The Economic Survey 2018-19 has proposed remodelling of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao to BADLAV (Beti Aapki Dhan Lakshmi Aur Vijay Lakshmi) to stop normalisation of gender based violence and thus women empowerment. The survey suggests that, “Showing how prevalent and pervasive gender based violence is, runs the risk of normalising it.” And the prescription to counter such mind-set? Use of role models from Hindu mythology, including Goddess Lakshmi. Did anyone ask us women, whether we want to be treated as goddesses? Do we want to be put on a pedestal and be revered as a daughter, mother or sister? Or do we just want to be treated as humans with dignity, whether or not we behave like the pious deities?

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • The Economic Survey has proposed to remodel Beti Bachao Beti Padhao to Beti Aapki Dhan Lakshmi Aur Vijay Lakshmi.
  • It says that showing how prevalent and pervasive gender-based violence is, runs the risk of normalising it.
  • It also suggests drawing on Mythological role models to reinforce the message of BADLAV.
  • But do Indian women want to be treated like goddesses?
  • Must we be only respected if we bring wealth and victory to our loved ones?

Did anyone ask us women, whether we want to be treated as goddesses? Do we want to be put on a pedestal and be revered as a daughter, mother or sister? Or do we just want to be treated as humans with dignity?

The Economic Survey reasons, “showing how prevalent and pervasive gender based violence is, runs the risk of normalising it; instead emphasising on how many people are not perpetrators or reinforcing injunctive norms against it can be more helpful in shaping correct norms towards gender equality,” further adding, “Men in ancient Indian society were identified with their mothers, Yashoda-Nandan, Kaushalya-Nandan, Gandhari-Putra, as well as their wives/consorts, Janaki-Raman, Radha-Krishna. Since such positive mythological insights about gender equality are readily available and deeply understood in Indian society, these can be used as part of a revolutionary BADLAV programme.”

There is no doubt that BADLAV has good intentions at its heart and the point it raises is something we must inspect thoroughly. It is indeed possible that showing gender-based violence to be pervasive to an extent normalises it. The survey also suggests that, “Instead of highlighting the number of top companies that have few women on their boards, it is more effective to highlight how many do” to deal with gender pay gap and glass ceiling for women in the corporate sector. Behavioural economics may indeed be able to help us improve the skewered gender dynamics of this country, and we need to pursue it further. Positive reinforcement does seem like a good strategy, something which needs to be explored by researchers, especially in context of Indian society and values.

Women in this country have long faced the consequences of straying from social norms. Every step that we take in our lives, we must be in accordance to the norms laid down for us.

But is deification of women the correct way to proceed? Should women be seen as mothers, sisters, etc to be treated with dignity? Must we only command respect from our families and the society if we bring wealth and victory to our loved ones? Doesn’t it also put the onus on women, to earn respect from the society behaving the way they want us too? I understand that in Indian society a girl child is still mostly seen as a burden. Perhaps seeing her as a bringer of prosperity and success may change the perception among parents and families. But this tag of being a goddess doesn’t come without a cost for us.

Women in this country have long faced the consequences of straying from social norms. Every step that we take in our lives, we must be in accordance to the norms laid down for us. We must be Sati-Savitris, Saraswatis or Lakshmis to command respect or to live our lives on our own terms. Why can’t we do that just being us? Why can’t we command respect and dignified conduct from men just for being humans? What happens when a woman refuses to be a man’s Radha or Sita? A lot of Indian men still aren’t able to take a woman’s “no”. So how do we condition them to respect a woman who refuses their advances?

Making the society see us as goddesses or mythological figures may lead to rise in policing of women. We must dress, behave or exist in a certain way because outside of that realm, our protection isn’t guaranteed. These are the issues that need to be taken into consideration, because empowering women on these terms and conditions wouldn’t exactly be empowerment, would it?

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are author’s own.

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