India is facing a relentless nightmare of violence against minorities, Dalits and those who dissent from the agenda of the Hindu Right. Gender violence is central to this agenda.
Last year, just before Narendra Modi's victory in India's general election, I had written in an article, Gender violence and Narendra Modi, about what life might be like in the country if he were elected. Now, some eighteen months later, it is clear that my fears were more than justified.
If the run up to the election was horrifying in its violence, today things are infinitely worse. Among the many horrifying incidents, in the last six weeks alone, were three pre-planned lynchings, on the pretext of allegations of the consumption of beef, the burning alive of a 9 month and 2 year old brother and sister simply for being Dalits, and the digging up and subsequent rape of the body of a recently buried Muslim woman.
Narendra Modi has had little to say about these atrocities, but senior members of his cabinet and BJP MPs have responded with chilling contempt - after the burning to death of the Dalit children, for example, External Affairs Minister VK Singh likened their murders to someone throwing a stone at a dog.
It is against this background that Modi is due to visit the UK on 12th November, and his supporters from right-wing Hindu organisations such as the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, HSS - the overseas wing of the openly fascist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), have organised an 'Olympics scale' cultural extravaganza to welcome him, and three British Labour MPs, eager to please their Modi-supporting constituents, are donating their pay rises to bolster the event despite a petition urging them not to.
Meanwhile, however, a growing number of people of Indian origin in the UK are planning what is likely to be a massive protest at Downing Street at 12.00 noon on 12 November - the time and place where Modi is due to meet Prime Minister David Cameron. The demonstration (#ModiNotWelcome #NotInOurName) is organised by a network of groups - the Awaaz Network, in solidarity with the many who are protesting in India: the more than 40 writers from across India who have returned their awards, the trade unionists who staged the largest all-India strike in recent history and the people of Bihar who decisively rejected Modi's politics of hate in a state election on 8 November.
Photo: Awaaz Network
The Awaaz Network includes the Freedom Without Fear Platform which recently organised ' Reclaim Diwali ' - a cultural event celebrating resistance to Hindu supremacy, and whose open letter to Modi has been endorsed by all the UK's major BME women's organisations combatting violence against women, and more than twenty prominent South Asian women academics.
The letter challenges Modi about his connections with the RSS, and reveals not only the extent and nature of gender violence but its central role in the fascist ideology of the RSS.
Full text and signatories of the letter
Dear Prime Minister Modi,
Recently, you, along with top ministers of your cabinet, reported to an unconstitutional authority, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who have called you to account for your actions. As women concerned with combating violence against South Asian, Black and Minority Ethnic women and girls, we find this extremely disturbing because the RSS is a paramilitary organisation modelled on the Italian Fascist and German Nazi parties and is known, along with its allied groups, for its violent misogyny openly displayed in the pronouncements of its leaders. RSS Chief, Mohan Bhagwat, for example, declared in 2013 that rape happens only to westernised women.
Revered RSS ideologue V.D. Savarkar exhorted Hindu men to prove their masculinity by raping non-Hindu women, who are seen as ‘symbols’ of the ‘enemy culture’. The public condemnation of this aspect of Savarkar's ideology by you is, we feel, particularly important, because it was under your watch as Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002, that this 'theory' was put into practice with countless Muslim women raped, mutilated and murdered.
Few of those responsible for the rapes and murders during the pogrom have been brought to justice.
Babu Bajrangi, a leader of the Bajrang Dal, sister
organisation of the RSS, was caught on camera in 2007, boasting of the rapes
and murders he had committed in Gujarat in 2002, and recounting how he attacked
nine month pregnant Kauser Bano. Her
belly was torn open and her foetus wrenched out, held aloft on the tip of a
sword, then dashed to the ground and flung into a fire. Bajrangi has been
charged for these terrible crimes but he is continually out on bail, and like
many others who were involved in the rapes and murders during the 2002 pogrom,
he is effectively free.
