[Reader-list] The Black Bharat Mata and the Nationalism of Sedition

Asit Das asit1917 at gmail.com
Fri Mar 18 03:31:31 CDT 2016

*Bharat Mata* is an idea and an emblem. What we need as a full national
symbol today, is a slant-eyed, black *Bharat Mata*, crippled by hunger and
deprivation, pain and disease, dressed in rags and chains, howling in rage
while being eaten by a lion and getting ready to be reborn unchained.

The Black Bharat Mata and the Nationalism of Sedition
<http://thewire.in/author/karen-gabriel-and-p-k-vijayan/> ON 08/03/2016

What we need is a full national symbol ­­– a slant-eyed, black *Bharat Mata*,
crippled by hunger and deprivation, pain and disease, dressed in rags and
chains, howling in rage while being eaten by a lion and getting ready to be
reborn unchained.
[image: Bharat Mata. Credit: Kannanokannan [CC BY-SA 2.0]/Wikimedia Commons]

Bharat Mata. Credit: Kannanokannan [CC BY-SA 2.0]/Wikimedia Commons
In the passionate speech that landed him in trouble with the government,
JNU Students’ Union President Kanhaiya Kumar said he does not see his
mother in *Bharat Mata*. He was right of course. None of the many and
varied images of *Bharat Mata* that we have collected over the years
signify, reflect or document Kumar’s mother. Neither do they resemble the
mother of Rohith Vemula, Umar Khalid, Soni Sori, Manorama, Ishrat Jahan,
Irom Sharmila, Bilkis Bano or the Christians of Kandhamal.

So then who is this *Bharat Mata* and what purpose does she serve?

*Bharat Mata* or Mother India is a gendered image that emblematises and
literalises the idea of a nation called India. In this specific instance,
the contours of both the nation and the maternal body coincide, and *Bharat
Mata* is frequently depicted with her *saree* *pallao* billowing over the
North and the North-Eastern parts of the country.

But *Bharat Mata* is also a paradox. She is imagined as literally birthing
the nation’s multitudes, while remaining herself – the form of the nation –
still engorged with the multitudes who populate her. Despite both bodying
forth the nation and embodying it she rarely resembles her multitudinous
offspring. It is in this remarkable separation between *Bharat Mata* and
her children that a resonant paradox is born: *Bharat Mata* continually
births herself who is rarely identical with her selves. What does this say
about her?

*The ‘Aryanised’ Bharat Mata*

In the popular Durgaesque RSS version of her, *Bharat Mata* is
fair-skinned, resplendent with finery, prestige, confidence and power. She
leans gently but assuredly on a magnificent lion while bestowing a
benediction on the viewer-devotee. Although this version is far more
ferocious than Abanindranath Tagore’s 1905 early inspiration for *Bharat
Mata* – the benign, ethereal, austere but bountiful *Banga Mata* – the two
are almost identical in their significations of power and prestige. In
fact, the numerous versions of *Bharat Mata*, including those by P S
Ramachandran Rao, Ravi Varma and the RSS versions, all retain the crucial
signifiers of upper-caste, Vedic Hindu divinity, Aryan ancestry and marks
of bourgeois respectability. In short, in *Bharat Mata* we have a Vedic,
Aryanised, possibly North Indian, upper-caste, wealthy even regal, Hindu

This figure then is not a ‘national’ one at all; it is rather elitist and
highly exclusive. It is also an orthodoxically gendered one. It is an
auspiciously clothed, unquestionably fecund one whose affinity with the
Mother Goddess has been so drastically minimised that she appears
heteronormative and domesticated. The orthodox socio and sexual politics of
this figure are familiar and provocative to those who exist on the flipside
of its field of significations, i.e. the dark-skinned, non-‘Aryan’, low or
outcaste, non-Hindu, tribal, poor, queer or gender-sexual marginals.
*These* get
signified only as othered absence. Interestingly, these absent(ed)
constituencies actually constitute the majority in a country that is being
beset by a majoritarian politics in which the understanding of
majoritarianism is elitist and *feku*. The ruling upper caste Hindu, who
claims to be the voice of the majority is a small 13% minority.

