IMPACT OF THE GUJARAT GENOCIDE ON WOMEN: CHALLENGES AND STRATEGIES
IMPACT OF THE GUJARAT GENOCIDE ON WOMEN: CHALLENGES AND STRATEGIES
report of a meeting
Newsletter Sep – Dec 2003
On 1st August 2002, Saheli organised a meeting to take forward the shared concerns of several groups around the country about issues related to women in the genocide in Gujarat: from the sexual violence experienced to issues of relief and rehabilitation. We also felt the need to examine the role of Hindu women, dalits and adivasis in the pogrom in Gujarat in the context of right wing politics that threatens to divide various oppresed groups and dissipate struggles over real survival issues. The attempt to address these painful and complex questions, and find ways to put our energies, experiences and strengths together to face the challenges thrown up by this grim scenario was particularly meaningful for Saheli, since on 9th August, we completed 21 years of resistance as part of the autonomous women's movement. The shared need for this meeting was apparent in the fact that it drew a substantial participation of women’s groups, students, teachers and individuals from various groups in Delhi, Mumbai, Baroda, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Ajmer, Jabalpur, Allahabad and Kolkata. This report is an attempt to summarise the proceedings of the day, the presentations and subsequent discussions.
The meeting started with a Saheli presentation by Ranjana on how women bear the brunt of sexual violence by men at home and on the stream, to police stations, riots, and armed conflicts. Women continue to be raped in caste conflicts, as punishment for defying societal norms and in revenge when two or more conflicting groups want to attack the “honour" of the other. Sexual violence has also been used as a weapon of the state for the suppression of movements, and widow immolation or ‘Sati' derives its sanction from the community and tradition. Equally problematic ls the silence and sanction of the rape of dalit women by upper caste men and feudal powers and of peasant women by zamindars. And we are too familiar of rape being publicly used as punishment by the Panchayats in Haryana and UP. Despite the pervasiveness of sexual violence, sexual crimes continue to remain unrecognised, with even the legal and criminal system being highly inadequate and gentle biased in dealing with them.
War time rapes and sexual violence have occurred in almost every war in history. We see the violence, death and destruction caused by wars as an extension of the violence we confront daily within the family, in the community and by the state. The partition of India and Pakistan witnessed a communal holocaust as never before. It left a million dead and several million destitute. Besides being dislocated, lakhs of women suffered communal violence, death, manning, and sexual abuse. From genocide to war, ethnic conflicts, communal strife to anti-state movements the experience of women is uncannily similar. They face violence and humiliation as survivors of the event and then as objects of shame outcast from their own homes and communities. This stems from the patriarchal notion of a woman's body symbolising the territory or property of the “other". The failure of men to protect the homeland or community is seen as an assault on the notion of masculinity. In such situations, women have suffered immense violence across the globe - Burundi, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Korea, former Yugoslavia, Guatemala, Sierra Leone, Congo and Rwanda. Various forms of violence against women, especially rape, are a reality in all situations of internal repression. Examples abound in Kashmir, the northeast and other regions like Uttarakhand where agitating women faced the brunt of police oppression.
Government statistics on rape are shocking. According to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, there were 13,000 cases of rape reported in 2001, and on an average, the conviction rate barely manages to touch 4 percent. Our struggle for just punishment and improvement of the existing rape law procedures continues to be an uphill task.
Independent India has seen many faces of communal tension in various parts of the country over the past five decades. Muslims, as the largest minority have consistently faced the brunt of the Hindu majority. In 1984, we witnessed the massacre of over 4,000 Sikhs in Delhi. In 1992-1993, we saw all kinds of violence against the Muslims from Bhopal to Mumbai to Surat. The coming into power of the NDA has seen an unprecedented increase in intolerance against minorities and marginalised sections in the society. Tribal communities in parts of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh have been attacked, raped and killed, and churches and Christian schools have been ransacked, desecrated and bombed, and Christian women, including nuns, raped.
This ideology found a more horrific manifestation during the genocide in Gujarat. Far from condemning the violence, the state government in fact, actively supported it and in many ways, women's bodies became the leitmotif for the violence in Gujarat. Hundreds of women were raped and subjected to ghastly forms of sexual violence. Women’s bodies have borne the violent expression of patriotism - the arena for Hindutva forces to play out their love for the motherland, where Muslims represent the detested other to be humiliated, killed and eliminated. The systematic stirring up of hatred against Muslims and the generation of fear of the virility of Muslim men has been well documented and analysed.
