Tarun Sagar and the naked truth

While France can’t handle burkinis, we’ve got a monk au naturel in the assembly. Third Word FTW? Not quite.

WrittenBy:Sandip Roy
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 In a time of the burkini on the beaches of France, we in India present to the world Muni Tarun Sagar.

He is the Digambar Jain monk who delivered his “Kadve Bachan” (or hard truth) to the Haryana Assembly in the nude, with only a podium to save his modesty. Now, we can pretend all we like that his state of dress (or undress) is of no consequence. What he said is the only thing he matters, whether he said it in a saffron robe or a langot or nothing at all. But who are we kidding? A monk who lives life naked because of his religious vows is one thing. A monk who lives life naked because of his religious vows and is invited to address the lawmakers of Haryana is quite another. For one, he makes for an image that can go viral. If the monk had delivered his address in a robe, none of it would have made headline news and that’s the naked truth.

At one level, we can pretend this is yet more proof of Incredible India! While France is in knots over the burkini, we in the Third World are unfazed by the sight of a naked man in our legislative chambers. Of course, if a nun who wore no clothes in the name of religion had shown up at the Haryana Assembly, the scene would have been very different. Modesty and immodesty, whether in France or in India or Saudi Arabia, is always about the woman. It’s her body that becomes contested territory over which society exerts its rights – either by cloaking it in a burkini or forcing it to shed the same.

As if to underscore that very fact, barely a day or so after the Digambar monk came visiting, our Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma advised foreigners visiting India to not wear skirts and stay indoors at night. This is part of the ironically-named “welcome kit” to India. The same Manohar Lal Khattar, who threw open the doors of his Assembly to the Jain guru, also advised women to “dress decently” so that a boy does not look at her the wrong way because “our country’s tradition asks girls to dress decently.”

The onus is not on the government to ensure law and order and public safety so that a visiting woman (or any woman) feels safe. The onus is shifted to the woman to dress so as to not provoke the savage beast who looks at her the wrong way. Her body, whether clothed or unclothed, whether on a beach or in a temple or a dargah, is always the problem. She is the one who must be disciplined and kept in line. Tarun Sagar told the lawmakers that “Dharma is the husband, politics is the wife. It is the duty of every husband to protect the wife. It is the duty of every wife to accept the discipline of the husband. If there is no control of dharma over politics, it will be like an elephant out of control.”

Are all our female politicians, especially the Didis and Ammas without husbands, listening? Did the venerable monk just effectively call them “elephants out of control”?

Lest anyone accuse the monk of being misogynistic, Tarun Sagar had a lot to say about the horrors of sex selection and the girls who are killed just because they are girls.

Tarun Sagar advocated a three-pronged strategy.

Political: Those who do not have daughters should not have the right to contest Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections. By the way, does that include women politicians as well? And what about Narendra Modi whom the same saint praised in the same speech? Also, does the holy man think it a sign of progress for women to feel the same pressure to produce daughters because of their husband’s political ambitions as they now do to produce sons?

Social: People should not marry their daughters into families without daughters. (The guru warned that our skewed gender ratio was already driving men to paap – which effectively meant that women, by their absence, are creating a situation in which men have no option but to go around committing violent crimes like rape. As if it wasn’t bad enough to provoke with one’s clothing, women it seems can provoke violence even when they’re not there). Would this diktat not increase the number of frustrated men even more?

Religious: Saints should not accept alms from houses without daughters.

Of course the problem is that this saint accepted an invitation to speak in an assembly headed by a man with no daughters. Khattar, a former RSS pracharak, is unmarried. The monk gave him a pass saying he could be kept out of his prescriptions and proscriptions. We can only presume such exceptions will be extended to the Prime Minister too.

Full marks to the monk for being distressed about our pervasive and stubborn gender inequality. Kudos to him for saying that even though we live in the 21st century, when it comes to boys and girls and the gulf between them, it feels like we are living in the 14th century. Weirdly, this same man blamed paap like rape on our gender imbalance – just too many frustrated men and too few women for them. That somehow implies that we must save the girl child so that there are more women available for men’s pleasure later on and not force those hapless men into crimes of frustrated passion. Again, it’s all about convenience of men. Even more weirdly, Arvind Kejriwal tweeted this:

By which Kejriwal meant that he’s a fan of the Jain monk’s worldview in which women exist basically to regulate male passions?

The irony is in the name of narrowing that gender equality gap, Tarun Sagar also treated women as bargaining chips. In his strategy, a daughter becomes valuable not as a person in her own right, but as a future ticket for her father to a legislative assembly. That’s not very different from Virender Sehwag who took to Twitter to laud the success of Indian women in the Olympics saying “Look what women can do when you allow them to live.” Sehwag, coincidentally, is also from Haryana.

Both Tarun Sagar and Virender Sehwag might have the best of intentions at heart, but both end up doing the same thing – trying to measure the value of women in terms of material goods they can bring into a household whether it’s an Olympic medal or a Vidhan Sabha ticket or even a bahu (and perhaps dowry) for her brother.

Female infanticide and sex selection are social evils because they are inherently wrong. That a religious figure should condemn them is good. That a religious figure should feel the need to offer us incentives to not kill the girl child should make us all cringe. Do we have to be bribed and arm-twisted into doing the obviously right thing in such a fashion? Have we sunk so low?

The Digambar monk might have come clothed in only the sky, but his words were well-clothed in familiar and comforting stereotypes and misogyny and if we missed that because we were tittering about his nakedness, more shame on us. Vishal Dadlani decided to poke fun at the “absurd nonsense” saying “No AccheDin, Just #NoKachche Din”. He got immediate flak for offending the religious beliefs of Jain and Kejriwal smacked him for showing “disrespect”. Dadlani apologised and quit “all political affiliation”. That’s the power of faith. Whoever quit politics for showing disrespect to women? Keeping women in their place is our patriarchal right.

The greatest irony is that long before the naked monk came calling, Khattar had decried short clothes as a “western influences” and told us “If you want freedom, why don’t they just roam naked?”

But as always, those rules were meant for women not for the likes of men like Muni Tarun Sagar.


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