HIMMAT is starting off as a blog by Rajmohan Gandhi who has written on the Indian independence movement and its leaders, South Asian history, India-Pakistan relations, human rights and conflict resolution. His latest book is Modern South India: A History from the Seventeenth Century to the Present (New Delhi: Aleph, forthcoming).

A taste of justice

Blowback is a reality. After Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (watched by millions across the globe) gave her brave testimony of sexual assault before the Senate Judiciary Committee, much of America was successfully mobilized in defence of ‘sons, brothers, fathers and husbands’ supposedly maligned by ‘false’ accusations by women. 

Not only was Judge Kavanaugh confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice, Democratic chances of recapturing the House of Representatives appeared to take a hit.

After India’s Supreme Court ruled that women could finally enter the hoary Sabarimala temple on a Kerala mountain, an angry, seemingly popular and at times violent reaction mounted in Kerala appears to have nullified the judgment. Resolved at first to implement the judgment, the government of the state of Kerala, led by a Left front, seems (as I write this) to have yielded to the pressure against it.

An example of the pressure was a statement by the Kerala film actor and BJP supporter, Kollam Thulasi, that ‘women who dare to enter the temple would be ripped into two pieces’, one to be ‘thrown at the chief minister’s office’ and the other ‘sent to New Delhi’ (Hindustan Times,12 Oct). 

Blowbacks show that people can choose to defy credible testimony or a Supreme Court verdict. That does not prove that speaking up for justice or reform is an error.

M. J. Akbar, the BJP minister of state for foreign affairs, was forced to resign only two days after he had slapped a criminal defamation charge against one of the numerous women journalists who had accused him of unwelcome sexual advances. He had also marshalled no fewer than 97 lawyers in support.

Only a day before the resignation, confident media stories had ruled out Modi sacrificing anyone from his ministerial team. Not only Akbar but Modi was going to brazen it out, the stories declared.

But Modi couldn’t, and Akbar had to resign.

The women journalists who overcame fear – who chose to confront a personal trauma by speaking out about its origin – have given India a rare taste of justice.

These brave women were fully aware of likely blowbacks. Bolstered, however, by other women who revealed how men had taken advantage of an upper hand and misused them, they spoke out. 

If males worldwide are apt to coerce females, majorities are apt to coerce minorities. Thus UP’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, has announced that India’s (and UP’s) historic city, Allahabad, known for 450 years by that name, will henceforth be called Prayag-raj. 

Allahabad’s meaning, ‘City of God’, may be noble, but that Muslim-sounding name should be forced out of Hindu-majority UP.

The chief minister’s feat of renaming the city will not be seriously questioned. It’s only the latest step in the ongoing drive to Hinduize India. Thus the RSS chief, Mr. Bhagwat, insists that Muslims are Hindus and should call themselves Hindus or, if they must, ‘Islamic’ Hindus. 

His followers may not be content to stop there. They may ask that these ‘Islamic Hindus’ should give themselves new names, Hindu ones. An Abdul should become say an Anil, a Karim should become Kishen or Krishna, and so on.

If such cries are raised, will one big man object? Mr. Narendra Modi was mostly silent when persons were lynched because of their faith. He was silent when actor Kollam Thulasi spoke of slicing the women trying to enter the Sabarimala shrine. He was silent when, one after the other, many women spoke of painful experiences with an editor-politician who had gone on to become a minister of state for external affairs in his government.

Mr. Modi is an acclaimed orator, but the future is more likely to remember his silences. And the future will also remember the brief spiky words about forcible advances that women not known for oratory dared to articulate. Words that forced Mr. Modi to drop Mr. Akbar.

That risky step, speaking out, seems to be the start of justice.

Jamal Khashoggi

Me Too in India