More than Lokpal, does Anna need a speech writer?
The self-styled crusader against corruption, the “modern Gandhi” — Anna Hazare — has managed to pick on one of the most marginalized sections of Indian society. While pitching for a strong Lokpal Bill on Tuesday, Hazare resorted to an unfortunate idiom about childless women, when he said, “Banjh kya jaane prasuti vedana (what would an infertile woman know about labour pain)?”
However the word in Hindi, “banjh”, does not have the same clean and scientific connotation as “infertile” or “sterile”. It means “barren” and is used as a derogatory term for women who fail to bear children. A woman who does not produce a child loses her social status inside and outside the house. While the ostracism in urban India may not be as obvious, contempt for childless women is reinforced through colloquialism and Bollywood.
Popular culture still depicts women who don’t reproduce, even if it is out of choice, as incomplete and good-for-nothing. It is not uncommon for infertile women to be barred from baby shower or child-naming ceremonies as they are considered the harbingers of ill-omen. Even if the husband is infertile, the wife ends up shouldering the blame for a childless marriage and is often subjected to treatments ranging from exorcism to numerology. Subordination, violence and estrangement are all likely consequences of infertility for a woman.
74-year-old Anna Hazare, who has spent most of his life in rural India, would certainly be aware of the stigma a “banjh” carries. And, while he promises to push India towards a glorious, evil-free future, how can he sustain a campaign on the back of older-India’s prejudices?
Neither has this been Hazare’s only controversial statement. Lately, he has come up with remarks that should alarm any self-respecting non-violent activist — advocating flogging for alcoholics and death penalty for the corrupt.
Maybe it is time that the “Gandhian” in Hazare actually took a leaf out of Mahatma Gandhi’s book who worked towards both political and social emancipation. Or maybe, he just needs a new speech-writer.