Friday, 2 September 2016

Tarun Sagar in Haryana Assembly: Arranged Marriage of Religion and Politics

Tarun Sagar in Haryana Assembly: 
Arranged Marriage of Religion and Politics
The BJP government of Haryana led by ML Khattar, already widely discredited for its poor record of governance, systematic promotion of the casteist-communal agenda of the RSS and the open display of a regressive patriarchal mindset, recently set yet another dubious example, this time by openly violating the secular principle of separating religion from politics, a principle which is central to the constitutional foundation of the Indian state. On 26 August, it invited the Jain monk Tarun Sagar to address the Haryana Assembly. Technically speaking, Tarun Sagar’s address was not part of the Assembly proceedings as the Assembly had already been adjourned, but the implication of a religious leader being invited to address legislators right within the premises of the state legislature should not be lost on anybody.
Much of the public discussion on the subject, especially in the social media, has been focused on the contrast of a nude monk addressing a fully clothed audience, with supporters of Tarun Sagar defending it in the name of the religious principle and tradition of Digambar Jains, accusing the critics of hurting the religious sentiment of the Jain community and even being insensitive to the religious diversity and cultural pluralism that defines India. Many of those who have commented on the ‘nude monk’ angle have however not criticised the Jain tradition, they have commented on the hypocrisy of the conservative mindset, now being most aggressively championed and inflicted on the society by the Sangh brigade, which endorses male nudity in the name of religion but oppresses women in the name of dress code, with the culture minister of the Modi cabinet even issuing a veritable dress advisory for foreign tourists.
The open violation of the secular principle and the constitutional requirement of the state not having or promoting any religion is of course a key issue in this case. If it is okay to invite Tarun Sagar to address the Assembly, what is wrong in inviting preachers from other religions? Whether the Haryana Assembly now makes it a policy to invite other religious preachers to strike a ‘religious balance’ or not, the secular principle has already been violated and Indian democracy cannot ignore or condone this violation. It should moreover be noted that before Haryana, Tarun Sagar has already addressed the MP Assembly (another BJP-ruled state) and was slated to address the Delhi Assembly as well. In fact, when music composer and AAP enthusiast Vishal Dadlani questioned the logic of inviting Tarun Sagar, he was not only attacked by the Sangh brigade and voices from within the Jain community, but also disowned and warned by the AAP leadership, making him quit his open political affiliation with AAP.
Much of what Tarun Sagar said was apparently devoted to Modi’s pet theme of ‘saving the girl child’. Sagar blamed the adverse sex ratio for sexual violence against women, the spurious ‘commonsensical’ argument that sees sexual harassment and violence as an upshot of sex deprivation or sexual curiosity among young males and not as an abuse, or rather a ubiquitous expression, of social power in a patriarchal order. He then sought to find some ridiculous solutions to the sex ratio problem – making it mandatory for candidates in an election to have girl children or making sure that groom’s families have girl children before a marriage is arranged! He also dabbled into more explicitly political topics and indulged in quite a bit of Pakistan-bashing and Islamophobia in the name of condemning terrorism.
The most telling and profound remark of his address of course came when he described the relation between religion and politics. For him the relation between the two is analogous to the husband-wife relationship, where the husband has to provide security to the wife and the wife has to obey the discipline of the husband. Outside this ‘disciplinary framework’ the wife (equivalently politics) becomes a mad elephant that is difficult to control! With this revealing analogy, Sagar has at once exposed the deep-seated misogyny that informs the patriarchal notion of marriage and family and the theocratic notion of politics which is deeply resentful of the secular principle of separation of religion and politics.
The BJP is more than happy that it has got a Jain monk to say things that are central to the RSS dream of a Hindu Rashtra, preaching the kind of families and politics that the RSS would love to impose on India in complete subversion and negation of the constitutional principles of liberty, equality and fraternity and the notion of a secular democratic India which upholds religious freedom but keeps the state and governance completely away from the citizen’s private domain of religion. Indeed, the Jains are seen as the closest ally of the Sangh among all ‘minority’ religions in India. If mainstream bourgeois politics has always revolved around declared or undeclared social engineering and caste equations, the BJP has introduced its own model of ‘socio-religious engineering’ while castigating Muslims in the name of vote-bank politics. The wooing of Jains and now the Haryana Sports Minister’s declaration of sanctioning ‘discretionary state funds’ for the Dera Sachha Sauda in the name of promotion of sports in the state are all part of this saffron politicking.

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