Equally systematic has been the destruction of evidence of the widespread sexual violence. The negation of its occurrence through false FIRs, and the trivialisation of the crimes by ministers like George Fernandes who claimed that rape is universally prevalent. What we are facing is the conjunction of patriarchal assertion of power, an ideology of hatred, and majoritarianism along with community sanction of violence against women. There is state power manifested with Narendra Modi in Gujarat and the BJP led government at the Centre heralding the violence as natural. This has resulted in the worst ever form of use and legitimisation of sexual violence.
This was followed by a joint presentation by Trupti (Sahiyar, PUCL -Shanti Abhiyan) and Jahanara (PUCL - Shanti Abhiyan). Recounting the events in and around Baroda following the Godhra incident, they spoke of the systematic and selective attacks by the VHP-RSS-Bajrang Dal combine on all classes of the Muslim community. They described the attacks by the Hindu mobs, vicious communal insults and taunting, sexual violence on women and children, vandalisation of property, and police complicity in the genocide.
Trupti and Jahanara also illustrated numerous cases of police atrocities during combing and search operations and the filing of false FIRs, which have resulted in the Muslim community being almost as terrorised by the police as they are by the VHP-RSS-Bajrang Dal combine. In terms of the current situation, they voiced their concern over the continued hate propaganda and economic boycott of the Muslim community, the lack of safety particularly for women, the tensions of people trying to 'return‘ to their homes/land, and emerging trend of suicides among survivor-families. At the same time, they said that the violence in Gujarat has made women of all communities insecure, with Hindu women suspicious of ‘the other” and fearsome of ‘retaliation'. They also spoke of the difficulties they are having in raising issues related to communalisation and the violence in Gujarat.
Mamta of Olakh, Baroda added that insecurity and fear is still rampant. With no place to stay and the economic boycott, there is large scale migration. Even within the community, a greater price is being paid by women. Domestic violence is increasing. Girls are being married off early for families to be rid of the ‘burden‘. Dowry demands are on the increase, There is also a huge impact on children’s education.
Children are being sent to Muslim schools 20 km away rather than the village school nearby. And the drop-out rates are increasing, especially among girls.
Speaking about Ahmedabad, the site of the most widespread violence during the Gujarat carnage, Bina Srinivasan, Aman Samudaya Citizens Initiative, Ahmedabad described how while at the peak of the violence almost 1.5 Iakh survivors were living in about 100 camps, today government pressure has forced mostof the camps to close down, compelling people to leave the safety of the camps. But still about: 24,000 people are still in the camps because they have no place left to go. In the context of women, she pointed out that the polarisation has occurred on sexual lines and the question of silence is also linked with this. Chief Minister Modi has very cleverly presented it as a question of ‘Gujarati
Dignity‘. Regarding participation of women in violence, she said that the propaganda has motivated them to do it for safeguarding their religion Ahmedabad has a large working class [Dalits and OBCs] which was mobilised in the first 72 hours.
About the role of the State, she cited the example of the Women‘s Cell, which gave a statement to the effect that as it had not received any complaints on sexual assault it means that no such incidents took place. She expressed the fear that the State could use such statements in their favour. She said that more extensive documentation on sexual violence is extremely important, in rural areas of Gujarat as well. On the one hand trauma counselling is being carried out yet on the other hand they say that nothing has happened and that everything is normal. In fact, the right wing forces and the government are using the example of some marriages taking place in the camps to reinforce the notion that Muslims are “sexually aggressive". She said that desertion by husbands, and suspicion from families is on the rise, resulting in further misery for Muslim women.
The way so many sections of the society have been brutally involved raises the biggest question as to how it could happen and why it is happening. And how do we deal with this? All this needs a serious discussion. She also spoke about the prospect of elections looming large over Gujarat, and the urgency with which we need to prepare ourselves to raise issues of public concern and accountability and to challenge the ideology of the right wing combine.
