UK Dalit organisations write to PM Modi about his silence and inaction over the role of senior BJP leaders in the Dalit massacres in Bihar

UK Dalit organisations write to PM Modi about his silence and inaction over the role of senior BJP leaders in the Dalit massacres in Bihar

In the run up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UK, four of UK’s foremost Dalit organisations have written to Narendra Modi, expressing their dismay about the recent revelations by investigative news portal Cobrapost. Their letter notes that senior BJP politicians were involved in the massacres of some 144 Dalit men, women and children in Bihar and that Mr Modi has so far neither spoken out against  the self-confessed killers and their accomplices nor taken any action against them.

Spokespersons from the organisations urge Mr Modi to act because his lack of action on this issue gives the shocking  message that Dalit and oppressed caste lives do not matter in India’ . They urge him to act urgently to ensure that the self-confessed killers are brought to justice and that all the politicians, including senior BJP politicians, are dismissed from their posts, arrested and charged.

The letter in full is as follows:

bathani-logoTo the Prime Minister of India,

Panchavati, 7 Race Course Road, New Delhi

19 August 2015

Dear Shri Narendra Modi,

We are deeply shocked by the recent horrifying revelations about the massacres of Dalit and other oppressed-caste people in Bihar and are writing to you to express our dismay that  you have so far neither spoken out against  the killers and their accomplices nor taken any action against them.

The revelations caught on camera by the news portal Cobrapost’s are briefly as follows:

  • The Ranveer Sena, the upper caste landlord army in Bihar, perpetrated a number of major massacres of Dalits and oppressed caste people including at Bathani Tola, Laxmanpur Bathe, Shankarbigha, Miyanpur and Ekwari, between 1994 and 2000, brutally murdering some 144 men, women and children simply for demanding basic rights and dignity and for supporting the Communist Party of India(Marxist- Leninist) .
  • Ranveer Sena commanders (formerly acquitted by the Patna High Court)  boasted in recorded interviews not only that they committed these massacres but that they were backed  by top BJP leaders who were their political patrons and funders. They also confessed that  powerful politicians helped them get arms and military training from serving and retired Indian Army men and that they had the support of former Prime Minister (the late Chandrashekhar), and top BJP leaders including former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, former Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, former Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar, Sushil Kumar Modi and Vice President of the BJP, CP Thakur.
  • The Ranveer Sena commanders also said on camera that Brahmeshwar Mukhiya masterminded all the massacres of poor Dalit women and children. Yet, as you know, the BJP’s Giriraj Singh has shamelessly described Brahmeshwar as Bihar’s Gandhi.

The Amir Das Commission, which was set up in 1997, after the Laxmanpur Bathe killings,  to investigate these massacres was disbanded in 2005 by Nitish Kumar of the JDU, then in alliance with the BJP, in order to appease and shield his erstwhile BJP allies.

As you may know the Patna High Court acquitted all the perpetrators claiming there was ‘no evidence’, and that eyewitnesses were lying. The statements of the acquitted men to Cobrapost prove that the eyewitnesses told the truth.

Can such horrific violence be tolerated in a democratic country? Unfortunately your lack of action on this issue gives the shocking  message that Dalit and oppressed caste lives do not matter in India. We urge you therefore to act urgently to ensure:

  • that the Ranveer Sena commanders who continue to walk free and boast about the murders they have committed are arrested and charged
  • that all the politicians including senior BJP politicians who are named in the Amir Das Commission report are dismissed from their posts, arrested and charged
  • that the Army and ex-Army personnel who trained and armed the banned Ranveer Sena terrorists are also brought to justice.

yours sincerely,

Meena Varma   (Dalit Solidarity Network)

Arun Kumar (Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisation, UK)

Davinder Prasad   (CasteWatchUK)

Ramesh Klair (Sri Guru Ravidass Global Organisation for Human Rights)

Ravi Kumar (Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance)

