8 March – International Women’s Day – was born in the struggles that women factory workers in thousands waged against bondage a century ago.
Women workers in early 20th century USA and Europe organised with the red flag and the revolutionary communist movement to demand an 8-hour working day, secure jobs, workplace safety, and the right to vote. It is these women, along with the communist party, which first united across countries to hold the first International Women’s Day in 1911. In subsequent years, women workers observed IWD by organizing huge protests and declaring that while ruling classes wanted to divide the world through wars, the workers and women workers in particular are opposed to wars. Women workers were also at the forefront of the International Women’s Day protests in 1917 in Russia, demanding ‘bread, land, and peace’, which led to the Russian Revolution. In present times, when through the TV, newspaper and online advertisements, we are told that Women’s Day is all about purchasing products that can be ‘gifted’ to women who otherwise do not have equal right to own resources collectively generated by all genders in the society, we must reassert the revolutionary legacy of women workers’ struggles that have continued to fight against gender inequality and all forms of exploitation.
Today, the International Women’s Day is being observed in India at a time when the most organized form of patriarchal ideology is ruling the country. The BJP government backed by the RSS has unleashed unprecedented attack on women’s rights and autonomy. A party that gave pre-election slogan of ‘Bahot Hua Nari Par Vaar, Abki Baar Modi Sarkar’ in 2014, has repeatedly and actively shielded powerful people accused of most heinous sexual assault against women in its tenure of last five years. Women in the PM’s own constituency Varanasi, faced police brutality when they raised voice against molestation and called out the bluff of BJP’s empty propaganda of ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’. Autonomous GSCASH has been dismantled in JNU and rubber stamp ICC is penalizing women for speaking up. Journalist Gauri Lankesh was assassinated and called ‘Kutiya’ by Modi supporters. Trade Union activist and lawyer Sudha Bhardwaj is arrested for being critical of the oppressive regime of Modi government. Women workers are time and again coming down to the streets demanding their rights as workers. At such a juncture, as we observe 8th March, let us identify the nexus of sexism, casteism and communalism that constitutes the core ideology of the RSS and the ruling party BJP.
Communal Fascism, Manuvad and Patriarchy
“Patriarchies provide a potentially hospitable space where racism, casteism, communalism could meet.” (Kumkum Sangari, ‘The ‘Amenities of Domestic Life’: Questions on Labour’, Social Scientist, Vol 21, Nos 9-11, 1993). Manuvadi patriarchy is deeply embedded in India’s common sense. This has been a vital component aiding the rise of communal fascism. Neo-liberal policies and global corporate capitalism entering India have been more than willing to accommodate and strengthen the casteist-communal-patriarchal nexus.
The RSS’ Core Ideology: Manusmriti and Fascism
Patriarchal and casteist attitudes are part of the ‘core ideology’ of the RSS, BJP, and ABVP, inspired by the Manusmriti and Hitler.
- In his autobiography Mein Kampf, Hitler accused Jewish men of ‘polluting’ the ‘Aryan’ race by seducing Aryan women, and encouraging Black men to do the same. The RSS propaganda that Muslim men seduce/steal Hindu women as part of a “love jehad” campaign is identical with Hitler’s ideology. In the ideology of the Sangh Parivar, the racist and fascist ideology of Hitler meets that of the Manusmriti that prohibits and violently punishes intermarriage between castes.
- The RSS mouthpiece, Organizer, in an editorial on November 30, 1949 had hailed Manusmriti to be superior than India’s Constitution – the same Manusmriti that decrees that a woman must always be under the control of her father, husband or son, and prohibits marriage between women of the dominant castes and men of the oppressed and subordinate castes. And no, this is not some throwback to the past. BJP’s latest star campaigner and UP CM Adityanath, in his piece ‘Matrashakti — Bharatiya Shakti ke Sandarbh Mein’ also quotes the same line from the Manusmriti to assert that women must never be allowed freedom: “women are not capable of being left free or independent…women need male protection from birth to death… a woman is protected in her childhood by her father, by her husband in her youth and by her son in her old age.” (Economic Times, Mar 20, 2017)
- RSS founding leader Golwalkar claimed that granting rights to women would “cause great psychological upheaval” to men and “lead to mental disease and distress”. (see Paola Bacchetta, Gender in the Hindu Nation: RSS Women as Ideologues, p.124).
