Honouring an anti-fascist hero and woman of incredible courage:
That girl, the one without the name. The one just like us. The one whose battered body stood for all the anonymous women in this country whose rapes and deaths are a footnote in the left-hand column of the newspaper.
Sometimes, when we talk about the history of women in India, we speak in shorthand. The Mathura rape case. The Vishaka guidelines. The Bhanwari Devi case, the Suryanelli affair, the Soni Sori allegations, the business at Kunan Pushpora. Each of these, the names of women and places, mapping a geography of pain; unspeakable damage inflicted on women’s bodies, on the map of India, where you can, if you want, create a constantly updating map of violence against women.
For some, amnesia becomes a way of self-defence: there is only so much darkness you can swallow. They turn away from all the places that have become shorthand for violence beyond measure, preferring not to know about Kashmir or the outrages in Chattisgarh, choosing to forget the Bombay New Year assault, trying not to remember the deaths of a Pallavi Purkayastha, a Thangjam Manorama, Surekha and Priyanka Bhotmange, the mass rapes that marked the riots in Gujarat. Even for those who stay in touch, it isn’t possible for your empathy to keep abreast with the scale of male violence against women in India: who can follow all of the one-paragraph, three-line cases? The three-year-old raped before she can speak, the teenager assaulted by an uncle, the 65-year-old raped as closure to a property dispute, the slum householder raped and violently assaulted on her way to the bathroom. After a while, even memory hardens.
And then you reach a tipping point, and there’s that girl. For some reason, and I don’t really know why, she got through to us. Our words shrivelled in the face of what she’d been subjected to by the six men travelling on that bus, who spent an hour torturing and raping her, savagely beating up her male friend. Horrific, brutal, savage—these tired words point to a loss of language, and none of them express how deeply we identified with her.
She had not asked to become a symbol or a martyr, or a cause; she had intended to lead a normal life, practicing medicine, watching movies, going out with friends. She had not asked to be brave, to be the girl who was so courageous, the woman whose injuries symbolised the violence so many women across the country know so intimately. She had asked for one thing, after she was admitted to Safdarjung Hospital: “I want to live,” she had said to her mother.
We may have not noticed the reports that came in from Calcutta in February, of a woman abandoned on Howrah Bridge, so badly injured after a rape that involved, once again, the use of iron rods, that the police thought she had been run over by a car. We may have skimmed the story of the 16-year-old Dalit girl in Dabra, assaulted for three hours by eight men, who spoke up after her father committed suicide from the shame he had been made to feel by the village. Or some may have done something concrete about these things, changed laws, worked on gender violence, keeping their feelings out of it, trying to be objective.
But there is always one that gets through the armour that we build around ourselves. In 1972, the first year in which the NCRB recorded rape cases, there were 2,487 rapes reported across India. One of them involved a teenager called Mathura, raped by policemen; we remember her, we remember the history and the laws she changed. (She would be 56 now.)
Some cases stop being cases. Sometimes, an atrocity bites so deep that we have no armour against it, and that was what happened with the 23-year-old physiotherapy student, the one who left a cinema hall and boarded the wrong bus, whose intestines were so badly damaged that the injuries listed on the FIR report made hardened doctors, and then the capital city, cry for her pain.
She died early this morning, in a Singapore hospital where she and her family had been dispatched by the government for what the papers called political, not compassionate, reasons.
The grief hit harder than I’d expected. And I had two thoughts, as across Delhi, I heard some of the finest and toughest men I know break down in their grief, as some of the calmest and strongest women I know called and SMSed to say that she—one of us, this girl who had once had a future and a life of her own to lead—was gone, that it was over.
The first was: enough. Let there be an end to this epidemic of violence, this culture where if we can’t kill off our girls before they are born, we ensure that they live these lives of constant fear. Like many women in India, I rely on a layer of privilege, a network of friends, paranoid security measures and a huge dose of amnesia just to get around the city, just to travel in this country. So many more women have neither the privilege, nor the luxury of amnesia, and this week, perhaps we all stood up to say, “Enough”, no matter how incoherently or angrily we said it.
The second was even simpler. I did not know the name of the girl in the bus, through these last few days. She had a name of her own–it was not Amanat, Damini or Nirbhaya, names the media gratuitously gave her, as though after the rape, she had been issued a new identity. I don’t need to know her name now, especially if her family doesn’t want to share their lives and their grief with us. I think of all the other anonymous women whose stories don’t make it to the front pages, when I think of this woman; I think of the courage that is forced on them, the way their lives are warped in a different direction from the one they had meant to take. Don’t tell me her name; I don’t need to know it, to cry for her.
