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Q. What is relationship between gender, sexuality and the nation? How does it help in building up the nation-state. Substantiate your argument by giving the examples from any latest films you have watched
The modern idea of nation is built upon notions of inclusivity and exclusivity. Who legitimately belongs to the nation who does not. The criteria of belonging is based upon various factors such as consanguinity including common race, ethnicity, tribe, religion, language, tradition, culture, a common history of colonialism, struggle, survival etc. In India for example 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 once has been a Hindu later forcefully converted to other religion by foreign invaders or colonialists.
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 certain religion, race or similar identities is therefore an integral part of the nationalist discourse. Further, it is not enough to merely produce and reproduce the chosen identity but it is also important to impose restrictions upon intermingling of various identities and protect the ‘purity’ of the chosen identity. This is achieved by controlling the sexuality of the women belonging to various communities.
Both sexuality and nationalism are a ‘performance’ and not just discourse. Performances are like practices or rituals which are a repetition of certain actions. Performance usually requires an audience or spectator to whom a certain idea, story, emotion is conveyed through the performance. Sexuality is a performance not in the sense that it is performed on a stage or in full public view always but in the sense that there is always the societal gaze observing the practices of sexualities in order to legitimize them or prohibit them.
Though performance of sexuality does not always require an audience, nationalism on the other hand cannot exist without an audience. Nationalism has its own set of rituals like celebrating the national flag, Independence day, national song by which the idea of nation is constantly produced, reproduced, reinforced, displayed, for the community.
In present day India the state machinery’s attempt to impose elements of Vedic culture like Sanskrit, Surya Namaskar, vegetarianism, cow worship are nationalist rituals that are constantly used to produce the national Hindu identity and make way for a Hindu nation.
Women are the embodiment of nation not only because they reproduce the national identity but also because they are crucial for the ideological reproduction of the identity as they inculcate ideas and values during a child’s initial days of growing up.
In India since the time of independence movement nation has always been manifested as a woman, most importantly Hindu upper caste, upper class, domestic, northern woman, with superior moral character, akin to a Goddess and the citizen of the nation are represented as masculine warriors who must defend the mother land’s honour. In the discourse of war and invasion by other countries we always hear that it is an attack on our mother or daughters.
In the nationalist discourse women are recognized and valued in relational terms, they are either mothers or daughters of the nation and they need protection from perceived ‘others’ that is people of other religions. 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. Pictures of the bloodied battered body of the victim were then circulated through social media with some members of the mob even taking Selfies with the body.
Such violence is often condoned in the name of protecting national honour, values, culture, and so on. It is of little concern to the nationalists that far greater amount of violence are routinely perpetuated on Hindu women by Hindu men.
A new concept of Love Jihad is being vehemently imposed upon the public conscience in India whereby a Hindu woman’s right to choose her life partner is being violently opposed. There is a perceived threat that India may soon become Muslim dominated country and therefore Hindu women must be stopped from entering into sexual relations with Muslim men at all cost to save Hindu progeny.
Women are dehumanized by reducing them to an embodiment of the nation and its culture. Every aspect of their personal life is subjected to scrutiny and she has to constantly live up to a perceived notion of the ‘ideal Bhartiya naari’. Perceived requirement of national identity controls the gender roles of the women of the nation. For example the Nazi ideal of feminity was that she should be fertile and not intellectual, she should stay at home” (Loroff, 2012)
The film adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s novel ‘Ghare Baire’ (The Home and the World) by Satyajit Ray is one of the most significant works on the ideas of nationalism, 19th century social reforms and women’s emancipation. Set in 1908 Bengal, it is the story of Bimala, the young wife of Nikhilesh, the Western educated Maharaja of Sukh Sagar, a small province in Bengal, and his best friend Sandip, a charismatic and firebrand nationalist leader. The two main theme of the film runs simultaneous to each other often intersecting at a metaphorical level as we see Bimala being the embodiment of nation as well as man’s pride and ego.
Bimala is a traditional woman who is encouraged by her modern husband to step out of the inner quarters of her palace and meet Sandip. Their lives change as Bimala and Sandip get involved with each other romantically and Nikhil stands by even after knowing everything. Nikhil soon realizes that Sandip’s brand of nationalism is pretentious and harmful for the communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims but he fails in stopping Sandip well in time and preventing the impending riot in-spite of best efforts. The three lives then go through immense emotional turmoil in the face of tragic consequences.
The relation between gender and nationalism is reflected in several plots and subplots. Sandip raises loud slogans of Vande Mataram (hail motherland) and inspires young boys to join the Swadeshi movement (boycott foreign goods). “Onward sons of India, the motherland calls, the strong, the brave, the proud” sings Sandip as a manifestation of nation as the mother and the masculine sons as her saviour.
Sandip believes that the country is not ours merely because we were born in it, but it would be ours when we can loot it, snatch it and win it by force. The nation here then is merely an embodiment of a woman to be overpowered by masculinity. He has exact same feelings for Bimala whom he wants to snatch away from Nikhilesh by force. Although he doesn’t use physical force in case of Bimala but he uses a series of illusions to lead her to the path of infidelity. Similarly he uses lies, deceits, illegal means and violence to serve his ‘cause’ of nationalism which is branded as nothing but selfish wantonness by Nikhil’s teacher.
Persuaded by Sandip, Bimala tries to convince Nikhil to extend his support to the Swadeshi movement but Nikhil says that his ideologies are in conflict with Swadeshi. When Bimala asks him if Swadeshi itself is wrong, Nikhils says the appeal of Swadeshi is bound to sway people emotionally, after all people are doing this for their mother. They have created an image of the nation as mother, and everything they are doing is for that mother. Here Nikhil reflects upon the irony that in the mother’s name, Sandip was taking all the unfair steps just to satisfy his male ego.
Reprimanding Sandip’s actions of creating a riot situation Nikhil’s teacher says that it is not Swadeshi that he disapproves of but the brand of Swadeshi that turns young boys into violent jingoists who attack peaceful people like Miss Gilbi that is unacceptable. Miss Gilbi, a British tutor employed by Nikhil to train Bimala, here is the embodiment of the other nation, the Great Britain.
Several motifs of violent men wearing saffron, carrying sticks, swords, flames in their hands going about looting, burning, killing all the while raising slogans of vande mataram runs through the film. All these acts of nationalism were motivated by Sandip the nationalist leader who admittedly have been a womanizer in his youth, something he jokingly calls, ‘youthful indiscretion’ reflecting upon his real nature of treating women as mere objects of use, possession, and power.