Cover Story
Increasing Attack on Women under Modi Regime
by Sucheta de

The second tenure of the Narendra Modi led BJP government at centre started on 30th May 2019. After it assumed power in 2014, the Modi government is approaching a decade of ruling India. ‘Bahut hua nari par var, abki bar Modi sarkar’ (Enough with attacks on women, elect Modi government this time) was one of the slogans made popular through the high pitch propaganda machinery of the BJP before 2014 election. The propaganda of pro-women governance continued through subsequent slogans of ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ (save women, educate them), ‘selfie with daughter’ etc. While millions of rupees were spent in making these slogans popular, what remained to be seen was what changed for women in the New India under Modi regime.

A glimpse of what women under Modi regime are facing were brought to light when India’s world champions, the women wrestlers protesting against sexual harassment by BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, were dealt with brute force of the state on the same day, the New Parliament, was inaugurated by Narendra Modi with Brij Bhushan attending the highly decorated ceremony. Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, Sangeeta Phogat and other women wrestlers, who have won multiple medals in international championships like the Olympics, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, have been protesting for months against sexual harassment by Brij Bhushan, the president of Wrestling Federation of India. People of India remember the photo-op by the PM himself with these wrestlers when they returned to the country with the medals. When the medal winners filed complaint of sexual harassment against Brij Bhushan, the machinery of the Modi regime became busy in silencing them. It was after months of protest and intervention by Supreme Court, that an FIR was filed against Brij Bhushan. He continues to an MP.

If this is how medal-winning sportspersons are treated, one can imagine how millions of other women facing sexual harassment at their workplaces and daring to speak up against it are being dealt with. It was after the complaint filed by the wrestlers that the absence of Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) in WFI was brought to light. ICCs are mandatory at every work place under Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, 2013, enacted after the massive anti-rape movement of 2012. If a national-level institution, such as the WFI, has not bothered to constitute an ICC in the institute, the absolute absence of it in workplaces throughout the country is only telling.

The ordeal of India’s decorated women wrestlers fighting for justice is a reminder of how the state machinery under Modi government in alliance with BJP support base operates with the motive of defending the accused, especially if the accused is close to the ruling party.

It was under Modi, that rallies, attended by BJP ministers, in support of the accused of rape and murder of an eight-year-old in Jammu’s Kathua was organised. The Kathua script of mass mobilisation for rape accused was performed in Unnao as well, when Kuldeep Singh Sengar, the BJP MLA from the constituency was accused of rape. The complainant as well as her family have faced tremendous torture and attacks for speaking out against Sengar. The brutal rape and murder case of Hathras is still afresh in our memory, where the BJP-led UP government is protecting the perpetrators since they belong to the dominant castes. The women students of Banaras Hindu University, from Modi’s own parliamentary constituency, faced lathi charge and police action for demanding justice against sexual harassment and formation of an effective anti-sexual harassment cell. The BJP-led Gujarat government released all eleven men accused of gang-rape of Bilkis Bano and murdering her family members during 2002 anti-Muslim progrom. And it is under Modi government, that India has seen a 42.96% jump in crimes against women in 2021.

Controlling women’s autonomy over her life has been the biggest strategy of regressive patriarchal forces to control and subjugate women. Women under Modi Raj are being forcefully denied their right to autonomy and choice. Several BJP-led state governments have enacted laws that vilify inter-faith marriages through the ‘anti-conversion’ laws. BJP’s anti-Muslim, anti-women propaganda of ‘Love Jihad’ is being given legal legitimacy through these legislations. Several inter-faith couples have faced intimidation, threat, mob attacks and harassment using legal acts, and even been put to death for choosing to love beyond their religion. The attempt is to generate hatred against the Muslim community by keeping women in shackles of religious control by the State itself.

By silencing women who are speaking out against sexual harassment and discrimination they face in education, employment and other public spheres they occupy, the Modi government is deliberately pushing them out of these spaces. The years of progress achieved by women in the country in the field of education is being undone with the incorporation of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. NEP plans closure of public-funded schools and colleges in small towns and villages. Thousands of schools have been closed throughout India in the name of mergers. Public-funded colleges are being advised to be closed in the name of building big-scale universities in cities. Anyone familiar with the struggles that girls face in attaining an education in a deeply patriarchal society, knows that attaining education is going to be an uphill task for girls if accessible public-funded institutions are not available in nearby area. In 2022, the BJP-led Karnataka Government issued a notice prohibiting hijab being worn in schools and colleges. This order was followed by forceful closure of gates of educational institutions on women students. Studies and data show that more than 17,000 girls/women students were forced to skip their board examination in 2022 due to the hijab ban order.

The number of women who are stepping out and are on the lookout for jobs are reducing under Modi Raj. Recent data has shown that women’s Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) has decreased from 27% in 2012 to 22.9% in 2021. LFPR is a very important indicator of women’s empowerment in a society as it shows how many women are seeking out jobs. It is an indicator of the health of the labour market and public sphere in regard to women. A decreasing LFPR is an indicator of hostile labour market and public sphere for women. Post-pandemic, women have shifted from salaried employment to casual and self-employment. What is leading women to be increasingly pushed out of labour market and dignified employment? The answer probably lies in the New India under Modi governance with its regressive policies, which is pushing women back into the confines of their homes.

More than 1 crore scheme workers in India, wherein more than 95% are women, are being openly exploited by the government. The ASHA, Anganwadi, mid-day meal cooks and workers engaged under several schemes of the government are being made to work without minimum wages. These workers who are the backbone of several Central government schemes are not even recognised as workers and do not avail any social security scheme. They are being made to work in humiliating working conditions, where there is no grievance redressal mechanism even for sexual harassment.

The communal machinery of the Modi - BJP brigade have time and again unleashed their hate-filled attack on Muslims in the name of saving women. The Muzaffarnagar riot was preceded by ‘Bahu Bachao, Beti Bachao’ propaganda. Special legal provisions have been enacted to specially target Muslim men in the name of banning triple talaq. The Muslim women’s movement that campaigned and built-up consensus for non-recognition of Triple Talaq never demanded communal discrimination among men in divorce laws.

Be it in the release of Bilkis Bano’s rapists, in the defense of rape and murder accused in Kathua, in the attack on CAA-NRC protesters, the hate campaign and incarceration of Safoora, Gulfisha and several other women, pushing out women from education in the name of prohibition on hijab - the Modi governments’ communal agenda is clear in all these aspects.

The last nine years have also been marked by energetic and bold movement by women against the patriarchal-communal machinery. We have seen the massive movement led by women against CAA-NRC-NPR, the assertive participation of women against anti-farmer laws, the protest by college and university students from BHU, DU and Kalakshetra against sexual harassment, and the united action by the scheme workers demanding rights and dignity. The ongoing wrestlers protest on the ninth-year of Modi government shows that the quest for justice and equality is indomitable. Women shall march on to push back the patriarchal-communal rule of Modi Raj and the Sangh Brigade.

Increasing Attack on Women under Modi Regime