Amrit Wilson (South Asia Solidarity Group)

bathani-poster-12x18-sale-poster-hindi

More on the Cobrapost revelations:

http://thewire.in/2015/08/17/confessions-from-bihars-killing-fields-set-to-singe-bjp-and-nitish-too-8661/

http://kafila.org/2015/08/23/public-secrets-now-proven-ranveer-sena-terrorists-caught-on-camera-by-cobrapost-kavita-krishnan/

http://www.catchnews.com/national-news/cobrapost-s-expose-eminent-politicos-were-involved-in-dalit-massacres-1439805167.html

Foil Vedanta protest at Vedanta AGM, London, 2015

Vedanta’s friend and mass murderer Narendra Modi visiting the UK in November : Join the Protests!

What Modi’s Hindu fascist regime has done for Vedanta:

Mining and Corporate land-grab

The law is being changed* to allow even easier land acquisition by corporates like Vedanta without the consent of those who live on it or are its owners, or any consideration of environmental destruction. Communities like the Dongria and Kutia Konds which resist are being terrorised not only by the police and paramilitaries but by state- and corporate- sponsored militias, like the recently revived Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh.

Abolishing workers’ rights

Vedanta which was responsible for the deaths of more than a hundred workers in one of India’s worst construction accidents will be able to get away with even more abuses of workers. In order to attract yet more corporates to ‘Make in India’, a labour law reform will make contract work and instant hiring and firing legal and the norm for a host of different occupations, while many basic labour rights including the right to form a trade union will be erased.

Silencing dissent

Those who have dared to criticise Modi or his government’s pro-corporate policies have been accused of being ‘anti-national’. The state has sought to silence them through censorship, threats, false cases and imprisonment. High profile cases include Priya Pillai of Greenpeace India who was prevented from travelling to Britain to address MPs about the destruction of forests by coal mining by London based Essar Energy and Teesta Setalvad who has consistently campaigned to bring Modi to justice for his role in the Gujarat massacres of 2002(see below)

Who is Narendra Modi?

Narendra Modi is a lifelong cadre of the RSS, a Hindu supremacist paramilitary organisation founded in the 1920s, in opposition to Indian independence. Its revered leader M.S. Golwalkar notoriously viewed Hitler’s treatment of the Jews as a model of ‘race pride’ which India should emulate in its treatment of minority groups. The RSS is the core of a family of organisations which includes the ruling BJP.

Narendra Modi, as Chief Minister of Gujarat, presided over the state-sponsored massacres of Muslims in which some 2,000 people were murdered and 200,000 displaced in February 2002. Court cases implicating Modi are still being heard, including one filed by Zakia Jafri, whose husband Ahsan Jafri, a former MP, was brutally murdered in the violence. The family of two British citizens, Saeed and Sakil Dawood, murdered in Gujarat while on holiday, are also pursuing a civil case against Modi. Judgments in both these court cases are expected in the next few months. The Hindu supremacist groups declared Gujarat ‘the Laboratory of the Hindu State’ and repeated this ‘experiment’ in Odisha, in 2007, in an anti-Christian pogrom, and again against Muslims in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh during Modi’s election campaign.

JOIN THE PROTEST AGAINST MASS MURDERER NARENDRA MODI!

UPDATES AT @SAsiaSolidarity; FB: Stop Mass Murderer Narendra Modi UK; www.southasiasolidarity.org

*Since this was written, Modi has been forced to back down from amending the Land Acquisition Act in the face of massive opposition

‘Candles in the Wind’ Film Screening and Q & A with Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl

South Asia Solidarity Group and Decolonising our Minds society  invite you to the

Film screening of the award-winning

Candle in the Wind

Karamjeet Kaur, Moga, Punjab

 

‘Candles in the Wind’

(India 2014 52 min)

 

Followed by Q& A with the directors

 Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl

 

7.00pm Thursday 28 May

(doors open at 6.30pm)

Room V111, SOAS Vernon Square Campus,

Vernon Square, Penton Rise, WC1X 9EW

(nearest tube: King’s Cross)

Punjab is known globally as the success-story of India’s Green Revolution. Popular cinema from Bollywood keeps this carefully cultivated image alive. This image is a mirage.

