Modi and Women, Sexual Minorities

In his first 100 days…

1.Rhetoric versus Reality

Contrary to the Prime Minister’s women-friendly public rhetoric, his government has failed to allocate any significant portion of the budget to change living and working conditions for women. Modi’s speech on August 15th, the anniversary of India’s Independence Day,  contained many references to women. He referred to India’s disturbing sex ratio and said families should “stop killing girls in the womb.” He also called for the need for girls and women to have access to safe toilets, and connected it to violence girls and women face additionally due to the lack of sanitary facilities. However, so far the progress on women’s rights has been slow. In this year’s budget, women’s safety programs merited a measly Rs. 200 crores (about $32.8 Million USD) which is about the same amount allocated for the construction of a statue of India’s first Home Minister, Vallabhbhai Patel.

In a recent speech Modi claims to have donated generously as chief minister for girl-child education, but there is not a substantial investment in girls’ education in the latest budget. There are two schemes introduced for girls/women – one to increase public safety in big and small cities  and the other is the introduction of a savings scheme for girls: Beti Bachao Beti Padhao program. A closer look at the figures, however, shows that these schemes are grossly inadequate to the task of challenging deep-rooted structural inequality that girls and women face. India’s Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, was also recently criticized for his offensive comments about rape in India. He was quoted at a tourism ministers’ conference saying: “One small incident of rape in Delhi advertised world over is enough to cost us billions of dollars in terms of global tourism.”

2. “Love Jihad” – the Demonization of Muslim communities in the name of women’s “honor”

With an eye on the (just concluded) by-elections, Modi and some ministers in his cabinet have stoked communal tensions in the state of Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) through inflammatory rhetoric accusing Muslim men of seducing and raping Hindu women.  BJP politicians accuse Muslim men of “love jihad,” a term they have coined to describe what they claim is a strategy on the part of Muslim men to increase the Muslim population in India. Many non-BJP ministers are against this tactic for fear of inciting violence in the state but their fears have been disregarded. Yogi Adityanath, a BJP Minister from U.P. announced at a campaign rally that forced conversion of Hindu girls to Islam can be prevented only by a BJP-led government in the state. Not only does this incite Islamophobia, but such tactics also reinforce patriarchal and regressive views of women where women’s bodies, understood to be property, are used by men and communities to avenge each other. Such accusations of “love jihad” have however proved to be an utter failure as borne out by the results of the by-elections which spell nothing short of a major defeat of the BJP’s communal politics in U.P. and Rajasthan.

The idea of “love jihad” basically reinforces the idea that women have no caste or religious identities of their own – an upper caste woman loses her caste “status” when she marries outside her religion or caste. Such dangerous frames further posit women as bearers of culture and communities and sanction moral policing of women and the need to inflict violence against women if they “transgress” i.e. marry outside their community, drink, smoke etc. In 2013, this trope of the “love jihad” was deployed by the Sangh Parivar in Muzzafarnagar against the Muslim community, and as a reason to target and attack Muslim young men. Hindu men are being urged to “reclaim” their masculinity and prevent Hindu women from seduction by Muslim men. Furthermore, Hindu women are recruited to mobilize and lead these attacks against Muslim men in the name of “saving Hindu women’s honor.” Such a framework erases women’s agency and condones the use of violence to suppress their freedom. Even though the National Crime Records Bureau does not recognize honor killings as a separate category, the Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives, a Lucknow-based feminist advocacy group, has found that patriarchal crimes that punish women for their supposed sexual transgressions are quite prevalent in Uttar Pradesh. For all the talk of protecting women, the “Love Jihad” propaganda and the specter of the predatory Muslim man actually exposes women to the threat of violence by their own families and communities.

