Report of the discussion held by the members of Purogami Mahila Sangathan, Thane Council
Image: Activists stage a protest against the remission of sentence granted to the Bilkis Bano case convicts, Kolkata, August 24, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo
The freedom granted to the 11 convicts of multiple gang rapes and murders in the Bilkis Bano case has shocked and angered crores of people throughput our country and even the world. The members of the Thane Council of Purogami Mahila Sangathan held a discussion on this burning topic on Sunday, 21st August, 2022.
What is significant is that there were an equal number of men present. This is in consonance of the belief that PMS has held since its founding in 1980: without the liberation of women, there can be no dignity for man! Or as is fittingly expressed in one of our songs,
“शोषित पुरुष तो अपने ही भाई, लक्ष्य हमारे एक हैं!
चोट हमें तो दर्द उन्हें भी, शत्रु हमारे एक हैं!
शोषित भाइयों से अपनी मज़बूत एकता शोषण नष्ट कर देगी…”
(Exploited men are our brothers, and our enemies are one and the same!
If we are wounded, they too are hurt; our enemies are one and the same!
Our strong unity with our exploited brothers will end exploitation …!)
Before the formal discussion started, one young member expressed what is in everyone’s heart: “75 years after 1947, now gang rapists and multiple murderers can celebrate their freedom from jail and their freedom to be garlanded and worshipped! What does this freedom mean for women and young girls like me?”
At the outset, the Convener laid forth the bare facts of the case: In the so-called communal riots organised in 2002 in Gujarat, 14 members of Bilkis Bano’s family who were all trying to escape were killed. The head of her 3-year old daughter was smashed. All the women including old ones were gang raped before that. Bilkis Bano was five months pregnant. Somehow, she survived by faking death.
Over and above being forced to watch the atrocities her family members were subjected to, Bilkis Bano herself was raped 22 times. She along with her husband and supporters persisted in her fight for long years till finally the culprits were awarded life sentences. In that time she and her family were in danger of their lives because they had the guts to fight. They had to change their residence 20 times and now again they feel threatened while the criminals are celebrating their own independence and being lionised as heroes.
What does this mean to the women of our country? What does it mean for the people? What should we do?
When the Convener asked everyone to express their views in turn, the members eagerly did so. We will give a summary of the salient points that emerged.
People are not communal; communal “riots’ are organized by the ruling class
The Gujarat “riots” were not spontaneous, but were organised genocides encouraged by the highest state authorities, like the “riots” of 1984 in which the Sikhs were targeted by the Congress party.
In both the cases, and many more besides, authorities including the highest in the land created conditions for the genocide. Many leaders actually participated, while others commanded, organised and facilitated the massacres from behind the scenes.
The reports of People’s Commission on 2002 “riots” in Gujarat as well on 1992 “riots” in Mumbai exposed how they were organized and how authorities and those in power were involved in them.
Since these “riots” are organized by rulers themselves, its organizers and perpetrators of atrocities do not get punished.
On the other hand there are countless instances of people coming to the rescue of the members from the other community, at great risk even to their lives.
Divide and Rule – a policy of the ruling class.
The ruling class led by the big corporates, like the British before it, is very small in number. It cannot rule without using each and every pretext to divide us. The British started systematically using this policy after they were really threatened by the Great War of Independence in 1857. The Indian ruling class has developed this method further and uses its parties to implement it. That happened in 1984 when the Congress wanted to teach the Sikhs a lesson. All over Punjab, farmers were fighting for their rights and the ruling class needed to restore its “order” (or in other words, suppress them).
In 1991, when the New Economic Policy of LPG was launched, the workers’ movement as well as the women’s movement were fighting against it. The BJP raised the Ram Janmabhoomi – Babri Masjid issue, and the ruling Congress party gave it its ashirwads by taking no action against the hate mongering and provocative Rath Yatra that had roused passions all over India. It again gave its ashirwads to the Babri Masjid demolition and the genocide that followed by taking no action to stop them.
The case of 2002 was the same, when the new wave of reforms that wreaked further havoc on the people was ushered in.
Even today when endless economic and other attacks are being made on the working people, the communal pot is always kept boiling in order to divide the people and divert them.