Veena of Majiis, Mamba; discussing the scope of legal intervention, said that Majlis‘ intervention in Gujarat focused on sexual violence. She spoke of how they explored the option of filing a PIL on the issue and recorded about 100 statements of women who suffered sexual violence both by the so-called ‘mobs‘ and the police. Besides all the known patterns of sexual violence on women by the mobs, she spoke of the widespread police atrocities on women - beating on their breasts, thighs, pelvic region, etc.
Often they would enter homes when the men had fled due to fear and threaten the women that ‘we will do what happened in Naroda Patiya', and tell the families to send their daughters into prostitution, or get out of the country.
As lawyers they tried to record witnesses in relief camps, but not many people were willing to speak. They tried to follow up cases cited in several reports but found that more than half of the survivors were not willing to talk anymore - they were either tired of speaking or wished to retract their earlier statements. It was clear that many of them were also scared of further police atrocities and asked “will you protect us if we file complaints?” Veena also spoke of how the social shame associated with sexual violence seemed to have sparked off an unsaid contract among the survivors in the camps, that ”we will not speak about your family, you do not speak about ours”. Consequently, from 100 recorded statements they came down to 20 statements which they submitted to the Women's Cell. Yet today there isn't even one single case that they can take to court.
In such a depressing scenario, it was clear that the victims would not be able to stand up against the system or even the KG Shah Commission set up by the government of Gujarat, more so because the procedure is intimidating and confrontational, and conducted in the presence of a battery of lawyers of the VHP, BJP and Bajrang Dal. Therefore, a ‘Perspective Affidavit’ has been filed articulating a feminist perspective on why women are not able to speak any more about the sexual violence inflicted on them, and why the nature of the crimes precludes the availability of evidence in the traditional sense.
Veena spoke of how there is an urgent need to redefine the law on sexual assault, to widen it, especially in such situations where the evidence has been so systematically erased. Simultaneously, she said that Sheba George of Sahwaru, Ahmedabad has filed an affidavit on police atrocities. In conclusion, she pointed that the community itself has done a lot of work. Certain individual cases have been filed and pursued. "We are right now legally paralysed, but at least we have put together some level of information that would otherwise be erased, and might be useful someday in the future."
We went on to look at other aspects of the ‘legal challenges and strategies’ with the presentation of Indira Jaisingh from Lawyers’ Collective. She started by talking of how the women‘s movement has until now mainly addressed the issue of rape as individual violence. “But what happened in Gujarat is not rape... we need to understand it differently” she said. She spoke of how rape under the Indian Penal Code is outdated and has no remedies for such sexual violence as occurred in Gujarat. According to the IPC, the understanding of rape is that the victim should be alive and able to recognise the rapist. As we all know that is not the case in Gujarat. In most cases of rape, the victims have been killed, burnt or mutilated and all the evidence destroyed. It is clear we will have to think beyond the ambit of IPC. Hence, Indira spoke of how at Lawyer‘s Collective they decided not to take up individual cases or file PIL. Besides the question of whether NGOs can provide protection to survivors, they believe that PlL has no impact anymore, and the judge has a lot of discretion in his/her hands. While this could have been tried, she said that in the Gujarat situation the stakes are too high, and therefore it is most unwise to ‘experiment'. Instead Lawyer’s Collective decided to send teams to Ahmedabad to look into the patterns of violence, and then focus on sexual violence.
She recounted the debate on the credibility of KG Shah during the setting up of the KG Shah Commission, and the subsequent debate on the inclusion of Nanavati into the Commission. She also spoke of how there is a concern that since both members hold equal powers, it is unclear what will happen if there is a disagreement between them. Despite the knowledge that Nanavati was also communal, they decided to participate in the KG Shah Commission. In terms of strategy, they decided to prove before the Commission that the popular perception of the Godiva massacre is not consistent with the facts. They felt an urgent need to break the link between Godhra and Post-Godhra events and there is a lot of evidence to do that.
Then Indira spoke of international developments in the recent past. Of how rape is no longer considered sexual violence only but also accepted as a crime against humanity as per international human rights laws. She then illustrated the case of the tribunal on war crimes in Rwanda, where rapists have been considered as having indulged in acts of genocide. Genocide has to do with intent - to prevent women from procreating, to wipe out a community. International Criminal Court Statute says that rape and other forms of sexual violence constitute not just sexual assault but also it is cruel, inhuman, torture and genocide.
