In a country where even Lord Rama’s Maryada Purshottam status has been subjected to scrutiny for his decision to cast his wife into wilderness and then insist on an agni pariksha, it is surprising how easily we let the debate on Jashodaben fade away into insignificance.
It has been almost six months since her husband became the Prime Minister. But apart from the fleeting interest in her when Narendra Modi finally accepted his marital status while filing his nomination papers, we let Jashodaben disappear from our discourse.
That is partly because of the unwritten covenant that makes us squeamish while discussing the private lives of our powerful politicians. But a part of our reluctance (some may call it indifference) is also because Jashodaben had preferred complete silence over her life and was reluctant to bring it under the public spotlight.
Jashodaben with a copy of the RTI. AFP.
Though it is tempting to explore the lives of politician’s who aspire to positions of great power and responsibility in great detail, somehow it did not seem right to pry into the life of a simple woman who appeared to have already gone through a lot of trauma and pain. Jashodaben always appeared to be worthy of sympathy and respect than of becoming the subject of a political controversy.
But her decision to come out in the open and draw attention to her plight changes all that. Her desperate but brave act shows Jashodaben doesn’t just need our silent sympathy; she also needs of our vocal support in the fight for her rights.
For, whatever be our PM’s compulsions, this is not the life that Jashodaben deserves. Her husband may or may not be blamed for it -- you can perhaps blame her stars -- but her current plight is certainly not Jashodaben’s fault. This is not the result of her karma.
A few days ago, Jashodaben had, after years of dignified silence, told a TV channel she was willing to live with her husband if he is ready too. On Monday, her brother Ashok Modi made a poignant statement: “Je prem emne malvu joiye, e nathi maltu (she is not getting the love she deserves). Knowing the PM and the troubled history of his marital life, it would be too much to expect him to bestow on his wife the kind of status others in her position have enjoyed.
But, is it too much to let her live in dignity? Is it right, as she pointed out, to let her travel in public transport even as the SPG guards who tail her use government vehicles? Would heavens fall on us if she gets some of the facilities that a PM’s wife is entitled to? Will we, as a nation, start jumping up and down if Jashodaben gets a decent house and is spared the humiliation of moving around on a two-wheeler?
It would be wrong to not see this from the PM’s point of view. Having built the image of a selfless servant of the country, India’s pradhan sevak who doesn’t get distracted by family and friends, Modi may not be willing to favour his wife, or for that matter even his mother.
But India is a country of great depth. It respects qualities like steely resolve and unwavering dedication to one’s professed principles. But this country equally reveres those who give the highest importance to justice. Now that Jashodaben has raised her voice for her rights, it would be a blot on Modi’s image if she is ignored. We need to ask ourselves just one question: What would have been Modi’s response if an ordinary housewife had approached him to seek her basic rights?