The idea of development is not just about GDP statistics, startup revolution or corporate tax, but also about the openness of the people living in a society. The anti-women remarks of a monk named Tarun Sagar, while addressing the Haryana Assembly, were merely symptomatic of a male-dominated social order. Though we proudly claim our country is heading towards a superpower status, in some ways we are firmly entrenched in the dark ages.
The issue that has to be debated here is how could the Haryana government invite this kind of religious leader to address the assembly?
Tarun Sagar was invited by the BJP, the political party of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is always passionately expounding on development and growth. The nude monk offered plenty of advice on how to end female foeticide and to solve many other social issues. However, what struck me as far more outrageous than his lack of clothing (which is something the media fixated on) was the analogy he drew between a married couple and politics. According to him, "duty" stands for the husband and "politics" for the wife. He went on to say that it's the duty of every husband to protect his wife, and the duty of every wife to accept her husband's direction and discipline. I couldn't believe my ears – not just what the monk was saying, but the BJP's silence on the matter.
In proclaiming that a husband is somehow superior to a wife, the monk endorsed a regressive, patriarchal mindset that has no place in any society that strives to be egalitarian. Now, the monk is free to air whichever views he likes. That doesn't matter. The issue that has to be debated here is how could Haryana government invite this kind of religious leader to address the assembly? What's the message he has communicated to the masses from the sanctum sanctorum of democracy. By saying it's the duty of every husband to protect his wife, the monk declared his vision of "women empowerment". And it reminds us that the doctrine of woman as the weaker sex is still strongly underlined in the minds of our political leaders and religious "reformists" alike. According to me, women are perfectly capable of protecting themselves. To say that they need the guidance and discipline of a man is a feudal and misogynistic line of thought.
Religious leaders like Tarun Sagar need a thorough understanding of ideas on spirituality and development propagated by the great thinkers of this nation. Swami Vivekananda, the most celebrated monk India has ever seen, once said that the best thermometer to the progress of a nation is its treatment of women. Women enjoyed equal status as men in Vedic India. They were not destined just to obey the orders of their husbands.
Women's empowerment means perfect independence and equality, nothing more, nothing less. This is the enlightenment that Indian society has to achieve.
Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the leader who founded the RSS in 1925, thought that women should be independent in every sense, and they must be trained to protect themselves. But the views of the BJP government in Haryana and the dress code diktats from ministers like Mahesh Sharma are contradicting the original ideas of their mentor.
Women's empowerment means perfect independence and equality, nothing more, nothing less. This is the enlightenment that Indian society has to achieve first.