Bharat Mata and Britannia - Embodiment of Nation

Why Every Feminist Should Refuse to Say Bharat Mata Ki Jai

Street level bullying by fringe elements have now entered our legislative assemblies. In the Maharashtra Assembly a Muslim MLA was suspended because he refused to chant ‘bharat mata ki jai’. This is a typical re-enactment of a college ragging scene – A bunch of rogue senior students would gang up against a junior and force him to perform a routine of some sort, dance, sing, do somersault or kiss somebody’s ass, seeing which performance the bunch of rogue elements would a) get voyeuristic pleasure b) establish their power over the person c) make the minority a subject of ridicule.

In Aparna Sen’s Mr and Mrs Iyer (2002) a violent Hindu mob suddenly enters a tourist bus and start asking people their name. A Muslim name is a death sentence. One by one the petrified passengers say their Hindu names and show their Hindu signs like the mangalsutra, sindur, Brahmins show their Janaeu (sacred thread). Somebody from among the passengers gives away the identity of an old Muslim couple who are then killed.

In Deepa Mehta’s Earth (1998) a raging Muslim mob enters the house of a Parsi family and ask them to bring out all the Hindus they have been hiding. They particularly ask for Hari the gardener. Hari who is now a Muslim, Himmat Ali, comes forward. The mob asks him to prove that he is true Muslim by reciting Kalma. Unsatisfied even after Himmat Ali recites Kalma, they further ask him to open his pants to check if his penis is truly circumcised as is the practice in Muslims. They look at his penis and laugh.

Such mob violence is now the greatest mark of nationalism and patriotism in our country. Gang up against the minorities, bully them, beat them to death because of something they said or didn’t say, something they ate or didn’t eat. Next rituals of nationalism would perhaps be to force Muslims eat pork, jhatka meat, make them chant Har Har Mahadev and so on. If they don’t, they are anti-national. If they do, they have been shown their place and patriotism have been restored.

Women as gendered bodies more than any other identities, and more than ever should refuse to be part of far right nationalist discourse. Ours should be the first anti-national heads to rise up because  it is on our bodies that this vile idea of nationalism contested upon.

Birth of a nation

The idea of nation is built upon notions of inclusivity and exclusivity. Who legitimately belongs to the nation and who does not? There are several criteria of belonging such as consanguinity including common race, ethnicity, tribe, religion, language, tradition, culture, a common history of colonialism, struggle, survival etc. In India the nationalism discourse is strongly built upon the Vedic civilization and it is claimed by nationalists that India is a nation for and of Hindus. Everybody who ever lived in this land is a Hindu or had been a Hindu forcefully converted to other religion by foreign invaders.

Whose legitimate land is this and who is an invader is an utterly vague concept. Where do we begin? Do we begin with the Dinosaurs? Or maybe birth of human beings upon the land which is now Africa? Technically besides African people everybody else is a migrant in this world, a blasted foreigner and an invader. In the history of earth our species the Homo sapiens arrived 200,000 years ago, yet the nationalists claim that merely 5000 years of Hindu civilization is all that matters and that should determine the idea of India as a nation. Truth is India as a nation was born in 1947 with the end of British rule.

Women’s role in idea of nation

Since nations are built upon a common identity the continuity of that identity is important for the nation state to remain relevant. Protection and expansion of the population belonging to that chosen identity is therefore an integral part of the nationalist discourse. And to do that, there is a need to control women’s womb, the factory where the national identity is produced and reproduced. Thus we have Indian nationalists asking every Hindu woman to give birth to 10 children, preferably male.

Further, it is not enough to merely produce and reproduce the chosen identity but it is also important to protect the ‘purity’ of the chosen identity. This is achieved by controlling women’s sexuality.

Thus the Hindu nationalists want to control Hindu women’s right to choose their sex partner, relationships and marriage by vehemently imposing a new issue of Love Jihad upon the public conscience. A perceived threat is being inculcated in people’s mind that India would soon become Muslim dominated country and therefore Hindu women must be forcefully stopped from entering into sexual relations with Muslim men to save Hindu progeny. It is beyond anybody’s concern what the Hindu woman wants.

Women as the embodiment of nation

When women in Bollywood do item numbers and the camera focusses on their breasts, buttocks, waist and cleavage sans their face we call it objectification of the woman. Hyper sexualized images of women strip them off their identity and reduce them to object of sexual gratification.