Behind the smokescreen of an idyllic Punjab, there is real smoke, from the smouldering pyres of the farmers who are driven to suicide by the debt burden due to high costs of seeds, fertilisers and pesticides set by the almighty corporations in collusion with the State.

With suicides of men spiralling, women are left to bear the burden of their debt, and the responsibilities of taking care of children, ageing parents and the carcinogenic chemically damaged fields.

‘Candles in the Wind’ witnesses the silent determination of these women to survive and struggle against the politics of domination. The film provides a unique insight into the effects of neoliberal globalisation on rural India and the socioeconomic flux which has accompanied it.

Awards: Special Mention, 61st National Film Awards / India; John Abraham National Film Award for Best Documentary / SiGNS Film Festival / Kerala / 2014; Special Mention / IDSFFK / Trivandrum / 2014; Official Selection: Indian Panorama-2014, IFFI-Goa.

Watch the trailer for Candles in the Wind: http://youtu.be/S__AsI0VKSc

Nandan Saxena & Kavita Bahl are independent filmmakers and media trainers.

They received the National Award for Best Investigative Film at the National Film Awards (2011), for the film ‘Cotton for my shroud’. It was screened as ‘Headline Film’ at the World Investigative Film Week at London in 2013.

Almost two decades into filmmaking, they work in the genres of documentary and poetry films. Their oeuvre spans the domains of ecology, livelihoods, development and human rights.

Their most recent film ‘I cannot give you my Forest’ has been awarded the ‘Rajat Kamal’ for the Best Film in Environment, including Agriculture at the National Film Awards (For 2014).

CandleInTheWind

 

‘Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai’ or ‘Muzaffarnagar Eventually’

On the thirteenth anniversary of the Gujarat genocide, with the survivors still waiting for justice, we invite you to the UK
premiere of this powerful film about a horrific new ‘laboratory of Hindu Rashtra’ and how it is being resisted.

‘Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai’ or ‘Muzaffarnagar Eventually’

(Hindi with English subtitles)

Film Screening and discussion

Tuesday 24th February, 7.00pm

Room V211

SOAS Vernon Square Building,

Vernon Square, Penton Rise
London WC1X 9EW

Muzaffarnagar

In September 2013, an anti-Muslim pogrom took place in the Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts of Western Uttar Pradesh in which more than 100 men, women and children  were killed and some 80,000  displaced.  In the past, these two districts had seen relative harmony between Muslims and Hindus. What happened this time? ‘Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai…’ (Muzaffarnagar eventually…) explores this question examining the many facets of the massacre- the question of  women’s ‘honour’, which was used by organisations of the Hindu right, including BJP-RSS, to orchestrate communal violence,  the merging of caste identity politics within the larger Hindutva fold, the breakdown of the once powerful farmers’ union, the Bharatiya Kisan Union, whose survival hinged on the unity of Hindu and Muslim peasants,  the various aspects of Dalit politics in the districts, the dubious role of the Samajwadi Party, the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh and the feeling of complete alienation and marginalisation of the Muslim community. The film looks at how the massacre found its resonance in the 2014 Indian General election campaign. Finally, it tells of the continued and growing resistance in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts against the corporate- communal nexus.

Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai  Nakul Singh Sawhney/2014/135 mins/Hindi with English subtitles

FilmMaker

 

Nakul Singh Sawhney’s earlier films include the award winning With a little help from my friends (2005),  Agauravand Undecided, both in 2006,  Once upon a time in Chheharta  and the acclaimed Izzatnagari Ki Asabhya Betiyaan (2012) on “honour” crimes in Haryana

 

 

Delhi Police Files Charge-sheet Against AIPWA Secretary Kavita Krishnan and AISA, RYA Activists for Anti-Rape Protests Post Dec 16

The Delhi Police has informed activists of AISA, RYA and AIPWA, including AIPWA Secretary Kavita Krishnan, AISA activists Anmol Rattan of DU and Om Prasad of JNU, and RYA activist Aslam Khan that a charge-sheet has been filed against them for their participation in a protest on December 19th 2012 against the December 16th rape, at Sheila Dixit’s house.