Different communities have been targeted at different times. The media plays a big role in poisoning people’s minds against the targeted community. The biggest media houses are owned by capitalist monopolies. The government media plays its part; the government itself is composed of people who are funded by big monopolists to do their bidding.
At different times South Indians, North Indians, Bengalis, and Christians have been targeted in our country. There are any number of instances of targeted violence against the so-called lower castes, and the higher caste criminals (now labelled sanskari) are never punished. In all these cases people are killed, with the women gang raped as well.
Instead of focusing on the struggle for our necessities, people are taught to hate each other. The ruling class wants us to attack each other, or at least look the other way when specific communities are attacked. It serves the ruling class to keep big sections of the working class and people terrorised so that they do not join in the fight against it.
This is not a “majoritarian” state, but a state of the ruling class!
In every part of our country majority of people in our country are the workers, peasants and other toilers, belonging to different genders, religions, castes, regions and so on. All of us are seeing growing attacks on our livelihoods, on our rights.
The ruling class, on the other hand, divides people on the basis of majority religion and minority religions because it helps to divide people and perpetrate the rule of the miniscule monopoly capitalists.
This is not a “majoritarian” state of workers, peasants and toilers.
Which state institution has ever worked for us?
Over decades we can see that irrespective of the party in power, our lives are becoming more and harder in every way, while at the same time the richest capitalist families are growing wealthier and wealthier and are counted among the riches in the world. Parliament passes laws that are blatantly against us and for corporates, the latest being the Farm Laws and the Wage Code.
Our voices are not heard, either by the ministers or by the bureaucracy. On the other hand, the capitalists just have to order the governments, and they say “Jee, Sahib”.
People try to avoid going to the police; getting even FIRs registered against those that hold some power is difficult and many a time impossible. Many women in fact think that the police station is one of the most dangerous places for them.
Thousands were murdered and raped, both in 1984 and 2002, but only a few were punished. Getting justice is a long, arduous, expensive and lengthy process, with the system ranged against the victims, starting with the difficulty in even registering FIRs.
Those who had the guts to speak have been incarcerated and hounded, including police officers and human rights activists. Investigative journalists are under threat and suffering from mental distress.
The jails are filled with under trials, many of them who are ultimately proven to be innocent, while criminals strut about freely and many of them are in power at various levels.
From the party in power at the time of the genocide, to the police that are under the command of the respective Home Minister, to the judicial system, all the state institutions act against the victims and the working people at large.
No, the state institutions are definitely not for the majority of people, whether they are Hindu or not. They are against them! This is not a majoritarian state, but a state of big capitalists.
What should we do?
The first thing is that of course we have to fight against injustice and for our rights in the spirit “An attack on one is an attack on all!”
The lesson we must remember is that we need to fight for people’s empowerment! Communal violence is not an attack on the targeted community alone. It is an attack on all of us, as it is an attack on our unity. The same is the case of rape. It is not an attack on women alone, but on all the working people.
In the case of communal violence, the commanders who plan and organise, who enable it by their acts of commission and omission, are never punished. Our demand should be that the guilty be punished, including those at the very top.
The larger question that needs to be raised is that of political power. We have to understand and explain to others that different problems – poverty, unemployment, atrocious working conditions, violence against women and people, etc. are interconnected. The basic problem is that there is no accountability in this system to the people – the ministers, the elected representatives, the police, the officers, the judges – none of them are accountable to the people. We have no power to decide how the country should be run.
There are innumerable examples to show how things are different wherever and to whatever extent people have some power to decide.
The members of PMS have attended countless morchas and demonstrations, when they have felt perfectly safe, surrounded as they are in those places with people fighting or their rights.
In innumerable religious gatherings and processions, women are safe, unless troublemakers from outside come and attack them; often these troublemakers are organised by vested interests.
It is well known that when the kisans were holding fort on the borders of Delhi, those were the safest places in India for women, at all hours of day and night. No one went hungry there, no one bothered to find out people’s caste or religion, the kisans organised for all peoples’ needs, whether they were part of the protests or not.
Our immediate task is to fight unitedly for justice. While we fight unitedly for our rights and against attacks on us, we have to bear in mind that we have to fight with the long-term aim of people’s empowerment.