Hyper-femininity as resistance to Hindu supremacy

10 May 2022
In India’s deeply patriarchal society, Kali is worshipped as a feminist icon known to rage against the machine, with zero tolerance for injustice.
In India’s deeply patriarchal society, Kali is worshipped as a feminist icon known to rage against the machine, with zero tolerance for injustice.

According to Hindu mythology, there was once a demon named Raktabeej. True to his name, his blood was his seed. He had a boon, from Brahma, of immortality—whenever a drop of his blood touched the ground, another Raktabeej would be born, creating self-replicating evil that defeated the gods and left heaven under the management of demons. This story is particularly relevant this harvest season, as we reap what we have sown: endless, self-replicating hate.

Over a packed festival calendar—with Baisakhi, Bihu, Vishu, Easter, Eid and, of course, Ram Navami all falling within a fortnight of each other—India was beset by communal violence by organised mobs that, terrifyingly, multiplied with the speed and strength of Raktabeej. On 10 April, a religious procession ostensibly celebrating the birth of the Hindu deity Ram in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh, devolved into communal clashes. From there, the violence spread like wildfire to GoaGujaratJharkhand and West Bengal. Six days later, on Hanuman Jayanti, it reached the national capital, as well as parts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand. When the dust settled, Muslim lives and livelihoods were destroyed, while their homes, mosques and businesses were bulldozed or set ablaze.

In Khargone, the violence began when a “pious” but hyper-masculine procession passed through Muslim neighbourhoods, brandishing swords. The following day, Wasim Sheikh, who lost both his arms in 2005, was accused of pelting stones. His shop was demolished, as was the home of 60-year-old Hasina Fakhroo, which had been constructed under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana.

In Delhi, six police officers were injured in the violence and more than twenty people were arrested—most of them Muslim. The North Delhi Municipal Corporation used 14 teams and nine bulldozers to destroy a neighbourhood in Jahangirpuri, live on television. Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, was campaigning in Bengaluru while his party took the opportunity to further attack the world’s most persecuted community: the Rohingya refugees fleeing a genocide in Myanmar. With little or no help coming, the destruction of Muslim property continued long after the Supreme Court’s order for it to stop.

This made-for-television violence was promptly picked up by the vast network of hate channels that cater to their audiences exclusively in authoritarian content. In a perfect metaphor for the state of the Indian media, one journalist hitched a ride in one of the bulldozers, participating in the demolition of the civil liberties of the community she was reporting on. Another joked about a rise in demand for bulldozers, even as social media was flooded with videos of survivors, many of them senior citizens, reduced to tears. The crowd was cheering too. In Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district, The Guardian reported, “Muslims alleged that a saffron flag was hoisted on to the entrance of a mosque during one of the [Ram Navami] processions. Video footage showed the crowd cheering and brandishing swords and hockey sticks while the flag was raised.”

Vidya Krishnan is a global health reporter who works and lives in India. Her first book, Phantom Plague: How Tuberculosis Shaped History, was published in February 2022 by PublicAffairs.

Keywords: Caravan Columns communal violence masculinity femininity