 This protest action had been one of the key protests that galvanized more protests all over Delhi and the country. At this protest, the Delhi Police had used water cannons for the first time against the anti-rape protesters. Also, a speech made by AIPWA Secretary Kavita Krishnan at that protest, went viral with thousands of people across the country feeling that it reflected their own sentiments. 57,615 people till date viewed the YouTube video of the speech, that asserted women’s right to be “adventurous”, rejected curbs on women’s freedom in the name of “protection”, and demanded that Governments protect women’s right to “fearless freedom.” The speech had been spontaneously translated into many Indian languages as well as English, and shared. In many ways, that protest, and the speech made at that protest, came to symbolize, for people in India and all over the world, the spirit of the anti-rape protests in Delhi.

Police brutality, high-handedness and harassment against protesters were notorious at the time – even the Justice Verma Committee commented on it.

It is highly unlikely that leading December 2012 anti-rape protesters would have been charge-sheeted by the Delhi Police more than a year later, without a political green-signal from above. The Delhi Police falls under the Union Home Ministry. Why are the charge-sheets being filed against key AISA organisers in DU and JNU, days before DUSU and JNUSU polls where AISA is a major contender?

The BJP, at that time, had attacked the Congress Govt and the Delhi Police for its brutality to anti-rape protesters. Why, now, is the Delhi Police under the BJP Govt filing charge-sheets against the same protesters now?

Clearly, the Modi regime, like the Manmohan regime before it, holds protesters, especially those who speak of women’s freedom, to be criminals.

Just as the anti-rape protesters anticipated way back in December 2012, ‘protection’ for women from ‘love jehad’ and ‘rape’ has quickly come to mean moral policing and restrictions on freedom. Even as this charge-sheet is filed against people agitating for women’s freedom, Sangeet Som, the BJP MLA who incited mobs in Muzaffarnagar, has again called for a ‘mahapanchayat’ – this time against ‘love jehad’. Leaders of such mahapanchayats are the same khaps that kill daughters and their lovers – in the name of ‘honour.’ Now, in the name of the ‘love jehad’ bogey, they will legitimize harassment of inter-community couples, and justify family/community/khap surveillance on adult women. Recently, the Gujarat police issued posters asking parents to maintain surveillance on their daughters’ mobile phones. For such reactionary and patriarchal politics, the very idea of ‘women’s freedom’ and the freedom of young women and men to love each other without fear is dangerous.

 The AISA, AIPWA and RYA demand that the case against all protesters in the anti-rape agitation of 2012-13, including its own activists, be withdrawn immediately.

The charge-sheeted activists declared, “We and thousands of others will continue to protest and demand the right of women, as well as of every one, including men and women from Dalit, Muslim and other marginalized identities, to be free and adventurous, as we did on December 19th. If this Government and the Delhi Police holds that this a crime deserving our arrest, so be it.”

Meena Tiwari, General Secretary, AIPWA

Sucheta De, President, All India Students’ Association, AISA

Ravi Rai, General Secretary, Revolutionary Youth Association, RYA

Free Palestine! End Israeli occupation! End the siege of Gaza!

Free Palestine! End Israeli occupation! End the siege of Gaza!

South Asia Solidarity Group condemns Israel’s genocidal attack on the people of Gaza.

Protesting outside the Israeli Embassy, New Delhi, July 14

Protesting outside the Israeli Embassy, New Delhi, July 14

We mourn the deaths of thousands of men, women and children killed in Gaza – not because they are disproportionate but because ‘proportionate’ does not make sense in a genocide.

