Brave Defiance In The Face Of Hindutva’s Ignorance & Bigotry: LEEZA MANGALDAS
Over the past couple of days, news headlines in India have been dominated by stories centered around two fierce and talented women.
The first is Gurmehar Kaur, a student and peace activist at Delhi University, who spoke in favor of free speech in the country’s educational institutions, standing up against the violence spawned by a right wing Hindu students group, ABVP.
ABVP is a right-wing all India student organisation affiliated to the extremist Hindu group, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its political front, the BJP.
The second is Alankrita Shrivastava, a filmmaker whose latest work, ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha‘, tells the story of four small-town Indian women who try to live a little, instead of cowing down to restrictions imposed by family and society.
Gurmehar and Shrivastava are part of the fabric of a larger phenomenon where there are currently two parallel, and often convergent battles being waged in India: for gender equality, and for freedom of expression. But the resistance levelled at these efforts typically eclipses the support.
Gurmehar Kaur was immediately attacked by trolls on social media -- and over the last few days, her character, her opinions, and all her social media posts from the last year have been dissected by (primarily male) pundits and political commentators in newspapers and on national television.
A post discovered from over a year ago, where she condemned war and promoted peaceful relations between India and traditional enemy Pakistan, elicited further public outcry. She was labeled anti-national, mocked by several politicians and celebrities, and has even received rape threats.
‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ has won three major awards for its portrayal of women; the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality, the Spirit of Asia Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival, and most recently, the Audience Award at the Glasgow Film Festival.
But India’s Central Board of Film Certification has banned it in the country, on the bizarre grounds that it is “lady oriented,” depicting “their [women’s] fantasy above life" and contains "audio pornography."
Gurmehar simply stood up for her right to express herself. Shrivastava simply told a story from a woman’s point of view. But it seems that in India women with opinions, women with a sense of agency and autonomy, women simply being their true selves, make society deeply uncomfortable.
Which is exactly why we have to continue to dare to be all those things.
[Courtesy: Forbes. Edited for sikhchic.com]
March 2, 2017
Conversation about this article
1: Brig. Nawab Singh Heer (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 02, 2017, 7:58 AM.
I have watched and read the coverage and comments on Gurmehar Kaur's stand against violence with increasing dismay and concern. We are these days so determined to brand people to fit into various categories that we tend to lose balance; even go overboard in making denunciations or in defending the indefensible. I do not expect my views will even be read by other than a few but that's not important ... giving an unbiased opinion certainly is. Firstly, Gurmehar is a spirited 20-year old. A student at an elite Delhi college for women. She clearly has seerat and soorat which isn't unusual. Many of her peers are in the same category. She is from an army family. Secondly, her father died in combat in Kashmir, soon after the Kargil War ended in July 1999. He was entitled to wear the war medal (Operation Vijay) authorized to all those who were deployed for combat at that time. It is loosely called the Kargil War medal but covers combat even in the Valley, the deserts, elsewhere wherever deployment was ordered. So does that make the girl a liar? Clearly, this is irresponsible branding. Thirdly, he died during a terrorist strike on his company camp at Natnoosa, Kupwara ... died on the spot. Read this report on his death: "Capt Mandeep Singh was commander of the 4 RR company which came under anti-national elements’ fire assault on his post in Natnoosa village, Kupwara. During the encounter at approximately 1.15 am on August 6, 1999, he received splinter injury on the left infra-clavicular region and was declared dead on the spot.” He was thus a martyr as much as the Kargil War heroes were and, yes, he was killed by Pakistani/Pak inspired terrorists. Is the young lady lying? I should think not. Have media and experts/itinerant cricketers and childish actors gone berserk? Your call. Fourthly, I have some idea what I am talking about and am not making breathless assessments on the basis of irresponsible media reportage. Lastly, young Gurmehar was brought up wonderfully by a wise Mum not to grow up with hatred in her heart. Was that wrong of Mum? Little girl? I certainly do not think so. In that context, if a 20-year old woman says the war claimed her Daddy, is she showing political affiliation? Again, your call. The fact that the terrorist attack was Pakistani or Pakistani sponsored is not as important as a Mum's and child's strategy to grow up without hatred. Let the kid be ... give her top honours and and let her become a world class pacifist. No harm there either. The rest of the world can handle India and Pakistan and others and their wars in the way we are trained. But let Gurmehar do her wonderful and meaningful activism.
