Women have been at the forefront of resistance to India’s Hindu nationalist regime and women activists have been targeted for repression.
In its most recent phase, Indian farmers’ protest movement against the Modi government’s neoliberal agricultural reforms has involved women in large numbers. Two high profile cases of repression against young women in the movement have dramatised the harsh repression against it.
The Western media has given quite a bit of attention to Disha Ravi, a 21 year-old climate activist arrested on 13 February in connection with Greta Thunberg’s tweeting in support of the farmers. Ravi’s grandparents were farmers and she has talked about the impact of seeing them struggle with the effects of climate change.
Arrest warrants are now out for two other climate activists, Nikita Jacob and Shantanu Muluk. We must stand in solidarity with these comrades and demand the dropping of charges against them. But another case receiving less attention internationally is arguably even more important.
23 year old labour activist Nodeep Kaur, a member ofthe Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan (Association for the Empowerment of Labourers) union, was arrested on 12 January and has been denied bail. Her sister Rajveer says she has been tortured and sexually assaulted in jail.
From a poor, Dalit (‘lowest’, most-oppressed caste), Sikh background in Punjab, until December last year Kaur worked in a bulb-making factory in Haryana, on the border with the Delhi region. When she decided to join the protests, she was fired without pay. In and alongside the farmers’ struggle she has been central to a campaign raising workers’ issues including non-payment of salaries and harassment by employers.
Kaur is accused of multiple crimes including attempted murder, assault, rioting, intimidation, trespass and extortion, because of her role leading workers’ protests against employers. In fact it was the employers’ thugs who used intimidation and violence against the workers.
India’s Campaign Against State Repression, a student union-led network, has said: “The targeting of a young Dalit woman who dared to raise her voice for the rightful demands of the workers has been met with the most cruel, misogynistic barbarity of the men in uniform who have resorted to sexual violence. The impunity of the police stands firmly on a Brahmanical, patriarchal, Hindutva ground.”
Rajveer quotes Nodeep as saying: “If farmers and labourers unite, the government is in trouble!”
There are many, many other cases of women activists suffering repression in India under the Hindu nationalist regime. Workers’ movement organiser and lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj has been in prison for over 900 days without trial.
Women organised mass gatherings and rallies during the 2019 struggle against Modi’s anti-Muslim changes to citizenship laws, and a number of Delhi activists from Pinjra Tod (Break the Cage), a feminist collective that organised solidarity, are also being held.
Release our sisters and brothers and drop all charges!