We condemn Israel’s colonial policy of collective punishment which has held Gaza under siege – starving the population of essential needs  and then deliberately bombing hospitals,  schools and homes; killing people as they flee from the bombing; flattening vast areas of Gaza and  destroying its power supply and water.   This is a policy which we as South Asians know from our history. In India it was used by the British colonialists after the 1857 uprising –  India’s first war of independence – to wipe out entire populations in village after village. Like the Palestinians they were killed  not because they were convicted of anything, but because they were people of targeted regions. In that period too,  all freedom fighters and all those who resisted or even dissented were constructed as terrorists. Everyone was regarded as a ‘insurgent’.

We condemn the Indian government for its shameful silence and ambiguity over Israel’s genocide and its refusal initially to even discuss the issue in Parliament.  The present Indian government, led by the right-wing BJP, with its ideology of Hindu supremacy,  is betraying India’s own history of anti-colonial struggle.

This history was the reason why India was, for four decades after independence, unequivocally committed to freedom for Palestine. Indian freedom fighters spoke out wholeheartedly in solidarity with Palestine’s struggle.   Gandhi famously declared that “Palestine belongs to the Arabs as England belongs to the English or France to the French.” This is the understanding which  informs all those hundreds of thousands of people who, in the last few weeks, have demonstrated across India against Israel’s genocide..

We condemn the Indian government’s violent response to these peaceful demonstrations which led to hundreds being injured and the death of  fifteen year old Suhail Ahmad in police firing in Kashmir.

Why is it a crime in India today to demonstrate in solidarity with Palestine? Why are  pro-Israel forces  welcomed and pro-Palestine demonstrations  brutally attacked by the police?

We condemn India’s ‘deepening relationship with Israel. Over the last two decades, India’s ruling class has embraced neoliberalism and  grown closer to US imperialism and Indian governments have advocated a ‘pragmatic’ relationship with Israel.  Between 1998 and 2004 when a BJP-led government was in power for the first time, this relationship became even closer with a growing  affinity between Zionism and the BJP’s own ideology of Hindutva, each echoing the others’ murderous Islamophobia, both attempting to rewrite history, both specifically stamptargeting Muslim women and children for the most  inhuman violence and both profoundly misogynistic. The state of Gujarat was described,  during the 2002 pogrom against Muslims as the ‘laboratory of the Hindu nation’. Today Gaza has become a laboratory of Zionism in which illegal weapons, cancer-causing bombs and other  methods of extermination are used with a cruelty which  no words are adequate to describe.

Israel receives weapons from the US and UK but also manufactures and sells its own. India is its biggest customer. It buys a massive  50% of its total weapon sales- a huge contribution to Israel’s economy. Tens of thousands of Indian paramilitary commandos are armed with Israeli Micro-Uzis with which they kill mainly unarmed civilians in India’s central belt, where multinationals are involved in land grabs, or in Kashmir. The Barak-8 naval missile defence system, Mossad surveillance equipment and expertise, and a variety of drones are others in a plethora of  weapons which India is buying and which are proudly on display at India’s Republic Day parade. We condemn these purchases.

We stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine in their struggle for freedom!

 

BADAUN-BHAGANA-NEVER AGAIN! DEMAND JUSTICE FOR THE VICTIMS AND SURVIVORS OF GENDER/CASTE VIOLENCE!

BADAUN-BHAGANA-NEVER AGAIN! DEMAND  JUSTICE FOR THE VICTIMS AND SURVIVORS OF GENDER/CASTE VIOLENCE!

Wednesday 4th June 4.30-6.30pm
Indian High Commission
The Aldwych, London WC2 (nearest tube: Holborn)

JNSU

The appalling gang-rape and lynching of two girls, aged 14 and 15, from an oppressed caste in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh, India on Wednesday 28th May is the latest in a long line of  horrific murders and sexual assaults perpetrated on young Dalit women across India recently. Only two months earlier, four teenage Dalit girls aged 13-18 were raped by ‘higher caste’ landowners in Bhagana in Haryana, and the survivors are still fighting for the arrest of the rapists.

Dalit women and girls are facing an onslaught of gender, caste, and class based violence in which the Indian state collaborates. Less than 1% of rape cases of Dalit women by non-Dalits end in conviction. The level of impunity is so total that the perpetrators feel confident to finish off their vile crimes by murdering the victims and leaving their bodies on display. Are the lives of young Dalit women so expendable?

