People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 5

February 15, 2009




ON January 24, 2009, a group of young women in Mangalore, in the southern state of Karnataka were attacked in a pub by Sri Rama Sene, Saffron Brigade’s another outfit. Activists from the Sri Rama Sene assaulted the women in order to protect “traditional Indian values”. Just a week later, Shruti, a young PUC II student of Mangalore was forcibly abducted from a public bus, physically assaulted, and was threatened because she was seen speaking to a Muslim boy who was traveling on the same bus and who was a brother of a school classmate. The boy was also brutally attacked. Last year, 30 students of the St Marthas education institute were attacked when they were on an excursion to Mysore only because the girls happened to be Hindu and some of the boys Muslim.

Analysing the activities of the fascists, noted communist thinker Gramsci had stated long back: “The fascists have been able to carry on their activities only because tens of thousands of functionaries of the State, especially in the public security forces (police, royal guards, carabinieri) and in the magistrature, have become their moral and material accomplices. These functionaries know that their impunity and their careers are closely linked to the fortunes of the fascist organisation, and they therefore have every interest in supporting fascism in whatsoever attempt it may make to consolidate its political position”. The incidents quoted above, similarly, no doubt, have the tacit support of the state government. It is hoping that the moral policing of Sri Rama Sene and Bajrang Dal will bring the party electoral gains in the upcoming general elections. Just like what Modi did in Gujarat!

True to their character, they are unconcerned about the brutalities committed on women, forget about their sympathies for the hardships that women have to face in their daily existence. Almost 3-4 women die every day in the city of Bangalore in cases of “unnatural” deaths of women in marriage. Practices like dowry, female foeticide and trafficking of women are rampant. Just last week, an 18-month-old girl was raped (you read it correct, an eighteen month old girl) by her neighbour in Ajmer district of Rajasthan. Have any of these incidents pricked the conscience of these forces? After all, they are not so 'cultured' to be sensitive to these atrocities.

They attack us, because we speak to a classmate whom we know by name and not religion. They are blind, they cannot see anything except religion; their minds are closed to reason and are seeping with hatred and intolerance. While it is wrong for us to talk with our Shabnams and Rahmans, it is right for them to befriend one Mr G W Bush. It is not for nothing that the saying goes, ‘birds of the same feather flock together’. Both their hands are smeared with blood - one with the blood of Iraqis, Afghanistanis, etc., the other with the blood of Gujaratis etc. Let us not forget that it is their brethren who had raped many and even cut the womb of a pregnant woman during the riots in Gujarat.

What is the ‘culture’ that these self proclaimed custodians desire to protect with their blood smeared hands? They want their view of morality (prescribed by the Manu dharma shastra) as the only one that should prevail in India. Their culture is beating and molesting women in public places in order to control and make them conform to the patriarchal notion of decency. Isn't it they, who upheld sati as part of the same glorious tradition? One of the former chief ministers of BJP too voiced the same opinion. Of course, it is good, at least in this regard, they do not practice what they preach!

The founding member of the Sri Rama Sene, Pravin Valke is quoted in a newspaper (Indian Express, February 3, 2009) saying, “Why should girls go to pubs? Are they going to serve their future husbands alcohol? Should they not be learning to make chappatis? Bars and pubs should be for men only. We wanted to ensure that all women in Mangalore are home by 7 pm.” It is a clear explanation of the mindset of these men who speak in the name of culture. Women should stay at home and make chappatis while 'men' can go out and drink, rape and molest, cheat, murder or do whatever they wish. Thereby our “culture” will be preserved! The Mangalore attack is all about controlling women, to deny Indian woman her rights.

From the attack on women at a Mangalore pub to the Delhi police booking a married couple for 'obscenity' because they were kissing in public, to organisations in Kashmir displaying posters warning women not to mingle with the opposite sex and a madrassa board chairman in Lucknow wanting to stop girls from going to madrassas to get education and imposing dress codes on girls and women, self-proclaimed guardians of culture across India are having a field day. They look at Indian culture from a narrow patriarchal prism. For them, culture is all about dowry, sati, gender discrimination, untouchability, intolerance, etc. These people are antithetical to our real culture.

As women who have always borne the brunt of fundamentalist cultures within the home and the community, we refuse to silently witness the brutal assaults on our pluralistic and open cultures in the name of language, tradition, religion and region that are spreading through our land. We refuse to endorse this deeply divisive political culture that is going to leave behind a legacy of hatred and intolerance for the coming generations. The Sri Rama Sene is a fringe element. But lurking under the skin of many such men, irrespective of caste or community, is a similar view of what women should and should not do. They fear women’s autonomy, for, it challenges their power.

Equally worrying is the response of the union government to these incidents. Rajasthan chief minister and a leader of the Congress party, Ashok Gehlot’s reaction to the Mangalore attack is not very different from that of the Saffron Brigade’s. Instead of seriously impressing upon the state government to take strict measures on these elements, Union minister for women and child welfare, Renuka Chowdhury says, ‘I wonder how Muthalik’s mother raised him,’ `Pub bharo' to beat moral police (in an absolute degradation of the Jail bharo of the freedom movement.) A Facebook group, ‘A Consortium of Pub-Going Loose and Forward Women’ has launched a ‘Pink Chaddi’ campaign as a response to the Sri Rama Sene's violent assault on women. These kinds of responses actually sidetrack and trivialise the real issue and in fact play into the hands of the fundamentalists. They do not talk about empowerment of women in the real sense of the term. In the name of modernity, there is also a trend to vulgarise, commercialise and objectify women's body and the gender issues.

Today, we face an imminent threat to our democracy, against which, tolerance coupled with passivity, a deadly vice, will destroy us unless we're on guard to be sure it doesn't. It is high time for all the people with conscience to unite and raise their voices against such barbarities which alone will secure the future of our country and its people.

Moreover, as somebody said, in this struggle "if you don't have a strategy you end up being part of someone else's strategy." The strategy of the extreme right's gospel of 'hate, exclusion, cruelty and intolerance' has to be challenged with a doctrine of 'life, hope and respect for the worth and dignity of everyone'. And this should include the struggle for political and economic rights also. Mere wishing won't make it so. Because defending democracy means working at it every day. An African saying, very common in our country, says: “When your house is burning, it’s no use beating the tom-toms.” Let us start acting.