Last year, a large number of young people in the anti-rape movement in Delhi called for ‘Bekhauf Azadi’ – Fearless Freedom – explicitly rejecting the kind of ‘security’ that was a euphemism for forcing women to prove their ‘respectability’ and their ‘modesty’ in exchange for ‘protection.’
A year later, we are faced with a frightening situation, where an organised assault led by a Minister on African women and also some transgender people in a South Delhi mohalla is being justified as a measure to make Indian women safe.
The AAP’s lack of a well-defined policy or ideological position on gender and other social issues had been valorised by many. The AAP has tried to position itself as the ‘natural home’ of all people’s movements. But it has consciously remained aloof from India’s women’s movement, choosing to articulate any pro-women policies in purely in terms of bureaucratic reforms or in terms of policing rather than in terms of social change.
AAP ideologue Yogendra Yadav, preparing to make a bid for power in Haryana, has maintained silence on the anti-dalit and anti-women actions of khap panchayats, talking instead of the need for ‘dialogue’ with khaps, and suggesting to resolve ‘social conflicts’ by dialogue rather than enforcing laws (http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/arvind-kejriwal-s-aap-now-eyes-haryana-open-to-dialogue-with-khap-panchayats-468220). He has even said that if the ‘entire Jat community’ reaches a consensus in favour of the khaps’ demand that Hindu marriage law to prevent marriages within the same ‘gotra’ or clan, there is no problem with amending the law. How can a community ‘consensus’ be allowed to overrule the right of individuals to marry whosoever they please in a democracy? Can a community consensus be allowed to impose social boycott on dalits, or to prevent girls from loving someone from a forbidden caste or gotra? Similar troubling questions about the AAP’s social policy soon made an appearance in the very heart of Delhi, when the Law Minister branded African women as prostitutes and drug peddlers, and instigated a mob to assault them, after he failed to get the police to ‘raid’ the homes of the Africans and arrest the women. The Government has objected to the Police’s refusal to obey the Minister’s order for a ‘raid’; the reality is that this was no raid, it was a gender and race riot, instigated by the Minister.
The Law Minister tried to stoke the passions of prejudice and moral outrage against foreign ‘prostitutes’, whom he labelled as a threat to ‘local ma/behen/beti.’ The fact is that neither the Minister nor any mob can have the right to ‘cleanse’ the community of sex-workers. Labelling sex-workers as ‘polluters of social morality’ and throwing them out of a community is much like labelling dalits ‘polluters of caste purity’ and forcing them to live outside the main village.
Listening to Somnath Bharti’s offensive language, and his defenders among the suave, sophisticated members of the AAP leadership, one is reminded of Alok Dhanwa’s poem:You
Bhagi Hui Ladkiyan)
Is there any woman who has never experienced the fear of being treated as a whore? When we women are out at the wrong time of night, in the wrong clothes, with the wrong men/women, of the wrong racial features, when we’ve been sexually harassed or raped… every time like that, we see ourselves being seen as whores, as vaishyas, as the opposite of ma/behen/beti.
Women’s lives are stifled by the anxiety to ensure we are not taken for whores…. And the truth is that we women can be ‘safe’ only in a world where women are no longer divided on the moral Line of Control of vaishya vs ma/behen/beti. We women can be fearlessly free only when an African woman or a sex worker or a transgender person can stroll the streets at night or day without fear.
The AAP has said it will sack Somnath Bharti if he’s found guilty by a judicial probe, but their leaders have also suggested that Bharti was not being racist or sexist, he was merely repeating what people had complained in his Janta Durbar, and he was duty bound to act on those complaints. This logic is deeply disturbing. If it’s ok for an AAP Minister to act as a courier for ‘complaints’ of people against ‘drug and sex rackets by Africans’, what would AAP do if tomorrow they have an MLA in Muzaffarnagar and citizens in a mohalla there came to a Janta Durbar with repeated ‘complaints’ of ‘love jehadi Muslim boys’? Would he lead cops to arrest all Muslim boys to check their credentials? What about if a Delhi RWA complains about ‘thieves’ in a neighbouring slum - can we expect a ‘raid’ again?What if a village in Bihar complains to a local AAP MLA that the adjacent dalit tola is a den of Naxalites: another raid?
The AAP isn’t asking its Minister - or itself - why the Minister’s response to complaints of a sensitive social nature (such as sex work, or alleged crimes by African nationals) was to demand policing and lead moral policing? Why did the Minister not first initiate an enquiry, a dialogue, to assess the situation? Even after the situation went out of hand on the 12th night, the AAP and its Govt allowed the Minister to go to Khirki on 19th Jan and make provocative speeches to an approving crowd? Why could other AAP leaders who claim they are in dialogue to de-escalate racial tensions and are very concerned about Africans’ fear and terror, go with Bharti to the Khirki mass meeting on the 19th, to make sure that racial tensions were being calmed, not stoked up?
AAP leaders talk of following ‘due process’ in terms of waiting for the judicial probe to be completed before sacking Bharti - but do not seek any problem with Bharti flagrantly violating all due processes - both legal (search warrant etc) and political (dialogue with different sections of the community to sensitively address all issues concerned) in Khirki!
So - Bharti may go eventually if push comes to shove - or he may stay. But is the AAP’s stance and their understanding of the relationship between ‘community’, ‘mohalla’, and ‘politics’; their understanding of ‘women who need to be kept safe’, and ‘sex workers’ and ‘crime’; their wilful blindness to or willingness to be mediums of social prejudices (race and gender today, communal or casteist prejudices, tomorrow?) - as revealed in this whole episode - here to stay? That remains to be seen.