In the Badaun case, the police refused to investigate when the girls’ families reported them missing and even threatened to kill them if they filed a case, and two policemen have now been charged with conspiring with the higher caste rapists. In Bhagana, the courageous survivors and their families have been forced to travel to Delhi and stage an ongoing protest to demand the arrest of the rapists –after the police refused to register cases against the powerful men named by the girls in their testimonies.

Dalit women have been targeted for sexual violence wherever Dalit communities are challenging oppression and exploitation. In Bhagana, the four girls were raped in ‘revenge’ after Dalits demanded that the upper caste controlled village council hand over the land which had been allocated to them by the government, and protested against eviction and harassment. In Bihar, the Ranvir Sena, a landowners’ army aligned with Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, targeted Dalit and Muslim women for horrific violence when the rural poor organized for land and a living wage.

The recent election victory of Narendra Modi and the BJP has further emboldened upper caste and economically powerful rapists. The Brahmanical-patriarchal ideas of the Hindu right, in which Dalit women’s lives have no value, are being combined with intensified neoliberal economic policies which leave Dalits and other exploited and marginalised people even more vulnerable. While Modi tried to reach out to Dalits in his election campaign, his close ally Baba Ramdev’s offensive remarks about Dalit women as the sexual property of upper castes exposed once again the misogynistic casteism of the Hindu right. In the wake of the Badaun case, Modi has condemned the appalling levels of gender violence in opposition-ruled UP, but the fact that he has given a Ministerial post in his government to Sanjeev Baliyan, one of the main accused in the Muzaffarnagar communal violence in UP last year which involved mass rapes of Muslim women, sends out a very different signal.

The last year and a half has seen a powerful movement against gender violence in India. But the Badaun and Bhagana cases painfully underline once again that the struggle continues, and can only succeed if the lethal connections between gender, caste, class and communal violence are recognized and fought.

Dalit groups and progressive and left women’s groups and students organisations in India are on the streets demanding justice for the victims and survivors of Badaun and Bhagana.  Join the solidarity protest outside the Indian High Commission in London on Wednesday 4th June from 4.30 to 6.30pm.

Organised by:

Freedom Without Fear Platform, a network of Black and minority ethnic women and groups http://freedomwithoutfearplatformuk.blogspot.co.uk

 

Supported by:

Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance

CasteWatch UK

South Asia Solidarity Group

Southall Black Sisters

Sri Guru Ravidass International Organisation for Human Rights

Voice of Dalit International

 

Secularism: Antidote or Alibi?

Secularism: Antidote or Alibi?

by Goldie Osuri

Secularism is often promoted as an antidote to religious fundamentalism. But can this antidote sometimes function as an alibi? A couple of recent opinion pieces in the Indian media have reassured the populace about strength of Indian secularism in the face of the projected win for the Bharatiya Janata Party and its Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.  Shekar Gupta, for example, has attacked a ‘lazy and illiberal left’, for forgetting India’s secular constitution which he suggests should be a model for rest of the world.[1] The idea put forward is that even if an overtly communal party such as the BJP wins, India’s model of secularism will win in the longer term. In this case, an invocation of secularism can function as an alibi, one which perhaps assuages the guilt of middle-class support for a Prime Ministerial candidate well-known for a bloodied past in the state of Gujarat.

To assert a Nehruvian secularism, which entails a principled distance to all religious groups or organizations as Rajeev Bhargava (2010) argues, doesn’t appear tenable any more.  What might be more useful would be to examine some of the ways in which Hindutva groups claim the terrain of both the religious and the secular, and to intervene in this terrain. For example, by suggesting a uniform civil code, Hindutva groups speak the language of secularism in seeking to discriminate against Muslim communities. Or in demanding a ban on religious conversions, Hindutva groups seek to intimidate as well as discriminate against Christian communities. All of these messy issues highlight a need for examining the ways in which the religious and the secular are entangled in inextricable ways.

