Politicians are people, too. They have the same flaws as others. In our obsessive deification of the powerful and fear of leaders, we forget that crucial fact. They also represent the attitudes of the majority that voted them to power. And the truth is that most Indian men are male chauvinists. And a huge proportion of women echo these views. So why pretend that Manohar Parikkar is any different when he expresses fear that girls have started drinking beer? As if they never did.
The Indian man uses ‘Bharatiya culture’ as the main excuse to keep women in line. The tragedy is that most Indians—politicians and housewives included—have no idea of Indian culture except that women have to dress ‘modestly’, be devout, stick to clan, caste, and religion in marriage and should not question men. Of course, they cannot drink or smoke. However, none of these qualities were necessary to be a true
Indian woman in Vedic times.
The Mahabharata narrates an incident where Draupadi is asked by Queen Sudeshna to fetch wine from her brother Kichak’s palace and is offered a drink by him. In the Ramayana can be found a depiction of Lord Ram embracing Sita and making her drink wine. At Khetappayya Narayan Temple in Bhatkal can be seen a sculpture of a couple drinking alcohol. Though alcohol is undoubtedly a social evil that disrupts many families and domestic economies, it is mostly the men who are responsible.
Over the centuries, Indian culture has been altered by external forces like Islam and colonialism. Ironically, it is the influence of Western culture that made Indian women cover their bodies fully: fashion historian Toolika Gupta notes that modesty “was not always about covering your face and body and in many respects India’s hot climate led the way. People just did what was convenient”. She further writes, “In Bengal, in the Victorian era, some women did not wear blouses under their saris—they went bare-breasted. This did not suit Victorian society, which had its own ideas of propriety, and blouses increasingly became the norm.” But in this case, the British were right.
Historian JH Hutton states that ‘purdah is alien to both the Rig Veda and Dravidian tradition’. The Rajputs of Saurashtra by Virbhadra Singhji notes that the purdah system among Rajputs intensified after Muslim conquests. Yet it has a socio-economic context. The Rise of Islam by Bloom and Blair states,“A veiled woman silently announced that her husband was rich enough to keep her idle.” Purdah was associated with wealth and aristocracy in feudal India, separating highborn women from their less fortunate sisters.
Today Indian women are not so unfortunate. They have jobs which empower them socially and financially; they work in MNCs, banks, IT companies and in government. As scientists, astronauts, artists, corporate leaders, bankers, journalists, fashion designers, and IT programmers, they continue to break the glass ceiling. Indian men fear women are slipping away from traditional male control. Sexual harassment is an aggressive manifestation of this fear.
Instead of women as captive creatures who are worrisome as they drink beer, it is time our leaders united to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill that keeps 33 per cent of all Lok Sabha seats for women. When politicians are drunk on power, it is the people who get a hangover. If men can hold their drinks, women can, too. Salute the spirit of the times instead of being intoxicated by ignorance.