Other good Indian commentary on this subject:
Ravi Shankar was more than a virtuoso in Hindustani classic music, although he was certainly that. He was an experimental creator within India who incorporated the mathematical rhythms of South Indian carnatic music into the north Indian system. He played the sitar as nobody else could, with bass notes to the fore.
Musical innovation was the hallmark of his career. His success in the West was due not only to innate talent but also to his instinctive ability to adapt Indian styles to a European audience, as well as to the requirements of the music industry — from shortening raga performances for Western concerts, records and broadcast slots, to bending the rigid rules of “time theory”, under which each raga must be performed only at its assigned hour of the day.
Ultimately his greatness arose from the match of his manifold talents and broad world view. His immense personal success opened the way for many other Indian artists to appear in the West and for many Western listeners to delight in the sub-continent’s musical heritage
(adapted and excerpted from The Times obituary of December 13)
Industrial victories are not that common these days, and I have heard people express a degree of scepticism about the effectiveness of online campaigns like those organized by LabourStart. So this is well noting and celebrating:
So, the perpetrator of the Oslo outrage was a white Norwegian Christian-fundamentalist fascist who hated ‘multi-culturalism’ and Muslims.
I would hope that it’s common ground on the left (and not just the “left”, but all decent people), that the following apply:
1/ We cannot conceive of even the slightest degree of sympathy for this fascist;
2/ We must not say anything to the effect of “Norway had it coming“;
3/ We must not attempt to excuse this crime with vacuous talk of “victimhood” or “justified grievance”
This was an action by a fascist- who is probably a nutter- and we must treat it as such: our only concern should be to defeat and crush him and any movement he is associated with.
Above: the “blond, blue-eyed” Anders Behring Breivik.
The left must say “No pasarán!” to far-right terrorism: full stop.
Whether it’s by a white fascist religious fanatic against innocent white people…
…or by brown fascist religious fanatics against innocent brown people:
Above: victims of Islamo-fascist terrorism in Mumbai, India, July 2011
Details of the Oklahoma bombing here.
“Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri may have pulled the trigger but let us all hang our head in shame today because Salman Taseer was killed by the intolerance, the hatred, the extremism, the vigilantism, the violence and the jahalat that now defines our society. He was killed by the unchecked abundance of false sanctimony where custodians of morality have been breathing fire and instigating violence. Each one of us, including his own party, should be ashamed today for having tolerated the pall of intolerance that has eventually gunned down this man. Today’s Pakistan is defined by Mumtaz Hussain Qadris. They exist all around us. And it is all of us who tolerate them and their intolerance. It is this tolerance of intolerance that kills.
“Today, it claimed yet one more victim.”
This outrage, together with the hounding of M.F. Husian by Hindu bigots (so well described by Nick Cohen here), tells us exactly where the centre of struggle on 2011 lies: for democracy, free speech and secularism, against religious bigotry and political relativism in all its forms. And that includes fake “left” idiots like this, this and this.
International Women’s Day – from a South Asian perspective (h/t: the excellent ‘Butterflies and Wheels’ blog):
“The women’s movement, like other movements of marginalised groups, began by identifying, voicing and attempting to overthrow oppression. While loosening the constraints of binary thinking (men-women, heterosexual-homosexual and so forth) is undoubtedly a necessity today, it is still meaningful to talk in terms of specific identities and the specific issues that they face. Indeed, feminism has a particularly compelling lens through which to understand marginalisation, with women having long occupied the margins. It has only been possible to access rights, benefits and privileges by crossing the invisible but powerful border on the margins of existence and demanding to be centre-stage. Just as American feminist writer and poet bell hooks asserts the transformative power of marginality – rendering as it does, the capability of looking both out and in – symbolism can be as transformative, fuelling the power to dream.”
Complete article here.
Meanwhile Stroppy and Janine take up the cudgels for feminism and secularism against an idiot (called, inevitably “anon”)…why not join in?
If you don’t read anything else today, read this:
“Gurmail Singh had apparently been attacked with a ‘club hammer': imagine a baby sledge-hammer you can carry inside a coat. It’s still a nasty weapon. He was 63. He was 5ft 4in tall, maybe 5ft 6in in his turban.
“There are two stories here. One, a tale of random violence in ‘broken Britain’, in what had been described as a ‘rundown’ and ‘working-class’ area of doomed Huddersfield. (It’s not. It’s very pleasant, apart from the blithering cold.) One 20-year old and three teens have now been charged with robbery and murder, and are due in Bradford Crown Court tomorrow.
