The campaign for the Delhi election will end this evening. But the toxin of hatred being injected into the body politic by top leaders of the BJP may have serious after-effects, long after the elections are done. If any of our neighbouring countries had used the kind of invective against minorities as the ruling party has, in a most concentrated way in the last 10 days, what would have been the reaction? The entire basis of the CAA – to give shelter to persecuted minorities – is revealed as being entirely hypocritical when one watches and listens to the speeches of BJP leaders who have become living examples of what and who a persecutor is.
One of the aspects of concern is how it will affect women, not just in Delhi, but, in the age of instant communication, throughout India. While the toxic campaign targets Muslim women involved in the anti- CAA protests, it also seeks to mobilize Hindu women through the extreme demonization of Muslim men.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his second term by choosing the Bill on Triple Talaq as the first priority. Muslim women had not demanded such a law. They had petitioned the Supreme Court against instant and arbitrary Triple Talaq and won a victory with the court outlawing this cruel practice. After the judgment there was no need for such a law, nor had it been suggested in the Supreme Court judgment. But the Modi government used Muslim women’s fight for justice as a pawn to pass a discriminatory law converting a civil matter into a criminal one.
The campaign then was that the Modi government is the savior of Muslim women and women’s rights. In parliament, ruling party ministers and MPs made a great show of their concern for Muslim women. Amit Shah had said, “This (the law) is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s and my promise to Muslim women to nurture their hopes and aspirations.” The Prime Minister said “this is a step for gender justice.” He also tweeted “this is an occasion to salute the remarkable courage of those Muslim women who have suffered great wrongs just due to the practice of Triple Talaq. The abolition of Triple Talaq will contribute to women’s empowerment and give women the dignity they deserve in our society”.
As we can see today, this government was never concerned about Muslim women and their dignity. Is it to advance their dignity that they are being described as terrorists, as anti-national, as unthinking beings controlled like puppets by their men? Is it to uphold gender justice that the worst kind of abuse is reserved for them? Is it a recognition of their courage that in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, women sitting on dharna are assaulted and arrested by police so brutally that one of them is in a critical condition. Is this Amit Shah’s idea of “nurturing hopes and aspirations”? It is under his leadership that Shaheen Bagh has become the metaphor in the dictionary of communal hate. One may differ with the continuation of the blockade of a public road causing inconvenience to commuters. Several commentators have opined that the continuing blockade has given the BJP a lever. But the truth is that the government and the police deliberately refused to have a negotiated settlement with the protesters, since it suited the BJP’s strategy in Delhi to communalise the campaign to stave off the certain defeat it faced in the polls.
The rulers of India have created an atmosphere of such hate that their followers have actually implemented their slogans. The three terrorist acts of shooting at the protest sites are a direct result of the public exhortation by the Minister of State for Finance, Anurag Thakur, to “shoot the traitors”. Two of the shooters are directly related to the ideology of the Sangh Parivar, which is clear from the numerous reports of their posts on social media platforms. The BJP is making much of the police report that in the third incident, the shooter was a member of AAP. The Election Commission has slammed the police officer who gave a statement with “political connotations” and has removed him from election duty. But in spite of all their efforts, they have been unable to prove that the shooter was anything other than an ordinary member, if that, not an activist and not in any of the AAP committees. Did the police check whether he was earlier a member of the BJP?
Equally horrifying were the speeches and statements of Parvesh Verma, twice banned for his communal speeches by the Election Commission. He virtually labeled the entire community as rapists saying they would break into homes to rape women. Where and how did the issue of rape come up in relation to Shaheen Bagh? It is a peaceful protest of women. They have spent nights in the cold but never has there been a single complaint of sexual harassment. So what was the perverted mindset that made a quantum leap from a women’s protest to the charge that it would lead to rape? What is the impact of such speeches on women and particularly, young women?
Sexual violence against women has seen a huge increase in India. Delhi, in particular, has become one of the most unsafe places for women. It is a deliberate lie and an indirect defence of rapists, to create public opinion that the criminals belong to one specific community or that women are in danger of men belonging to a specific community. Such outrageous statements trivialize the horror faced by victims of rape. They also seek to divide women and their common goal of safety and security. In fact, for women in Delhi, one of the main issues is the increased violence against women and children. But this is not an election issue for those who care two hoots for women’s concerns.
If anyone bought the argument put forward by Delhi BJP president Manoj Tewari – “they [the MPs] got excited because of it (Shaheen Bagh). But we (BJP) don’t support their statements” – they should think again. The Modi government showcased Anurag Thakur during the budget announcement and at the post-Budget press conference held by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, signaling that he had their approval. Similarly, Parvesh Verma, banned from campaigning in Delhi because of his communal speeches, was selected as the opening speaker in the parliamentary debate on the Presidential address. The message is clear enough.
How blinkered are these peddlers of hate.
In fact, India should celebrate one of the most significant social awakening of our times, the unprecedented leadership and participation of Muslim women, of all ages and classes, in struggle. Constitution in hand, secular slogans on their lips, eager for knowledge, creative, determined, committed, they are creating history. Earlier, such mobilizations have been quite different, organised often by fundamentalists in the community as in the aftermath of the Shah Bano case decades ago. In contrast, today it is the women who do not allow any fundamentalist or extremist forces within the community to use their stage and platform. Challenging the BJP’s sectarian steps towards the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra, it is these women-led protests that have played an important role against the government’s plan to push forward its agenda described by Amit Shah as the “chronology” of the CAA, NPR and NRC. Almost all non-BJP governments have declared that they will not allow the NRC (National Register for Citizens), and its first stage, the NPR *(National Population Register).
Just as in Jharkhand where the BJP suffered a humiliating defeat, it is the people of Delhi who will decide. Hopefully, their decision will be an anti-dote to the poison that threatens the health of the nation, particularly the well-being of women.
Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha.
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