We are approaching our 72nd Independence Day which will be also the fifth Independence Day with Narendra Modi as India’s Prime Minister. One of the chief architects of modern India, Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar once famously said, “I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress women have achieved.” In the fifth year of Modi Raj, let us take a close look where the women of the country stand.
But if we glance at few snapshots of our times – we see the horrific incidents of sexual abuse of minor girls in shelter homes across the country – first in Muzaffarpur in Bihar, and then in Deoria in Uttar Pradesh. The ‘homes’ trafficked and supplied girls and women, held captive on their premises, for sexual exploitation by rich and influential persons. These two shelter-homes are just the tip of the iceberg – it is likely that girls and women are subjected to such violence and abuse in many other such institutions all over the country.
The Muzaffarpur home was run by an NGO belonging to Brajesh Thakur – whose small newspaper received a disproportionately huge amount in Government advertisements, and who boasted close links with the Chief Minister of Bihar. Reportedly, several BJP leaders including a Union Minister made calls to the police seeking to protect Thakur, who even now is in a hospital rather than in jail. Chandrashekhar Varma, husband of the Bihar Social Welfare Minister Manju Varma on whose watch these horrors took place, also reportedly visited the Muzaffarpur home many times and was closely in touch with Thakur. Nitish Kumar has refused to act against Chandrashekhar Varma and BJP leader and Bihar’s Deputy CM Sushil Modi has publicly assured that the whole of BJP backs Manju Varma to the hilt!
In the shelter home at Deoria (the district adjoining the UP CM’s own seat Gorakhpur), too, women were being forced to submit to sexual exploitation, and girls were beaten and forced to perform domestic labour. What do these Government-financed horrors against girls and women whom they claim to be ‘sheltering’ or ‘rescuing’, tell us? Shelter homes and short-stay homes are crucial for women and children facing domestic violence, or who are destitute and trying to escape violent or exploitative situations. If these homes are run like jails – or worse, like dens of sexual slavery and violence – it is the Government that is squarely responsible. The same Governments however hide these horrors behind pious slogans of ‘Beti Bachao’.
Coming close to our own campuses, we see how the BHU administration has punished and debarred 56 students for their “crime” of protesting against the administration’s apathy towards sexual harassment, and its imposition of discriminatory and misogynist rules on women students and residents of women’s hostels. In JNU, the RSS-backed Vice Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar dismantled the autonomous GSCASH – the complaints body against sexual harassment that was recognised as a model and best-practice for the whole country. He replaced it with a pliant, pro-administration ‘Internal Complaints Committee’ (ICC). JNU faculty member and VC’s close aide Atul Johri charged with serial sexual harassment roams scot free while the ICC, in a sexual harassment complaint involving another professor, is shamelessly threatening complainants with dire consequences!
The Prime Minister Narendra Modi won the 2014 elections with the slogan “Bahut hua naari par vaar, ab ki baar Modi Sarkaar.” (Enough of violence against women, this time ensure a Modi Government). The four years of the Modi Government (2014-18) is a time when jumlas about women have got unprecedented emphasis in the national politics – and it is also a time when women in India have faced the most politically organized violence against their rights. The answer lies in analyzing how the Modi Government has, perhaps more than any previous Government, used women as political fodder and fuel for the BJP’s politics, while also documenting the actions of the Government, the ruling BJP and the Sangh Parivar towards women.
BJP’s Balatkari Bachao Abhiyan
We have seen RSS – BJP’s shameless open defence of rapists and perpetrators of sexual violence. BJP says ‘Beti Bachao’ and then does ‘Balatkari Bachao’. Not once. Or even twice. But as a habit.
- In the Asaram and Ram Rahim rape cases and the Vikas Barala stalking case, BJP leaders including MPs and MLAs and party office bearers defended the accused and blamed the victims.
- BJP MP Subramanian Swamy made repeated public statements (https://twitter.com/kavita_krishnan/status/902481446329171968) defending Asaram who had been accused in 2013 of sexually assaulting a minor girl in the custody of his ashram.
- On the other hand, the BJP Government of Haryana and the Modi Government at the Centre let rape-convict Ram Rahim’s supporters run amok. The Punjab and Haryana High Court at Panchkula said that there was “complete collusion” between the Haryana Government and the supporters of Ram Rahim.
- UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath ordered the withdrawal of a case of rape against former Union Minister ‘Swami’ Chinmayanand who had been accused of raping a woman in his ashram. (The Wire, 10thApril, 2018).