“The other story, the reason I’m here, doesn’t concern the death of a shopkeeper but rather the life of a shopkeeper. The powerful part this one small man -Gurmail Singh, husband, father of three, grandfather to 18 – had played in the community. Sometimes cliches are true. He was beloved by all, selfless, cheerful. In the recent snow , he found a sledge to use at five every morning and let it slide down the long hill to collect newspapers, then hauled it back high again, now 10 times the weight, and delivered papers door to door. He would shut up shop to drive home older women with gammy legs. He opened seven days a week, from 5.30 to 9 at night. He smiled endlessly.”
Read the rest here.
Twenty five years ago Union Carbide’s pesticide plant in Bhopal, India leaked lethal methal isocyanate which mixed with water and caused massive poisonous clouds to descend upon the sleeping population of the city.
3,000 people died in agony that night and over the next few days. According to Indian government figures about ten times that number have died since and a further 60,000 are permanently injured with respiratory illnesses, blindness and all manner of other ailments. Hundreds of survivors still attend pain relief clinics.
Union Carbide’s boss of Indian operations fled the country and has never faced justice. The US courts forced Union Carbide to pay out $470 million (a paltry figure given the number of victims) as a “final” settlement, but even now the survivors are being ripped off.
As the victims still campaign for justice in India and the US, the least we can do is to remember and honour them – and remember the worst example example of industrial capitalism’s contempt for human life (especially in the “third world”) outside of war.
(Thanks to Rajwinder Sahota in the Morning Star).
PS: Indra Sinha has a powerful, harrowing piece in the Graun (G2) that puts the immediate death count at 8,000 with more than 10,000 still chronically ill. He goes into devastating detail about the cost-cutting and contempt for elementary health and safety that caused the distaster, the disgraceful treatment of survivors, and the mental torment, birth defects and sheer physical pain that people are still experiencing:
“A quarter of a century later, Union Carbide and its owner, the Dow Chemical Company, which acquired it in 2001, still refuse to publish the results of studies into the effects of MIC. With or without these studies, 25 years of suffering prove that mass exposure to MIC destroys bodies, minds, families and a whole society.
“Abdul Mansuri speaks for thousands. ‘My breathing problems started after the gas and got worse and worse. I can truthfully say that I have never had a day’s health, or a day without pain, since ‘that night’.’ For some the pain, physical, mental, emotional, has been too much.
“Kailash Pawar was a young man. ‘My body is the support of my life,’ he said. ‘When my breathing is normal I feel like living. But when it becomes heavy, thinking stops and absolute pain takes over. I have become worthless.’ He was still in his 20s when he doused himself in kerosene and struck a match.
“Today in Bhopal, more than 100,000 people remain chronically ill.
“The compensation paid by Union Carbide, meant to last the rest of their lives, averaged some £300 a head: taken over 25 years that works out at around 7p a day, enough perhaps for a cup of tea.”
Finally, after quite literally weeks of voting in the world’s largest general election, India has given its verdict. In defiance of every opinion poll prediction of a “cliffhanger” result, the ruling United Progressive Allliance led by the secular Congress (I) Party has won a clear victory, dealing a crushing blow to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies. Once again, presented with a free choice, Indian voters have rejected the politics of myopic communalist bigotry and chosen a political path which separates religious belief from political practice.
As the complete results show, the Congress alone has won more seats than the BJP and its allies combined, marking a shift away from the recent trend of regional powerbrokers holding the national parties to ransom as they scrabbled to form governments. Further, Mayawati Kumari (the first Dalit regional premier and leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party) has been frustrated in her ambition to hold the balance of power or even the premiership, which must surely come as a blow to India’s sculptors given the amount of statues of herself that the old charlatan might have ordered. Indeed, the fading of the regional parties’ influence can probably be seen on balance as a positive, showing that people voted out of concern with national political issues rather than with local or communal/religious interests at the forefront of their minds.
As well as the welcome battering of the communalist parties, some of the Congress’ gains have come at the expense of the Stalinist-led Left Front, whom they have trounced in Kerala and (in tandem with their rather politically eccentric allies in the Trinamool Congress) even gained some strength against in the Communist stronghold of West Bengal. It was a bad night overall for the Communist Party (Marxist) leaders of the Left Front, who dropped 27 seats, mainly in Kerala and West Bengal. This perhaps reflects the CP’s establishment status in both states, as well as an evident national mood to vote the Congress back into power.
Overall, what does it mean? The Congress, with its history of dynastic governance by the Gandhis and its increasing neo-liberalism in policy and practice, will not provide an emancipatory politics for the Indian people. However the fall of the “Saffron” Hindu nationalists can only be welcomed by people who support the absence of religious influence from the State that is secularism in its true form. Whether a truly progressive national force will emerge that is able to transcend the semi-feudal politics of the Congress or the bureaucratism of the Stalinists, remains to be seen. Here’s hoping.