The implications of arguments for and against secularism need to be thought through carefully. Advocates of a staunchly secular stance (separation of church and state in the US or distance from any one religion in India) would argue that secularism is the only way forward. This is to ensure firstly that political power or governments are not usurped by any one religious group who might be fascist in their attitude or practice toward religious minorities or even unbelievers. The idea is that secularism is compatible with democracy whereas theological states are not.  Secondly, a secularist might argue that religious freedom can only be possible in a secular state. Often this variant of secularist might be arguing against a ‘post’ secularist who diagnoses our time as the time of the end of secularism (separation of church and state). This time is a witness to the resurgence in attention to faith-based vote-banks or the cooptation of political power by organized religious interests and groups. The American theorist William Connolly famously explains ‘Why I’m not a secularist’, and has argued for a radical pluralism in the polity rather than a pretence of the separation of church and state.

In the Indian context, there appear to be two dominant scholarly arguments.  Ashis Nandy has suggested that secularism is a western phenomenon, and it is time to move toward Gandhian non-modern ideas of tolerance. Tolerance can be problematic when the limits to tolerance are decided through majoritarian norms. Rajeev Bhargava, recently cited by The Hindu, has argued that we restore clarity to the concepts of Nehruvian secularism, the best guarantee for the protection of religious freedom for minorities.[2] Restoring academic clarity to a particular variant of secularism, as well-intentioned as this might be, may not work in the messy world of politics and politicians.  Whether or not politicians play dog-whistle politics or speak with forked-tongues, secularism in practice in a given nation-state often works to favor the norms of the dominant group or a majoritarian religio-cultural system in the practices of law or governance.

There is another factor that needs to be taken into account when thinking through the idea of secularism. Secularism emerged as an idea during the time of imperial knowledge production, when Europeans began defining and classifying the notion of world religions.  This process meant that European thinkers legitimated what could be considered a world religion in the first instance.  We are now faced with a situation where conservative transnational faith-based groups operate through the world religions discourse. They compete, as minorities in the West, with Christian groups to establish not only their legitimacy, but their particular political interests.  In the last couple of decades, we have seen this happen with organized Hindutva groups in the West.  So, for example, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has been at the forefront of legitimizing itself as a progressive ‘Hindu’ group which operates through a coalition with other Hindu groups—thus working through a kind of a kinship structure. But the organized links between minority Hindutva groups and the family of Hindutva organizations in India complicate the structure of majority/minority relations, as the minority groups form political lobbies in the West to advance the interests of the Hindutva in the Indian context. In this sense, western forms of secularism can sometimes unwittingly legitimate particular organizations which incite violence in the Indian context.

However, banning or marginalizing all minority faith-based groups brings its own set of problems. If we operate under a notion of secularism as the marginalization of faith to a private sphere as in a dominant western understanding of secularism, we find ourselves amidst struggles to ban veils (as in France) or we witness the demonization of Islam or Muslims as individuals and communities because of a long history of Islamophobia.  Some of this violence stems from an extension of the fear of religion or religious others that is part of the political system of liberalism which advocates secularism. As thinkers and activists concerned with discrimination and violence, we need to understand that advocating an uncritical secularism will not do when the majority/minority axis can work in problematic ways. A critical secularism, one that would acknowledge majoritarian norms, might be a starting point for rethinking academic and activist strategies, which are concerned with social justice issues. In a time where secularism means ‘living with communalism’ as the feminist scholar Nivedita Menon has described it we need to be critical about the liberal language of secularism which may be easily coopted by either majoritarian or minoritarian incitements to violence against religious others.

Goldie Osuri is Assistant Professor at the University of Warwick. She is author of Religious Freedom in India: Sovereignty and (Anti) Conversion (Routledge, 2013).


 

[1] Gupta, Shekar 2013, ‘National Interest: Secularism is Dead’, The Indian Express. April 18, Available at: http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/national-interest-secularism-is-dead/

[2] Subramaniam, Garimella 2013, ‘Development is intrinsic to a secular project’, The Hindu, 14 April, Available at: thehindu.com.