The image of ‘Bharat Mata’ does exactly the same for the nationalist or patriotic gratification of its citizens. Women are dehumanized and objectified by being reduced to an embodiment of the nation, merely an area of land to be acquired, controlled and protected. Every aspect of women’s personal life therefore becomes subject to scrutiny and they have to constantly live up to a perceived notion of the ideal ‘Bhartiya naari’. Women’s worth is recognized and valued in relational terms, they are either mothers or daughters of the nation and they need protection from perceived ‘others’.

Bharat Mata

Bharat Mata, the image that is supposed to represent India before which everybody is supposed to bow down, is a Hindu upper caste, upper class, domestic, married, northern woman, with superior moral character, akin to a Goddess (As can be deduced from the amount of gold she’s wearing, the color of her skin, the way she ties her saree and so on). Who decided this image of our mother? Why can’t Bharat Mata be a Burqa wearing woman? Why can’t she be a jeans and T-shirt wearing working mother of dark skin?

If you Google the image of Britannia, the embodiment of the nation of Great Britain, you’d come across an image not so different from Bharat Mata complete with the Lion and Trishul. The irony of it all.


Nationalism as a performance

Nationalism is not natural, it is a social construct, a performance just like gender and sexuality are. It is an imaginary notion that is instilled in young impressionable minds using rituals and symbols. Celebrating the national flag, Independence day, national song, chanting bharat mata ki jai are part of the rituals. The government’s attempt to impose elements of Vedic culture like Sanskrit, Surya Namaskar, vegetarianism, cow worship are rituals of nationalism that are being used to produce the national Hindu identity.

Nationalism breeds on fear and hatred. The idea survives on persecution syndrome which makes an enemy out of everybody and tries to survive by destroying every other identity. Thus the nationalists are constantly telling young Indians that Bharat Mata is under attack from Muslims. Bharat Mata here is a weak feminine woman who needs protection while her citizens are masculine warriors who must defend the mother. Such ‘protection’ is ‘performed’ for a spectator using masculine power and violence. In March 2015, Dimapur, Assam a mob of seven to eight thousand people (presumably men) lynched a Muslim man to death on the suspicion that he has raped a Hindu girl. The act was condoned in many circles in the name of patriotism. It is nobody’s concern that crime statistics would reveal that maximum number of rapes are perpetuated by Hindu men over Hindu women.

In a time when physical boundaries are fast becoming irrelevant due to virtual connectivity, instead of imagining a future without social or geographical borders, a world where the only religion and culture that should matter should be of love, peace and humanity, our great nationalist politicians are trying to take the young Indian minds back to the age of hatred, invasion, battles. As a proud Indian woman, I refuse my identity to be dragged in this performance of violence and hatred, and I refuse to worship a dubious image of my country.

Some suggested reading to further understand the theory of gendered nation, embodiment, performativity of gender, nationalism, and sexuality:

  1. Women, Nation, State by Anthias Floya and Nina Davis;
  2. Maps and Mother Goddesses in Modern India by Sumathi Ramaswamy;
  3. Family Feuds Gender, Nationalism and the Family by Anne McClintok.

Other articles touching upon this perspective:

  • I Live In A Nation That’s More Father (Land) Than Mother (Land).. So Where’s Bharat Mata? By Surabhi Singh (Link)
  • How ‘Bharat Mata’ became the code word for a theocratic Hindu state By Shoaib Daniyal (Link)


26 thoughts on “Why Every Feminist Should Refuse to Say Bharat Mata Ki Jai

  1. Your examples are bollywood movies…wherein reality its the so called majority are getting butchered and nobody talks about it..hindu culture is a way of living..we are still standing here only coz of our diversive culture and patience which we cultivated from our ancestors..western countries history we know very well…how they colonised and tortured the entire world..reason for apatheid! Extinct Races!Stop being leftist,be Indian! You can do so much good to our country!Its not about jeans,burkha,dark skinned..its being Indian!Saying Bharath mata ke Jai should be a pride…not saying is racist,intolerant!


  2. Since everyone is a migrant, india shouldn’t have borders anymore and invite China, Pakistan and Bangladesh to just come over and do whatever they please?


  3. Its pathetic that you do not understand that a Mother is the most respected of all women. We as sons of mother India will always will respect and protect our Motherland.

    You are also an Idiot, that you do not even know what unique identity India holds in the world. I live in Europe and bet my life that all Europeans respect India and Indians for what they are.

    You are just an intellectual Fool suffernig from selfpity.


  4. @Soham

    A world without borders would be a wonderful thing. Its a Utopian dream of course, not possible in reality, but at least we can accept that we are all equal, this side or that side of border.


