I know I don’t ever want to have four children
And I’m making this statement as a person of sound mind- fully knowing that a decision like this one stands to put the continuity of Hinduism at risk- also aware that I stand to earn the wrath and disapproval of the obvious expert on this issue, BJP MP from Unnao, Sakshi Maharaj.
I was at work when this precocious statement was made by Maharaj while speaking at a public gathering in Meerut. At this point, my colleague asked a very pertinent question- he looked at me and said, ‘Why wasn’t Maharaj’s diktat directed towards men? Why didn’t Sakshi Maharaj say, all Hindu men should have at least 4 children?’
Why does the onus fall on the woman? Why, indeed? And what, pray tell is the logic behind this highly enlightening statement?
Today most women I know are not shackled by the need to have a family, to give birth to and raise kids just to justify being born with a uterus and yet you have politicians, public figures, your fathers, your friends (women and men) time and again making statements like these, that seem to suggest that the only conceivable reason womankind was put on this planet was to help carry on the human race- even if that entails putting yourself through the unimaginable rigours of childbirth- as unscientific and ridiculous as it sounds- exactly four times.
Forget the illogic of his statement- for I ask you to tell me, how does having four kids ensure that Hinduism will not die out? What’s most alarming is that no one here is questioning the impact that the man will have on his audience. Maharaj made this statement while speaking in Meerut. Meerut falls in Uttar Pradesh- a state that, as per the 2011 census, has an alarmingly high population growth rate- among the highest in the country at about 20%. As if that statistic wasn’t alarming enough, UP also accounts for only 51% female literacy.
You and I, who have had the privilege of a decently well rounded education and the benefit of exposure to diverse, contrary world views can laugh the comment off, make pithy jokes about it on Twitter, lambast the man and call on the PM to rein in fringe elements and move onto the next controversial statement that another unfortunate public figure will make. You and I have the benefit of seeing the impracticability of a statement like that. But what is truly tragic is, you and I were not his intended audience and thus, how we react to this makes little or no difference.
Who knows if the men and women who were attending that ill-fated gathering went home with a new found purpose as to their role in trying to preserve a centuries old religion, or if they then changed their family planning schedule to incorporate two more children for the ‘greater good of mankind’? The point is- as chilling as the thought is, that any of these scenarios are more than just plausible.
The point here is accountability. The BJP has, rightly so, distanced itself from the comments made by Maharaj. But the unchanged reality remains- the man may have been politically isolated but NOTHING has been done or is being done to change his opinions. He still continues to believe that four children birthed by a Hindu woman are enough to save the religion and he will continue to espouse that view, albeit not publicly. Next time, he will just be careful to not get caught while he makes an archaic statement like this one.
And ideologically, he isn’t alone. There are many out there- both men and women- who believe that women should live their lives a certain way, dress a certain way, not go out late at night, not drink or smoke, not work- and it is these small intolerances that give birth to and allow larger biases to exist and flourish.