Equally worrying is the fact that your own cabinet includes a number of ministers against whom criminal cases, including rape, are pending. The Minister of Agriculture, Sanjeev Baliyan, is one example. We urge you to dismiss these men, and also dismiss your advisor, Amit Shah (an RSS cadre and President of your party the BJP) who directly incited rape during your election campaign in April 2014 calling on Hindus to ‘take revenge’ on 'those who have been ill treating our mothers and sisters' .
After the brutal rape and murder of two young oppressed caste women in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 you did not condemn the culture where such rapes and murders of Dalit and oppressed caste women are commonplace, or do anything to prevent such brutality taking place again. Instead you declared that 'honouring women and protecting them should be the top-most priority of the government' despite the fact that such concepts of 'honour' and 'protection' are routinely used to justify violence against women.
The Hindu far-right groups have created the baseless myth of ‘love jihad’ (Muslim men seducing and converting Hindu women) in the absence of any evidence, and used this to incite violence against Muslims and terrorise and control Hindu young women who choose their own partners outside their community. But you have remained silent. The same organisations are also responsible for vicious 'moral policing' which has led to murderous attacks on couples who cross religious and caste boundaries. Your silence sends them a message of approval.
A number of laws directly contribute to gender violence, for example, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which allows the police and armed forces to perpetrate horrific sexual violence (effectively with impunity) in Kashmir and the North Eastern states of India; the law which permits marital rape; and the homophobic section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises LGBT people. But despite popular campaigns against these laws you have chosen to retain them. What does this say about your attitude to gender violence?
We would also like to point out that the overseas wing of the RSS is currently being investigated by the British Charity Commission for hate speech against Christians and Muslims. Surely these are not organisations by which a Prime Minister of democratic and secular India should be guided, or held accountable.
We urge you Prime Minister Modi to make your
position clear. Do you approve of the hate crimes, patriarchal violence and
misogyny perpetrated by the RSS and its affiliated organisations? If not, we
urge you to openly condemn these organisations.
Zlakha Ahmed, Director, Apna Haq, Rotherham
Ila Patel, Director, Asha Projects, London
Shaminder Ubhi, Director, Ashiana Network, London
Sarbjit Ganger, Director, Asian Women's Resource Centre, London
Mwenya Chimba , Director, Black Association of Women Step Out, Cardiff
Anjona Roy, Director, Dostiyo, Northampton
Camille Kumar, on behalf of Freedom Without Fear Platform, London
Firoza Mohmed, Director, Humraaz, Blackburn
Marai Larasi, Director, Imkaan
Carolina Gottardo, Director, Latin American Women's Rights Services, London
Baljit Banga, Director, Newham Asian Women's Project, London
Priya Chopra, Director, Saheli, Manchester
Pragna Patel, on behalf of Southall Black Sisters
Sanjeevini Dutta, on behalf of Kadam Asian Dance and Music
Dr Shakuntala Banaji London School of Economics
Dr Camilla Bassi, Sheffield Hallam University
Dr Brenna Bhandar, SOAS
Professor Gargi Bhattacharyya, University of East London
Dr Sukhwant Dhaliwal University of Bedfordshire
Dr Meena Dhanda, University of Wolverhampton
Dr Aisha Gill, University of Roehampton
Dr Surinder Guru, University of Birmingham
Dr Marsha Henry, London School of Economics
Dr Rubina Jasani, University of Manchester
Dr Nisha Kapoor, University of York
Dr Sneha Krishnan, University of Oxford
Dr Sumi Madhok, London School of Economics
Dr Sarita Malik, Brunel University
Dr Suryia Nayak, University of Salford
Dr Goldie Osuri, University of Warwick
Dr Navtej Purewal, SOAS
Dr Alpa Shah, London School of Economics
Professor Shirin Rai, University of Warwick,
Dr Anandi Ramamurthy, Sheffield Hallam University
Dr Parvathi Raman, SOAS
Dr Ravi Thiara, University of Warwick
Dr Rashmi Varma, University of Warwick
Dr Kalpana Wilson, London School of Economics
The issues raised in this letter are being discussd at public events ahead of the #ModiNotWelcome - MODI NOT WELCOME IN LONDON : A DAY OF PROTEST - on 12 November.