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Letter from South Asian, Black and Minority Ethnic womens groups and feminists in UK to India’s Prime Minister Modi

12 October 2015

print version of this article print version - 12 October 2015

To the Prime Minister of India,
Panchavati, 7 Race Course Road, New Delhi

Dear Shri Narendra Modi,

As women concerned with combating violence against South Asian, Black and Minority Ethnic women and girls, we are writing to express our deep disquiet about your government’s approach to gender violence. When you were elected to lead India with a massive mandate from the people many had hoped that you would use it to try and improve women’s lives. Instead, your actions (and inaction) suggest that your government is not only indifferent to the increasing violence against women and rigid patriarchal control of their lives but often endorses and reinforces it.

Recently, you the Prime Minister of India, along with top ministers of your cabinet, have reported to an unconstitutional authority, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who have called you to account for your actions.
We find this shocking, because the RSS is a paramilitary organisation modelled on the Italian Fascist and German Nazi parties and known also for its violent misogyny. And while we know that you yourself have been a life-long member of the RSS, we think that in a democratic country like India, it is crucially important that the government is answerable only to parliament and democratic procedures.

We would like to remind you of some of the key themes of the ideology of the RSS and its sister organisations in the Hindutva fold, openly displayed in their leaders’ blatantly misogynistic and patriarchal remarks and frequent hate-filled pronouncements against women, Muslims, Dalits, Christians and Adivasis. The RSS leader, Mohan Bhagwat, for example, said not long ago, that women should be housewives and ’husband and wife are involved in a contract under which the husband has said that you should take care of my house and I will take care of all your needs. I will keep you safe... Till the time, the wife follows the contract, the husband stays with her, if the wife violates the contract, he can disown her.’ In other words men are not expected to do any housework and married women, who it is assumed do not share ownership of their own homes, can be ’disowned’ by their husbands for not doing it.

As for rape, according to Bhagwat, it happens only to westernised women!

Do you agree with these RSS strictures and attitudes? If you do not, we urge you to speak out against them because your silence suggests acquiescence.
We urge you also to condemn the RSS ideology which asserts that Hindu men must prove their masculinity by raping non-Hindu women, who are seen as ‘symbols’ of the ‘enemy culture’. (RSS leader V.D. Savarkar advocated rape by Hindu men as an act of nationalism in his book, The Six Golden Epochs of Indian History, p.71).

The public condemnation of this aspect of RSS ideology by you is, we feel, particularly important, because it was under your watch as Chief Minister of Gujarat, that this was put into practice in 2002, with countless Muslim women raped, mutilated and murdered.

We would like to remind you also that few of those responsible for the rapes and murders during the Gujarat pogrom 2002 have been brought to justice.

Babu Bajrangi, a leader of the Bajrang Dal, sister organisation of the RSS, was caught on camera, in 2007, boasting of the rapes and murders he had committed at Naroda Patiya in Gujarat in 2002 and recounting how he attacked Kauser Bano who was nine months pregnant. Her belly was torn open and her foetus wrenched out, held aloft on the tip of a sword, then dashed to the ground and flung into a fire. Babu Bajrangi has been charged??? for these terrible crimes but he is continually out on bail and like many others who were involved in the rapes and murders during the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, he is effectively free. Is this right in a democratic country where women’s safety and freedom of movement should be paramount?

Equally worrying is the fact that your own cabinet includes a number of ministers against whom criminal cases, including rape, are pending in various courts of the country - they include Sanjeev Baliyan a rape-accused from UP - surely he should be dismissed from his post, as must your advisor Amit Shah (an RSS cadre and President of your party the BJP) who directly incited rape during your election campaign in April 2014 calling on Hindus to ‘take revenge’ on ’those who have been ill treating our mothers and sisters’

Also on the subject of the BJP, earlier this year a 4 year old was raped in one of the party’s offices allegedly by the caretaker. You have neither condemned this shocking crime nor done anything to prevent such crimes taking place in your party’s offices again.
After the recent rape of a nun in West Bengal, you tweeted expressing your deep concern .

