Nalini Taneja, People's Democracy, January 07, 2007
WOMEN have been special targets of communalist ideology and communalist violence. Most scholars engaged in gender studies and activists of women’s movements have emphasised the role of communalist ideology in strengthening patriarchy and have shown how women have been specially targeted in communal violence. The Gujarat genocide of Muslims in 2002 seemed, in many ways, an unprecedented and culminating stage in this trend: the incidence and scale of rapes pointed towards deliberate barbarism, having mass complicity and approval of a very large section of Gujarat society, and not just an aberration on the part of some depraved, individual men. The acts were committed in full public gaze, often in front of the children of the women concerned. There is no guarantee by the state and no system in place to ensure that it does not happen again. No public regret has been voiced to date in Gujarat or elsewhere despite the data and concrete evidence provided by women’s and other concerned citizens’ groups.
DOMINANT FEELING: FEAR
A very great many of those women and children were burnt alive after these horrendous acts, but a great many continue to live equally horrendous lives: having survived the experience, and yet not having survived it. They live haunted lives, still fearful, and without hope of getting back to normalcy: neither the state nor the larger society in the state has done anything about it. Gujarat 2006 is therefore not much better for them than 2002 was. Most reports on the situation in Gujarat, and testimonies of survivors at various conventions, show that fear is the dominant emotion in the life of Gujarati Muslims, particularly Gujarati Muslim women. An Amnesty International report of 2005 says: “They tread quietly and try to keep a low profile, because even small altercations with members of the majority community can easily become serious… verbal abuse has the danger of becoming physical at any time…There is no provision for security.” The situation is not any different a year later in 2006.
On its part, the UPA government cannot claim that it has done anything to rehabilitate or in any way improve the life for the women and children survivors of 2002 atrocities, while the Modi government does not think they even merit being considered for any special help, rehabilitation or compensation. “For us all are equal,” declares Narendra Modi, as brazen as ever.
The economic boycott of Muslims and destroyed sources of livelihood have placed a double burden on women. Loss of jobs for men has meant that women have even less to eat in the family. Losses of assets in the form of land in villages (most have not been able to return) and shops etc in urban areas have not been compensated for. Fear, with lack of security, has led to women being forced to stay home, girl children remaining withdrawn from schools, and a tremendous rise in the number of women headed households in cases where the men of the concerned families were killed in 2002. Those who have not been able to return home have lost their traditional support system of family and the larger kinship networks. Most are in no position to find suitable work, in terms of skills, or in the given political and social situation in terms of self-confidence. Destitution among women and children is on the increase, and an unusually large number are surviving on charity from the community or from NGOs. They can hardly use their old ration cards, far way as they are from their earlier places of residences. Many have no documentation of identification left with them. The few who have managed to return find it difficult to use the public services such as community taps, wells or electricity. They are forced to give precedence to others.
GREATER BURDEN ON HINDU WOMEN
One can give a thousand and one details of how life is so terrible for them, and we are not even speaking of the impact on health, psyche and life choices. Protectiveness has led to curtailment of their rights, greater exclusion from public life, and conservatism within the community which impacts adversely on women.
The UPA government has not taken the trouble to even tabulate the data, leave alone take any remedial action.
The Hindu women have not gained in all this. The violence against Muslims has contributed to an increase in violence in general, and there are reports of trishuls (tridents) obtained at the arms training camps of the Bajrang dal being used on Hindu women back home. The atmosphere of aggression and communal campaigns has resulted in a general feeling of insecurity, while Hindutva propaganda has placed the heavy burden of tradition on Hindu women, as builders of home and family primarily, and as trainers of future Hindutva activists as nurturers.
The participation of Hindu women in the 2002 killings was particularly noted by women’s organisations. For several years women are being activated along lines of religious affiliation by the Sangh Parivar, and their influence through social and religious community functions and celebrations has made possible extensive organisational networks among women, especially among middle class Hindu women. Population myths like ‘hum paanch, hamare pachees’ has helped mobilise women as well as ensured household chores, defence of tradition and motherhood as primary roles for Hindu women — with the acquiescence of these women themselves.
This has also created strong polarisation along class lines, as tribal, dalit and other poor women cannot afford to subscribe to the values of family and motherhood alone. Communalism is thus a tool for restricting women’s roles as well as making them active agents for the values the RSS stands for. Everyday social existence, as determined by the Sangh Parivar, has increased the distance among women of different communities, with no scope for meeting one another and questioning their own prejudices, or those being deliberately inculcated among them by the Sangh propaganda machinery. The inculcation of Hinduised religious rituals among tribals has meant greater subjugation of women in many cases, although this is not to suggest that women enjoy equality with men in tribal society.
Globalisation and its impact too has contributed to the increased social distance between different sections of women and created differing perceptions of what is good for the society and for the nation.
CHILDREN LOSING CHILDHOOD
In such an atmosphere one can hardly expect children to grow up as children should. Muslim children are actually losing out on childhood, and all children are losing out on a composite, expansive, democratic vision of the world and society they live in. Muslim children who lost admissions during riots have by and large not been able to return to schools, and destitution makes the return almost impossible for a great many of them. Again, the UPA government has not bothered to obtain data on this, and the situation is worse than what most of the people imagine. The school curricula, particularly social science textbooks, are contributing to distortion of the psyche of children of all communities, and the general dominance of the Hindutva discourse in society and Hindutva propaganda on the streets in Gujarat holds greater dangers for the country than what most people realise.
Gujarat needs more than mere compensation and rehabilitation for victims of 2002. But, sadly, even this minimum is not forthcoming: we cannot expect Narendra Modi to provide justice if the UPA government is not even demanding it. There is a need to hold the UPA accountable for Gujarat 2006, just as Modi is accountable for Gujarat 2002.