While the women's movement has been trying to visibilise the issue of sexual violence in Gujarat, we need to figure out how to use the international laws and conventions. The concept of fair trial also has to be strengthened and the procedures redefined. We need to pressurise the government to sign the Convention on Torture and the International Criminal Court Statute. The Lawyers’ Collective has been trying to work on a strategy, but there are constraints due to the complexities of the situation.
Carrying forward the subject of international tribunals, Seema Kazi (independent researcher associated with Women in Black & Women Living Under Islamic law) spoke of the parallels between the Bosnian experience and Gujarat, where so much evidence of coexistence has been destroyed. She spoke of how rape as a war crime has become politicised. In the Gujarat context, Seema said we need to be alert to how the genocide and carnage are being pushed under the carpet. After all, the same Justice Verma who has submitted such a powerful report to the government on the Gujarat genocide, spoke up in defense of the government by asking the (then) UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Mary Robinson not to intervene in an issue like Gujarat.
At the same time, she said she draws hope from the fact that women have organised themselves internationally to confront such problems. Women have been able to bring the issues into the public arena but there are more challenges. Most often, women have not been able to move beyond bringing out investigative reports. As for getting justice, in accordance with either national or international laws, it is still very difficult. Even though Women in Black have been very active in Bosnia, and gained international recognition, their work is often trivialised and not accorded enough seriousness. Seema also spoke of the Comfort Women, victims of sexual crimes by the Japanese state who have finally, fifty years later, been able to force the Japanese government to recognise the violence meted out to them through trials in Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Philippines and Malaysia. The government acknowledged its role in these war crimes and has given compensation. This is one of the few instances when there has been some ‘success’ in bringing crimes against women into the public arena. Yet, much remains to be done.
The afternoon session started with another Saheli presentation by Sadhna on the challenges that confront the women‘s movement in the face of rising right wing fundamentalism. Taking on from the discussion of the morning session, Sadhna raised the issue that in the present circumstances it has become difficult to raise issues of plurality and secularism. Just like the way the caste identities cannot be changed we have started feeling that we are born into a religion and that is ear major identity, despite the fact that India was declared a secular country.
The women's movement started with a monolithic concept of sisterhood and when Saheli started in 1980, our initial years of work on communalism and UCC were also based on the understanding that patriarchy in all communities works in conjunction with religious and conservative forces to oppress women. Hence we emphasised the need to oppose them both at the social and legal levels. But the Shah Bano case was the first major challenge to these notions. While it was a major rallying point for women groups all over India, on the issue of women‘s rights as determined by religious personal laws, it also brought out other dimensions of the controversy which have had long term repercussions. Religious and political forces raised the issue of religious identity to the detriment of the rights of women in marriage and family. To lend legitimacy to the argument, the Constitutional right to religious freedom was used to prevent any change in personal laws with a view to reform them. What this meant was that the whole argument pushed the issue right back into the private domain - reversing feminist efforts to make the personal, political.
Such use of the minority-majority argument by religious forces and the eventual appropriation by the BJP of the demand for a Uniform Civil Code exerted pressures on the movement that resulted in a retraction from its earlier unequivocal demand for a common code. Three major positions emerged:
[a] that we need an Egalitarian Civil Code (the vocabulary of a Uniform Civil Code was dropped as it emphasised uniformity rather than the notion of equal rights for women)
[b] that we need to strategically struggle for reform from within the community
[c] that there should be an optional code women can choose as an alternative. The late 1980's were years of heightened debate on all these positions.
At Saheli we felt a need to go beyond the minority/majority debate and assert women's rights. In fact in one of our newsletters of that period we had expressed our anxiety that if religious or community identity is to be expressed by denying rights to women, then it might so happen that the Rajput community may revive Sati in the name of religious/community identity. And it was not long before Roop Kanwar was made to immolate herself on her husband's funeral pyre. It was becoming clear that unless we challenged the relationship between patriarchy, religion and its impact on women's position in family, our strength to fight for women's rights in the family would be undermined.
