The Great Hindu Family

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on May 11, 2009

Family is regarded by many sociologists as the cornerstone of society. It forms the basic unit of social organization and it seems difficult to imagine how human society would function without it. The heterosexual family has been seen as a universal institution, as an inevitable and integral component of human society. Generally it has been regarded as a “good thing,” both for the individual and the society as a whole. This view has tended to divert attention from some important and interesting questions. For example, it has discouraged serious and detailed considerations of possible alternatives to the family. The feminist movements of the 1960s in the west, especially the left-liberal ones, shook the foundations of the patriarchal family by attacking its inherent flaw – the oppressive presence of the male member over the subordinate female member. The absence of such a strong movement in the discourse regarding women in India has led to a somewhat passive acceptance by a majority of the population of the patriarchal Hindu family. The family and kinship relations in India ensure the unquestioned dominance of the male over the female. And customs, ideology – especially that of the right-wingers, which is gaining more and more acceptance among large sections of the population, and the deployment of patriarchal authority help to define gender relations and keep them in place.

The role of women in society was succinctly stated by Kautilya in the Arthashastra. He states that “the aim of taking a wife is to beget sons.” In fact, even the Mahabharata holds that “The begetting of offspring, the nursing of children already born and the accomplishment of all acts necessary for the society, behold, all these have women for their cause.” The Arthashastra and the Manu Smriti, both considered as law codes for the Hindu society, laid huge restrictions on the sexual freedom of “family women” and sought to exercise patriarchal control over the bodies of women using social norms. The Manu Smriti says that “A woman should obey her father as an infant, obey the husband in her youth and obey the children when widowed.” In all, a woman has to depend on a male at every stage of her life and she cannot, at any point of time, exercise her will independently. The notions of sexual purity and maintaining the family lineage also restricted choices for the women. Endogamy was stressed by Hindu customs in order to keep the property of the feudal classes within themselves. Take this proposition by the Manu Smriti that “If a family suffers on account of not having a child, the women could obtain the consent of the father-in-law and the husband and have intercourse with the brother-in-laws and the close relatives of the husband and give birth to children.”

In this context, it is necessary to bring Engels’ arguments in The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State. Engels argued that throughout the various stages of the history of humanity, more and more restrictions were placed on sexual relationships and the production of children. He speculated that from a stage of primitive communes, where “promiscuity” was normal, marriage and the family evolved through a series of stages to its present stage, the monogamous-patriarchal family. The monogamous family developed with the emergence of private property. The emergence of private ownership of production and the advent of the state to defend its economic interests also had a direct impact on familial and kinship relations in society. The state instituted laws to protect the system of private property and to enforce the rules of monogamous marriage – in our case, endogamy was also supported by the feudal states. Property was owned by males and in order for them to pass it on to their heirs, they must be certain of the legitimacy of those heirs. In Engels’ words “It is based on the supremacy of the man, the express purpose being to produce children of undisputed paternity; such paternity is demanded because these children are later to come into their father’s property as his actual heirs.” The men, therefore, needed greater control over the bodies and the sexualities of women so that there would be no doubt about the paternity of their offspring. Thus, the married “chaste” woman was an asset of the Hindu family, a property that had to be guarded against violation, an icon of the clan honor, an object of sexual gratification and a child-rearing machine.

The role played by Hindutva ideology has played a crucial role in reinforcing perceptions about the role of men and women in the Hindu family. The following is an observation by ‘Swami’ Shivananda, a Hindutva ideologue.

“ Hindu women have been the custodians of the Hindu race. Hindu religion and civilisation still survive in spite of the many foreign invasions. Other civilisations have come and gone, but only Hindu civilisation has survived on account of the purity of Hindu women. The women are taught to regard chastity as their most priceless possession, and the loss of it equal to the eternal damnation of their soul. From their very childhood religion is ingrained in Hindu women. As such they illumine and enliven the home through the glory of their purity. This is the secret of the endurance of the Hindu religion, civilisation and culture.”

His views on Hindu women more or less sums up the notion of women in Hindu right-wing ideology. The Hindu woman was supposed to be protected from the lustful advances of “the other communities” by the family – and the Parivar, assuming the task of an extended patriarchal family, took on this responsibility with vigor in public spheres. The past few years have witnessed numerous cases of Sangh Parivar hooligans going around cities in North India and beating up couples whom they suspected of having an “inter-religious love affair.” The notion that the Hindu woman is a part and property of the larger Hindu family has become firmly entrenched in the minds of huge sections of people in North India and this reactionary ideology is slowly gaining strength in the South. In fact, even the women ideologues of the Hindu right wing do not dare to transgress feudal perceptions of feminity. In the words of an activist of the Mahila Vibhag, the women’s wing of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, “We do not want women’s liberation but Nari Shakti. We want that as a mother or as a wife, a woman should have power.” Not surprising, considering that Golwalkar, the chief ideologue of the RSS thought that teaching samskaras to women was more important than eradicating female illiteracy.

The propagation of this kind of ideology has led to deployment of excessive patriarchal authority over women where it did not exist, besides glorification of the same where it existed. The Hindu male is burdened with the job of being a guard to the chastity of his women. The women, despite whatever education she might possess, is still considered the sexual property of the Hindu male.

