Wandering very near the fringes of oversimplification of complex ideas, I can not help but see the world divided into two groups, the protector and the protected, with glorification of the protectors to the extent of their being worshipped. But we have rarely stopped to ponder over the question of protection. From what do we need protection and why?
If we try to ask this question, our voices are hushed back into our throats by horrifying instances of violence around us. With a Hindu nationalist organization equating Rape of a woman to the Slaughter of cow and failure of the masses to counter or even recognize the disgusting, inhuman tone of this remark, we need to wonder how far have we deviated from the ideal of a sensitive sensible society.
Importance of cow in particular and cattle in general grew from the Rigvedic times. In fact, according to historian R.S. Sharma, there are so many references to cow and bull in Rig Veda that the Rig Vedic people can be called a predominantly pastoral people. Most of their wars were fought over cows. Even the term for war in Rigveda is gavishthi which means search for cows, in those times cow seems to have been the most important form of wealth. Gradually cow seized to be the cause of violence and land took its place. Since we aren’t pastoral anymore, the logic of protection of cow, today, with the devotional strings attached, relates to the need of protection of God. Protection of Whom by man has caused innumerable deaths of His creation. Only cause that nears the amount of violence done for the protection of god is that of the protection of nation.
The concept and term of rashtra for territory can be traced back to the later Vedic times. And across the waves of time, kingship has been unapologetically linked to Divinity. With king being the representative of the Superior Being on earth, he became the ‘protector’ of land and its inhabitants. And obeying King became obeying God, this in addition to giving legitimacy to the ruler gave him not only a temporal authority over his subjects but also a moral and spiritual one. In ancient and medieval times protection of the rule of the King meant the protection of God. With time, this glorification of protection of King’s authority faded and with the national struggle and the emergence of nation states emotions were attached to nations, and killing in the name of protecting them became an honor.
In justifications of such bloodshed in the name of nation or god, we often find mention of ‘vulnerable women’. This ‘vulnerable woman’ is a voiceless creature who can’t think and who always needs a protector to keep her breathing. For women in ancient philosophy, there has been assigned no greater role than the service of husband. Even her spiritual and religious existence breathes life with the ceremony of marriage which is recognized by legislators as taking the place, for women, of the sacrament of initiation prescribed by the Veda. And in return of her selfless devotion to her better half, she gets ‘protection’ by him. Whether it be the logic of need of respecting and protecting women just because of them being daughter, wife, sister or mother of ‘somebody’ or the propagation of idea of a veil to protect against lustful gaze we somehow still can’t rid ourselves of the tendency of deciding what a woman needs.
History is filled with instances of people using the slogan of women’s vulnerability, national pride and religious fervor to further their political and economic ends. What comes as a surprise is how we haven’t learned anything. The act of attributing positive traits to women which highlights them mostly as innocent vulnerable beings and nonetheless justifies their subordination by the protector falls in a broad category of what sociologists call benevolent sexism. And often the protected group consents to the “need” of being protected due to propaganda of fear. And with this discourse we grow into a society where glory to the sword is praiseworthy, where fear rules. Amongst the tools of avarice and fear used for controlling people, fear has always been the easiest and most effective instrument of the oppressors to keep the oppressed in their place, and this need for the creation of fear lies at the core of the propagation of the instances glorifying protection and protectors. It is this protection that manifests itself in the form of violence.
The irony is how when we don’t agree on anything ever, we all agree on violence. Attackers of Charlie Hebdo were protecting their religion, Dylann Roof was protecting his women and nation when he attacked the African American church, the sorry story is the same everywhere, it always has been the same with varied degree of passion and execution and madness. But what nobody notices is how in justifications to these acts of violence we have dehumanized women, and how in protecting god and nation, we have failed to protect the humanity.