On the other hand, the women's movement was also becoming a strong anti-communal force with the understanding that communal situations tend to increase the control of community over women, which is clearly patriarchal control. At the level of ideological debates and direct action, an intense struggle went on and newer strategies were continuously evolved. But in all this understanding and analysis, we primarily viewed women as ‘victims’.
All this did not help in containing the rise of right wing forces in the country. The demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 forced us to take a stand not only against communalism but specifically against rising Hindu fundamentalism. Of major concern to us was the active participation of women in the anti-Muslim propaganda in their capacity as members of the Sangh Parivar who were now also being ‘organised’ and given systematic training in ideology and physical militancy. We suddenly had to face the fact that women, who we had all along viewed as only victims of communalism could also be participants.
Among secular forces, this phenomenon has generally been understood as just a creation of false consciousness. Can we reduce the acts of women and people involved in communal violence as mere false consciousness? Can this succeed if there is no minimum concordance between those who are mobilising and those who are being mobilised? The tremendous success of right wing forces may to a certain extent explain that there is some congruence between the two, but then it does not explain how it came about. How was such loyalty to Hindutva garnered? What is the material basis of this success? These are questions we must address if we are to confront right wing mobilisation.
In addition to such religious mobilisation for political ends, there are many worrisome indicators at the social level. There is a widespread resurgence of religious faith and rituals, that is reaffirmed by TV channeis like Sanskar and Aastha and religious and mythological serials like Ramayana, Mahabharat, Ma Shakti, etc. At the same time, even serials and advertisements promote conservative family and matrimonial values that are predominantly ‘upper caste, upper class Hindu'. Gone are the days when either advertisements or serials represented India as a plural society with various religious and regional communities. Now all we see are monolithic Hindu images. The social sanction to the Hindutva upsurge and violence in Gujarat is extremely worrisome. This is clearly reflected in the echoing silence on the carnage from various sections of society, the near absence of monetary or other contributions from people for the survivors, and the dearth of volunteers for relief and rehabilitation work.
We often draw strength from the fact that the BJP has never been able to get a large margin of Hindu votes in any part of the country. Yet we are confounded by the silence of the large Hindu majority on such conjunctions of religious mobilisation and politics. How do we deal with such contradictions? We also have to face the fact that the secular movement in the country has not been very strong. The loss of militancy has been not only in the women's movement but in the left secular movement as well. Also this secular movement has more or less been irreligious. In a situation where there are such strong reaffirmations of religious faith, how do we reach out to people? Lastly, when religious fundamentalism wields power we need to see how it impinges on the lives of people at large, especially women and minorities. Public life comes in direct surveillance of those in power or those who are close to the ruling class.
This was followed by a talk on ”Muslim Women’s Identity in the Present Context” by Farida Khan, Centre for information and Education, Delhi University. Farida spoke about the issue of Muslim women‘s identity in general and shared her personal experiences. Despite having grown up in a traditional family in Kashmir, she was not very religious and had never identified herself as a “Muslim woman', always thinking of herself instead as an Indian woman. But after the genocide in Gujarat things have suddenly changed. Now, there is a sudden realisation about how much she and women like her are surrounded by the [so- called] ‘Hindu' culture. Also after the Gujarat carnage, all of a sudden she is expected to speak about being Muslim and why should she do this, she rightfully questioned.
In a situation where even middle and upper class people are being evicted from rented houses in Delhi, and are now facing immense difficulties in renting a new place, she said that many Muslims are now being pushed into feeling that they need to “stick together' within the community. And even she is now feeling the pressure.
She said that she is tired of the fact the even though Muslims have been living in this country for centuries, every time there is a communal riot or some such incident, they are expected to prove their credentials. She raised a very pertinent question as to why the onus is always on Muslims to go out and prove how “nice” they are and tell people what Islam is all about. Muslims have been as much a part of this country for so many years now, and if the Hindus still feel the need they need to ‘know’ about Muslims shouldn't they be making any effort, instead of only the Muslim community having to prove themselves time and again?
As an activist on democratic rights for many years, she aired her disillusionment with the movement and spoke of how we need to think afresh if we have to make any impact whatsoever, In fact she said that the complicity of the state in the genocide in Gujarat, raised more questions and new challenges in terms of how we are going to combat the unconditional approval that the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi has received from the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, and the consequent legitimisation of the horrors that occurred over almost four months in Gujarat.
