Religious sentiments: upsetting them v. getting upset

Featured image: Prashant Bhushan. Credit: Swaraj Abhiyan/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.5.

Get a load of this: Over the weekend, advocate and social activist Prashant Bhushan tweeted saying CM Yogi Adityanath’s anti-Romeo ‘policy’ would imply that the Hindu god Krishna could be classified as a “legendary eve-teaser” in modern Uttar Pradesh. In quick succession, Bhushan had FIRs filed against him from both BJP and Congress spokespersons, in Delhi and Lucknow respectively. On both counts, the charge was of “upsetting religious sentiments”.

This is funny: Bhushan’s tweet does not upset religious sentiments but recalls a story and questions how it will be interpreted in this day. And if the BJP and the Congress have been offended by this, it could only be because they have interpreted his tweet offensively. If reason had prevailed, Bhushan’s statement should’ve been interpreted to say Adityanath’s policy perspective almost directly raises questions about Krishna’s attitude towards women, and the only way the BJP/Congress can imagine it “upsets religious sentiments” is by suggesting either:

  1. Adityanath is right ⇒ Krishna was an “eve-teaser” ⇒ religious beliefs are wrong, or
  2. Krishna was not an “eve-teaser” ⇒ Adityanath is wrong ⇒ Adityanath is upsetting religious sentiments

Either way, the offence seems to stem from someone other than Prashant Bhushan. As for the offended, one thing is certain: women get the short shrift, as usual. They’re once again stuck making lousy choices: between a political ideology that supports honour killings and thinks its women should stay at home, aspire to get married and run a household – and a religious tradition that extols a god about whom the popular narrative is that he “teased” gopis, i.e. women. And this isn’t just the women in UP: it limits the narratives through which women can participate in national politics.

Moreover, it’s ironic that the anti-harassment squads are being called “anti-Romeo” squads. Romeo from William Shakespeare’s tale did not harass. Similarly, the couples being targeted by Adityanath’s anti-harassment squads – the Romeos and Juliets, supposedly – aren’t harassing each other. They’re spending time together in public spaces, spaces in which intimacy is still somewhat taboo because it is even more difficult for them to do so in private spaces. In the more conservative pockets of urban India (I can’t profess to know much about the rural), these spaces don’t exist. Adityanath should instead be empowering the police force and social support groups to intervene properly and sensitively, so those who feel victimised don’t have to seek arbitrary – and often drastic – courses of action.

He should also be cognisant of the fact that his and his supporters’ purported goal to ‘protect women’ robs women of their agency and right to self-determination.