We noticed, however, that you did not condemn the rapists or launch an investigation into the Hindutva organisations which support them.

Your own pronouncements on violence against women have been remarkably few. Your reaction to the brutal rape and murder of two young oppressed caste women in Badaun was that ’honouring women and protecting them should be the top-most priority of the government’

We find this disturbing since concepts of ’honour’ and ’protection’ are routinely used to justify violence against women. Also, following this horrifying event you did not condemn a culture where such rapes and murders of oppressed caste people are commonplace (and in fact often carried out in the name of ‘protecting’ other women) – or put any measures in place to prevent such brutality taking place again in the future.

At the same time your government has done nothing to change the laws which directly contribute to gender violence, despite popular campaigns urging you to do so. These laws include the notorious AFSPA under which the police and armed forces personnel continue to perpetrate the most horrific sexual violence (effectively with impunity) in Kashmir and the North Eastern states of India ; the law which permits marital rape; and the homophobic section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises LGBT people. Are these legal changes not possible because the RSS and its affiliated organisations would not approve of them?

You have also maintained a remarkable tolerance of the so-called ’moral policing’ of couples which has frequently led to attacks, in some cases murderous attacks, on couples who cross religious and caste boundaries, by the RSS’s sister organisations in Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra and most recently by the police in Mumbai.

Finally, since we are based in the UK, we would also like to point out that the HSS, the overseas wing of the RSS, is currently being investigated by the Charity Commission for hate speech against Christians and Muslims

Surely these are not organisations by which a Prime Minister of democratic and secular India should be guided, or held accountable.

We urge you Shri Modi to make your position clear. Do you approve of the hate crimes, patriarchal violence and misogyny perpetrated by the RSS and its affiliated organisations? If not, we urge you to openly condemn these organisations.

  1. Zlakha Ahmed, Director, Apna Haq, Rotherham
  2. Ila Patel, Director, Asha Projects, London
  3. Shaminder Ubhi, Director, Ashiana Network, London
  4. Sarbjit Ganger, Director, Asian Women’s Resource Centre, London
  5. Mwenya Chimba , Director, Black Association of Women Step Out, Cardiff
  6. Anjona Roy, Director, Dostiyo, Northampton
  7. Camille Kumar, on behalf of Freedom Without Fear Platform, London
  8. Firoza Mohmed, Director, Humraaz, Blackburn
  9. Marai Larasi, Director, Imkaan
  10. Carolina Gottardo, Director, Latin American Women’s Rights Services, London
  11. Baljit Banga, Director, Newham Asian Women’s Project, London
  12. Priya Chopra, Director, Saheli, Manchester
  13. Pragna Patel, on behalf of Southall Black Sisters
  14. Sanjeevini Dutta, on behalf of Kadam Asian Dance and Music
  15. Professor Shirin Rai, University of Warwick, University of Bedfordshire
  16. Dr Camilla Bassi, Sheffield Hallam University
  17. Professor Gargi Bhattacharyya, University of East London
  18. Dr Sukhwant Dhaliwal
  19. Dr Meena Dhanda, University of Wolverhampton
  20. Dr Aisha Gill, University of Roehampton
  21. Dr Marsha Henry, London School of Economics
  22. Dr Rubina Jasani, University of Manchester
  23. Dr Nisha Kapoor, University of York
  24. Dr Sneha Krishnan, University of Oxford
  25. Dr Sumi Madhok, London School of Economics
  26. Dr Sarita Malik, Brunel University
  27. Dr Suryia Nayak, University of Salford
  28. Dr Goldie Osuri, University of Warwick
  29. Dr Navtej Purewal, SOAS
  30. Dr Anandi Ramamurthy, Sheffield Hallam University
  31. Dr Parvathi Raman, SOAS
  32. Dr Ravi Thiara, University of Warwick
  33. Dr Rashmi Varma, University of Warwick
  34. Dr Kalpana Wilson, London School of Economics