When the COVID-19 lockdown began, Prakash Javadekar, the union minister of information and broadcasting, announced the re-telecast of Ramayana. This took me back to the promises of ‘Ram Rajya’ made by the ruling party time and again. From the verdict passed by the Supreme Court in November on Ayodhya-Babri Masjid land dispute to the statements made by Uttar Pradesh CM Ajay Bisht in a December 2019 address at an election rally in Jharkhand, BJP leaders have time and again evoked ‘Ram Rajya’ as their ultimate goal.
Even as the Bhartiya Janata Party expresses no qualms in their divisive politics of a fantasy land full of Hindus, one marginalised community that it has direct implications on is the women across classes and castes. Ajay Bisht, known more popularly as Yogi Adityanath, had reportedly declared that, “We are delivering government schemes to every section of the society including poor, farmer, and youths as per the concept of Ram Rajya,’ referring to how several schemes were delivered by the state and the Centre without any discrimination. Despite invoking Ram Rajya over and over, there have been little reference to how women would be positioned within this vision.
In the era of Lord Ram, Sita, the queen of Ayodhya, had to go through an Agnipariksha (a walk through fire) to prove her chastity to her husband. After the legendary battle where Ram defeated Raavan and got Sita back, he questioned her chastity, considering how she was held captive for a long time at someone else’s house. It was an important question for Ram who is glorified as the Purushottaman (ideal man). Even after clearing the Agnipariksha, Ram banished Sita from Ayodhya and she was left to roam in forests while she was pregnant.
When Ram found her again after meeting his twin sons, he again demands Sita to prove her chastity. Sita, perturbed by the repeated vilification of her character, refused and rather chose to be swallowed up by the earth instead. If we look at Surpanakha, we see she was insulted and injured by Ram and his brother just for showing interest in the latter, who she did not know was married. In response, she was attacked by an angry Laxman, who by the way, chose to serve his brother and turned a deaf ear to his wife Urmila’s pleas to take her with him.
This whole chain of events raises questions about the viability of women getting respect and a life of dignity in the new Ram Rajya. At the same time, it is not that women and other marginalised sections of the community have it easy now. According to National Crime Record Bureau’s (NCRB) data, 1,75,695 cases of rape were registered between 2014-2018.
In February this year, Uttar Pradesh’s BJP MLA Ravindra Nath Tripathi and six of his accomplices were reportedly named by a complainant as having raped her in 2017 for over a month. Former BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar was convicted of rape, attempt to murder, murder and conspiracy charges in the Unnao rape case and BJP leader Chinmayanand was accused of sexual abuse by a student last year. He was granted bail in February this year.
These are only a few instances of atrocities against women in a country whose government is increasingly and vigorously mobilising for a Ram Rajya.
As per the NCRB data 2018, the rate of crime against women was 58.8 percent, having increased from 53.9 percent in 2015. The same data concludes that every 15 minutes a rape gets reported in India. However, these are only the statistics of the reported cases.
The doubts about the precarious status of a woman in the Ram Rajya only get propelled with the recent incidents of crimes, including a UP policeman masturbating before a woman complainant. The incident was caught on camera which resulted in suspension of the accused. In November 2019, a 26 year old veterinary doctor was raped and killed in Hyderabad. In January 2018, an 8 year old girl was raped and killed in Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir. In June 2017, not only did Kuldip Sengar rape a 17 year old girl in Unnao, he was also found guilty of the custodial death of girl’s father as well.
Through the years when the case was active, the lawyer and the family members of the survivor were also attacked by a suspicious truck. The incident resulted in the girl and her lawyer getting seriously injured and the death of the family members.
These are only the highlighted cases which came under scrutiny because of the brutality. However, there are many cases which go under the radar and away from the public eye. These incidents show how women are going to be treated in Ram Rajya. As women are always expected to behave ‘ideally’ like Sita was or as Manusmriti dictates, the situation would only get worse. When juxtaposed, we can see there is not much difference between a pregnant Sita roaming in the forest after being abandoned by her husband, and a pregnant Safoora Zargar, an activist who was put behind the bars for her alleged involvement in the northeast-Delhi riots in February. Safoora’s pregnancy was also vilified and her face morphed onto the body of a naked woman and circulated on social media by right-wing trolls.
A few days back, Karnataka High Court judge remarked how it was “unbecoming of an Indian woman” for the woman to have fallen asleep after she was raped and also granted bail to the rape accused. Though the remarks were later expunged, the court also remarked that she should not have gone to the office so late with the accused. This does not make any difference between Surpanakha and the complainant in this case, considering how both were vilified for exercising their right to choose. Ultimately, they both were demeaned because their choices defied the ‘code of conduct’ set by men. It is as if the women behave ‘ideally’ like Sita, they will be granted their due dignity. As per the Constitution of India’s Article 21, every citizen of this country deserves to live a life with dignity. This dignity is highly scrutinised, if in case the citizen is a woman. When the queen of Ayodhya is seen living a life of hardships in a forest, raising her twins on her own, the statements about equality for women seem bleak even in the 21st century and the modern Ram Rajya we hear references about.
Rashi is a student of Convergent Journalism from AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia. She can be found on Twitter.