This was followed by a presentation on ‘The Rise of Religious Fundamentalism: Impact on Women ' by Roop Rekha Vanna of Lucknow University. She started by breaking one of the myths spread by the right wing forces about Islam and said that their lack of knowledge was not just limited to Islam, but also extends to their ignorance of Hinduism. She said that while they call us pseudo-secularist, we should in fact be calling them pseudo-religious, pseudo-nationalists. She gave examples of the current TV serials to corroborate the point. She said that there has been a paradox in our culture. On one hand, the religion propagated by the right wing forces is devoid of spirituality and yet on the other hand they are seen as repositories of religion. And this is the paradox that is being reasserted today.
After Indian independence, there was hope of moving towards an egalitarian society. But the forces wanting to maintain the status quo worked against the achievement of that goal. This started becoming clearer at the time of adoption of the New Economic Policy [NEP] by the government. When the market forces started entering the domestic domain, the status quoist lobby while welcoming the advantages of globalisation started worrying about the openness promoted by each policies, and specifically in the context of women they thought that it could lead to the breaking of the old established structures. They could accept the breaking of some old practices but to a certain extent only. They were definitely not prepared to see the shattering of their established patriarchal structure.
These forces, thus conceded certain illusionary liberties for women, e.g. Beauty Contests, etc. This, however, has created a complex situation whereby women live in the mistaken notion of freedom whereas the real questions pertaining to women's liberation have been completely ignored.
In such circumstances, we need to analyse and understand the alliance and the internal contradictions between Hindutva and market forces. The state has changed its strategies to suit the politics of these forces and played an important role which needs to be examined. Also, there is an urgent need to understand the politics of private and public spaces... of identity politics and their divisiveness. She also drew numerous examples from mythology and religion to illustrate how images of women's strength, of 'woman as shakti' has always been counterpointed by 'woman as devi, sita, .sati... wife, mother, faithful'.... Where she must step out and serve the purposes of the community, religion and patriarchal order when the need so arises and equally willingly retreat into the household when that moment has passed. And so it is that Maharani Gayatri Devi will rub shoulders with the kar sevaks as they march ahead to demolish the Babri Masjid, but at all other times she stays within the limits of propriety and tradition. Thus, Roop Rekha also challenged the romantic feminist notion of war as being naturally male and women as ‘naturally' peace lovers, as being overly simplistic.
Equally, she said that the Gujarat genocide was also not completely unforeseen. Its roots go back to the 1980s when perhaps we were living in a state of dream that the general public was not communal and least of all women – this despite the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. But this encouraged the right wing forces to continue with their communal agenda. In the end, she said that in the game of identity politics, we need to recognize that the largest minority is probably that of secularists like us and that we are always confronted with questions like, where were you people when the Kashmiri Hindus were being killed and forced to migrate, etc? But instead of being pushed to the defensive, our question to them is we are speaking on issues we think are important, but why are you always silent?
This was followed by a presentation on Combating Right- Wing Mobilisation - Experiences from Rajasthan by Kavita Srivastava, PUCL. Addressing the question of ‘what they are doing in Rajasthan against this ideology', she said there was a lot she wanted to share. She started by talking about how the history of Rajasthan was quite different, with no role in the struggle for independence, a society deeply divided by caste, etc. She spoke of how increasing communal mobilisation has changed the state. Till 1980 there were only two or three communally sensitive areas but now the whole state is reeling under it. When the violence erupted in Gujarat following the Godhra incident, there were apprehensions that the pattern would be repeated in Rajasthan. Then on the day of the Shiladaan in Ayodhya, there was a great fear of riots and tension in Rajasthan, especially because many karsevaks were from Rajasthan as well as Gujarat and Maharashtra, as do most of the shilas and a large chunk of the money. On the occasion of Moharram, the Tazia processions were not allowed whereas the VHP continues to hold its programmes in the State. In fact, the BJP through various educational, social and cultural organisations is systematically hinduising a wide spectrum of communities, particularly backward castes and classes. It is also co-opting communities with a tradition of resistance.