 

Speakers indict Narendra Modi for orchestrating gender violence and serious violations of women’s human rights

PRESS RELEASE 4th March 2014

 Speakers indict Narendra Modi for orchestrating gender violence and serious violations of women’s human rights

A packed meeting at the London School of Economics organised by the LSE Gender Institute in collaboration with the Freedom Without Fear Gulberg Society photosPlatform and South Asia Solidarity Group on 3rd March,  discussed the rise of Hindu fascism and its impact on gender and called for Narendra Modi  to be brought to justice.

Outlining the context of the meeting, Kalpana Wilson of the LSE Gender Institute emphasised that the targeting of minority women for appalling violence is not a side effect but absolutely central to the project of the Hindu right and how it operates. Linked to this, she said  was the intensification of surveillance and control over women, the rise of ‘moral policing’ targeting students and other young people, and the invocation of the “protection” of Hindu women as a justification for violence against religious minorities and Dalits, including rape of women.

She also noted that Hindu right supporters here in Britain have been promoting the completely unfounded myth of ‘love jihad’ in British universities by students and this fits in with the agenda  of the British state and its Islamophobia. While these groups are promoting the image of a so-called ‘Gujarat model’ of development the position of women in Gujarat where  Modi has been Chief Minister since 2001 is abysmal – demonstrated by the sex ratio (2011 census) of 918 women per 1,000 men (below the already scandalous national average of 940), that hints at the magnitude of female infanticide, and the very high gender imbalance in school enrolments compared to all-India levels. Very high rates of domestic violence against women are accompanied by very low conviction rates in the state.

Nishrin with her father, Ahsan Jafri

Nishrin with her father, Ahsan Jafri

Nishrin Jafri Hussain, in a powerful and moving contribution spoke of the unimaginable brutality  perpetrated on the bodies of Muslimwomen in the villages around Ahmedabad. Speaking in London for the first time Nishrin whose father, the MP Ahsan Jafri, was brutally murdered in the 2002 anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat state, and whose family is waging an ongoing legal battle to bring Narendra Modi, who presided over the violence as Chief Minister of Gujarat, to justice showed a series of photographs of those who had been murdered, with many gaps for those of whom no photos exist. She told the meeting  that the numbers of rapes were far more than those reported because these experiences were not only deeply traumatising  and humiliating but that it was a taboo speaking about them.

She said that in the Gulbarg society where she grew up and  the area around it every Muslim house had been burnt down and every family had lost loved ones – deep scars of these losses remain. She told the meeting that her father had been against the ghettoisation of Muslims and committed to living in a mixed Hindu and Muslim area even after the riots of 1969. When his house where nearly 200 people were sheltering was attacked, and was surrounded by armed Hindu mobs, he had called for help to the central government to no avail. When he phoned Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister replied ‘ You are on your own Jafri, save yourself’. Many in the audience had tears in their eyes as Nishrin reaffirmed her family’s commitment to bringing Narendra Modi to justice.

Angana Chatterji an anthropologist and leading human rights specialist, who convened a people’s tribunal in Odisha in 2005 spoke about her work documenting the experiences of sexual violence in Odisha, noting that ideologies of conservative patriarchy had been taken over and intensified by the Hindu Right across India in a series of attacks on women in minority communities Christian, Muslim, Adivasi and Dalit over the years

Meena Kandasamy a Dalit feminist and writer spoke about the way the language and discourse of Hindutva is conveniently utilised by fanatical Hindu upper caste groups like the Pattali Makkal Katchi, in Tamil Nadu or other caste organisations to construct  Dalit men as the “Other”  and create a myth similar to that of ‘love Jihad’ that they deceive Hindu upper caste girls  by “making” them fall in love. The idea that once such a formula of love-jihad is deployed it can serve to function to contain, and threaten, women’s independence.

The meeting was as one student who attended it described it, ‘both deeply disturbing and a call to action’ and the organisers announced that the campaign internationally to bring Modi to justice would continue.