- When Haryana BJP Chief’s son Vikas Barala was accused by Varnika Kundu of stalking her, the latter faced a concerted attempt by BJP supporters to shame her and defend Barala. Notorious Sangh hatemonger Prashant P Umrao tweeted an old photograph of Varnika Kundu, with two male friends, claiming she was friendly with Vikas Barala and so was lying about being stalked. In fact, Barala was not among the men in photograph; and even if he had been, being friendly with a man does not justify stalking! This photograph was also tweeted by BJP spokesperson Shaina NC, referring to Kundu as the “so called victim beti”. Haryana BJP Deputy President Ramveer Bhatti said, “The girl should not have gone out at 12 in the night,” and wondered “Why she was allowed to stay out so late.”
- After the gruesome rape and murder of 8 year old girl in Kathua, J&K, BJP Ministers and MLAs participated in rallies defending the accused. Even after two Ministers stepped down, another BJP MLA who had participated in the rally was made a J&K Minister.
- BJP Ministers and MLAs of J&K led ‘Hindu Ekta Manch’ rallies waving the Indian tricolour to defend the accused in the Kathua case, insisting that a CBI enquiry must be ordered since the Crime Branch was biased and a tool of the ‘Muslim’ Chief Minister (Mehbooba Mufti of the PDP, that is in alliance with the BJP in J&K).
- RSS leader Vishnu Nandakumar, posted on Facebook that it was a ‘good thing’ that the eight year old girl in Kathua has been killed, because ‘better that she was killed early, otherwise she would have grown up to be a bomb to the nation in future’. (https://www.ndtv.com/kerala-news/good-she-was-killed-banker-loses-job-after-comment-on-kathua-rape-case-1837402) Such a post is hardly surprising – it is extremely commonplace to see such posts and tweets celebrating atrocities against Muslims, including by handles followed by the Prime Minister and employees of slavishly pro-Modi channels.
- In Unnao, the BJP Government of UP protected the rape-accused BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar and killed the complainant’s father after arresting him in a false case. The girl attempted suicide outside the CM’s residence – but the CM continued to meet a smiling Sengar, who called the woman and her father ‘lowly people’ (neech kism ke log). (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEr9_OSeYms)
- Sewa Bharti, Vidya Bharati and Rashtra Sevika Samiti, affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), trafficked 31 tribal girls from Assam to Gujarat and Punjab in June 2015 to “initiate them into Hinduism” and turn them into RSS cadre. The Modi Government took no action against the accused. (https://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/operation-betiuthao/297626)
Attacks on Women’s Freedoms and ‘Women’s Safety’ As Mask for Communal Violence and Rape
The Sangh Parivar, with the approval of the Modi Government, has unleashed countrywide, organized violence against inter-faith relationships which they brand as ‘love jehad’ – an abusive term that combines patriarchy with Islamophobia. This propaganda legitimizes 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. For instance, Sanjay Agarwal, BJP candidate in municipal elections in Muzaffarnagar openly admitted to bashing up and brutalizing Hindu girls to ‘persuade’ them: “If she doesn’t listen to us, we hit her. We get her beaten up. We misbehave (Poori badtameeze karte hain). Such a girl is treated with a wooden board (bilkul, phatte se bajwate hain). Are we wrong to do so?”
And it is not ‘fringe’ groups that use the ‘Beti Bachao’ slogan for communal polarization: in the 2014 election campaign, while addressing a Jat Sabha in the Muzaffarnagar-Shamli area, the BJP President Amit Shah 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 are yet to come to trial in the past six years, even as Ministers in Modi’s Cabinet like Sanjeev Balyan visited those accused of riots and rapes during the 2013 violence.
The ‘Anti-Romeo Squads’ introduced by BJP’s UP CM Adityanath, likewise, attacked inter-faith couples in public spaces, in the name of ‘rescuing’ women from sexual harassment on streets!
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. A BJP MLA from Madhya Pradesh, Gopal Parmar, for instance, said that child marriages must be brought back to prevent ‘love jehad’! (Indian Express, May 6, 2018)
Core Ideology: Manusmriti and Fascism
Patriarchal and casteist attitudes are part of their ‘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 turn, Hitler was inspired by the racist laws of the American post Civil War South, which prohibited sexual relations between African American men and white women.
- Upholding Manusmriti against our Constitution: 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 subordinated castes.
- Opposing Hindu Code Bill: RSS chief Golwalkar led the Sangh in opposing the Hindu Code Bill during 1948-49 (which was the first but incomplete step towards giving Hindu women equal rights to men), claiming that granting of rights to women would “cause great psychological upheaval” to men and “lead to mental disease and distress”. (see Paula Bacchetta, Gender in the Hindu Nation: RSS Women as Ideologues, p.124).
- RSS Chief Golwalkar’s vicious words against women’s equality: Golwalkar 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)
- Yogi Adityanath’s tirade against women’s freedom: And no, this is not some throwback to the past. BJP’s latest star 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.” In the same piece, he quoted scriptures saying “uncontrolled, free women who acquire man-like qualities become devilish.” (Economic Times, Mar 20, 2017)
- The RSS women’s wing rationalises domestic violence: 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. She 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.”