2: G C Singh (USA), March 02, 2017, 10:04 PM.
This incident has unmasked the fascist ideology of the BJP/RSS gangsters under Modi and their hate and violence-driven agenda. RSS's paid trolls which were joined and supported by the entire BJP leadership, including India's Minster of State for Home affairs, Kiren Rijiju, prominent actors, sportsmen and large parts of its servile press have harassed Gurmehar, simply for condemning RSS goons who beat up Delhi university students and who have wreaked havoc and threatened violence and rape to anyone who does not endorse their Nazi Hindu ideology. Home Minister Rajnath Singh, the chief law enforcement authority in India, specifically tried to shield the ABVP/RSS goons and instructed the police conducting their investigations to be "sensitive to students". Haryana BJP Minister Vij has called for expulsion of all from the country who advocate peace with Pakistan. Shameless Modi who during his visits abroad hides behind the veil of "Gandhian non-violence" has refused to act against these criminals who belong to his own RSS cadres. This is another reminder to Sikhs that they should wake up from their deep slumber and realize that the only way to survive on the subcontinent is to have political and military power in their own hands. Sikhs should also be concerned that under these circumstances, Gurmehar Kaur can never be safe in India. She should actively think about going to a western country's embassy, like Canada, USA or Germany and seek political asylum and enjoy her freedom by escaping the hell-hole that India has become today.
3: Hari Singh (Barnala, Punjab), March 04, 2017, 6:45 AM.
Irony is that Sikh leadership and Sikhs always failed to play the cards properly. A joke often told, that a Hindu, a Muslim and a Sikh were arguing about the religion of Hanuman (Hindu deity, a monkey). The Hindu said Hanuman is Hindu, a true devotee of Lord Rama. The Muslim said he is Muslim since his name ends with MAN as in Rehman, Suleman. The Sikh said Hanuman is a Sikh, why? ... because no right thinking person other than a Sikh will ever set his tail on fire and endanger his life to help and save another man's wife (Sita). So Hanuman surely was a Sikh. Gurmehar Kaur precisely is doing the same, a la Hanuman. Two Hindu factions are fighting for space in student politics, and she, a Sikh has jumped into the fray to help the underdog. It is high time Sikhs learnt their lessons after India's Genocide of 1984 and the role of all of these factions then. It may not be possible that the entire Sikh population of Punjab and India migrates or seeks asylum in civilized countries like Canada, USA, Germany, etc. Be wise, learn lessons from history and our past mistakes. Creation of states like Israel does not happen overnight and let us admit, Sikh leadership and Sikhs in general are no match yet for what the Jews did to achieve their goal. Please don't run away from Punjab, Guraa(n) di Dharti" - the Land of Our Gurus. We all have roots here. Make Punjab strong, save it and teach us to plan and strategize for optimum results.
4: M Kaur (Canada), March 04, 2017, 9:23 AM.
Hari Singh ji: I think you are correct. What is missing vis-a-vis the Jews is the Sikh intelligentia and think tanks. The Jews have a plethora of these and the daily lesson at the synagogue is around learning, thinking and education. Sikh intelligentia needs to redefine the concepts around self-sacrifice for our masses. For example, does it mean we become cannon fodder for others, are we the whipping boys for everything that goes wrong, what exactly did the Gurus mean? Where is political strategy, even cunning - why do we not use these tools to win the fight. Leaving this to happen 'organically' through evolution is going to take a very, very long time. We need intellectuals to discuss, define and then educate. Leadership is what is missing. Why?
5: Kanwarjeet Singh (USA), March 04, 2017, 11:22 AM.