  5. The best way the lie is to couch it in truth. There are enough elements in this post to expose a self hating Indian raised in an anti national education system to brow beat about how bad Hindus are and how crap Indians are. Add to it sexual freedom and some angst about repression off women and the concoction as a toxic hateful pile of rubbish. Typical result of a slavish leftist intellectual bunch of claptrap. I will stop reading this drivel. Hope the universe, decline or whatever you may or may not believe in bring you some peace.I will get peace by ignoring output from you. Sad to say Indians really eat up this bull as modern and hip thinking like lemmings.


  6. @Sanjukta: There is no harm in thinking on “Mother India” as a dark skinned woman. In fact half of Indian Goddesses are black in temples if you haven’t observed. Making her wear jeans or even Bikini wouldn’t change the idea of Calling her ‘Bharat Maa’ because a son or a daughter don’t perceive his/her Maa based on what she wears and what she doesn’t.

    One thing I widely agree with you is that “We don’t mould our mothers, our mother moulds us”.

    In India it is the very mother who feels beats you black and blue of she had found out you were looking at nudes, it is the women who would ask for reserved front seats in a Bus and make men stand at behind even when they realise that there are more men in working class than they are. Yet its feminism. Do you remember what you called that when white guys took the front seats in a bus and forced the black to travel at the back seats of a bus? – Apartheid and I hope you condemn Apartheid.

    It is your mother who would forbid you to worship a ‘linga’ when you (women/girls) are on periods. Father don’t come and say that to daughters. Oh then you would say Man forces you to do so or they will get you raped. Truth is over the years you all have immersed so much in your insecurities and hypocrisy that you have stopped looking beyond. I come from North East and here we are all believers of feminism but I find it as a mockery when women in rest part of India blame man for doing injustice whereas they are the reason why they could do so. British ruled in us because we allowed them to because of our own interested, similar goes for you all

    You wouldn’t chant ‘Bharat Maa’ because it is objectifying women. Use of ‘Fatherland’ how Germans use will be then termed as being Facist. The problem is calling it ‘Bharat Maa’ is not a bad term. ‘Bharat’ term was introduced in the Gupta period by Kalidasa in Abhijñānaśākuntalam to be a land ruled by Emperor Bharata (father of Dushyanta, father in law of shakuntala). Bharat means Unification which many of you might not be aware in case you have never read about the Battle of the Ten Kings.

    Oh by the way Guptas introduced the Kamasurta and the Khajuraho Temple.

    India is an United land after 1947 and hence we decided to call it ‘Bharat’ in Devnagiri and ‘India’ for what we have finally become. We have never called it ‘Hindustan’. So saying Bharat Mata ki Jai is not related to Hindu fringe elements bullying you. It would have been if they forced you to say ‘Hindustan Mata ki jai’


  7. I feel blessed that our freedom fighters didn’t have such thinking .I can very well imagine what the state of this country would then be .We are patriotic because we do not want another era of foreign rule .And I truly believe that the ‘WORLD’ ,and not just country , without religion will be a better place to live .


  8. Dear Sanjukta, plz go and stand at the LOC and then talk about anything .Have u never heard of how the Hindu Kush mountains got their names?.This is such a partisan, stupid article written by a brainwashed or rather brainless person. Very shameful ,irritating and disgusting. You lack logic, reason and common sense.Shameful to call you a fellow Indian. Go live in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia if u think India is intolerant.
    U ll hv lotssss of freedom there.


  9. Congratulations on writing such a thought provoking article, pls keep up the good work! Only thing is that Hinduism is not a 5000 year old practice, it is much younger than that, please cross check.
    I went through all the comments. I don’t mind people sharing a different point of view, but found it alurming how the mass histerya has taken over our good citizens’ mind. Instead of commenting with healthy arguments they are back to the three dumbest retaliation tactics of 2016- a) You are stupid, b) Go and live in some random Islamic country, c) Our soldiers are dying at the border…
    Sad….very sad!


  10. @Abhik Dasgupta

    Its bad enough to be dumb. But its worse to be dumb and yourself be unaware of how dumb you are. And then its earth shatteringly dangerous to be dumb, unaware of the dumbness and be arrogant about you. Of all the comments here, yours reeks of arrogance the most and you have no idea what a butt load of crap you went on rambling there. YOU MY DEAR ARE A MORON. If you think women are responsible for what women pass on to new generation, you have not heard of women becoming agents of patriarchy due to thousands of years of conditioning. “Women take front seats and make men stand in the back” Women MAKE men stand? What crack pipe are you sucking on I wonder.

