If Modi is elected, the many struggles rocking India – including violence against women and state repression – look likely to intensify
India’s general election begins next week, and Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the rightwing Bharatiya Janata party, is said to have a good chance of winning. If this happens, Modi’s political party and other member organisations of the Sangh Parivar family of Hindu right organisations, will consolidate their powerful grip on India’s institutions.
Gender violence and women’s rights continue to be highlighted in India by the massive anti-rape movement which arose in the wake of the horrific gang rape and murder of a student in Delhi in December 2012. How will this movement and its key demand of “freedom without fear” for women be affected if Modi becomes prime minister?
The Sangh Parivar approach to women’s rights and gender violence is clearly illustrated by women’s status in Gujarat, the state where Modi has been chief minister for 13 years and which he projects as a model of development. According to 2011 census figures, Gujarat has 918 women for every 1,000 men, below the national average of 940, hinting at a high level of female infanticide. School enrolment of girls is lower and malnutrition among children higher than nationwide. As for violence against women, the state conviction rate for rape and abduction of women are among the lowest in India.
However, it is the fascistic violence of the Sangh Parivar that, more than anything, indelibly marks women’s lives in Gujarat. During the 2002 pogrom against Muslims, women and children were specifically targeted. Countless women and girls were raped; nearly 2,000 men, women and children were massacred, and 200,000 displaced. The attacks, as the British high commissioner noted in a leaked report, were “planned, possibly months in advance … with the support of the state government … reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims is impossible while the chief minister [Modi] remains in power”.
Nishrin Jafri Hussein, whose father, the former MP Ahsan Jafri, was brutally murdered in the violence in 2002, described her visit to the villages around Gujarat’s capital, Ahmedabad, three months after the violence took place. People took her, she said, to the “narrow lanes, small houses, places where the TV and NGOs were not allowed” and she met the survivors, women and young girls. “They had been raped, tortured, their parents killed, their children killed before their eyes. … It was the same lane after lane, house after house.” Nishrin’s mother Zakia Jafri has filed a petition against Modi accusing him of complicity in the attacks. Modi denies his involvement and has been cleared in several legal inquiries.
Since 2002 the Hindu right’s gangs have repeated this brutal violence: first, in the eastern state of Orissa in 2007 against the Christian minority, whose families – like those in Gujarat – are yet to be rehabilitated; and last year in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, against Muslims in the run-up to Modi’s election campaign. In village after village in Muzaffarnagar, women tell of incidents of rape and torture strikingly similar to those in Gujarat in 2002.
Whether in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh or elsewhere in India, the violence has not been spontaneous. Sangh Parivar politicians have instigated, organised and justified it, creating tropes of Muslim men as rapists and abductors of Hindu women, and urging Hindu men to regain their masculinity by raping Muslim women.
The notion of the “love jihad” deployed in Muzaffarnagar is typical. It claims, with no factual basis, that Muslim men seek relationships with Hindu women in order to convert them and increase the Muslim population as a result of this. In the UK, too, the organisations of the Hindu right have taken up this myth, making baseless allegations of “love jihad” in British universities in 2007, which were immediately seized upon by the police despite the absence of any evidence for such “conversions”.
The Hindu right has mobilised Hindu women to lead some of its most violent attacks, but this is underpinned by a deeply patriarchal ideology in which women serve the nation as wives and mothers, and domestic violence is condoned. Young women who are seen as transgressive face attacks by Sangh Parivar thugs in the name of “moral policing”.
Modi has been endorsed by India’s billionaires, to whom he promises more ruthless repression of the widespread resistance to corporate land-grab. For women in the resource-rich but impoverished regions targeted by corporations, it will mean further intensification of the systematic sexual violence which has been used by armed gangs who try and break this resistance.
British foreign and commonwealth office minister Hugo Swire has made it clear that the relationship with Modi is in “the UK’s national interests” – meaning the interests of British business – and David Cameron, despite his oft-stated concern for human rights and gender violence, is waiting eagerly to welcome Modi to Britain whether he becomes India’s prime minister or not. If Modi wins, however, the many struggles rocking India – violence against women, state repression and human rights – look set to intensify.