- Golwalkar also mocked the struggles for women’s equality and emancipation, as well as gender- and caste-based reservations: “There is now a clamour for ‘equality for women’ and their ’emancipation from man’s domination’! Reservation of seats in various positions of power is being claimed on the basis of their separate sex, thus adding one more ‘ism’-‘sexism!’- to the array of casteism, communalism, linguism, etc.” (Golwalkar, Bunch of Thoughts, p 104)
- Journalist Neha Dixit (The Outlook magazine, “Holier than Cow” 28 Jan 2013), documents how Rashtra Sevika Samiti, the women’s wing of RSS, rationalises domestic violence and wife-beating. Asked, “What advice would you give to a victim of wife beating?” the RSS ‘sevika’ answered, “Don’t parents admonish their children for misbehaviour? Just as a child must adjust to his/her parents, so must a wife act keeping in mind her husband’s moods and must avoid irritating him. Only this can keep the family together.”
‘Women’s Safety’: Pretext for Communal Violence, Rape, and Attacks on Women’s Freedoms
Dalit men have for long been profiled as a threat to the ‘safety’ of savarna women, and the love between Dalit men and non-Dalit women has for long been branded ‘rape’, leading to violence against women in such relationships, as well as the arrest or violent killing of the man followed by attacks on his community. This template has been extended by the Sangh Parivar’s ‘love jehad’ campaign to apply to Muslim men.
The Sangh Parivar, with the approval of the Modi Government, has in the past five years unleashed countrywide, organised violence against inter-faith relationships which they brand as ‘love jehad’ – an abusive term that combines patriarchy with Islamophobia. This propaganda legitimises and encourages ‘honour’ crimes and killings. The Cobrapost ‘Operation Juliet’ sting revealed that Sangh and BJP leaders, as part of this campaign, indulge in abduction, beatings, and even drugging of women to force them to give up their Muslim partners – while asking Hindu parents to save their daughters (Beti Bachao) from Muslim men.
And it is not ‘fringe’ groups that use the ‘Beti Bachao’ slogan for communal polarisation: in the 2014 election campaign, the BJP President Amit Shah, addressing a Jat Sabha in the Muzaffarnagar-Shamli area, said: “No one is fond of rioting. But when a community violates the honour of our daughters and sisters, and the administration does nothing, people are forced to riot.” (See min 5:52 onwards here https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=353&v=6UYPYBmpp7E). In reality, Muslim women were raped during the communal violence in Muzaffarnagar. The rape cases filed by women in the past six years are yet to come to trial, even as Ministers in Modi’s Cabinet like Sanjeev Balyan visited those accused of riots and rapes during the 2013 violence. Basically, the ‘love jehad’ bogey is an excuse by the RSS and BJP to justify all manner of attacks on women’s rights and on Muslim men.
Denial of Autonomy Is Not ‘Safety from Violence’ – It IS Violence
In India, National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2005-06 data, as well as data gathered by the Indian Human Development Survey (IHDS) 2012 establish how denial of autonomy is itself a form of violence and discrimination faced by Indian women. It is important to emphasise this because State policies as well as patriarchal common sense often prescribe and impose restrictions on women’s autonomy and mobility in the name of keeping them ‘safe’ from violence.
- Only 5% of women in India have sole control over choosing their husbands – IHDS 2012
- 79.88% of women need permission to visit a health centre – IHDS 2012
Even rape statistics in India reveal a high level of disguised violence against women’s autonomy. No less than 40% of “what is classified as rape (in Delhi police files) is actually parental criminalisation of consensual sexual relationships, often when it comes to inter-caste and inter-religious couples” (‘Rape, Rhetoric and Reality’, The Hindu, December 19, 2014), Each of the women in these ‘rape’ cases, then, are victims not of rape, but of coercion and violence by their own parents, families, and communities in their own homes.
Capitalist Globalization in India – Reinforcing Feudal-Casteist Patriarchy
The Indian state and capitalist forces want more women to be drawn into the labour force, but at the same time they want to prevent and curb the likely consequences of women joining the workforce, which are- greater autonomy and mobility and control over their own lives.
We are all familiar with the discriminatory restrictions placed on women students in college and university hostels – in the pretext of ‘safety’. These restrictions of course make women more unsafe – and their real purpose is to prevent women from exercising personal and political autonomy – i.e falling in love or joining the student or women’s movement! The same restrictions are placed on women workers as well, on similar pretexts and for similar purposes.
Young women garment workers (mostly Dalit) in Tamil Nadu factories producing for global brands, keep women under strict surveillance in hostels, prevent any social outing or mobility outside the hostel or factory premises; punish socialisation between female and male workers; ban mobile phones for women workers and mete out humiliating casteist punishments to them for violating these rules. The factory managements justify these restrictions by claiming that the workers’ families demand them.
The women’s movement today thus is entrusted with the task of defeating the regime of corporate-communal fascism in India. The brave assertion of women from all over India under Modi Raj has spoken out loudly that the struggle for women’s autonomy, equality and freedom shall march forward defeating all propaganda of hate and casteist-patriarchal backlash of the Sangh Parivar.
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