Nodeep Kaur and Disha Ravi’s arrests have once again proved that India is no land for female activists. The space for dissent in Narendra Modi’s India is narrowing every single day but history of India tells us that irrespective of who was in power at Delhi, nation was never kind to its female activists. As Nodeep Kaur and Disha await their bails, let us take a look at how some of the female activists have been treated in India.
Gauri Lankesh was tall and unapologetic journalist who highlighted the bads of Hindutva. She had started her own ‘Gauri Lankesh Patrike’, a Kannada fortnightly. In the times of fake news and sold out media, Gauri painstakingly ran a newspaper in the local language without any advertisement revenue, and while the champagne-sipping urban elite talk of dissent in only English-speaking exclusive panels, Gauri was a staunch critic of right-wing Hindutva politics and this brought her under the radar of right wing lynch mobs. She was shot by Parashuram Waghmore who even claimed that he killed Gauri to save his religion. The religion that survived the Mughal invasions, British Colonisation felt threatened by a woman activist goes on to tell the narrative building against the women activists in India.
Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita of Pinjra Tod
Two female activists Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita who run Pinjra Tod (an NGO that talks about hike in hostel fee of colleges) were arrested for being part of anti CAA protests.
Kalita is an MPhil student at the Centre for Women’s Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), and Narwal is a doctoral student at the Centre for Historical Studies at JNU.
Both were arrested multiple times during anti CAA protests. Natasha was even stamped with UAPA. Nothing could be proven against the two girls and were given bails but not before they were harassed and assaulted in Police custody.
Soni Sori is a lesser known name in the urban circles of India. Sori is an Adhivasi activist and talks about land grabbing of tribals by corporates. She was arrested in 2011 by Delhi police on charges of acting as a conduit for Maoists. During her imprisonment, she was tortured and sexually assaulted by Chhattisgarh state police. By April 2013, the Indian Courts had acquitted her in six of the eight cases filed against her due to lack of evidence. After release from prison, Sori began campaigning for the rights of those caught up in the conflict between Maoist insurgents and the government, in particular criticising police violence against tribespeople in the region.
India is the last place to be a woman and if you are a Muslim woman activist it sure is close to hell. Safoora Zargar, an MPhil student in Jamia University is an activist from Kishtwar in Jammu & Kashmir. She was very vocal anti CAA protests and led the protests at Shaheen Bagh. She was arrested and detained during her pregnancy amid covid pandemic. She was constantly vilified by media and narrative was built around her personality that she was an instigator of violence in Delhi. She was kept in prison and got bail after humanitarian organisations took cognisance of her pregnancy and arrest. Her character was assassinated by verified profiles and leaders of the ruling party. Safoora continues to raise her voice for the oppressed even today.
Arundhati is the most feared woman activist by right wing government. She has been very vocal in highlighting the army excesses in Kashmir including the rapes and extrajudicial killings in Kashmir. She has been centre of attention for years now. Multiple FIR’s have been filed against her for standing with oppressed Kashmiris. Top leaders of right wing like Subramaniam Swamy have been spewing Hate for Arundhati Roy.
Inderjit Kaur spent 45 months of her life in Jodhpur jail after she was arrested from Golden temple post operation Bluestar. Inderjit Kaur was an activist and worked effectively for orphans in Punjab. When she was arrested, she left behind a one-and-a-half-year-old son and three elder daughters. During her 45-month detention she met her son only twice. “Till a month back I was not sure whether I would see my children ever again,” Inderjit was harassed and abused in detention.
Gulfisha, 25, an MBA student, who was arrested by the police on April 9 2020, but continues to languish in judicial custody “without proper access to her family or lawyer”. The only fault of Gulfisha was that she addressed the anti CAA protestors at Seelampur area.
In addition to Safoora, Gulfisha and Pinjra Tod activists many other female activists were harassed and troubled by police. For example- Police seized the phones of AISA activist Kawalpreet Kaur and arrested many others.
Sudha Bharadwaj is a trade-unionist, activist and lawyer who has lived and worked in Chhattisgarh for over three decades. Part of the vibrant labour movement that began in the iron ore mines of Dalli Rajhara. Sudha is an active member of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (Mazdoor Karyakrta Committee).She has fought hundreds of cases for the most exploited of contract workers across the factories of Chhattisgarh. Her deep empathy and relentless pursuit for justice made her a lawyer for and of the people of Chhattisgarh. She is also a prominent civil rights activist, and has been served as the General Secretary of PUCL Chhattisgarh, is the founder of Janhit (a lawyers collective), a founding member of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan (CBA), a member of the Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL), and Women against Sexual Violence and State repression (WSS).
Sudha was arrested on Aug 28, 2018 in connection with Bhima Koregaon case. She was stamped with UAPA. The Pune police filed a chargesheet against Bharadwaj in 2018 claiming that some documents were recovered from her co-accused which mention her activities and prove that she is an ‘active member’ of banned organisation CPI (Maoist). But now that Bhima Koregaon Case has taken new turn with evidence that material was planted in phones, it has further exposed the state and its iron fist against the women activists.
Sunitha Krishnan is a social activist and chief functionary and co-founder of Prajwala, an NGO that rescues, rehabilitates and reintegrates sex-trafficked victims into society.
Krishnan has been physically assaulted 14 times and she receives regular death threats. She says that a Sumo van once deliberately rammed her auto rickshaw but she escaped serious injury. She was again fortunate to escape injury when acid was once flung at her. Good fortune saved her a third time when she was the target of a poisoning attempt. Krishnan says that these assaults have only steeled her resolve to carry on her crusade against human trafficking.
In 2012, an RTI activist led an attack on one of Prajwala’s transition centers in Kalapather. A mob of young Muslims with posters and printouts of Prajwala’s website staged a dharna in front of its school. The media picked up the story, presenting one-sided information, insinuating that Prajwala had been defaming Muslim women in order to access foreign funds. Hundreds of Muslims came to attack the centre with swords, chains and stones. Their leader declared loudly that he would kill Krishnan and “cut her into pieces”. He also threatened to close all her other centers.
The list of women activists who have been stopped from doing their job is very long and ever increasing one in India. One can start with the detention of Harjee Malik in 1984 and conclude with rape threats to 8yr old climate activist Licpriya Kangujam in 2021.