“Hindu Woman With One Child Is Naagin.” Our Bodies Are Not Communal Battlefields

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Yati Narsinghanand, a saffron-robed priest from Uttar Pradesh who is increasingly grabbing the spotlight for openly making communally divisive statements, has rolled out yet another provocation, as per a video that recently went viral on social media. While addressing an all-women gathering in Haridwar, Narsinghanand, elucidating on how they can “save” their community, said Hindu women should have more and more children.

“That woman who produces only one child is not a woman but a naagin (serpent),” Narsinghanand says provocatively, asking women to stand in defence of their religion by ensuring the longevity and quantity of progeny, according to the viral clip. “Ghar mein kam se kam 5-6 baal gopal ho… Aur bachhe paida karein,” he proclaims, adding that it is better not to have kids than have only one.

The priest, surrounded by his associates cheering his ideas on, further urges for families to live in joint setups to preserve culture.

For ages, patriarchal institutions have enabled men like Narsinghanand, who are held up as defenders of tradition, to wield the reins that pull on everything, from a woman’s body to her very existence. It is not surprising then that this priest isn’t shying away from nothing less than near-demanding women to do what he and his ideological compatriots want.

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The question is: How are we letting such incendiary speech not just thrive but be encouraged to the extent that it has? With what authority are men like Narsinghanand claiming control over women’s bodies? Is it the mark of a civilised society that women are being viewed as baby-making machines to fulfill a biased agenda that relies on disrupting peace and enhancing communal divide?

Narsinghanand is a repeat offender. First Information Reports (FIRs) were filed against him last year after a video went viral of him allegedly saying that female politicians were “rakhails” (mistresses) of male political leaders. He painted women of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with that same ugly brush in his rant. Narsinghanand was also among the key right-wing leaders who called for violence against Muslims at the Haridwar ‘hate conclave’ last month, as per reports.

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What’s perhaps more disturbing than Narsinghanand’s hate-fuelled misogynistic speeches is the apparent support it tends to find. On social media, there are plenty of posts lauding and echoing the views on Hindu women producing more babies Narsinghanand promoted.

This is not just virtual reality. Inklings of this patriarchal thought are common and exist in families across pockets in India, seeing women as machines to pop out sons who will honour the family legacy, tradition, prestige and whatever else. And when women are not busy producing babies, they have to play ‘good’ Indian wives dutifully serving their domestic duties and sacrificially investing their all in the family culture preservation project.

Should religions be sustained on the motherhood choices of women?

Though particularly distinct in the context of religious dominance, this command men exercise over women’s bodies is something that needs to be viewed from a larger, all-encompassing perspective as well. For how much longer should women submit themselves to ideological warfares men are fighting?

Women across lines must see this brand of gender oppression parading as religious pride for what it is and collectively, stand up against it.

Views expressed are the author’s own.