People's Democracy

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


No. 36

September 09, 2012


Hindutva Chauvinism and Patriarchy in Gujarat

Archana Prasad


ON August 29,  2012 the Washington Post published Narendra Modi’s now famous statement that the increasing rates of malnutrition in Gujarat could be attributed to the beauty conscious middle class girls and dieting habits. He also reiterated that he “would not apologise for the Gujarat violence (2002)”. A day later Maya Kodnani, Babu Bajrangi and 27 others were convicted for the Naroda Patiya massacre in the 2002 Gujarat genocide. The witnesses deposing before the courts emphasised on the mass atrocities against Muslim women and children, thus, highlighting the nature of the conviction. In the same week, the RSS weekly Panchjanya (August 25, 2012) also reported a comment by Shanta Akka, the newly appointed president of the Rashtra Sevika Samiti, who stated that the events in Assam were representative of the “evil designs” (rakshasi sanskriti) against Indian culture and therefore it was necessary that the forces of Hinduism be advanced. These seemingly unrelated incidents are bound together by an understanding that women and their organisations are carriers of the Hindutva ideology and the vision of a Hindu Rashtra that forms the basis of the Gujarat model of development. Here women become both, agents of Hindutva politics, as well as targets of violence perpetrated by Sangh Parivar organisations.




The main convict in the Naroda Patiya massacre, Mayaben Kodnani was the minister for women and child development and was forced to resign after she was charge sheeted in the Naroda Patiya case. A medical doctor by training Mayaben has been an active member of the Rashtra Sevika Samiti, the women’s wing of the RSS and the primary organisation training women to become carriers of the Hindutva ideology. Formed in 1936 by Lakshmibai Kelkar, the Samiti describes itself as a “ a cultural organisation of Hindu Women” whose main objective is to make women realise that they are “the foundation pillars of the nation taking into account their capacity to mould the family”. The nation is “Bharat” whose concept is based on “bonds of love and affection” and nationhood which is synonymous with “Hindutwa” (sic).  Thus the ideal woman and enlightened mother who in her capacity as a daughter, a sister, a wife and a mother is “strong physically, mentally, intellectually and spiritually” so that she can defend the nation and “create a deep sense of devotion and pride for nation, religion and culture”. This is achieved through Rashtradharma, the core of which is the Hindu way of living. As Shanta Akka, the current chief of the Samiti in her speech on August 20, 2012, explains “we have also forgotten our fundamental life style due to this excessive propagandist approach adopted by them (the foreigners). Hence our mission is to reverse this trend and restore our fundamental lifestyle which gave more importance to the inner beauty than the beauty of the body”. The core concept of enlightened motherhood imagines a national division of labour where women play a subordinated and traditional role of mothers and defenders of the faith. 


The main task of the sevikas is to transform this idea into an organisation and a political programme that supports the plans of the larger Sangh Parivar. This is achieved through military and ideological training in 5215 daily shakhas that are run through 835 centres in the country. These shakhas respond to calls of the Sangh and multiply the Parivar through multiple organisations, especially since the late 1980s. Thus Sadhavi Rithambara, a sevika by training, founded the Durga Vahini which played an active role in the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya. As reported, about 55,000 Durga Vahini people were active in the campaign with women from Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh leading the charge. The organisational skills of the sevikas have also been in evidence in the Gujarat riots of 2002. Thus Mayaben Kodnani, a trained and active sevika, has been described by Special Court as the “kingpin of the Gujarat riots” who instigated and provided leadership to the rioters. In its final sentencing order the court also states that Kodnani was “immensely favoured by the then investigation agencies” who attempted to influence all victims to ensure that her “involvement does not come on the books”. Hence it is quite clear that the Sangh Parivar unsuccessfully worked in tandem with the state government to ensure that this sevika was safe from the due process of law. In this sense, the training of the sevikas and their socialisation as agents of Hindutva has been crucial in supporting the Modi and his cover up of the role of the government in the 2002 genocide.




Thus, Mayaben Kodnani represents the Sangh’s incorporation of women into its agenda of building a Hindu Rashtra. By the same measure the atrocities perpetrated on Muslim women by the Hindutva brigade in 2002 can also be seen as the ugly expression of Hindutva’s patriarchal identity. Eye witness accounts of the Naroda Patiya victims clearly indicate the organised and systematic way in which women were targeted after “exciting speeches by Mayaben Kodnani”. The first incident destroying the Noorani Mosque on February 28, 2012 was inspired by her and thereafter several witnesses have recorded that she moved about with different male mobs urging them to “finish off the miyans”.  She distributed swords, kerosene and other weapons which were common instruments of molestation and assault in the massacre.


This political support emboldened the mobs and inspired them to perpetrate the most brutal and worst crimes on women. That the crime was organised and perpetrated by leading functionaries of the Sangh Parivar is narrated by the courageous witnesses of the Naroda Patiya massacre.  In her testimony, Reshmabanu Nadimbhai Sayid (witness 142) records how her pregnant sister, Kausharbanu was pulled away by leading Bajrang Dal activists, Suresh Langda and Bhawani Singh, who took out the unborn foetus splitting her abdomen by a sword. Both were then burnt alive. Another gruesome tale is told by Naimuddin Ibrahim Shaikh (witness 148) who witnessed the gang rape of his wife Zarina. He says that the mob cut off both the hands of his wife with a sword, stripped her till the she was totally naked. In another testimony, Siddiquebhai Alabaksh Mansuri (witness 236) illustrated that Mayaben led a mob that burnt women and children alive. These medieval means and methods of attack displayed a sense of helplessness of the Muslim women victims, and a sense of dominating power of the male Hindutva brigade.


The Naroda Patiya judgement and its evidences may take many months to analyse, but they have given a window of opportunity to democratic women’s organisations. The absence of a strong democratic women’s movement has resulted in tragic consequences for the women of Naroda Patiya. But their courage has also highlighted the need for exposing the fascist and patriarchal character of Modi’s social and political programme. The expansion of the democratic women’s movement in this region is an urgent need and mass mobilisations need to reach out to all classes of women, especially with the impending Gujarat elections. This will help in countering the hegemonic influence of organisations like the Rashtra Sevika Samiti who are playing a crucial role in the communal polarisation of women.