Thought Box



by HUMRA QURAISHI March 16 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 31 secs

Humra Quraishi comments about empty promises being made in political speeches, the polarisation, and the harmful propaganda taking place for votes as elections draw close.

Women’s Day has come and gone! And, life goes on without much of a difference. Promises of women’s well-being, their safety remains confined to stale political speeches. Nothing concrete can be expected in a situation, where reported cases of targeted assaults and attacks keep on rising.

I don’t attend Women’s Day functions, for no specific reason except that in spite of all the hype, the condition of women hasn’t improved at all in recent years. However, last Friday I took the plunge and attended one discussion hosted by Om Books International’s editor-in-chief Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri. This interactive session was on ‘The Art of Storytelling’ with three eminent writers, Aruna Chakravarti, Harshali Singh and Nandini Sen.

Perhaps the only way ahead for women in these terrible times is to share their stories with the world from every platform they can find. Those who cannot read or write must tell them in their own voices – Dastangoi, which is our traditional form of telling stories. No regional or language barrier should stall the process. With the availability of technology, all boundaries can be crossed easily. Human emotions bind people to each other, and connecting with others should be the agenda of all women who have experiences to share.

As I moderated the session, I asked the panellists why it is so hard for women’s voices to be heard when there is such a vibrant and diverse reservoir of stories there are to tell? It is only a handful of women storytellers privileged to tell their stories. Why? We all know the power of stories, how far they reach, the many generations they traverse. Is that why there are concerted efforts being made by the powers-that-be to bury them and ensure they are never found? In an ideal society, children are told stories and taught to tell them from the kindergarten stages of their lives, and in our country, they are made to repeat the stories from the past, the mythologies, which is now being called civilizational history, are told over and over again through television, film and all mediums. But, the real experiences of children, women and men in these turbulent times are deliberately buried – gate keepers are specially appointed to stall expression so that people at large remain disunited, so that they never gain the confidence, which comes from the knowledge that they’re not alone, that there are others like them, too, facing similar problems.

Meanwhile, the images of a sub-inspector of the Delhi Police kicking and slapping namazis offering their Friday afternoon prayers on the road outside a mosque in the Inderlok locality of the city will never be forgotten.

I remember, as a child I would accompany my abba to the local mosque for Friday prayers quite often. I would either sit in the backseat of the Fiat car we owned and wait for him to return, or loiter around in the quaint street markets outside the mosque till the prayers ended. In traditional Uttar Pradesh girls and women were not permitted inside the mosque. Nobody ever asked questions, denied Muslims the right to pray or for that matter abused us. Kicking men in prayer was out of question. When these violent communally driven attacks take place in the open in the capital city of the country, I wonder what must be going on in remote India, from where news to come is nearly impossible? Worse must be the conditions in prisons where the inmates are at the mercy of the jail attendants without mobile phones or cameras to show the world what goes on inside.

With the announcement of the Citizens Amendment Act (CAA) to be implemented, apprehensions are growing and bringing to focus the violence and anarchy that followed its enactment four years ago. I quote from a news report of Hugh Tomlinson and Saurabh Sharma, published in The Time (UK) dated January 10th 2020: “The crowd scattered and word spread up the street in panic: ‘Police, police.’ While the protestors scrambled to flee over the rooftops of the block in old Lucknow, dozens of officers burst in below, raining blows on women and children. The Muslim families cowered from their attackers. ‘Take off her veil, check if she’s a man,’ one officer yelled, pointing to Salma Hussain, 29, who wept as she recalled the humiliation. The women were groped and officers commented on their breasts as they beat them. ‘One man put a gun to my head’, said Tabassum Raza, 26. He said: Tell me where the men are hiding or I’ll shoot you.’”

One can never forget what the Lucknow based activist Sadaf Jafar went through…she detailed how a male police officer in Lucknow’s Hazratganj police station pulled her by her hair, kicked and punched her in the abdomen and went on doing so till she started bleeding – blood soaking the clothes on her, blood trickled. And, of course, “Go to Pakistan” were the communal-dripping taunts thrown at her by the so-called protectors!

One has to worry because these are the times when an average citizen of the country is facing a crisis, and is barely able to provide adequate food to his or her family. Hundreds and thousands are malnourished and food-deprived. If CAA is implemented at such a time, it will be disastrous. But isn’t that exactly what the right-wing government wants when elections are drawing close and the only way forward for it is to polarise because it has run out of all other options? After ten years of running the government it has nothing to talk about as the country reels under inflation and price rise, there’s barely any employment options for the youth who are wasting, and now, the scandal of the electoral bonds is just about beginning to reveal to the nation how deep is the staggering corruption that has been going on.

I’m ending this week’s column with this verse of Akbar Hussain Akbar Allahabadi from Khushwant Singh’s Celebrating the Best of Urdu Poetry (Penguin Books).

‘The Name of God /My rivals have lodged complaints against me in police stations for /the crime /That Akbar continues to take the name of God in the present age /and time.’


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.