By Priti Gulati Cox
One thing is constant in India: violence. The perpetrators are the same; only the faces of those who encounter and resist the violence change. In India, or JatiIndia — my name for this nation of jatis/castes — the social hierarchical structure of jatiism/casteism and the inherent violence that goes with it stems from the country’s tree of systemic upper-caste supremacy and injustice.
Today’s face of resistance is that of Bilkis Yakub Rasool or Bilkis Bano. Bilkis’ story is a nightmare that never ends; like a really bad David Lynch movie. Two decades have passed since the infamous 2002 Gujarat genocidal pogrom when Bilkis’ nightmare began.
Flag of Atrocities Caste:
On August 15, 2001, India celebrated 54 years of independence from British rule.
On January 26, 2002, India’s 52nd Republic Day, Gujarat was hit by a 7.7 magnitude earthquake, killing more than 13,800 people.
One month later, Narendra Modi became the chief minister of Gujarat.
On February 27, 2002, in the Godhra train tragedy, 59 people (mostly kar sevaks, or right-wing Hindu volunteers) were burnt alive.
Following which, more than 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were massacred in what came to be known as the Gujarat pogrom.
On March 3, during the Gujarat riots, in a village near Ahmedabad, 21-year-old Bilkis Bano, who was five months pregnant at the time, along with her three-year-old daughter Saleha, her mother, and other members of her family were brutally attacked by Hindu fanatics, killing many, including little Saleha. During the assault, Bilkis was gang raped by twelve of those men.
In January 2008, a Special Court sentenced eleven of the accused (one died during the trial) to life imprisonment on charges of gang rape and murder.
In May 2014, the Narendra Modi-led BJP government came to power, making him the 14th prime minister of India.
This August 15, prime minister Modi wanted India to fly 200 million flags to celebrate the country’s 75 years of independence.
Fly the tricolor from that village in Gujarat where Bilkis Bano was raped; from other impoverished countryside huts, city skyscrapers, slums, from atop taxis and auto rickshaws, little tea stalls and what have you. From every food-insecure nook and drought-ridden cranny, fly that symbol of freedom. That was Modi’s vision.
He must’ve been very proud of his people. The flag could be seen flying not only from all these places, but also from space! That’s right. “Space Kidz,” a “small team of young scientists working from Chennai” were behind an effort to fly the flag far, far away from the violence and gore of India on the ground … in space.
And on August 15, amidst all the tricolor fanfare, something else happened. The Gujarat government set free Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhyesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt and Ramesh — the eleven rapists who destroyed Bilkis Bano’s life.
Welcome to Indian democracy, where Independence Day is celebrated by freeing rapists and murderers; and on other days, throwing the country’s fighters for accountability and justice like Teesta Setalvad, and Rupesh Kumar Singh, among other lawyers, journalists, activists, human rights defenders, students, academics, and opposition leaders into jail.
“I have one request for every Indian. Can we change the mentality towards our women in everyday life? Pride of Nari Shakti (women’s power) will play a vital role in fulfilling the dreams of India! Respect for women is an important pillar for India’s growth. We need to support our Nari Shakti!” — Narendra Modi, August 15.
There are some lyrics from a song that come to mind whenever Modi opens his mouth:
Blowing every time you move your mouth
Blowing down the back roads headin’ south
Blowing every time you move your teeth
You’re an idiot, baba
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.
Well, we have one request of you, Modiji. Can you shut up and let the country’s women like Bilkis Bano breathe?
Two days ago, on August 15, 2022, the trauma of the past 20 years washed over me again. When I heard that the 11 convicted men, who devastated my family and my life, and took from me my three-year-old daughter, had walked free. I was bereft of words. I am still numb… Today, I can only say this — how can justice for any woman end like this? — Bilkis Bano, August 17, Sabrang.
JatiIndia: Flag of Atrocities Caste, Present and Future is a continuing series that features a face of resistance to systemic injustice in the center of a modified Indian flag. The color orange in the flag symbolizes long-existing casteism, now made more open and feverish by resurgent Hindutva politics; blue — a color historically adopted by the Dalit movement — here honors all of JatiIndia’s and occupied Kashmir’s resisters of supremacy and injustice; the bottom green bar embodies the subcontinent’s ecological foundations, which are endangered by the ideology of extractive capitalism and defended by the country’s Adivasi (indigenous) communities and others, including Kashmiris resisting occupation. The circular image in the center, replacing the flag of India’s Dharma Chakra (Wheel of Law) signifies the view through the crosshairs of a saffron (Hindu nationalist) gunsight.
The blue strip in the middle of the flag is done in chain-stitch embroidery, illustrating the long chain of atrocities that have been carried out by the country over the years on Dalits, Kashmiris, Adivasis and other minorities. Each blue stitch, of which there are many thousands in the blue strip, represents a face of resistance to systemic state and upper-caste violence.
Flags of Resistance so far include: Thangjam Manorama, March 8, 2021; The Farmer We See and the Farmer We Don’t, March 6, 2021; Munawar Faruqui, February 13 2021; Masrat Zahra, January 9 2021; Manisha Valmiki, December 24, 2020; Anand Teltumbde, December 13, 2020; Ram Chander Chhatrapati, Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M. M. Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh, Shantanu Bhowmick and Kancha Ilaiah, October 16, 2017; the sang-bazan, Kashmir, August 15, 2017; Gujarat, March1, 2017; Teesta Setalvad, February 10, 2017; Kashmir, December 21, 2016;Vinay Sirohi,Shaista Hameed and Danish Farooq,Lingaram Kodopi, March 29, 2016; and Rohith Vemula, March 29, 2016.