She identified that the real crisis was of drought and resultant poverty, unemployment and hunger, and said that it is crucial we respond to it. In terms of strategy, Kavita spoke of how they have a broad network of women's groups, democratic rights groups and workers' groups. On the other hand, the network also includes “liberal formations” of religious groups which are open to debate and discussion. While such a network did have its own internal contradictions, it also empowered them to keep a watch and control the activities of communal groups. She felt it is crucial that groups from all over strengthen this network by coming to Rajasthan. After all, this is the state whose former minister and now, Vice President of the country has said that 'what happened in Gujarat, will certainly be repeated in Rajasthan'.
Ashe of MahiIa Jan Adhikar Samiti, Ajmer shared several accounts of how violence against women is on the increase in Rajasthan. She also said that as the process of hinduisation is gaining ground in Rajasthan, it is becoming increasingly difficult to raise a voice against it. She voiced her concern over the divisions between Muslim and Hindu women which has greatly widened over time, and things have become worse over the years.
This was followed by a presentation by Rajni Tilak, CADAM (Centre for Alternative Dalit Media) on the theme of “Dalit Women's Movement : Can It Pose a Challenge?". She started by saying that post Godhra events were a one sided war by communal forces, and what we need is a long term strategy to deal with this.
As for the question of- whether the dalit women's movement can pose a challenge to communalisation, we have to understand that the dalit movement is not a monolith. So, while on one hand, you have an active resistance to upper castes and classes there are certain parts of the community which seek to be recognised as part of the mainstream Hindu society as they have suffered long because of their caste status. This is further compounded by the poverty and lack of economic opportunities available, or rather, not available to them. Not surprisingly, the BJP has had some success in mobilising dalits and tribals because that is important for them and they have started a process of Hinduisation of these communities.
As for the dalit women‘s movement, she highlighted that it also bore some of the contradictions of the dalit movement, and even more importantly, woman within the dalit movement were yet to be accorded real positions of power. But she said she believed that dalit women can pose a challenge to increasing right wing mobilisation, but they need to prepare themselves. At the same time, other sections of society also have to get together and put up a challenge. At the end, she reasserted the need for broader and more consistent networking. She pointed out that despite the fact that we get together in moments of crises we are not able to sustain our work together, and that is our major weakness.
Uma Chakravarti who chaired the second session of the meeting, opened the discussion by speaking of the widespread sense of insecurity among minority communities, and highlighted the role of the state in the events in Gujarat. She pointed out that ironically, the failure of government institutions and the constitutional machinery did not find mention in most of the presentations, but that we need to confront it head on, even as we seek to explore international solutions. While focussing on women‘s issues, we need to strengthen our linkages on issues of poventy, caste-oppression, etc. Today, political repression is increasing but not as visible and obvious in its manifestation as it was during the Emergency. Hence the challenges of starting and sustaining a movement against it are that much more complex.
Issues that emerged in the discussion
1. On combating rising communalism-
Concerns were raised about how while we all knew that saffronisation was on the increase, we failed to recognise its seriousness or foresee the impact it could have. It was said that we thought that the hinduisation had reached its peak with the demolition of the Babri Masjid, but we were proven wrong.
Today, we need to explore the relationship between communalisation, potitics and culture more deeply. A need was also expressed to look at all kinds of fundamentalism - Muslim, Christian and Hindu. It was pointed out that the crisis is linked to democracy‘s survival. We need to distinguish between spiritual aspects of religion and identity politics. To expose how these politicians are pseudo religious or nationalists. Another point of view was that the question of religion and community identity often gets blurred with issues of nationalism, even among those of us who work on such issues. We need to face up to such contradictions. Many felt that we need to see and make linkages between rising communalism and other issues of survival like food, hunger and unemployment.
2. On strategies:
Several aspects of work and strategies were discussed.
Continuing work in Gujarat: The meeting applauded individuals and groups who have relentlessly been working in Gujarat in the face of terror, harassment and the ugliness of genocide. At the same time, groups from the state reasserted the need for greater presence of activists and volunteers in many aspects of the work - from continued relief and counselling to documentation, discussions and public awareness. Some really difficult challenges were the question of addressing people, particularly women from the majority community. Of looking at the increase of violence within all kinds of homes. Of suicides by survivor families, etc. Many students were eager to know what they could do, either by going to Gujarat, or wherever they live, study, interact with people. Many of them were informed about Aman Ekta Manch and its various activities.