3. Homophobia Continues to Hurt India

The overall nationalistic and patriarchal narrative of Narendra Modi’s BJP party is of grave concern for those who support the rights of sexual minorities.  BJP is the only major party to support the re-criminalization of homosexuality under section 377 (please see note about section 377 below). Modi has remained silent on his stance on Section 377 and LGBTQ rights. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision, several human rights organizations including the Alternative Law Forum, activists, progressive academics and parents of gay youth spoke out about the regressiveness of the decision, and the backlash it could unleash, but to little avail. Modi’s political and cultural philosophy is rooted in Hindutva, a hardline form of Hindu nationalism, and it remains to be seen what he will do to propel or regress LGBTQ rights. Following the Supreme Court decision in December 2013, BJP chief Rajnath Singh famously told journalists: “Gay sex is not natural and we cannot support something which is unnatural.”  Though there have been many public blogs, personal stories in the media and narratives by bravely out and proud gay individuals and their family members, the struggle to strike down this regressive legislation continues, and remains a stark challenge under the BJP, which touts homosexuality as anti-Hindu! According to a new study, homophobia could be costing India $30.8 billion every year.

The culture of homophobia in India continues to hurt disproportionately those who are already affected by systemic and societal injustices–women, lower caste and class communities. Whereas out gay men have been the most visible aspect of queer movements in India and the mobilizations against Section 377, queer women are highly invisible in a social context that denies agency for women’s sexuality. Queer women thus remain additionally marginalized within LGBTQ communities, and criminalizing homosexuality would be a further step back for queer women from being able to claim their identities openly.

Note: Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is the legacy of an archaic British colonial law that deemed homosexual sex as “unnatural.” On December 13, 2013, the Supreme Court of India re-criminalized gay sex by setting aside the 2009 judgment by a Delhi High Court that deemed section 377 as unconstitutional with regards to sex between consenting adults.

Previously, in Gujarat…

1. Dismal conditions for women throughout the state.

Overall, Modi’s track record in Gujarat with regard to women’s rights is dismal. The 2011 census revealed only 918 women per 1,000 men in Gujarat — a ratio that’s well below the abysmal national average of 940. Reports indicate that in Gujarat’s tribal areas, upper-caste men desiring an heir will buy low-caste teenage brides. According to Oxfam India, more than 1 in 3 married women in Gujarat is a survivor of domestic violence. An op-ed in the New York Times by Sonia Faleiro revealed that “despite this, Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city, was found this year to have just one officer to register complaints of spousal abuse, provide legal aid, monitor cases and take victims to shelters, as required under a 2005 national law. At one point, this officer was handling some 800 cases.”

The horrifying scale of brutality of the violence experienced by Gujarat’s Muslim women at the hands of the Sangh Parivar’s mobs in 2002 has been well documented by national and international human rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Gruesome accounts of horrific brutalities inflicted upon pregnant Muslim women’s bodies were documented and reported in the media. Amnesty International’s 2005 report on the state of women victims of the Gujarat riots documents that scores of women who were brutally raped continue to fight for justice and in key cases, the accused have been acquitted. An estimated 98,000 people lost their homes during the riots still await compensation and/or rehabilitation, more than a decade later.

India’s National Human Rights Commission, a government agency, found that Modi’s administration failed “to control the persistent violation of the rights to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the people of the State.” Modi was accused of being unwilling to proactively prosecute the rapists in the years following the violence. In 2013, there were concerns raised about Modi’s handling of the stalking of a woman in 2009  by senior Gujarat police officials on the behest of “saheb” or “boss,” who the Congress Party alleged was Modi himself.

Read more…

  1. “How Will Women in India Fare under a Modi BJP Government?” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  2. “India Women Activists Remind Modi of Promises – Features – Al Jazeera English.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  3. “India: The BJP, Rape, and the Status of Women | openDemocracy.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  4. “India’s Modi Takes on Rape Issue in His First Independence Day Speech – The Washington Post.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  5. “Modi Is No Champion of India’s Women –” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  6. “Narendra Modi as Prime Minister Would Roll Back Women’s Rights in India | Amrit Wilson | Comment Is Free |” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  7. “Stalk-Gate: Woman’s Father Wrote Letter to Save Narendra Modi, Claims IAS Officer.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  8. “The Myth of Love Jihad | The Indian Express.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  9. “What Indian Women Think of Narendra Modi – Quartz.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  10. “Why Opposing Narendra Modi Is A Women’s Rights Issue – CAG.” Accessed September 18, 2014.

Women and Budget 2014

  1. “Budget 2014-15: Impact on Women, Girls – Yahoo India Finance.” Accessed September 18, 2014.–impact-on-women–girls-102123874.html
  2. “The Money Set aside for Women in India’s Budget Has Actually Gone down – Quartz.” Accessed September 18, 2014.