Women are the worst sufferers in the violence perpetrated during the recent communal riots and other upheavals in Uttar Pradesh.
In the wake of the riots that shook north India, I found myself in one of the many kafilas which travelled the tortuous road across Muzaffarnagar and Shamli in Uttar Pradesh. As a Member of the Planning Commission, I demanded answers from the district administration. In the commission, I was in charge of the welfare of the minorities as well as that of women and children. I went there with my colleague, a young lawyer, in the wake of the communal flares which had erased every pretension of the region being a part of a civilised world.
What we heard from the victims were accounts of not only about the killing, the burning and the maiming of people, but also about the redeployment of an age-old weapon — women’s bodies, which were used as instruments for the redemption of male honour. In the villages of Shamli and Muzaffarnagar, women quietly recounted the horrors of the violation of their bodies which man after man had forced himself on. Graphic accounts were recorded by brave journalists, which are available in the public domain; girls watching their mothers being gang-raped, rods being inserted into women’s bodies, and other horrific accounts of violation of the extreme form.
The slogan doing the rounds there was: “Musalmanon ke do hi sthan, Pakistan ya qabristan” (“Only two places for Muslims: Pakistan of graveyard”).
In the past year, similar other incidents have been recorded, and with new twists and turns. The Meerut gangrape was an example where the focus was on a Hindu girl and a Muslim man. The scene of crime was alleged to have been a madrassa, where the girl was first raped and then converted. Nothing could have been a worse violation of social norms. There was more horror in the Hindi version of the story which explained a scar on the girl’s abdomen as “kidney nikalney ki ashanka” (suspicion of kidney removal). The question since then has been this: was it a case of rape or not? In the case of the Badaun sisters, it is the same question again. Were they gang-raped? The truth about violence against women is that it is deliberately left vague, in case it needs to be tweaked later.
As I was writing this piece, news reports brought forth more revelations about the Loni rape case which involved a nine-year-old Hindu girl and a 60-year-old Muslim man. While an examination of the child revealed no rape, the crowds had already gone on a rampage, indulging in looting and burning. An auto driver was shot to death a kilometre away from the spot; it is alleged that this shooting was in retaliation for the crime. The driver’s Muslim identity has been revealed; his name was Jameel. While the assailant has been identified by Jameel’s brother, his name has not been revealed and the Senior Superintendent of Police, Dharmendra Singh, has been quoted as saying that he is not sure of his mazhab.
Familiar storiesUttar Pradesh has become the rape and kill centre (I cannot think of a better word) of the second decade of the 21st century. At a meeting just after my visit to Muzaffarnagar, I was haunted by the chilling words of a senior journalist: “You think you have seen the worst, but, believe me, you haven’t seen it all. Wait until the cane is harvested. Then you can start counting the bodies which will show up as bones.” Evidence of this assertion has been featured in newspapers all year.
My prayer is that the Uttar Pradesh of 2014 does not become the Gujarat of 2002.
In 2002, I was a member of a six-woman team that went to Gujarat, days after the burning of the Sabarmati Express and the carnage that followed. We wanted to find out what had happened to women, post-Godhra. We went from camp to camp, to Shah Alam, Vatva, Halol, Kalol, Memdabad, Gulberg and Bahar Colony. We drove to camps in Sabarkantha, Banaskantha and Mehsana. Everywhere we went, we talked to women and girls; the stories were exactly the same as I heard 12 years later in the worst-affected villages of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli. Only this time it was in Lakh Bawdi, Lisad, Phugana, Kutba Kutbi, Kirana, Budhana and Bahawdi.
What is happening to my Uttar Pradesh, and to my country? Where will it lead us to? I ask this with my lens as that of an Indian, a Muslim and a woman.
I am a biographer of the man who should have been the undisputed leader of Muslims in this country — Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. (He would have not liked my saying “leader of Muslims” because he regarded not just Muslims but every quom as his own.) I recall his speech as Congress President, delivered in 1940 at the Ramgarh Session. Addressing a mammoth gathering, he spoke words which need to be remembered in the present context: “I am a Muslim and profoundly conscious of the fact that I have inherited Islam’s glorious traditions of the last thirteen hundred years … I am equally proud of the fact that I am an Indian, an essential part of the indivisible unity of Indian nationhood, a vital factor in its total make-up without which this noble edifice will remain incomplete ….”
He then spoke of the Indian ethos; words which should have been in every school textbook are now obviated from collective memory: “This thousand years of our joint life has moulded us into a common nationality. This cannot be done artificially. Nature does her fashioning through her hidden processes in the course of centuries. The cast has now been moulded and destiny has set her seal upon it.”
Years after these words were spoken from Ramgarh in Bihar, the soil of Uttar Pradesh has borne witness to a different set of words — qabristan or Pakistan.
Seven years after the Ramgarh speech, Azad stood on the steps of the Jama Masjid and admonished Muslims who, struck by the terror of killings by frenzied mobs, were running away to the newly formed state across the border. He asked them: “Come, today let us pledge that this country is ours, we belong to it and any fundamental decision about its destiny will remain incomplete without our consent.” The crowds stopped in their tracks. Hejrat to another land was halted by the words of one who spoke on behalf of the entire nation.
Those were different times.
Falling behindToday, other realities have taken over. In all these years, Muslims have fallen behind the rest of the country as far as every socio-economic indicator is concerned. Successive governments have been trying to include them in the development paradigm. Their leaders have tried many strategies to empower them. Formations such as the Pasmanda Muslim Samaj have tried to get benefits from the state as well as create alliances and political formations. The word pasmanda means backward; it is a word which is equally applicable to Dalits who fit the meaning.
In Uttar Pradesh, this formation had a chance of gaining political strength by aligning with the Bahujan Samaj. That came a cropper. The Yadavs pitted themselves against Muslims; Jat identity was repackaged as a part of a larger Hindu one. And, their enmity played out on the bodies of women. Stories of Muslim boys abducting Hindu girls were given the title, “love jihad.” Khap panchayats held meetings where strategies were devised to counter this trend. Youth on both sides, Muslim and Hindu, were psyched to sacrifice their lives to defend the honour of their sisters.
What does this build-up bode for this country of crores of people of diverse faiths, ethnicities, classes and castes? What does it bode for the South Asian region, at once most vibrant and most troubled? What does it bode for women across all divides of caste, creed and religion who are violated every day, in every context and conflict?
The lines from Faiz Ahmed Faiz say it all:
Saje tau kaise saje qatl e aam ka mela?
Kisey lubhaye ga mere badan ka wavaila?
Mere nizaar badan mein lahu hi kitna hai?
Chiragh ho koi raushan na koi jaam bhare
Na us se aag hi bhadke na us se pyaas bujhe
How will these mass killings be
Who will heed the moaning of my hurt
There is hardly blood in my frail body —
It can light no lamp, fill no goblet
It can quench no fire, slake no thirst.
(Syeda Hameed is a writer and a former Member of the Planning Commission.)