By Nikita Azad:
On March 21, The Indian Express ran a story on ‘Bharat Mata: from freedom struggle metaphor to patriotism’s litmus test‘ by Ashutosh Bhardwaj. The article dealt with the evolution of the personification of India as a mother, from Abanindranath Tagore to M.F. Husain; and its appropriation (read expropriation) by seemingly paradoxical ideologies. Also, on March 18, the same paper ran another article titled ‘A history of Bharat Mata and why we need to draw a parallel with the national anthem‘ written by Sadan Jha who talked about the chronological inventions of the slogans ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ‘Jai hind’, and quoted the work of Bhudeb Mukhopadhyay (The Nineteenth Purana: 1866). He writes, “Bharat Mata is identified in this text as Adi-Bharati, the widow of Arya Swami, the embodiment of all that is essentially ‘Aryan’,” in the light of the suspension of AIMIM MLA Waris Pathan.
The abstraction of the nation indubitably coincides with the popular conscience of the majority of its people but has had many follies (and thus, consequences) since day one. The animated picture of the nation consciously/unconsciously excludes the minorities by relating itself to one particular religion (the dominant one) and intensifies yet another Kyriarchal practice i.e. patriarchy by engendering nation as a ‘mother’. It is evident from the image of ‘Bharat Mata’, wearing saffron clothes, holding a trishul (trident), and often riding a lion that she isn’t the mother of the nation, but exclusively of those ‘bhakts’ who are now lynching innocent ‘children’ of their nation in the name of nationalism.
It would be wrong to argue that such appropriation is unique to India because almost all countries of the world denoted their lands as ‘Fatherlands’ until Hitler started calling Germany his ‘Motherland’. It might be surprising to note that while the entire Germany was called fatherland by its people, Hitler began referring to it as ‘Motherland’ as he did in the first chapter of his biography, Mein Kampf, i.e., “German-Austria must be restored to the Great German Motherland.” Given the circumstances of 1923 when France invaded Germany, it might probably have led to this change in Hitler’s mind. It would have meant protecting one’s mother from exploiters, by becoming altruistic ‘sons’.
The attribution of India as a mother also developed in similar conditions when India was a colony, although earlier India was referred to as Bharat Varsh, after the legendary strong, masculine leader who founded ‘Bharat’. This shift from ‘father’ to ‘mother’ is a manifestation of the ages old understanding of viewing women only as carriers of bloodlines of the family.
The question has been addressed on social media where different women have disassociated themselves from such highly sexist nationalism, specifically in the context of the acid attack on Soni Sori, and threats to Richa Singh, the first ever woman president of Allahabad University in 125 years. Patriarchy as a structure prevails in the subcontinent irrespective of the fact that a particular political party comes into power at the Centre. But capitalist patriarchy differs from feudal patriarchy which is being revived by BJP and by its various allied organisations.
On International Working Women’s Day, when several progressive women’s fronts chanted the slogan of ‘Azadi’, an online page ‘Hindu Janjagruti Samiti: For the establishment of the Hindu Rashtra’ a few days later covered an event organised by ‘Sangavi Vikas Manch’ encouraging young girls to be taught to ‘generate maternal feelings’ in them. Apart from this, in January 2015, the Shankaracharya of Badrikashram, Shri Vasudevanand Saraswati, had solemnly advised that Hindu women should have 10 children.
Coming back to nationalism without a gender (which is not the case, however), it is more a cultural sentiment than a geographical one, as has been accurately concluded by Benedict Anderson who looked at it as an imagined political community. To be more precise, “nation is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.”(Anderson: 1983) This imagery of the national communion doesn’t correspond to religious communion, which leads to a contradiction between an ‘Indian nation’ and a ‘Hindu nation’.
The confrontation between both identities has reached its climax in the incidents that happened in JNU, which cannot be solved by a conventional approach towards nationalism. The responses that came after the incident have been highly prudish and dangerous for a democracy, whereby fanaticism has replaced nationalism, hysterical mobs have replaced conscious people who are the foundation stones of democratic structures. Thus, there ought to be a more pluralistic, intellectual, and even psychological understanding of the process through which humans relate themselves to personified, and engendered identities for which they cannot only lay down, but also take lives.