Originally Published 2014-06-06 06:46:38 Published on Jun 06, 2014
In Uttar Pradesh, the zamindari system may have been abolished more than six decades ago, but feudalism has stayed: The biggest feudal lord being the State itself which lords over cattle, women, the marginalised communities and minorities alike.
Feudal State still lords over in UP
The relationship between Uttar Pradesh and its women can easily be explained through the imagery of a feudal household. The resource-rich State has the habit of being on the national agenda and grabbing substantial media attention by virtue of its geopolitical positioning. UP-wallahs are boastful of the political supremacy that the high number of Lok Sabha seats bestows upon their State. The 'king-making' State is often brazen and authoritarian, yet with such 'power' has come zilch responsibility. The zamindari system in Uttar Pradesh may have been abolished more than six decades ago but feudalism has stayed: The biggest feudal lord being the State itself. This feudal lord lords over cattle, women, the marginalised communities and minorities alike.

While the twin gang rape and hanging at Badaun has again made the gender discourse relevant in TV studios, allow the author to slip in a gentle reminder that it is nothing new in Uttar Pradesh. No other State seems to have treated its women as brutally as Uttar Pradesh routinely does. The data on violence against women from National Crime Register Bureau (which only accounts for reported crime) corroborates this statement. Uttar Pradesh comes third, only after Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, but these two States have Maoist violence to peg the blame on at least partially. When I conjure a Marquez-inspired magical realist image of my growing up years in Uttar Pradesh, I see the State as a menacing man who holds a woman's hair in one hand, pushing her under the cracks of fertile soil — a grotesque parody of the Sita Samadhi episode from the Ramayan.

The schizophrenia that runs through Uttar Pradesh, bifurcating its psyche, manifests itself through the frequent occurrence of brutalities against women, Dalits and minorities. Class, caste, religion and regional intersectionalities render women the most vulnerable of the lot. Literacy among women is rising along with the degree of violence that they are now facing.

Uttar Pradesh proudly showcases the names of Sucheta Kriplani, Sarojini Naidu and Isha Basant Joshi — the first Indian women to become Chief Minister, Governor and IAS officer respectively. While the achievements of women (as also those of Dalits and minorities) decorate the durbar of the feudal-lord'shaveli, they are equally a serious threat to its majoritarian masculinist monopoly. Thus, women, along with the Dalits and minorities, need to be shown their place every now and then. They can be denied education and other fundamental rights, kicked, groped, burnt, raped and shot at whim.

The ethos of the landed castes seems to have permeated the society of Uttar Pradesh. Patriarchal values are constantly at loggerheads with the aspirations of women and the other hitherto suppressed groups. It serves many vested interests that women forget to assert themselves even when they assume power. Despite a 33 per cent reservation for women in panchayats, since the 73rd Constitutional Amendment came into force in 1993, women lack agency in the most belligerently political State of India. Instead, in Uttar Pradesh, women act as their menfolk's proxies: Both in panchayats and at home.

The only thing that seems to have changed over the last two decades is the name plate at the feudal lord's haveli. The social revolution that brought the Yadavs to the mainstream from the margins has also spawned an unprecedented reign of terror and lawlessness in the State. The once cowering Yadavs of Uttar Pradesh are now asserting their entitlement over land, culture, law and even people. The vicious circle of exploitation and violence has ensured that the Yadav angst against the privileged classes and castes is now diverted towards lowest of the lows.

After the Bahujan Samaj Party was dislodged in the 2012 Assembly election, the enthusiastic bahubalisand their sidekicks declared "Ab toh soongh soongh kar maarenge" (Now we will sniff-spot them and hit), referring to the legendary body odour of the Dalits, who formed the core vote-bank of the outgoing Government. Soon afterwards, there was a spurt of atrocities against Dalits across the State.

Whether it is the 'alleged' mass rape of women demanding the creation of Uttarakhand, the raped women of Muzaffarnagar or the molested women during the Babri demolition, each time it is women who paid a price for lofty political actions. For the maintenance of class, caste and religious sanctity, borders are drawn and violated over women's bodies. Statistically speaking, each heart-warming success story from Uttar Pradesh is outweighed many times by the stories of atrocities. Women have already begun to recoil in fear. No small town in Uttar Pradesh sees un-chaperoned women in public after dark. The feudal lord is brutal in punishing transgressions.

(The writer is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

Courtesy: The Pioneer

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.