Written by: SMIW editorial | Image: Greater Kashmir / Outlook India
Well, well! It’s that time again when it’s easier to find a Ranbir Kapoor film with good acting than a conversation which doesn’t end in discussing the upcoming election!
Starting April 11, more than 1,800 parties and hundreds of Independent candidates from across India will contest for 545 Lok Sabha seats over a month long period to vie for votes of 900 million registered voters in the world’s biggest democracy!
While each party and nominated candidate will enter with the hope to be elected a representative of the people, the limelight invariably falls on the few national parties and regional heavyweights.
That is till this year, when instead of a few parties and candidates, the focus is on one man and one man only:
The Chaiwala, the Pradhan Sevak, the Fakir, the Chowkidar and the man from whom Ranbir probably takes acting lessons – PM Narendra Modi (not to be confused with Vivek Oberoi, another mediocre actor last seen looking eerily similar).
Modi and the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) came into power in 2014 with a thumping majority to form the Central government on the back of their promises to bring inclusive development, honesty and transparency, economic resurgence and, women’s safety and empowerment. All parameters that the outgoing UPA 2 government had failed on, according to BJP and its supreme leader.
However, five years later, it seems to have been a case of ‘more of the same old, and then some more of a scary new’.
So of course, right before the elections, you have everyone and their uncle discussing the Modi sarkar‘s performance and upcoming poll fortunes on TV debates, corner chai shops, office canteens, village panchayats, joint family dinner tables and even Tinder dates.
But amidst all this, a lot of us seem to have forgotten how this government did for 50% of the electorate – India’s women. More importantly, no one seems to be asking the women how they feel this government did on issues that concern women themselves.
Well, we did. We asked our readers how they think the government did and, if they were to reject a second term to this government, what will be the reasons. In addition, we scourged through a series of reports, news articles and RTI replies to collate this three-part series of articles, with each volume addressing different area(s) or issue(s) concerning Indian women and falling under the direct governing responsibility of the Indian government. These are: Women’s safety; Economic advancement, education and health and; Policy, representation and stance of BJP leaders on gender issues.
This article is the first instalment or volume in the series and will look at how Modi sarkar performed on Women’s Safety. Read on.
I. Welcome to the Most Unsafe Place on Earth for a Woman
Unfortunately, the biggest fight for women in this country is still one of basic survival. Indian women have historically had to guard themselves from Indian men who are prone to subject women to unrelenting male gaze, street harassment, voyeurism, domestic violence, acid attacks, abduction and rape. So much so, that not only were women friendly law enforcement and rape laws a part of BJP’s 2014 manifesto but one of their main election slogans was “Bohot hua naari pe atyachar, abki baar Modi sarkar!” (Enough atrocities against women. It’s time for a Modi government).
But did they deliver? Unfortunately, that will be a resounding NO.
Not only did crimes against women and children steadily rise under this government, to borrow a jumla from the self proclaimed Chowkidar aka protector himself ,Bharat ki azaadi mein pehli baar! (for the first time in Independent), India was ranked the most dangerous place in the world for women because of its high incidences of sexual violence, lack of access to justice in rape cases, child marriage, female feticide and human trafficking. India outranked such countries as Syria and Afghanistan — second and third — that are currently at war.
Experts interviewed for the poll said India had topped the list because its government has done little to protect women.
Echoing this thought, SMIW reader Sidrah Binte Siraj noted:
“Every year I expect to be safer and more protected. As things progress and we move forward, I want to feel freer, not caged. But I feel no significant change in the last five years and this is how this government has let me down as a woman.”
II. Beti Bachao (BJP se)
As apocalyptic as it may sound, the government has not just been callous, but complicit in some cases of abduction, trafficking and sexual assault.
For example, in July 2016, independent journalist Neha Dixit uncovered a major child abduction and trafficking racket run in Assam by BJP’s ideological parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS as they are popularly known. PM Narendra Modi himself has been a card carrying member of the Sangh.
Similarly, a TISS report in 2017 revealed that at least 34 minor girls were raped or sexually assaulted at a shelter home in Bihar’s Muzzafarpur while the state government, in which BJP was a coalition partner looked the other way.
Even worse has been the track record of BJP’s leaders and elected parliamentarians. In all, fourteen BJP legislators face charges of crimes against women.
Of these,Rajasthan state minister Nihal Chand Meghwal has been accused of rape while Unnao MLA Kuldeep Senegar has been charged with abduction and rape of a minor by CBI, but only after the survivor attempted suicide outside U.P. CM Yogi Adityanath’s residence. Interestingly, BJP has given Nihal Chand a ticket to contest elections again in 2019
Then of course, who can forget BJP leader and former minister Lal Singh taking out a rally in support of the accused in the gruesome rape and murder of 8 year old Asifa last year?
Imagine if a leader of UPA 2 did the same in support of the accused in Nirbhaya case in 2012. Actually, we shouldn’t have to imagine it, because what kind of monsters do that? Oh, the saffron kind, of course.
By the way, it’s not like it’s just the old, ultra regressive, senior leaders and members of BJP who are guilty here. The ‘young BJP’ is just as guilty. Two years ago, Chandigarh DJ Varnika Kundu was chased, pulled out of her car and almost abducted, by Vikas Barala, son of a local BJP MLA, and only recently, Tejasvi Suriya the young BJP candidate from Bangalore South in the upcoming LS polls, was accused of physical and mental abuse by a former woman associate.