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The Ghost’s of 1984

Posted in Politics by Karthick RM on March 16, 2009

Madness…is like gravity. All it takes is a little push.

-The Joker, in Dark Knight

History shows that times of social crisis bring out man’s inherent capacity to destruction, acts of barbarism against his own kind. A bloody drama in the history of democratic India was enacted in late October, 1984. The orgy of madness, in the name of “retribution” for the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, that engulfed Delhi and many parts of North India would leave more than 3000 Sikhs dead and cast a permanent blot on the notion of secularism in India.

There was method in the madness. The Indian state and its machinery rendered tacit support to this vicious assault on a minority. State run television channels repeatedly broadcast images of the bloodied body of Mrs. Gandhi and the slogans of the Congress party workers like “khoon ki badla khoon se” and “Sardar gaddar hai.” Delhi, the country’s capital, was literally under the rule of the mob. The police and the armed forces were asked to stay in their stations, thereby giving the rioters a free hand. In fact, the only cases registered during the three long days of the pogrom were against the Sikhs!

What was most dastardly about the pogrom was that it was orchestrated by a party which had, for decades, sworn by its secular credentials. Storm troopers of the Congress party organized the pogrom in a manner that would make the Swayamsewaks blush. Voter lists were obtained in order to identify Sikh homes. Properties of the Sikhs were targeted, burnt and looted. Hundreds of Sikh women were raped. Even children were shown no mercy. Rajeev Gandhi, however, had an explanation. “When a big tree falls, the earth is bound to shake,” he said, in cold justification of his loyal hooligans.

And it is not that the rioters could not be controlled. Congress led mobs instigated violence in Kolkata even before they began in Delhi. However, the Bengal government, led by the CPI(M) under Jyoti Basu, brought the situation under control by issuing shoot-at-sight orders against rioting Congressmen and by deploying the army in sensitive areas. The unholy nexus between state officials and the organizers of the rioting mobs in Congress ruled states encouraged violation of democratic norms that would have shocked any civil society. It is a shame to the “world’s largest democracy” that its capital was held to ransom by a bunch of goons who looted, raped and killed innocents with impunity. 25 years on, little has been done to deliver justice to the victims.

Amrinder Singh had the misfortune of being a Sikh in Delhi during those troubled times. On the 31st October 1984, six-year old Amrinder and his family were aware of the large scale violence that had been unleashed against his community. Residing in a majority Sikh population area, Vashisht Nagar near Janakpuri, in Delhi, they had not been the target yet. Not taking any chances, they nevertheless shifted their womenfolk to a relative’s house in South Delhi’s posh locality.

Their fears came to life the very next day. At around 11 A.M a huge mob, shouting anti-Sikh and pro-Indira Gandhi slogans, fully armed with lathis and axes suddenly engulfed their area. As if it was a well planned strategy, only the houses belonging to the Sikhs were targeted.

Amarjeet Singh, Amrinder’s father, recalls the fateful day, “They systematically went straight to all the Sikh houses in the locality as if they knew where all the Sikhs stayed.”

Amrinder’s grandfather, a retired army officer, then in his early 70’s prepared himself to confront the mob with his Kirpan, but was prevented by Amarjeet. He was forcibly whisked away through the back door to a Muslim family’s house two doors away. “My father grieved Indira Gandhi’s death as much as the whole nation did. All his life he served the country and this is how he was being rewarded. He could not control his anger,” says Amarjeet.

Amarjeet himself was dragged out by the mob and beaten by lathis. His Muslim neighbours rushed to his help. They managed to drag Amrinder and his bleeding father away from the crowd, bundled them into a car and drove them to a Muslim dominated area, where they stayed for the next four days.  

Amrinder, now 30, says, “I still remember how the mob beat up my father. His turban had come off and he was bleeding. I was too young to help him but was terribly scared.” Amarjeet returned to his house after things settled down in the city and was informed by his neighbours that the mob had first thoroughly removed useful things like the TV, telephone and other electrical appliances and loaded them onto the trucks. The cupboards were then broken open and whatever cash and jewels they could lay their hands on, were pocketed. The rest of the house furniture was then smashed by the axes, and then they set the house afire. “We lost everything in the riots and had nowhere to go. The place that was most safe for us, our home, was gone,” recalls Amarjeet.

Prepared to handle the worst, the next day they went to the local police station and lodged a First Information Report (FIR). The police visited their burnt-down house and noted all the visible details. But that was all the police did. Amrinder’s family had not expected much. They had seen the policemen standing across the road as mere spectators on the day of the attack. They had also noticed a senior police officer talking to some men sitting in white ambassador cars (allegedly used by the mob to commute) a few meters down the road.    

Till date they have not heard of any progress on their FIR from the police. They did not get any summons from any court of law. Some journalists visited them and took down all the details of their ordeal, which appeared in some magazines and newspaper columns as a collective problem of their entire locality. Some NGOs came forward and assured them that cases will be filed on behalf of each family. They were assured that the culprits will be brought to book and adequate compensation will be given to them soon.

