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With India trying to move towards women empowerment, Indian politicians are still restricted to their misogynistic mindset that deter the progress.
On the occasion of 75th anniversary of the Independence Day on 15th Aug 2022, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi gave out the five pledges, or Paanch Pran, while he articulated his vision for the next 25 years for development of India.
Along with these pledges, he addressed the issue of ending casual misogyny, and promoting gender equality. While issuing a disclaimer that this subject might not be suitable to be discussed from the Red Fort, he asked the nation to adopt the practice of not using offensive words and language towards women.
The inclusion of this point specifically draws attention towards the Rashtrapatni controversy which had happened recently.
While, the now India’s President Ms. Droupadi Murmu faced ample racist, sexist and ageist comments throughout the election process from certain elements, she must not have imagined that she will face the barrage of insults, even after making history and becoming the first tribal woman President of India.
Knowing the Prime Minister’s past preferences, he doesn’t provide any importance to the controversial statements made by attention seekers from the opposition, instead he calls upon the common folk to not follow the example of the perpetrator, to harm their public image.
The attention seeker is the leader of the opposition in Loksabha, Mr. Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, in this context.
As reported, the controversy started as Mr. Chowdhury was sitting in a protest which the Congress Party was carrying out to support their party president Sonia Gandhi, called in for questioning by the ED due to her involvement in the National Herald corruption case.
When an anchor enquired what was the motive of their protest, Mr. Chowdhury went on to say, “We will go to Rashtrapati Bhawan. India’s Rashtra-PATNI ji is for everyone, then why not for us?”
After the video went viral, people started questioning the use of the word Rashtrapatni for Ms. Murmu, and the intention behind it.
When confronted, Mr. Chowdhury claimed that he, being a Bengali-speaking man, doesn’t have sufficient knowledge about Hindi, so it was an innocent mistake.
Bangla, which is Mr. Chaudhary’s mother tongue, has originated from Sanskrit like Hindi. The word Pati has the same meaning in Bangla as it is in Sanskrit. Therefore, the claim doesn’t provide sufficient basis for translating Rashtrapati to Rashtrapatni.
He seems to love to play with words if his past records are perused. He had once called PM Modi gandi naali, and later clarified that he meant nalli which translates to channel. Furthermore, he had called Finance Minister, Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman as Nirbala (helpless) after she gave a speech that women have become sabala (empowered).
These instances remind one of a scene from the film, No One killed Jessica. The star witness of Jessica’s murder Vikram Jaisingh, a Bengali, played by Neil Bhoopalam, says in court that he had signed on the statement recorded by the police in Hindi because he was scared and that he doesn’t understand the language.
Later in a sting operation, he goes on to describe how in Bangla, there are no gendered pronouns as there are in Hindi, proving that he has ample knowledge both in Bangla and Hindi. Are we looking at a similar case here?
In 2021 Manish Tiwari, from Congress, had written a book named ‘10 Flash Points; 20 Years: National Security Situations Affecting India’. The book has criticized the UPA government for its total lack of response to Pakistan for 26/11 terrorist attack.
While the barbs were directed towards the then PM Manmohan Singh and behind the political veil, Ms. Gandhi, Mr. Chowdhury jumped into the controversy, and launched a scathing attack while questioning Mr. Tiwari’s veracity.
In another instance, he went on to say that the rebellious Kapil Sibal doesn’t have any standing without the Congress party, and if he has the strength, then he should prove that he can stand alone.
It seems Mr. Chowdhury is deeply dedicated to Ms. Gandhi and even went on to say that she is his ‘guardian’. With ED’s chains firmly around the mother – son duo, it’s quite expected that Mr. Chowdhury was upset and enraged with the proceedings, disregarding the fact that it’s developing according to the due process of law.
His rage might have motivated him to channel his anger in the way he had done before, and got away with it.
Some suggested various alternatives which can be used for a woman President, as they wrongly perceived the word ‘Rashtrapati’ to be used specifically for males.
Terms like neta, adhyakshya, pradhan, karnadhar, etc., were dug out from past discussions which had taken place when ex-President Pratibha Patil had become the first female President of India in 2007.
The print and TV media went into frenzy with prime time debates as the ruling party reacted vehemently against what they termed as a sexist remark.
The Constituent Assembly, after much deliberation, had finalized on the draft for Constitution of India which was made in three variants viz. English, Hindustani, and Urdu, and in three of them different terms were used.
In English, it was President, in Hindustani it was Pradhan, and in Urdu it was Sardar. As the term ‘Rashtrapati’ was adopted to address the president of Congress and had gathered popularity, Pt. Nehru suggested that it should be used.
The term ‘Rashtrapati’ is a Sanskrit word made of two words, rashtra (nation) and pati (leader). Similarly, Sabhapati means the one who is presiding over the meeting. Bhoopati, Adhipati means the lord of the land and leader. The word ‘pati’ is added to denote the person leading.
It has been wrongly translated to mean husband because in common Hindi language, which has originated from Sanskrit, the word is used to denote husband as well. Every word has its context, and here the context is not about being a husband to the rashtra (nation) but a leader to the nation.
Guidance can be taken from the great scholar Rishi Patanjali, who writes in his magnum opus, the Mahabhasya on Panini’s Sutras, that it is important to know the gender of a noun because Sanskrit doesn’t have prepositions; it has post positions.
Satyanarayana Dasa, from Jiva Institute of Vedic Sciences, writes in his article – The Gender of Sanskrita Nouns – that Rishi Patanjali says, gender can be known from the status of the gunas of any being whether sentient or otherwise.
Gunas, have been defined in Sankhya Darshana founded by Kapila Muni which says that everything in the material world consists of the three gunas of feminine, masculine, and neuter. Patanjali writes that if the three gunas are in balance, then the word will be of neuter gender.
As the word Rashtrapati is neutral owing to its purpose, it can be used both for male and female leaders. The gender debate about the word Rashtrapati being offensive to a woman President doesn’t hold water because the word itself is gender-neutral.
The ancient culture of this great nation asks its citizens to respect women without which there will be nothing but destruction with the shloka,“Yatra naryestu pujyante, ramante tatra devata” which translates to ‘where women are respected, the blessings and presence of Gods will prevail’.
Maybe the PM was referring to this very principle which has pervaded our society since time immemorial.
Image source: Ibreakstock via Getty Images, free on CanvaPro
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There are many mountains I need to climb just to be, just to live my life, just to have my say... because they are mountains you've built to oppress women.
Trigger Warning: This deals with various kinds of violence against women including rape, and may be triggering for survivors.
I haven’t climbed a literal mountain yet
Was busy with the metaphorical ones – born a woman
Fighting for the air that should have come free
And I am one of the privileged ones, I realize that
Yet, if I get passionate, just like you do
I will pay for it – with burden, shame, – and possibly a life to carry
So, my mountains are the laws you overturn
My mountains are the empty shelves where there should have been pills
When people picked my dadi to place her on the floor, the sheet on why she lay tore. The caretaker came to me and said, ‘Just because you touched her, one of the men carrying her lost his balance.’
The death of my grandmother shattered me. We shared a special bond – she made me feel like I was the best in the world, perfect in every respect.
Apart from losing a person who I loved, her death was also a rude awakening for me about the discrimination women face when it comes to performing the last rites of their loved ones.
On January 23 this year, I lost my 95 year old grandmother (dadi) Nirmala Devi to cardiac arrest. She was that one person who unabashedly praised me. The evening before her death she praised the tea I had made and said that I make better tea than my brother (my brother and I are always competing about who makes the best chai).
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