Often people ask, what use March 8
or May 1? International Women’s Day or Labour Day? How is it
relevant when women are seen and heard everywhere and we’d like to
believe that late 19th and early 20th century tales of sweat shops
and inhuman work conditions are a thing of the past?
Let’s do a social audit of how much we spend at marriages, better
still how much dowry passes hands. Let us ask even more
discomfiting questions of whether dowry is an ill befitting only
one community or has this crude and dehumanizing practice, like
caste, been grabbed by male beneficiaries, patriarchies who are
not just Hindu?
Some years back while in Puddukotai with an old
friend Sherifa Daud who works hard towards her dream to have an
all woman Mosque built, three horrendous cases of dowry-related
torture and burnings were taken to the local Jamaat for
adjudication. When no results ensued, women, with the Holy Koran
in hand established an all-woman Jamaat.
Then and now my sisters
ask, why can’t we get the Shankracharyas and the Maulvis and the
Priests to issue diktats saying clearly that the taking and giving
of dowry goes against the breathing living tenets of any decent,
civilized modern faith ? We still await the answers.
My work with the brute consequences of communal violence has
allowed me into spaces and homes with raw, unabashed affection and
respect. I was lucky to be born to a father who was proud that he
had two daughters. A father moreover that was, and remains still
with me every step of a difficult day.
That, and my lived
association with my colleague-husband, a feminist, has shown me
the abiding difference in societies and cultures that allow women
dignity and space. The figures of our state education boards in
Maharashtra and Gujarat show our girls at the top, shining, and
besting the best even in Marathi, Gujarati and Sanskrit.
Yet we live in a world and society that would want to treat girls
Figures of the girl child being killed inside the
womb are frightening and is a phenomenon more seen among better –
off caste Hindus and Sikhs. Treatment of women and girls by the
police and men, in public spaces was illustrated in December 2012
in New Delhi, a few days back in Punjab and against a Dalit woman
And yet amidst this gloom lies the hope and the shining symbols of
hope strength and commitment. Ghazala is a 14 year old only child,
who lost her father Yunus when the brute swords of communal
frenzy, led and inspired by woman MLA and doctor, Maya Kodnani
claimed over 127 lives. See her report card and she has never
dropped below eighty five per cent, that is if numbers matter.
Shakila is in her late twenties, orphaned literally that fateful
day of 28.2.2002. She along with Farzana, Jannat, Farida and
Ameena bore witness in the Naroda Patiya case. On 29.8.2012
history was made because of these brave hearts when another woman,
upheld Indian Constitutional values and convicted 31 persons
including Kodnani to 28 years in jail. For 18-20 months as
evidence was led before her, atmosphere in the courtroom heated
up; vile accusations were made against me and my organization; our
lawyer Raju Shaikh was threatened in open court by Bajrangi, the
man who enjoyed patronage of the man at the helm in Gujarat. None
of this pressure affected the equanimity of the Judge. “What
Judges say tells us how justice is read,” AND THE 1900-ODD page
judgement in the Naroda Patiya case is a worthy lesson for every
student of Indian criminal law.
Over 3,000 children, scarred by 2002 have embraced life, urged on
by the valour of their surviving relatives and wider community.
Their story remains theirs to tell and ours to understand. To a
country with a visibly impatient middle class with no time to
reflect on concerns outside their own and immediate, turning away
from their fortitude leaves us shorn. Darpan Kaur is another such
widow who has waited 28 years with no justice. Trilokpuri remains
ignored in the nation’s capital, with none of the political class
engaging with restoration and rehabilitation. Trilokpuri was among
the worst affected areas in the capital where young men all Sikhs
were massacred on November 1 and 2, 1984.
After the brutality of violence comes the exclusion caused by
ghettoisation. Over the past three decades our cities have become
intransigent architects of a demarcated life with rigid borders;
where the brutality of caste excluded 21 per cent of Indian to a
shared and dignified existence over thousands of years, today the
border seeks to outline another outsider.
In 1984, Bhiwandi-Bombay,
1992-1993 Ahmedabad 1991 and Gujarat 2002, all bouts of violence
that I had the misfortune to document, the ultimate aim of the
instigators of communal violence was clear – create divides
between communities, bar them from living together because that
and that alone can ensure that the centuries old understanding and
bonhomie between communities can be torn, fractured and broken.
came upon a map of Ahmedabad distributed by the Vishwa Hindu
Parishad (VHP) in 1991 showing the old city as “green” and the
across-the bride Ahmedabad as “saffron.” Any real investigation by
journalists into the cosmopolitan character of the city will leave
many sorely disappointed.
During the July 1991 Rath yatra related
violence in the city, a particularly gruesome incident involved
the brutal attack on a Mr Khan who had dared to move from the city
into what he perceived as the more open Navrangpura. His
assaulters were buxom Gujarati women.
There is a flip side and story to ghettoisation too. Our friend
Firozsaab who was pushed after the brutalities of Bombay 1992-1993
to move into a Muslim Mohalla found his wife and daughters very
uncomfortable—dress codes and a lack of privacy that they were
unused to dogged them. Schools, jobs, a world with just the sky
above beckons us all women, daughters, sisters and mothers. It is
our job together to make this world a safe and comfortable space
for ourselves; no more should we be told that because it is unsafe
we best remain indoors.
“Women hold up more than half the sky” is a favourite slogan of
mine from the women’s movement.
A movement that asked for dignity
and fair share; universal franchise, equal pay and inheritance
rights. Every time I talk about this – even to a large audience of
young Muslims gathered to protest the state’s treatment of them
where not a single woman is present – I say that unless women who
share more than half the indignities heaped on you are part of the
resistance, we cannot win.
Where are my sisters who you have left
behind inside homes ? When the dance of hell was unleashed at Naroda Patiya, Gulberg, Sardarpura, Odh, Vadodara, Pandharwada,
Randhikpur-Sanjeli, Kidiad eleven years back to the day—women and
girls were not simply targeted specifically and shamefully.
In the resistance that emerged, be it Zakia appa, Shakila, Rupa,
Bilkis, Shabana, Farzana, Bashirabi —and at least six dozen others
– they were and are a crucial part of building it, brick by brick
and thereby changing the course of history.
My Salaams to them, this Women’s Day…