SMIW reader Rashi Jauhri puts it aptly when she says:
“I’ve been very critical of the Modi government in the past and one of the main reasons is their hypocrisy around women. They have more women in the cabinet but the country is no more safe than it was a few years ago. In fact, it’s worse. A recent report stated that BJP has the highest number of MPs and MLAs with cases of crime against women. How are they protecting women?”
III. Marital Rape? Not a Real Thing
While women’s right activists, lawyers and civil society in India continue to petition the country’s courts for making rape of a wife by her husband punishable by law, the Modi government made its stand abundantly clear fairly early on in its tenure.
“It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context.”
The BJP government had said this in a written statement to the upper house of Parliament, in response to a question raised by a member of opposition asking if the government planned to move legislation criminalising marital rape. If you read the full statement, the government seems to have found a vedic connection between saving the institution of marriage and not criminalising marital rape.
It is difficult to understand how rape of a woman by her husband is any less brutal than triple talaq, which the BJP approached with keen interest and urgency to not just abolish, but criminalise.
Maybe when your top leader is alleged to have used state machinery to keep tabs on a young woman without her knowledge for years, it has a little bit of an effect on your understanding of consent. Oh yeah, we went there!
IV. Want Agency and Autonomy? Go to Pakistan!
Autonomy is an often overlooked part of safety. Sadly, the BJP government has been no exception and has completely and miserably failed to create safe public spaces for women wanting to be with their romantic partners.
Let’s not forget that this is same party whose current PM said girls in Gujarat are malnourished because they are ‘figure conscious’ when he was CM of the state and his successor decided to take away mobile phones from school girls “for their own safety”.
It just went from bad to worse though. From coining the problematic term ‘Love Jihad’ which put male ownership over female Hindu bodies to demonising and often beating up Muslim men if they were so much as seen with Hindu women.
Then of course, there were the infamous anti-romeo squads – started by the UP government to curb harassment, but were soon revealed to be a way of moral policing done at the hands of Hindutva leaning youth who the government had failed to provide jobs to.
Last but definitely not the least, who can forget the annual Valentine’s Day disruptions by Sangh offshoot Bajrang Dal where they blatantly harass consenting couples in the name of ‘Indian culture’.
The worst part is that all these supposed ‘fringe’ groups are either directly backed by the BJP or the government just looks the other way while they go around wrecking havoc in the name of sanskar.
V. Chowkidar Mahilaaon ko Bolte “Whore” Hain
This one is probably the most recent, and most telling shift in male behaviour towards women over the last five years. BJP supporters, affectionately known as Bhakts by some, have been known to rain down heavily on anyone who even mentions the name Voldermort, er, we mean, Modi online. However, they become a whole different animal (no disrespect to actual animals), if the person criticising or questioning the Dark Lord is a woman.
Shockingly enough, their ranks are not limited to the average faceless, egg-handle Twitter users either.
Even erstwhile renowned public figures like singer Abhijeet, seasoned actor Paresh Rawal and everyone’s Babuji (till he was exposed in #MeTooIndia) Alok Nath took off the ‘Mr. nice guy’ masks and proceeded to abuse, threaten and slut shame women openly.
What has ensued has left no woman unscathed. From regular twitter users, to activists, opposition leaders, army kid Gurmehar Kaur and even BJP Minister Sushma Swaraj herself got caught in the ugly, putrid vitriol the saffron coloured cyber death eaters seem to thrive on. These trolls issue abuses, threats of violence and rape to the women who disagree with them.
Looking at all this being normalised over the last five years, independent journalist and #MeTooIndia curator Rituparna Chatterjee asked a pertinent question:
Is it a coincidence that most of the foul/abusive/misogynistic responses I’ve been getting on tweets are from handles have “chowkidaar” prefixed to their names?
— Rituparna Chatterjee (@MasalaBai) March 19, 2019
What happens when the self proclaimed Chowkidars become the biggest threats?
VI. Amidst all the Screams, an Eerily Mute PM
This has been a BIG concern over the past five years and while we will go deeper into this facet when we look at Modi’s own confusing stance on women’s issues, it is worth noting that not only has the PM been completely silent on all the rising gender violence, his party leader’s own involvement and the falling stature of India as a liveable place for women, but – get this – he actually FOLLOWS trolls who continually abuse, demean, slut shame and threaten Indian women and spew sexist, misogynist slurs at others with impunity.
Trigger Warning: Sexist slurs
This confusing and troubling phenomenon which has been covered even by International media is detailed by former BJP IT cell member and now independent journalist Swati Chaturvedi in her acclaimed book I am a Troll.
In conclusion of the first instalment in this series, all we can say is that, when it comes to Women’s safety, it seems like Chowkidar kar raha Snore hai (the gatekeeper is snoring).
So, what do you think? Did we miss out on an important facet concerning women’s safety under the BJP regime? Tell us in the comments? Or, do you have inputs on the other areas yet to be covered in the series? If yes, then visit our Facebook page and tell us in the comments section of this post.