Outreach: A common concern was to seek new ways of reaching out to people, both within and outside
Gujarat. Even those from places like Bengal who thought they were more from such communalisation shared that after Gujarat when they took to the streets, they found that if you scratch a little and you see a Hindu fundamentalist underneath. We should network and carry out a campaign at national level. We also need to take the truth of the carnage to the people and expose how international fundamentalists are hand in glove with the Hindu fundamentalism. We also need to question the mentality that allows culprits of such crimes to go scot-free.
Many felt that we all need to work in our own cities and localities to prevent any more Gujarats. Initiative should be taken by organisations to mobilise students and also spread awareness. Just as the Women's Development Cell, Miranda House offered to co-host the present meeting, many felt that Gujarat can be made a theme by all the woes of various colleges in Delhi to hold workshops, discussions, public events, etc. That may help us counter the systematic right wing campaign. We also need to find simpler ways of articulating the understanding on the issue of Women and Communalism which has come out of women's studies since 1992. Some felt that the failure to really reach out to a vast majority of women has been the major failure of women's movement. Also, given that the secular movement is largely non-religious, some felt that we need help in developing a vocabulary with which we can start a dialogue with a largely religious populace. Repeatedly the idea was mooted that those from Gujarat should reach out with their experiences to people from other parts of the country, and at the same time, groups and activists from outside should go and help groups in Gujarat hold talks and discussions. The public meeting organised In Tilonia was cited as a powerful example of such interaction.
Networks and alliances: Everyone felt the urgency to build a strong network to combat right-Wing forces. There was talk about the importance of sharing information. Of linking our struggle with others who suffer in the face of rising communalisation. In terms of alliances, a need was expressed to look at how, although the women's movement has worked so much with the organised Left, they still need to be mobilised on how communalism adversely impacts women. The point also needs to be raised among mass movements. Unless we do so, women will remain divided by religion, and yet share the same oppression within family and the community.
National Conference of Women's Movements: There was widespread agreement on the suggestion that we should re-initiate the process for the National Conference, with Gujarat as the Central theme. Since everyone felt that Gujarat should be the venue of such a conference, sahara from Baroda has agreed to call for a preparatory meeting.
Using UN mechanisms: While the limitations of approaching the UN and seeking their interventions were clear, many groups felt that given the extent to which events In Gujarat are being whitewashed, this is one more strategy to keep alive the issue, at least at the International level. Information was shared that attempts are being made try to pressurise the UN Special Rapporteur on Women to intervene, and many cases/accounts have been sent to her in the prescribed UN format.
International Initiative for Justice: Also discussed was an Initiative being taken up by Forum Against
Oppression of Women, Awaaz-e-Niswaan and Majlis, Mumbai to hold an international tribunal on sexual violence during the Gujarat genocide. While some people felt that such tribunals cannot get convictions, others felt it is a strategy to keep up our resistance against the right wing. After all, the right wing does not want the issue of Gujarat to be internationalised. And such a tribunal can be seen as another form of justice, a way to spread awareness and part of a strong campaign throughout the country. Yet others felt that we cannot take such tribunals lightly, we are going to have to foresee and confront the problems of retraction of statements, the pressures on women to stay silent, etc. also, we cannot see this as an option to using the legal system as it exists today.
Elections: A major concern was that of the elections that will, sooner or later be held in Gujarat. There was a clear agreement that this is not the right time or circumstance for holding elections, yet that may not be in our control. For a start, groups need to send letters and petitions to the Election Commissioner pressurising him to postpone them. At the same time we need to prepare to raise a people's agenda in the election campaign. To question what kind of governance we want and not who to vote for. We have lost lot of ground and we could regain some of it through this. Along with support in terms of people, it was felt that groups In Delhi need to help evolve posters and pamphlets raising all these issues. These Gujarat elections are going to be crucial. We should use all our strength to see that fundamentalists should not come to power.
At the end of the meeting, many of us felt that we had covered much ground; but so much more needs to be done: In terms of deliberations, in terms of strategies and in terms of actions on the ground.