    Do yourself a favour read this


  11. @Saptarshi Biswas

    Thanks! I am used to these trolling, been writing anti Right, anti Hindutva, pro secularism, pro socialism thought provoking articles for 10 years now. This is nothing, they are yet to attack my personal life with sexual innuendos. But wait for it, its coming. Most probably from this Abhik Dasgupta soon. :)


  12. I was planning to answer you but wait why should I? You have to blame patriarchy on everything, you have to target everyone as Pro Hindutva to everyone who don’t speak highly of you. I din’t call you Leftist or Maoist or drew any personal line on you but you had to, to prove your point and yet failed. Socialism and feminism has deeper meaning.


  13. Dude dasgupta, please prove your arguments. Also please enlighten us on deeper meanings (the ones those contradict with this article) of socialism and feminism.
    @sanjukta, You are welcome and let’s not loose patience. People at first refuse to see outside their box, as long as they feel safe inside it. It’s just a matter of time before they realise the threat.


  14. I find the image of Britannia particularly striking. News to me.

    But I would say the writer is totally skewed in assumptions against the concept of Bharat Mata and makes a poor case. Firstly, the voices of a few right-wing idiots is portrayed as the same of ‘nationalists’; as if nationalists is suddenly a dirty word, which I think is not. Secondly, she says that India as a nation is born after 1947, I dont think that is true either, I can notice India in European maps of 1500s, an ocean named after it in 1400s but than that is a large subject. Thirdly, the image the write picks up is the image that suits her presumptions, there are many images, like the dark woman drawn by Abindranath Tagore. Fourthly, the idea of ‘mother’ as an objectification akin to Bollywood seems so senile, where is the analogy? Portraying something as mother is the embodiement of service, gratitude and homage.

    My view would be this: This lunatic thought of forcing Bharat Mata down everyone’s throat is idiotic, every person needs space for his or her own thought. The Hindu right wing is assuming menacing proportions and needs to be curtailed. However, the so-called intellectuals debunking of anything remotely related to Hinduism is the other extreme, with both extremes feeding on each other and the monsters growing.

    HOwever, I have objections to almost every sentence of the writer which is loaded with a coloured vision of seeing everything ‘Indian’ as a an attempt to ‘saffronisation’: For example, I will enlarge only one thought: If the writer puts ‘Sanskrit’ in the same sentence as ‘cow worship’, that is a problem. Just shows how anglicised we have become, so much so that we disown our own language roots, (btw, SGGS was a scholar of Sanskrit and his Dasam Granth contains extensive Sanskrit words) There is a whole body of knowledge hidden in Sanskrit books and promoting it must not be seen as Saffronisation. Pride in one’s heritage is not akin to Fascism. The situation in India is so bad that when Narayan Murthy’s foundation searched for a scholar to study Vedic Texts, he could not find a scholar and had to outsource it to an American Sanskrit Scholar…. Painting everything related to ancient heritage as saffronisation is a result of leftist thought that has accepted everything fed by western historians without a question. A simple question to which no leftist historian ever answers is this: If Mahabharat and Ramayana are just books, why is Bible not? If Ram does not have a proof, what proof is there if Christ existing? Double standards when Before Christ becomes the milestone of a calendar, without any historical proof of Christ but the Oriental oral tradition history is debunked as mythology.


  15. U r a feminist writer it right ?
    N side by side u talk about socialism n secularism also ?

    Can I just clap for u …haha


  16. “”””””Thanks! I am used to these trolling, been writing anti Right, anti Hindutva, pro secularism, pro socialism thought provoking articles for 10 years now.”””””

    R u allergic to anti Islamic. Or anti Christianity ..??????

    What exactly u mean by anti hindutva ???


  17. “”””””Thus we have Indian nationalists asking every Hindu woman to give birth to 10 children, preferably male””””

    Very gud it is a shit comment which shud be criticized.

    Buy y only Hindus ….similar statements issued by Muslims also..
    But that does not attract u ? ..

    U r certainly anti hindutva but certainly not pro secularism …


  18. N last..if few gps like MNS,shiv sena or VHP did something or follow something that does not mean all hindu following them ..

    By this logic all Muslim r terrorist .
    All Christians are murders

    If u hve only one brush to paint the whole picture then better dont paint it…..

    Learn about secularism first …
    Socialism contain male female transgenders , different ethnic n religious gp …

    Anti hindutva doesn’t make u secular …

    Anti *wrong doing* of every gp or religion will certainly make u one. ..

    Regards ..


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