By Ashish Kumar:
How do we even dare think that our country is on the cusp of becoming a superpower and that we are a progressive country as far as women liberation is concerned? Just because a few of us know how to troubleshoot the problem in an American’s PC and how to sell imported garbage to fellow compatriots? But, do we ever give a thought about how miniscule a proportion of our gigantic population this superpower-bubble encompass? Going through some of the recent news of barbarian atrocities and biased perspective towards tribal women has left me wondering whether even a semblance of social justice and human rights prevail in this country in spite of our towering claims of a mammoth Constitution and a vibrant democracy.
Irom Sharmilla, Iron Lady of Manipur, has been on a 500-week long hunger strike to demand the calling off of monstrous AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) which empowers Armed Forces in Manipur to detain any citizen for infinitely long periods and murder anyone with impunity. But, instead of discussing the relevance and necessity of continuing this act in the state considering the undue power it gives to police and threat it endows on the residents, our law-makers sit pretty in their cozy chairs in New Delhi as if nothing has happened. Worse, they collaborate with the police to coerce her to give-up her protest. They keep her behind the bars to silent her protest charging her with attempt to commit suicide. They keep renewing the charge after one year as she would not yield and would not eat. They have finally retorted to nasogastral intubation or feeding through nose to keep her alive. The role of media has been pathetic to say the least. The merits of her protest and the gravity of the issue of removal of AFSPA has never grabbed the headlines of any print or electronic media but the news of Irom expressing her love for a man was a news big enough to hog the limelight. For media it was the ingredient of increase-the-sales recipe, for politicians and the police it was an excuse to weaken her cause. But, why does she not have the right to love a man back who loves her? Is it because she is a woman? Is it because she is from Manipur and belong to a small tribe? Or is it just because she has raised her never-dousing voice against a draconian law?
If there is one place in India where the first word children learn is Naxalism, it is Dantewada. Soni Sori, a tribal women teacher, 36 and a mother of three unfortunately belongs to this place. Tribals here have two options-first, either owe allegiance to Naxalite or get killed and second, be loyal to police or get killed (or get raped if you are a woman). Soni, chose the third. She chose to bring to notice of the rest of country the atrocities of police there. Result, she was charged with acting as a conduit of money transfer from Essar group (who had some mining to do on the fields which was according to police under Naxal control and hence the money from Essar to Naxalites) to Naxals. She with another male journalist was sent behind the bars in Dantewada in spite of her apprehensions that that place was not safe for her. As feared by her, she was tortured inhumanly so much so that she was chained naked with her bed while questioning and doctors found small stones in her genital tract and rectum. Her letter to the Supreme Court asking who is responsible for her condition is biting dust. How can one be subjected to so brutal trial even when there are no strong evidences of crime except hunch of a few biased policemen? Why can’t she get woman police for her trial as permitted by our law? Why is not the Essar-official who, as claimed by policemen, warmed Soni’s pockets traced and questioned? Is it because he is not a woman? Not a tribal? Not someone who would utter a word against police? Or is it because they can’t handcuff the hands which grease their palms?
They talk of Dalit and women empowerment. When you listen to story of Rekha Chavan, a 42 year old Dalit women from Mulgaon in Karad district of Maharashtra, you know where we stand. This woman was stripped naked, beaten by whips and paraded in the streets by the upper caste Marathas accusing her of aiding her 20-year old son in eloping with a Maratha girl. Bai aahe ka kutri ( Am I dog to be beaten up like this)? Would they have tortured me the same way had I not been a Dalit? she asks. What is worse is that people of her community believe that she has committed a sin and is paying the price of what she has done. Marathas are feared here. No one dares to utter a word against them. Are we leaving in 2012? Or is it some time machine in 1862? Why would they declare the mother of their daughter’s beloved the culprit? Isn’t the love culprit here? Isn’t their sick medieval mindset the culprit? What is heartening is that defying the life threats from Marathas and and prospects of being sidelined from his own community, she has roared like a lion that she would not stop living in her small cottage next to Maratha’s house.
These stories just tell one thing- we have to move miles in our minds to be deemed the superpower and the women empowerment still has a long way to go. Even a double digit growth rate of GDP wouldn’t make any sense if the other half of our population is subjected to such prejudices and atrocities.