Vicious Assaults on Women Students across Our Campuses
Vice-Chancellors from an RSS background, political appointees of the Modi Government, have attempted to impose the most retrograde rules on women students, attacking their hard-won rights across our campuses in the last four years of BJP rule.
- Eight women students of the of Life Sciences, JNU, filed FIRs against professor Atul Johri, known to be a Sangh man and a close confidante of the VC. They alleged that he habitually made unwanted sexual advances and sexually explicit talk and jokes, and being vindictive to those who protested. Shockingly, the ICC took no cognizance of the complaint, and the University Administration refused to suspend the professor pending the investigations by the police, thereby letting him continue to wield power over the students who had complained. When JNU students and faculty held a massive protest march in the city, the police brutally beat up and sexually molested protesters, stripping women of their clothes. When a woman journalist complained of being beaten, groped and molested by cops that day, a senior police officer offered her an apology, explaining that the cops mistook her for a JNU student! The Delhi HC was forced to ask the JNU Administration, “What is happening, you have not been able to do anything. Is it that the V-C of the university has no power to take action against the professor?…You can advise the professor that till the investigation is completed into the cases against him, he should stay out of the campus.”
- Students of Mahila Maha Vidyalaya (MMV), the women’s college on the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) campus, were made to sign affidavits prohibiting participation in protest actions as confirmed in an interview with the then Vice Chancellor of BHU, G.C. Tripathi in 2016 (Youth Ki Awaaz, 12thOctober, 2016). Other regressive rules for women in BHU included: a ban on the usage of mobile phones by women students after 10 pm; disallowing women students from using the 24×7 library at night because according to the VC, “girls who study in the night are immoral,” and a prospectus that restricts women from access to the University bus service. (The Wire, 22 September 2016)
- The BHU VC Girish Chandra Tripathi shamelessly told media that the incident of sexual harassment that triggered massive protests by women students was not “molestation but merely eve-teasing.” (The Hindustan Times, 26 September, 2017). Speaking to some of the protesting women students he said the complainant had “sold her honour in the market” by protesting! Now, a year later, BHU students who made history by protesting sexual harassment have been debarred from the University.
- Politically active women students and campuses that do not impose gendered restrictions on women’s activism are publicly shamed by BJP leaders and branded immoral and sexually promiscuous. For instance, Gyandev Ahuja, a BJP MLA from Rajasthan declared that, ‘3,000 used condoms, 500 used abortion injections…among other things, are found at JNU, where girls and boys dance naked at cultural programmes’ (Indian Express, 23 February, 2016).
- Haryana CM’s OSD Jawahar Yadav tweeted that “JNU mein ladkiyaan jo desh drohi naare baazi karra hinthi, unke liye sirf yahi kahoonga ki tumse achhi tawaaifen hoti hain jo jism bechti hain deshnahi” (Prostitutes are better than the women students who shouted anti-national slogans at JNU). (Ladies Finger, 16 February , 2016,)
- BJP’s West Bengal President Dilip Ghosh (who has since been elected an MLA) described women students of Jadavpur University, which like JNU is known for left-wing and feminist activism, as ‘shameless women who are always in search of opportunity to be in the company of male students’, following a complaint of sexual harassment filed by some of the students (PTI, May 14, 2016).
- When DU student Gurmehar Kaur posted a profile picture on Facebook against ABVP violence against students and teachers in her University campus, she received rape threats online by trolls who brought up her anti-war placards of an earlier date. But Union Minister Kiren Rijiju tweeted to ask “Who’s polluting this young girl’s mind?” Rijiju never asked who polluted the minds of the people who gave Gurmehar rape threats! If he had asked that question, the answer would be easy: the entire army of trolls including those followed by the PM, who regularly make rape and death threats to every woman who speaks against the Modi Government or the RSS.
One could go on and on with these examples. The fact is that the BJP slogan says ‘Beti Padhao’ (Educate Your Daughters) but when the ‘Daughters’ dare to speak up for their rights, they are branded immoral by Sangh and BJP leaders.
Ladhegi Beti, Padhegi Beti, Badhegi Beti!
But women of the country are fighting back! We have witnessed how the BHU women students steadfastly rose against rampant incidents of sexual violence in campus and shameless victim blaming by the university admin. We have seen how the massive protests by women’s organizations and the people of Bihar against sexual exploitation of girls in shelter homes forced the Social Welfare Minister Manju Verma to resign. Modi’s jumlas on “women empowerment” are fading away; we can hear it loud and clear – ladhegi beti, padhegi beti, badhegi beti!
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