In wake of a series of hateful, communal, often sexually threatening comments against the women protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) at Shaheen Bagh and many similar spots across the country, several prominent women’s rights activists and feminist intellectuals have written an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding that he not only openly condemn the words of these men, who belong to the BJP, but also take action against them.
The writers include, Devaki Jain, (Feminist Economist), Laila Tyabji, (Craft activist and Chairperson, DASTKAR), Madhu Bhaduri, (former Ambassador of India), Navrekha Sharma, (former Ambassador of India), Zoya Hasan, (Former Professor & Member, National Commission for Minorities), Uma Chakravarti, (Feminist Historian and filmmaker), Syeda Hameed, (Former Member, Planning Commission of India), Kamla Bhasin, (Gender Rights Activist), Farah Naqvi, (Author and Activist), Natasha Badhwar, Author and Film-maker; and organisations like Saheli, Pinjra Tod, WSS, AIDWA, AIPWA, NFIW, Makaam- Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch, Muslim Women’s Forum, etc.
In their open letter, the activists write, “We speak to you as women of this country, and the women of Delhi – Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Adivasi and Dalit – who are horrified at the atmosphere of violence against women that members of your party have created merely to try and win an election.”
Citing examples of Anurag Thakur who encouraged people to “shoot the traitors”, UP CM Adityanath who reiterated that “words not bullets will get the job done” and Union Home Minister Amit Shah who said electors should press the EVM button with such force that “protesters should feel the current”, the women ask, “Is the BJP now openly endangering the lives of India’s women and children?”
Then the activists take on Parvesh Verma for his statement, “Lakhs of people gather there (Shaheen Bagh). People of Delhi will have to think and take a decision. They’ll enter your houses, rape your sisters and daughters, kill them.” Though the Election Commission has removed him from the list of star campaigners, BJP has not expelled him or taken any disciplinary action against him so far. The activists ask the PM, “What is this kind of communal hate and fear mongering that you, as head of government are encouraging, that seeks to make women of all communities feel more insecure and threatened? Vote for BJP or you will get raped! Is this your election message to Delhi’s women? Is this how low your party has sunk?”
They further tell the PM, “Your government may disagree with the reasons for this nation-wide uprising against the NPR-NRC-CAA. But peaceful protest is our constitutional right. That is all we are doing. Lakhs of Delhi’s women are not just part of this movement, they are leading it.” Additionally, they wrote, “Empowered women are on the frontlines. We will not be silent when women are labelled terrorists and traitors, when all they are doing it fighting to protect and preserve the Constitution of our country.”
Finally, holding Modi accountable for the actions of his party men, the activists remind him, “Mr Prime Minister, you may belong to BJP, but you are the Prime Minister of the country and have a Constitutional obligation to protect the rights of all citizens. When members of your party exhort mobs to use violence and bullets and you remain silent or support them, remember it is you who are responsible.”
They conclude by laying down three points of action for the PM saying, “You need to speak out against such targeted violence and hate speech. You need to take immediate action, including under all relevant criminal provisions of the penal code, against these violence mongering members of your party. You need to fight the Delhi election in a manner that upholds the dignity of our Constitution and ensures the security of India’s women.”