*Representing what should be*

What then is the *national* use of this figure? Like all icons, it seeks to
stabilise, visibilise and reiterate an idea; in this case, the difficult
and highly contested idea of India. *Bharat Mata* is an idea of what *should
be but is not*. *It is a hegemonic misrepresentation of India*. It
constitutes a deliberate and systematic exclusion. And through that, it
becomes the assertion of privilege, a taunt that advertises the power of
those who are legitimised by the system, and their control over resources,
discourse and representation.

What makes matters worse is the fact that the influential social
hierarchies that the *Bharat Mata* icon asserts semiotically are enforced
and reinforced as normative and desirable in daily life and in dominant
discourses of nation. The many outcaste, denied step children of the Mother
Nation and the Father State are expected to aspire and hope that one day
they too will display the markers of lineage, and finally become pedigreed
and blessed sons and daughters of Mother-Nation and Father-State.
[image: Bharat Mata. Credit: Abanindranath Tagore [Public domain]/Wikimedia
Commons] <http://i2.wp.com/>

Bharat Mata. Credit: Abanindranath Tagore [Public domain]/Wikimedia Commons
*The infuriated nation-state*

And what is possible with the blessings of the nation-state? Ask the Tatas,
the Birlas, the Ambanis, the Mittals and the Ruias. Ask Amit Shah, G D
Vanzara, Ankit Garg, B S Bassi. Ask Smriti Irani, P Chidambaram, Sushil
Kumar Shinde. Ask Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.

Now, look at Sori’s burnt face, Sharmila’s desiccated body, Jahan’s tragic
corpse, the flaming mouths of Muslim infants, Vemula’s body and his
mother’s anguish. Think of Batla House, Best Bakery, Bastar, Khandamal, the
Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention)
Act. Think of the custody of Kumar, Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, the
sword over Reyaz, Ashutosh Kumar, Rama Naga, Anant Prakash, Aishwarya
Adhikari and Shweta Raj among others. Look at our own precarious, nervous
and beholden middle class existences. Now you will see the unfriendly,
withholding nation-state.

It is this infuriated nation-state – the Durgaesque flag-bearing *Bharat
Mata* with the leonine state at her side – that Irani invoked verbally and
non-verbally in her recent melodramatic speech on Mahishasura in parliament
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pz04kP4Oj2E>. The ironies of the stressed ‘
*my*’ in her theatrical, “And may *my* God forgive me for reading this [JNU
pamphlet],” were of course lost on her. Like the privileged everywhere,
Irani too remains blind to the hegemonies that she thrives on and
perpetuates. Her God IS GOD.

*Black Bharat Mata – a full national symbol*

And Mahishasura? Well, he’s the devil itself or some version of it that has
to be destroyed by the incited and enraged *Bharat Mata*. So also the
students of Hyderabad Central University, JNU or indeed the tribal, the
Dalit, the peasant, the factory worker and the minorities who stand ranged
against the corporate-state nexus. They are simply some Mahishasuraic
abomination, the forgotten and condemned children of a monstrous Union who
the progeny of the Vedic Gods seek to trump by hook or by crook, sooner
than later.

After all these Mahishasuraic abominations are in fact the ones who will
change the face of this nation, who address and redress the taunt that the
resplendent *Bharat Mata* is. And they are terrifying to the old order.

Yes, the *Bharat Mata* of yore is a fantastic face that has been pasted
over the stark reality that is Bharat. She is the fantasy of a morbidly
self-pleasuring outmoded and predatory set of men and women who have no
memory of innocence and no appetite for truth. Bloated with blood and
banditry and yet obscenely hungry, they circle as beggarly and unwelcome
hawkers at every known country and doorstep. They are the repeat offenders
that continue to drain the very blood out of the nation that they arrest
and detain in their treacherous march to dismantle her sovereignty, to pimp
her out to the highest bidder, to squander the bounty that belongs to
generations not yet born. And they have the gall to speak of nationalism
and arrest for sedition those who are angry about this and speak of the rot
in the state of India!

*Bharat Mata* is an idea and an emblem. What we need as a full national
symbol today, is a slant-eyed, black *Bharat Mata*, crippled by hunger and
deprivation, pain and disease, dressed in rags and chains, howling in rage
while being eaten by a lion and getting ready to be reborn unchained.

*Karen Gabriel is an Associate Professor at St Stephen’s College, Delhi
University and P K Vijayan is an Assistant Professor at the Hindu College,
Delhi University.*

More information about the reader-list mailing list