularised during the Indian National Movement and was sung widely. However, Rabindranath Tagore had a sceptical view of the song and his letter containing objections to BM (Bande Mataram) being adopted as National Song became widely popular. He wrote to Subhas Chandra Bose, “The core of BM is a hymn to goddess Durga: this is so plain that there can be no debate about it… no Mussulman can be expected patriotically to worship the ten-handed deity as ‘Swadesh’… The novel Anandamath is a work of literature, and so the song is appropriate in it. But, Parliament is a place of union for all religious groups, and there the song cannot be appropriate…” It thus becomes quite clear that imposing faith upon the people is not a clever decision and to do that might break the harmony which the nation aims at achieving.

The Present Context

A lot has been said about Indian Constitution’s Article 25, which protects ‘Freedom of Conscience’. But, in practice does it really complete the task? I clearly remember the famous scene in the movie ‘Gadar’, where Sunny Deol after being asked by Amrish Puri to chant ‘Hindustan Murdabad’ exclaims with anger, “Aapka Pakistan Zindabad hai isse hume koi aitraaz nahin lekin humara Hindustan Zindabad tha Zindabad hai aur Zindabad rahega (we do not object to ‘Long Live Pakistan’, but India was, is and will be great).” And remember, he doesn’t start all the violence; it is the people (the fundamentalist believers) who start the massacre as their faith was ‘hurt’. It is easily deducible that Amrish Puri is the intolerant person who cannot bear to hear the chants praising ‘Hindustan’ and it is our hero who gives space for other faiths to exist while at the same time maintaining the dignity of his faith as well.

While we are allowed to cherish our faiths, we cannot impose them on someone else. The branding of ‘Others’ is the job of nobody; we are no one to decide who must believe what. Even the democratic and constitutional institutions haven’t been given the task of branding someone anti-patriotic. Who then are we to take on the responsibility for something that clearly is a futile exercise?

The ‘Rebound Effect’ theory, which appears in the Book One of ‘Republic’ written by Plato explains a simple idea (the interviewer in the book has problems with it too), whereby the rulers must behave justly and in a resilient manner while ruling so that in turn the citizens don’t dethrone them. At first look, it may seem as if running a government is a game of ‘give and take’, but a close examination tells us that a democratic form of government, in fact, runs on the ‘give and take’ rule. You are put in a position of power because you are seen as having the potential to rule, and when you don’t deliver (rule democratically and justly), the people have the power to remove you from power. The underlining problem is that regimes haven’t yet learned this simple rule of the game.

The reason why the governments, too, must learn the lesson in the on-going debate over chanting of slogans is because, I believe that, the Governments must not have any ideology which is too stringent to be changed and which has affiliation with fundamentalism of any kind. The whole system of governance would collapse in terms of principles. The hype that has been created around chanting ‘Bharat Mata’, expelling the AIMIM MLA in Maharashtra Assembly for refusing to do so, and the government’s silence does raise the question as to which way we are headed.

The question that the people, including the ones who rule, should ask themselves is what victory are we celebrating by chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. Is the task over to mould this nation in accordance with the Preamble of our Constitution? All of us will celebrate the victory of India collectively when there are no boundaries between religions, sects and regions and when there is no fight over language, caste and other pitiful reasons.

My Bharat Mata, ‘Pitra Bhumi’, ‘Maati’, or any other name I choose to use for it, will always be close to my heart, even if I refuse to chant these names time and again. And I expect my government to clear the waves that force me to speak something when I don’t want to. Also, the true test of tolerance is when we welcome the truth that hurts us. The job is simple. Lend your ears to others’ voice and, in turn, your voice shall be heard with the same enthusiasm.

Featured image source: Flickr.

You must be to comment.

More from Sparsh Sparsh

Similar Posts

By Khanjan Ravani

By Denzel Joyson

By Tania Mitra

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below