Why the Modi govt fears outspoken, dissenting young women

The arrests and attacks on dissenting women are attempts to scare all women into silence.

The arrest of 21-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi over a toolkit on protests against farm laws shared by Greta Thunberg is drawing widespread criticism. Disha, one of the founders of Fridays For Future (FFF) India, was arrested by the Delhi Police in Bengaluru for ‘editing’ the toolkit and was remanded to five-day police custody by a Delhi court.

As support started pouring in for Disha, many pointed out how the current government has been targeting young, dissenting voices in the past few years, especially women, for exercising their right to protest.

Earlier this year, Dalit woman and labour rights activist Nodeep Kaur was arrested by the Haryana Police from the Singhu border protest site. Kaur, a member of the Mazdoor Adhikar Sanghatan (MAS) played an important role in mobilizing industrial workers to join the protests against farm laws. Kaur has been brutally assaulted in police custody and a medical report confirmed injuries to her private parts. With her bail pleas denied multiple times, Kaur still remains in custody.

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 The arrests of these young women were followed by massive defamation and character assassination campaigns on social media calling them terrorists and anti-nationals. Disha has also been subject to shaming by right-wing trolls who made false claims and assumptions about her lifestyle. A BJP MP even went to the extent of comparing her to terrorist Ajmal Kasab.

A similar hate campaign was launched against Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) student and activist Safoor Zargar who was arrested by the Delhi Police in April last year for organizing an anti-CAA, NRC, NPR protest at Jaffrabad. She was accused of making an inflammatory speech at the protest and was charged under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Zargar who was pregnant at the time remained in custody for over two months. Throughout that period, vile organized attacks were made on Zargar’s personal life by supporters of the Hindutva regime.

Growing Trend of Arrests

Activists and members of Pinjra Tod Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal were also arrested on similar charges and were accused of being conspirators in the Northeast Delhi communal violence. They were re-arrested after initial bail relief and remain in custody as their latest appeals for bail were quashed by a Delhi court in January this year. A young student Gulfisha Fatima, who was neither a member of Pinjra Tod nor a JMI student was named as a co-accused in the case. Although granted bail by a Delhi Court, Fatima has not been acquitted.

Another young woman arrested and charged with UAPA is 33-year-old Jyoti Jagtap of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), who is the youngest among the 16 intellectuals and activists arrested in the Bhima Koregaon violence case. Jagtap, who was a performer at the Elgar Parishad 2018 was picked up along with two other members of KKM and remains in custody.

This crackdown of activists is proof of how the government fears dissenting young people, young women in particular. Along with targeted hate campaigns on social media, many of these women have been subject to mental and physical abuse in prison. 

The biggest “crime” committed by the seven young women mentioned above is to dare to protest against the Hindutva regime as strong, independent voices. Many more women who have been outspokenly opposing the current government have also faced the wrath of the IT cells.

Targeted Hate Campaigns Against Dissenting Women

Author, poet and anti-caste activist Meena Kandasamy was subject to targeted harassment by right-wing trolls when she criticized the government. Lawyer and anti-caste activist Kiruba Munusamy is vocal about the abuse she has received on the internet for her views, most of which is derogatory attacks on her identity as a strong Dalit woman.

Journalist Rana Ayyub, who has been one of the earliest critiques of Modi-Shah, ever since the Gujarat riots of 2002, regularly faces severe hate and vile attacks on social media. JNU alumnus and activist Shehla Rashid has also been subject to similar hate.

Students of JMI Aisha Renna and Ladeeda Farzana, who became the faces of anti-CAA, NRC, NPR protests in India were victims of targeted harassment and fake news manufactured to defame them. An active campaign was launched to delegitimize the protesting women of Shaheen Bhag.

It is unsurprising how most women targeted by the pro government trolls belong to Muslim, Dalit or other marginalized communities. 

Women empowerment or anti-women?

As the government continues to sing paeans of its own work towards a faulty idea of women empowerment, their actions however are aggressively against any real empowerment. 

Love Jihad or the anti-conversion law denies women choice. Romeo squads in UP have been used for policing women and their bodies. Several BJP politicians have openly announced that Hindu women must consider giving birth to more than four, five or even ten children. Sadhvi Prachi took it a step further and felicitated men who gave birth to four or more children. As the crime rates against women are soaring high, conviction rates are extremely low.

BJP is also the party with the highest number of MPs and MLAs with cases of crimes against women. The state support for the accused in Kathua, Unnao and Hathras cases is further proof that women, especially women from marginalized communities are the lowest of the government’s priorities.

The ideology of BJP and the Sangh Parivar has always been anti-women. Beti Bachao Beti Padhao and Bharat Mata Ki Jai hold any meaning to them only when the Beti and Mata in question toe the line to rules laid out by Manusmriti, the book that guides the principles of Sangh Parivar.

Their vision for women of this country does not include our independence or self-reliance. Their idea of a woman is a voiceless gender role whose only purpose is to procreate and uphold the caste and religious endogamy that is central to Brahmanical patriarchy.

Any woman who refuses to fit into this idea is thus an enemy of the Hindu Rashtra. The arrests and attacks on dissenting women are attempts to scare all women into silence. True emancipation of women in this country can be achieved only by dismantling Brahmanical patriarchy.

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