First published on Firstpost where I have argued that the Khadi Calendar debate have to go beyond the phallocentrism, and we have to look at feminist interpretation. From Gandhi to Modi, its one man replacing another. The DAVP calendar shows a world in which Modi the cult is showering divinity on lesser mortals but where are the women?
Gender representation in Government calendars
By Sanjukta Basu
In an unprecedented display of hero worship and sycophancy the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) has made Narendra Modi the theme of Government of India’s official calendar for 2017. As if that was not enough, Modi has also thrown the Gandhi out of the Khadi. The 2017 Calendar and Diary by Khadi Village Industries Commissions (KVIC) has Modi replacing Gandhi in the iconic charkha photo that had represented the values and ideals behind brand Khadi, one of the largest rural arts, crafts and textile industry in India for over seven decades.
What is being advertised in these calendars is not Narendra Modi the Prime Minister nor Modi the BJP leader. Modi here is not even representing government policies and successes story. No, the calendar is an unabashed celebration of Narendra Modi the cult. The kind of nauseating images of self-proclaimed Gods and Godfathers and Godmothers that cloud the minds of millions of illiterate poor in the country, claims of healing touches and miraculous hugs, claims of apples being pulled out of thin air – Modi is being passed off as that kind of a cult figure through the twelve pages of the DAVP calendar.
The front page of the Khadi calendar has Narendra Modi sitting with his hands on a charkha resembling the same pose by Gandhiji, except a few changes. Firstly, Gandhiji was bare bodied wearing nothing but his loincloth and his Charkha was simple, old and rickety. Modi is wearing his trademark kurta, appears well-groomed and his Charkha is a shiny new and robust device. Secondly, Gandhi was an ascetic solitary figure which invoked the feelings of devotion, sacrifice, servitude, truth, and non-violence. He may not have been a man with physical prowess but his ideologies stood as pillars of the national conscience at the time of independence. But Modi is not a solitary figure, behind his hyper masculine towering cult figure they have placed several tiny insignificant female figures with Charkha. Modi is the focus here.
The shocking move has left the KVIC employees, well, shocked. Reportedly, protests have been registered by the staff demanding reprinting of the calendar and in days to come several political debate would ensue on pertinent questions – What is the government trying to prove? Is Gandhi old and irrelevant now? Is Modi the new father of the nation? Is it not an insult, not only to the nation’s father but also to the whole nation, that the poster boy of the very ideology which killed Gandhi is now replacing Gandhi? These questions needs to be debated fiercely. However this debate of Modi vs. Gandhi should go beyond the phallocentric interpretation of the image and its gendered meaning needs to be understood. What has happened is that one man has replaced another man, and that is not a coincidence.
While Gandhi’s solitary figure represented the ideologies behind Khadi leaving gender hierarchy ambiguous, Modi’s towering figure now leads Khadi with women in the background as props, making it unambiguous that from Gandhi to Modi, no matter how many regime changes happen, and what politics we follow, women will always be behind, as objects, as eye candies, as body warmers et al and the phallus will remain at the center holding all powers.
The DAVP calendar leaves no stone unturned in proving this further as it makes women largely invisible in the world of Modi. Out of the twelve pages of the calendar only four have women figures and all of them have Modi as the main subject. The calendar takes us through the world of Modi the cult, showering his divinity on lesser mortals.
January’s theme is Skilling India For Youth Led Development featuring Modi standing among a group of young women, this is the first of the four images where women are seen; February’s theme is Empowering The Poor featuring Modi talking to two men who are standing with cycle rikshaw carts; March’s theme is Women’s Empowerment featuring Modi bowing down with folded hands before a rural woman, the camera is on Modi’s face, the woman is not the subject; April’s theme is Futuristic India And Infrastructure featuring Modi at the center walking with a bunch of men in a futuristic factory, no women in the factory; May’s theme is MSME India’s Economic Backbone featuring towering figure of Modi with Gandhiji’s charkha at the center and smaller female figures in background (same photo used in Khadi calendar); June’s theme is Farmers: Bread Winners Of Our Nation featuring Modi talking to a group of male farmers, not a single woman.
So women are given skills and Charkhas but they are not bread winners.
Moving on, July’s theme if Rural Electrification: Lighting Every Home featuring Modi at the center holding solar panels along with a group of male villagers, ‘home’ doesn’t have any women; August’s theme is Armed Forces Pride Of The Nation featuring Modi feeding sweets to army men. Not a single army women in the photo; September’s theme is Cashless Transactions featuring Modi’s portrait juxtaposed with a family consisting of man, woman and child doing shopping using plastic money. Two female figures here, the wife and the girl at the payment counter.
That’s women’s true place, married in a patriarchal heterosexual family.
October’s theme is Swachh Bharat featuring Modi with a broom, his ministers and other officials at the back, all males; November’s theme is Corruption Free Governance featuring a stunning image of the parliament, that temple of democracy, from which Modi is seen walking out in glory, him in the center, other MPs surrounding him walking slightly behind, not a single woman MP; And lastly December’s theme is Sugamya Bharat – Accessible India featuring Modi pushing a wheel chair with a happy disabled person on it, other people in the background pushing other wheelchairs, all are men.
One really wonders how these photographs were chosen? For an image conscious Prime Minister like Modi, we can guess that there must have been thousands of photos taken at these various events. The fact that there are no women on the stage in so many of the images only goes to prove that while coordinating these events nobody thought of putting a woman there, and while making the calendar DAVP didn’t care what gendered message this is giving out.
Before anybody argues that these are mere documentation of events as they happened, it should be reminded that DAVP is the “nodal agency to undertake multi-media advertising” to “provide solution for the paid publicity requirements of all Central Government organizations.” In a nutshell, the calendar is not a documentary work, it is a piece of advertisement and as such, liable to be judged using the same ethos and standards of advertising.
This highly masculine text is a massive failure in terms of gender inclusivity in government’s communication.