I'll like to share the comments I have recently read: When you call a 20 year old Kargil martyr's daughter 'randi' )whore) and threaten her with rape, we know your nationalism is restricted to a certain political party and not India. When the FM of a country justifies violence by not naming his party affiliates but blames the opposition as "allies of subversion", you know his nationalism is restricted to his own political party and not India. When TV channels who were jumping up and down shouting "sedition" during the JN University fracas and are now studiously silent when violence is used to shut down dissent in a campus, you know their nationalism is restricted to a certain political party and not India. When a 40 year old cricketer makes fun of a 20 year old girl fearlessly voicing her opinion and another 40 year old actor joins him in mocking the girl and then proclaiming that all that was done in jest, you know that deep in their hearts they believe in the version of nationalism propagated by certain political party and not India. And to all of you who are silently watching this spectacle thinking whether you should trust the idea of nationalism propagated by a political party you support, here is my honest advice to you - Nation is not a Political Party. Political parties are voted to run a Nation. Therefore nationalism is not a political belief. Nationalism is above politics and governments. A great nation is the one where people stand up for their country's values as defined by its Constitution and not by their political icons. Standing up for a student's union who resorted to violence, even if they are right, and not standing up for a 20 year old martyr's daughter who silently protested against it, even if she was wrong, goes against the values of the Indian Constitution. And if you believe that you can set things right by countering one wrong by supporting another wrong, you are sadly mistaken. This is not nation building. History has shown that when people start believing in the idea of nationalism as defined by politicians, the nation's downfall begins. If you don't trust me, please google and check it for yourself. Politicians cannot build a nation. They never have. Politicians build vote banks. People build a nation. People is you and me. Never forget this fact.
6: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), March 04, 2017, 12:05 PM.
Gurmehar: good people around the world hail your courage, and laud your words and actions. What you're doing is right; nothing wrong at all. What the politicians, media, political parties, and their goons in various shapes and forms are doing is wrong, no ifs and buts about it. Carry on fearlessly with what your conscience dictates. Your guide should remain the lofty values of Sikhi: "munn neevan, mat ucchi".
7: Brig Nawab Singh Heer (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 04, 2017, 4:02 PM.
Dear Hari Singh ji: Whereas you comment about Sikh leadership and that we need to learn from the Jews, is absolutely apt. But to compare our millions of positive actions for sarbat da bhala needs reconsideration. Lest our readers take a different lesson. In the world where our Gurus gave supreme sacrifices not only for Sikhs but for others and for the betterment of humanity, where our 300,000 soldiers fought for the Allies in World Wars I & II, that is, not for India but for humanity. Where more than 80% of all sacrifices (executed, tortured, imprisoned, exiled, etc) in the struggle for independence from the British was by Sikhs but for the benefit of the entire subcontinent. We cannot just wish away that they were hanumans. In today's world where everyone has become for himself and herself, if Gurmehar Kaur has taken a path of our Gurus, she needs our support, not criticism. I may be wrong in my judgement, but our Guru has made us and guided us to fight for Truth, no matter what the consequences. This young woman has certainly done the same and she deserves our total backing. Yesterday, one of my colleague met Gurmehar's grandfather and the latter has requested the Indian media not to discuss her case further because of its inability to be fair, independent and professional.
8: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), March 05, 2017, 7:00 PM.
Our Gurus made all activities of life as part of our life in Sikhi: performance of secular duties is an integral part of it. And that is what Gurmehar is doing in her university in New Delhi, India. Free speech in a country which claims to be a democracy is a no-brainer, especially in an institution of higher learning. I admire her stand. Freedom of speech is fundamental to Sikhi - any deviation from it is cowardly and unholy.
9: Arjan Singh (USA), March 06, 2017, 2:58 PM.
Gurmehar ji: You have done immense service to the cause of basic human rights and freedom of speech in a country that does not allow minorities (especially all women, whether they are Hindu, Sikh or Muslim, etc.) to speak up. The fact that as a daughter of a war veteran you cannot even utter your personal thoughts on the war policy is unacceptable. In all civilized countries, protests based on conscience against a country's war policy is a fundamental right. Readers must note that the Hindu extremist group, ABVP, has full blessings of the ruling party, government and establishment and their violence is not condemned by most media outlets; whereas a similar Sikh student organization, AISSF, was and is still vilified. AISSF was never involved in harassment of women and minorities or senseless violence.