By Lakshmi Chaudhry
“Feminists are upset at Modi’s Ma behan mode of address coz they borrow rhetoric of western donor agencies and western academia,” tweeted an indignant Madhu Kishwar, upset with the #Feku naysayers who were busy making fun of Narendra Modi‘s, ahem, quaint speech to the FICCI Ladies Organisation. We presume that includes the masculine kind like @BrownBrumby who declared, “The man who cannot see the role of women beyond domestic chores is automatically not fit to represent modern India. #feku”
For those unacquainted with FLO, the organisation is comprised of “enterpreneurs, professionals and Corporate Executives.” According to its website, “The primary objective of FLO is to promote entrepreneurship and professional excellence in women. FLO endeavors to enhance the various skills of women through its educational and vocational training programmes, talks, seminars, panel discussion and workshop on a wide range of subjects like information technology, taxation, insurance, venture capital, stock market operations, accountancy, marketing, mutual funds, investment planning, entrepreneurship development programmes etc.”
According to Modi, this is the first ever speech where he interacted extensively on Facebook and Twitter with his future audience. “So I did not have to give much thought to this speech,” he said — or, it seems, take a quick look at the FLO website. And that explains why Narendrabhai spent over an hour talking about chapatis, pashu palan, and sari shopping.
More than the lack of thought, what Modi’s speech revealed was his lack of vision: He literally didn’t see the women who were assembled to hear him speak. The kind of women who are well-compensated for specialising in girly stuff like IT, stock market, investment, accountancy et al. Modiji’s bharatiya naari is an entirely different breed, best epitomised in iconic ye olde Hindi film cliches: the gaon ki gori sweating over the hot chulha; demure housewife serving chai-paani to her hardworking patidev; long-suffering widow who looks for livelihood to feed her children; soft-hearted mother whose love extends to all of God’s creatures. Why talk to the real women in front of you, when you can wax eloquent about imaginary ones culled from fiction.
Modi’s version of the Indian Woman is a bit like a greatest hits CD, recycling the best of the oldi-goldie myths about femininity.
The sacrificing mother
“So sick of this ‘We love mothers’ rubbish politicians spout. Stop seeing us all as either walking wombs, or nothing,” tweeted Firstpost contributor Kavitha Rao, spouting modern heresy that has no place in Modi’s world.
NaMo is all about “matrashakti” as he demonstrated with a long-winded example of the coy housewife who burns her finger trying to make the perfectly round chapati — and then strains to bring her sore pinky to her husband’s attention. Now a lesser man would dismiss this as an example of typical feminine weakness. But not our man Modi who would have you know that the same woman would hastily abandon a sari sale — offering 20 percent discount, no less — to run home and save her child from a fire.
“This is her strength. We need to harness this power in order to transform society,” thundered a triumphant Modi at his bemused audience who seem to have missed the moral of this little story: Women make excellent kamikaze fire rescue workers.
Gaon ki chori
While Modi’s SRCC speech was all about the urban middle class — development, growth, “IT plus IT = IT” — he didn’t waste this big city stuff on the maas and behens in his FLO audience. “India lives in her villages,” claimed Gandhiji, so apparently do her women. Except for a long-forgotten photo-journalist and a forest guide, Modi’s ideal woman is a gaon ki chori. She works in rural cooperatives, belongs to the sakhi mandal, or at best, is a village sarpanch. Even the prominent example of feminine success — the Amul cooperative — is a testimony to her rustic virtues, in this case, “pashu palan.”
There was nary a mention of the vast number of educated cityslickers who work in offices, earn salaries, climb the corporate ladder, or the some who run a company or two. The women who belong to aspirational India that Modi claims to champion. The women sitting right in front of him.
Queen of the kitchen
As classic Hindi films have taught us, a woman’s place is in the kitchen — or in its vicinity. She is either slaving over the hot stove or clucking at the dining table, urging her family to eat. But it is Modi, the true feminist, who recognises the entrepreneurial potential of her domestic virtue. Like Jassuben’s pizza, Induben’s famous kakhra, or the adivasi women’s lijjat papad, her culinary prowess could be channeled into feeding not just her family, but an entire nation. Now that’s what they call progress!
So don’t bother your pretty head getting that MBA, or dreaming of making VP or working all-night at your own start-up. The kinds of successes Modi won’t even deign to acknowledge. Just stick to what you girls already do best: cooking.
Mommy the good commie
We all know what the “bad” commie looks like, the kind that swears by Karl Marx and hangs out at JNU, ranting about tribals and dalits et al. But as our great movie directors recognised, women embody a higher kind of socialism, which springs not out of blinkered ideology but their infinite reserves of feminine compassion. Maa ka dil melts at the sight of suffering, even of strangers. And that’s the kind of bleeding heart liberal Modi can get behind. Like the female members of a village panchayat who told Modi: “Hum kuch aisa karna chahte hain ki hamare gaon mein garib na rahe.”
“What an agenda!” Modi roared in enthusiasm at this awe-inspirisng evidence of feminine compassion that lowly womb-deprived men can never aspire to.
Hey, NaMo may loathe government hand-outs, but it doesn’t mean he is opposed to helping the needy. For example: corporate social responsibility. “If men in the company give the women in their families the job of CSR, woh uttam kam karke dikhayein gi,” he declared, adding that this would be “sabse bada creative role” for women. How better to tap into our natural maternal urge to tend and care for others. Men can then focus on what they do best: like, actually running the company.
Modi’s greatest strength lies in his ability to talk directly to the urban professional… man. What he revealed today is that he has no idea how to talk to his maa, beti, patni or behen. And, no, Ms Kishwar, the Ford Foundation did not fund this revelation.
Courtesy : www.firstpost.com