Ours is a nation which imagines the mother in the cow and the nation in the mother. I wish to disintegrate through this article the dual concepts of Bharat Maata (Mother India) and Gau Maata in light of the recent events happening across the nation.
Why I don’t have a Bharat Maata
The symbol of a mother is often used to identify a nation. This is in view of the analogy that women can conceive and land can sustain the lives of its denizens. This kind of an analogy essentially leads to a very patriarchal kind of nationalism which necessitates women, the incarnation of the Bharat Maata to be protected. Who are going to protect them? The answer is one that history has time and again implied in various ways- men. Men who are the soldiers and martyrs of the nation are supposed to protect Mother India’s honour from being violated by outsiders.
Implications of the woman-nation analogy
The nationalist and patriarchal agenda converge at this point. Both either implicitly or explicitly suggest that women, the weaker sex, need to be protected by their stronger counterparts (?) men. This takes away considerable amount of autonomy from women who, under these agenda, are seen as potential mothers and caregivers. It seems to be almost natural that women are destined to be mothers. Hence, some feminists have called this a ‘protection racket’.
Moreover, the nationalist agendum of protecting the mother from outsiders who may squander with her assets (honour thought of as the most valuable asset) is loaded with its own exclusionist implications. It views as the other anyone who does not protect cows- a nationalist symbol of motherhood.
Towards a Cowrashtra
Cow protectionism is not new to us. Even when our ancestors were fighting the freedom movement, this issue created quite a communal rift. Little has changed over the centuries. The Rashtriya Swayamshatru (yes, that’s what I prefer calling it) Sangha (RSS) has made sure that everyone who is involved in the consumption or production of beef, is treated as the other. This other includes not just the Muslim who is otherwise the eternal other of India, but also the Dalits whose occupation is to skin dead cows. What can objectively be called brutality has been meted out to these people while an otherwise vocal leader of the nation has chosen silence as golden when it has come to this issue.
There is of course no problem if a particular religion attributes motherhood to an animal. It is, however, problematic when the Hindu identity is conflated as the Indian identity and Indians across other religions are homogenized as Hindus who should not consume beef.
A similar kind of forced nationalism was witnessed when the Supreme Court ruled on November 30, 2016 that everyone needs to rise when the national anthem is played in theatres. This indeed is nationalism and I dare say that it may be jingoism as well. Patriotism cannot be forced. Nationalism does not necessarily culminate into patriotism. If it’s a matter of individual discretion as to whether or not one would watch a movie, it is also a matter of patriotism that one feels towards their country which determines whether they would stand during the national anthem whose lyricist himself dreamt of a time
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls
I have elucidated earlier that modern-day nationalism has started to take the role of a religion per se. This is one contribution that India seems to be successfully making to the rest of the world, especially the United States of America. If Indian nationalism is a religion, it is increasingly being coloured saffron to the exclusion of minorities. It is up to us whether at this crucial moment in history we choose to be just bhakts or Desh bhakts.
Featured Image: “The Saffron Queen”- Janine Shroff’s reinterpretation of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ for Elle India Nov