Three months after the attack, they got a letter from the Delhi Government, offering them a paltry compensation, which they refused to accept. 25 years down the line, they are both frustrated and disillusioned with the system. They are now well aware that the riots and the police and courts actions were all planned, executed and sanctioned by the Congress led government then.

“My heart burns every time I am reminded of that day. I grew up with this grief. I know what it means to be a minority in this country,” Amrinder says.

-With Sonal Matharu

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A Letter to The Indian Prime Minister

Posted in General by Karthick RM on January 1, 2009


The Prime Minister
South Block, Raisina Hill,
New Delhi 110 011.

Dear Sir,

Subject: Genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka and India’s military aid to Lanka

It is with deep anguish and an overbearing sense of despair concerning the future of my Tamil brethren in Sri Lanka that I, a Tamil Indian, am compelled to write this letter. Attached is a list consisting of signatures taken from 966 students from 3 colleges in the city, who have expressed their solidarity with the Tamil cause. This effort is keeping in line with our Chief Minister’s request to ‘flood the PMO with telegrams’. However,

The pain which the Tamil refugees failed to convey,
Which the wails of the orphaned children failed to convey,
Which the tears of the widows failed to convey,
Which the cries of the desolate mothers failed to convey,
Of the abducted daughter,
Or her helpless father,
Of the infant born in death,
Of Chencholai, Padahuthurai, Vaharai,
Of the rivers of Tamil blood,
Can these letters ever convey?

I doubt it. At the most, they are only a symbolic gesture that the suffering of the Tamils in Lanka has its repercussions among Tamils in India. There is considerable consciousness among Tamils here about the atrocities being meted out to the Tamils in Lanka and there is a feeling of disappointment with the Indian State supplying arms to Sri Lanka. It is no secret that the Lankan state targets Tamil civilians under the cover of ‘battling rebels’.

A person who hails from a community that has been historically persecuted for its commitment to its ideals of justice, Sir, I consider it most unfortunate that a genocidal state should be aided under your regime. If India be responsible in any way for the deaths of Tamils in Sri Lanka, I believe it is the worst betrayal of the 6.6 crore Tamils of Tamil Nadu who have unlimited faith in the Indian democracy and the Tamils of Lanka who still look up to Tamil Nadu as their land of origin.

As a Tamil, an Indian, and a humanitarian, I request you to stop any aid whatsoever to the rogue state that is Sri Lanka and if possible, take steps to ensure the safety of the Eelam Tamils. India has a greater responsibility towards the genuine sentiments and aspirations of the Tamils, whether in India or Eelam, than to the ‘territorial integrity’ of Sri Lanka.

Yours Sincerely

Karthick Ram Manoharan

Lesser Indians

Posted in Politics by Karthick RM on January 1, 2009

Tamil fishermen were yet again target practice for the Lankan Navy. Two fishermen were shot dead by a murderous Lankan Navy on July 12th 2008. More than 800 Tamil fishermen have been killed since 1983 and the centre has done little to address this issue. The roots of this contentious issue can be traced to India granting Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka in 1974. It is significant to note that Karunanithi, who recently demanded that Katchatheevu be retrieved, slept over this blunder all these years.

The Indian government, however, which considers Sri Lanka as a ‘strategic ally’, does not wish to antagonize it – even at the cost of the genuine interests of the Tamils.

But are Tamil people worthy of attention? Any person accustomed to the ‘national’ media in India will think otherwise. The ‘national’ channels that spent hours to debate Aarushi Talwar couldn’t find minutes to spare for the issue of Tamil fishermen. But then, Aarushi is the ‘ideal Indian’ stereotype – fair skinned, North Indian, Hindi speaking, upper caste. Why waste footage over some dark, low class, non-Hindi person who in no aspect conforms to the Indian stereotype? Of course, Aarushi’s tragic demise was a monumental tragedy for her parents, but was the tragedy any less for the kith and kin of the butchered fishermen? The theory of equality works strangely in a supposedly democratic country that has a heritage of racism sanctioned by religion. Some Indians are always more equal than others.

If the attitude of the North-centric government and national media towards the issue was apathetic, the reaction of the Tamil politicians was pathetic. Even amateur political observers could deduce that Karunanithi’s fast on July 19th was a farce. The ‘Tamizhina Thalaivar’ (leader of the Tamil race) would never jeopardize his political interests for some random fisherman. He probably has better issues to address. The other Tamil political parties, even those that were genuinely concerned about the issue, put up insignificant protests. The silver lining? For once, Jayalalitha and Karunanithi had a consensus – that Katchatheevu must be retrieved.

The issue of indiscriminate firing on Tamil fishermen was addressed at the SAARC summit, held on Aug 2nd and 3rd. As usual, it was just one insignificant issue which recieved slight attention from the Indian diplomats – they were more concerned about ISI and Afghanistan. Unless India comes down hard on Sri Lanka this issue cannot be resolved. And India will not do this unless there is adequate pressure from Tamil Nadu. And the Tamil politicians are living in a fool’s paradise if they think they can pressurize the Indian government to act on this issue through fasts and empty protests.

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