Posted by Rohitha Naraharisetty

The Statue of Unity, holding the current record for the world’s tallest statue at 182 metres, was inaugurated on the 31st October, 2018. A slew of statue announcements on finalised designs that would exceed the Statue of Unity in height were announced soon after: with one coming from the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath with respect to a proposed 212 metre Ram statue in the recently renamed Ayodhya, and the other from Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu on a proposed 250 metre tower atop the State Assembly building.

This is notwithstanding the fact that work is due to begin on a 212 metre statue of Shivaji, off the Mumbai coastline; with the latest proposed height a result of an increase from the original plan, prompted by reports of China raising the height of its Spring Temple Buddha statue.

why is there a fervent rush to outsize existing structures by height?

A resounding criticism surrounding the construction of these statues pertains to the costs involved. While there are those who say that taxpayers’ money is better spent on healthcare, nutrition and poverty, others argue that the same provides employment opportunities for those involved in the building process. The proposed statue of Ram, for example, comes soon after the death of 325 children in a UP hospital owing to insufficient oxygen supply.

The proposed statue of the Maratha King Shivaji, furthermore, is near a city with one of the world’s largest slums and abject poverty. Completion of all of these structures, however, would lead to India being home to three of the world’s largest statues, and with the Andhra Pradesh Assembly building’s tower competing in height. The question arises therefore: why is there a fervent rush to outsize existing structures by height?

The Statue of Unity is a likeness of Sardar Vallabhai Patel or, now quite literally, the ‘Iron Man of India’. Patel is credited for having strong-armed princely states into joining the Indian union, thus prompting the naming of his statue. With the statue being popularly cited as twice the size of the Statue of Liberty, it serves as a symbolic state apparatus for defining the values of the country and simultaneously works to homogenise heterogeneities and diversity within India.

competitiveness around size is a masculinist endeavour to assert the dominance of one phallic symbol over another.

The use of large statues as nationalist signifiers is not new. The bid to construct newer ones in order to compete with the size of this one is part of a phallogocentric structure; that is, a state that is ordered symbolically around masculinist signifiers, such as phalluses. The competitiveness surrounding these plans at the cost of greater investment in social welfare and policymaking is akin to a show of tangible strength and muscle in the form of large imposing figures.

The underlying purpose served by such an exercise is an assertion of ideologies which the statues themselves signify: nationalism, Hindu nationalism, and an articulation of the strength of a newly built state capital, in these cases. In a reading of the same as phallogocentrism, therefore, ideological meanings are built around overtly phallic symbolisms such as statues, wherein competitiveness around size is a masculinist endeavour to assert the dominance of one phallic symbol over another.

The fact that some of the largest statues in the country are of masculine religious figures, deities, or historical figures is also telling. It points towards an exclusionary ideology in which nationalism is tied with masculinity as dominance and physical strength. Building large statues of female figures, however, does not counteract this: it merely appropriates them into a masculinist ideology and does nothing to challenge the gendered meanings of power which such projects produce.

Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s Dalit memorials are a case in point, but the response to the same is indicative of an insidious misogyny and casteism. The vocabulary used in the backlash against her statues – of herself, Ambedkar, and other prominent Dalit figures – is in economic terms, which serves to erase the symbolic significance of the project. Mayawati’s statues served the function of reclamation of public space and memory to promote greater Dalit visibility; instead, she was heavily censured for narcissism and wasteful spending, among other things.

The discourse around statue building has changed since then, with detractors of the current moment being criticised for not supporting the memorial of a great national leader. The politics of statue building, therefore, is not only one of gendered nationalism but also of caste and religious erasure.

Mayawati’s statues served the function of reclamation of public space and greater Dalit visibility, but she was heavily censured for narcissism and wasteful spending.

The drive to build more structures of imposing heights comes from a place of jingoistic patriarchal power politics within which male politicians compete for dominance, which these statues symbolically provide. There is little to no room for female, particularly Dalit representatives within this system; indeed, the Statue of Unity solemnly overlooks the Sardar Sarovar Dam which displaced tens of thousands of Adivasi families, and is set to house a tribal museum in their place. Similarly, the Ram statue in Ayodhya shall reportedly house a museum explaining Ayodhya’s history as ‘Ram Janmabhoomi’, raising the spectre of the violence following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.

These statues are thus built upon a history of communal violence and displacement which in turn carried gendered implications both in terms of cause and effect. Women are often appropriated within competing nationalisms, and are used as tools to effect communal violence; marginalised communities are often collateral for large scale projects in which their identities are effaced from the public domain; and gigantic structures are erected atop the intersection of all of these erasures and appropriations in order to cement a new masculinist ideological discourse in their place.

Also read: Mayawati: An Icon Of Bahujan Struggle


Featured Image Credit: PTI (via Business Standard)
Rohitha Naraharisetty is a student of Development Studies at IIT Madras. She is interested in gender studies, aspires to smash the patriarchy, and is terrible at writing clever bios. 

3 COMMENTS

  1. News channels are misreporting that the proposed ram statue will be taller than statue of unity. Statue of Unity is 240m including base (pedestal). Please check data on wikipedia: “The total height of the structure from its base is 240 m (790 ft), with a base of 58 m (190 ft) and statue of 182 m (597 ft).” Hence, if proposed Ram statue has a total height of 221m including base, then it is not taller than Statue of Unity.
    As per news media: The figure of Lord Ram itself will measure 151 metres, the pedestal 50 metres, and the chattra over his head 20 metres. The mathematics: 240m of Statue of Unity (182 + 58) is greater than 221m of planned Ram statue (151 + 50 + 20).

    Thanks.

    • Is that important? Why not use that money to improve life for LIVING PEOPLE? Statues don’t need food. There’s too much of taxpayers’ money being wasted and squandered on these statues. How many children could we FEED with all that money Gayatri?

  2. Bravo Our Incredible India! As millions of little kids go hungry and millions of female foetuses are murdered; most, if not all of our stupid and crazy politicians can’t think of a proper way to spend our tax rupees!
    No wonder most Indian citizens pay NO INCOME TAX whatsoever! They don’t get anything in return. How many hungry Indian children, regardless of caste, can you FEED with ALL THAT MONEY!
    The sheer WASTAGE of our taxes on senseless projects that benefit nobody is simply mind boggling!
    STATUES DON’T NEED FOOD TO EAT! THESE WHITE ELEPHANTS ARE A SENSELESS WASTE OF MONEY! If Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel was alive today; he would have called the central government a bunch of senseless morons! You have screwed OUR INDIA UP THE ASS! If you can’t even keep our women and children happy; well fed and healthy; what more can anyone expect from you? SOME brutal police, insensitive, corrupt politicians and scammers galore!
    Our India will NEVER become a FIRST WORLD COUNTRY because of SOME ignorant DINOSAURS like you running the government and police/army service!

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