Oversights and Omissions: Response to Urvashi Butalias Indian Express Article

Gulfishan Fatima at a protest site in Delhi. Image : Quint

har ek baat pe kehte ho tum ke tu kya hai?
(at every single utterance you say, “what are you”?!)

A few days back Urvashi Butalia wrote an article in the Indian Express newspaper[1](25th June 2021) on the new generation of young women activists’ confronting the State and named Natasha, Disha, Nodeep, Devangana andAmulya. These women have been at the forefront of resistance but there have been other women who have been overlooked. 

Her article missed few names especially ofGulfishan (in jail since April 9, 2020) and IshratJahan (arrested on 26th Feb 2020) who are still in custody and SafooraZargar (who spent 74 days in jail during her pregnancy)who got bail only after much effort. 

UrvashiButalia is one of the most respected intellectual voices’ around (I have heard her few times and found her extremely gracious), her publication house Zubaan Books have been doing brilliant work concerning feminist issues and have published works of many women from marginalized communities translating them in English for a wider audience. 

Last year (June 9, 2020), we had written our response to Professors Apoorvanand and SatishDeshpande[2] who had also missed out on a few names (they rectified it later):

“The senior Professors mention only four names (three are from JNU, Kanhaiyya Kumar, Natasha and Devangana from PinjaraTod and late RohithVemula from Hyderabad University). This may have been completely non-deliberate on their part, but an article which is praising the anti-CAA movement and completely omits names of Jamia Millia Islamia students’ who have been at the forefront of agitation since December 2019 is quite difficult to understand, at a time like this when we have been seeing trends on social media almost every other day in the name of SafooraZargar, (the pregnant research scholar from Jamia Millia Islamia, denied bail thrice and in jail since nearly two months now) along with other Jamia students’ MeeranHaider, AsifIqbalTanha and ShifaRehman (Jamia alumni president) who have been in jail for months now for raising slogans against the state-backed anti-minority law, is disappointing and blatantly glaring……” 

It is quite painful to write responses’ on such glaring omissions by those few of our public intellectuals whom we consider as a balanced respectable and empathetic voice of reason and rationality when voices of young Muslim women (and male) activists get invisibilised or overlooked. These oversights and omissions of names of young activists’ not just aids the project Hindutva by helping create false binaries of ‘us’(generous/enlightened ones) vs. them (backward/ illiterate), who need saviours from the majority community to lead their movements since their own are not capable or good enough. Such invisibilisation or acts of omission are not just demoralizing for the young activists who have been targeted by various agencies of the state with strict laws but also points to the success of the right-wing project of communal narrative building.  

It is not just about the names of missing young Muslim women activists’ recently when AsifTanha was released along with Natasha Narwal and DevanganaKalita on bail, we found him missing from many TV programs debating anti-CAA protests which led to consequent UAPA charges on many young Muslim student activists.

We have had historical inspirational figures in history as rightly mentioned by UrvashiButalia in the legacy of Fatima Sheikh and others. But, Muslim women inspired, led and confronted the state when they sat on a peaceful dharna at ShaheenBagh and other places all over India in opposition against the discriminatory CAA law. Many Muslim housewives, mothers, young girls and others came out from the safe confines of their homes to sit at busy streets and roads to oppose peacefully a law passed by the Indian Parliament.  

Many young women across communities have shown the strength of character and resolve by facing the wrath of the state with an unflinching conviction of ideology and resolve. We must celebrate these voices but we must not forget those who have faced wrongful incarceration and are still behind bars. 

Those giving hate speeches playing on false stereotypes, preparing grounds for the lynching of Muslims are being celebrated with viral videos on social and mainstream media, deserve’ not just questions on the enforcement of strict laws but also the de-humanization of the larger Indian society.  

We have started opposing privileged groups representing voices from the margins in the public sphere. If the issues concern a certain section they should find representation not just in debates and discussions but also in narratives’ of strength and valour celebrating bravery and courage. 

  [1]https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/from-natasha-narwal-to-disha-ravi-and-nodeep-kaur-why-state-authority-fears-a-new-generation-of-young-women-7374602/

[2] We had published our response to Apoorvanand and Prof. Deshpande’s article last year (June9, 2020).

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