Goa Prof Disses Women Wearing Mangalsutra. Doing Her Job or Offending Indian Culture?

Social Commentary

Goa Prof Disses Women Wearing Mangalsutra. Doing Her Job or Offending Indian Culture?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

The India of 2020 is rapidly transforming into a state where even attempting to hold a discussion on traditions and their place in society will be met with a wave of hostility. Corporations, shopkeepers, moviemakers; anyone can become a target of trolls who claim to be protecting their religion. And now, this heightened sensitivity seems to have reached teachers as well. In Goa, Shilpa Singh, a professor of political science at a law college, has been targeted by Hindu right wing organisations since last month, after clips of her discussing religious texts and political issues – as her job requires her to – reached them.

Most recently, an FIR was lodged against Singh by Rajiv Jha, a man affiliated with the Rashtriya Hindu Yuva Vahini outfit. The root of his complaint was a post Singh had made on Facebook in April, where she questioned the practice of wearing a mangalsutra. Jha claimed this offended his religious sentiments and had Singh booked by Goa Police under IPC Section 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings).

However, Singh has claimed that Jha’s posts against her on social media have led to her facing online harassment, and registered an FIR that saw Jha booked for intentional insult, criminal intimidation, and insulting the modesty of a woman.

Jha claimed he became aware of Singh’s views after he saw the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad had filed a complaint against her with her college, VM Salgaocar College of Law in Panaji. ABVP complained that Singh was spreading “socially hateful thoughts about a particular religion” and sought to have her removed from her post, after acquiring clips of Singh conducting her classes through Google Meet during the lockdown.

Fortunately for Singh, the college stood by their professor and respected the sanctity of her classroom. They recognised her right to provoke students with controversial and opposing views, given the multi-layered nature of her subject, political science. Singh told the Indian Express that the latest FIR against her by Jha is a continuation of the same intimidation campaign that was foiled when the ABVP failed to get her removed from her post.

In the past few months we’ve seen Tanishq pulling ads from television and the makers of Laxmii Bomb changing their film title, along with many other capitulations at the altar of “religious sentiment”. Shilpa Singh’s resistance to being swept up in the same tide is an interesting change.