The anti-CAA-NRC protests across the country brought hundreds and thousands of people to streets and in many cases, ranging from Shaheen Bagh, Kolkata’s Park Circus Maidan to university spaces, women have been at the forefront. Women from Muslim communities took centre stage in many of these protests and voiced their concern against the divisive Act with their moving speeches.
However, openly sexist, coupled with communal comments came back from many members of the ruling party (comprising mostly of Hindu upper caste, Hindi speaking male) which actually shows how the particular right-wing ideology and the male ego is actually very vulnerable.
Given the history of communal nature of politics and culture of India, Hindutva emerged as a sense of victimhood – a wrong done to Hindus. The ideological figure of Hindutva, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, in his book Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History asserted that Hindu women had been raped numerous times when Muslim rulers won in the wars.
According to him, it was done to numerically increase the Muslim population which would pave for a victory over the Hindus by numbers. The Hindu men, he said, did not commit the same act since they were afraid that they themselves would be converted to Islam.
Thus, he concludes, the Hindus are the victims of this act. It is on these very lines that he justified rape when he said that if Hindus committed the same act, then they would have saved millions of Hindu women. In the worldview of Savarkar, I think women lose their status as human beings and are only seen as procreators, who could and would be ‘raped’ at the will of men who win battles.
The country has been torn apart many times with recurrence of communal violence from the days of partition to the recent violence in the northeast of Delhi. Muslims (about 14% of the entire population) for decades have been socially seen as the ‘other,’ the ‘enemy,’ the ‘outsider’ which has resulted in a gradual restriction of access of the community to basic needs like access to education, health and jobs.
Muslim women, because of their religious identity and the hierarchical structure of the patriarchal social and political order, often become the target of the right-wing groups and the State. In the horrific riots of Gujarat in 2002, a large number of Muslim women were tortured and raped, along with Hindu women who were close to Muslim men.
The political character of the act of rape finds a wide consensus among feminists. Sexual violence against women in wars and riots, I feel, is a deliberate product of patriarchy since the act of violence against the women is to ‘feminise’ the men of the enemy and hurt their ‘male ego’ since they have failed to ‘save their women.’
As the norms of the patriarchal world suggest that it is the men’s duty to save the women, the sole purpose of the sexual violence against women is to weaken the opponent psychologically. At the end, it is the autonomy of one’s body which is violated.
It was therefore, no surprise for me when the national flag was used to justify and support the accused when the rape of an eight-year-old nomadic girl took place in Jammu and Kashmir. It was the same when Hindu men in the parliament became concerned about the suffering of Muslim women (given the history and nature of communal riots) and banned triple talaq.
I think it was done on the same lines of psychologically weakening the ‘enemy men’ by ‘feminising’ them while themselves appearing as ‘real’ powerful men, upholding liberal values.
When the country’s women, especially Muslim women, came out on the streets and offered a huge resistance to the inhumane Act passed by the Centre, these men were caught by surprise. Under pressure, not knowing what to do they resorted to blatant sexism and communal comments by dehumanising the protesters.
The Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh called the protesters at both Shaheen Bagh and Kolkata’s Park Circus uneducated, poor and accused them of engaging in the protest for money sponsored by foreign countries. In spite of bad weather conditions, a large number of women never left the protest site.
These men called the women ‘anti-national’ and ‘Pakistani.’ The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh took the same approach of the ‘feminisation’ of men, when on January 22, he claimed in a rally that Muslim men were afraid to indulge in vandalism and left with nothing to do and had therefore, ‘sent’ the women and children to protest on the streets. He called it was very shameful to do that on part of the protesters.
It also revealed another patriarchal construct and an insult to all women by shamefully claiming that women don’t have the autonomy to wilfully go out to protest. These men fear independent women and think that women being somewhere and anywhere must be because they have some kind of ‘permission.’ It is simply, hard for them to think of independent women.
The avoidance of conducting a dialogue with the protesters shows how fragile the ideology of the ruling party is. Muslim women have been historically targeted in India. The Gujarat riots along with many other instances of communal violence, the systematic exclusion of Muslim women from arenas of political and social life speaks volumes about the old structures of oppression. It is time to reclaim the streets.