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I visited Sarkhej Roza, while on my journey with Karwan-e-Mohabbat. It is a tomb complex, once a prominent center for Sufi culture.
Sarkhej Roza is a mosque and tomb complex located in the village of Makarba, 7 km south-west of Ahmedabad in Gujarat state, India.
Although there are many rozas across Gujarat, the Sarkhej Roza is the most revered. Sarkhej was once a prominent centre of Sufi culture in the country, where influential Sufi saint Shaikh Ahmed Ganj Baksh lived. It was on the saint’s suggestion that Sultan Ahmed Shah set up his capital on the banks of the Sabarmati, a few miles away from Sarkhej.
I do not know much about the monument but what I learnt from my visit is that it is unique to have a fusion of Hindu and Muslim architecture. For example motifs of flowers, animals is not allowed in Islam but these are Hindu symbolism that have bene used in this monument.
During my visit, I did not see many tourists to the place and it seemed Sarkhej Roza is not a very popular place to visit which is not a surprise. The Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi and RSS-BJP combine tends to ignore the Mughal heritage and culture.
You can view all the photos of Sarkhej Roza in this album.
The Woman with Tattoos – A photographic project to demystify her
By Sanjukta Basu
A search for the ‘self’ behind the tattoo, to demystify the identity of a woman with tattoos. To break the stereotypes against her.
In July 2017 I toured five Indian Metro cities to find women with tattoos. I met around 15 women of various backgrounds and immensely powerful and poignant stories emerged. Stories of violence, pain, heartbreak, triumph, courage. Also stories of deranged life and inability to deal with depression.
The Women With Tattoo project was started at the spur of the moment, without much planning but after meeting some of the amazing woman I realized how important this project is. It is one of the most important I’ve done in life.
I continue to search for women with tattoos from diverse background, age group, caste, class, and religion, who are willing to be photographed, and share their story with me. Currently I am in Delhi, but I am willing to speak to women from any part of India.
There is no last date of entry, and no registration fees.
The project would culminate in a coffee table book and a photography exhibition.
I have no funding for this project, currently I am spending my own money in covering the set up costs, shoots and travel costs. I am searching for funding / sponsorship, so if you know anybody put me in touch. If any patron wants to support my work, I welcome financial contribution.
In July 2016, 17 years old Aabesh Dasgupta died mysteriously at a friend’s birthday party in a rich and elite locality in Kolkata. A media circus and moral outrage soon ensued in which the media targeted Aabesh’s single mother and grandmother for their so called ‘debauched’ lifestyle which was held responsible for children’s ‘moral degradation’ with fatal consequences. “The grandmother has a tattoo” ran the headlines as the proof of the mother-grandmother duo’s ‘debauched’ lifestyle complete with ‘sex’ and ‘desires’.
While there is a long standing history of tattoo among various tribal women in India in rural parts, for urban Indian women it is a relatively new phenomenon, largely considered a rebellious fashion statement influenced by western culture. An urban male with tattoos is just that, a male. A stud at the most. But an urban woman with striking visible tattoo is a ‘scandal’. The moment she appears in public, several kinds of curiosity and assumptions build up in people’s mind, and not all of them are pretty. Tattooed women are often judged as non-conformist, rebellious, sexually active ‘bad girls’ who might be indulging in smoking and drinking. Perhaps worse, drugs! Or even worse, prostitution! She is probably rich and spoilt, never takes care of her parents, never learned to sing the morning prayers…a singular sight of ink on a woman’s body might trigger an imaginary downward spiral of moral degradation in most people’s mind.
And she knows it. So while going for a corporate interview she will wear a dress that would hide her tattoos. If she is already in a corporate job, she would think twice before getting one. She will ensure the tattoo is not too big and conspicuous. She censors her tattoo because she doesn’t want people to judge her on the basis of it. Who the real woman is behind the tattoo then? What is the story behind her tattoo? This project seeks to find out the ‘self’ behind the tattoo.
A tattoo is a powerful tool of self-expression for women. In the earliest stream of creative arts and literary moments, women didn’t get the opportunity to represent themselves. Men wrote about them, men painted them. But when a woman voluntarily gets a permanent mark on her body, it becomes a part of her identity, in her tattoo the corporealand the cerebralmerge and carries her life narrative, which this project seeks to document.
Barsana and Nandgaon are two neighbouring villages or town near Mathura in the sate of Uttar Pradesh, India. City of Mathura has a massive historical and religious significance in India for being the birthplace of Hindu mythological figure Shri Krishna. Shri Krishna unarguably is the most popular of all Hindu Gods with Lord Shiva being his only competitor. Among the many tales of Lord Krishna believed and worshiped by his devotees, his romantic escapades with Radha is the most popular. Radha and Krishna are always seen together in every temple and other religious imagery or narrative and are worshiped together as a couple. Among some devotees the love between Radha and Krishna is known as the source of all power in the world. Yet, you’d be surprised to know that Radha and Krishna were not married to each other, in fact as per certain scriptures, Radha as married to Krishna’s uncle and Krishna was married to Rukmini.
In the large Hindu religious population’s imagination Rukmini and his marriage to Krishna has no significance, Krishna’s other powers also pretty much taken for granted, the thing that gets most mention is his Raas Leela with Radha and her Gopiyan. Raas Leela is what you can say is mythical time’s Valentine’s Day celebration, like dance of love, being playful in love etc. There are many songs and scriptures dedicated to the eternal romance between them and the Lathmar Holi festival draws inspiration from one such story.
Legend has it that few days before Holi Shri Krishna a resident of Nandgaon, visited Radha’s village Barsana to play Holi with her. As always in his habit of teasing Radha and her maids (gopiyan) he did something rather naughty and the girls got angry and chased him and all other men away with sticks. Since then, it has become a custom for devotees from Nandgaon to visit Barsana to play Holi and the next day devotees from Barsana visit Nandgaon. Barsana is the only place in India (perhaps world) which has a Radha temple (Shri Krishna temples all over the world have Radha’s murti along with Krishna but this is the only temple dedicated solely to Radha). Women of Barsana dressed as Radha and Gopiyan beat men with sticks at the temple ground and the spectacular is watched by a massive crowd 30% of which is photographers. Needless to say, this atheist’s only interest in the event was photography and here I present you the frames.
Devotees, tourists, photographers from Nandgaon and all over the world start gathering near the Radha Temple in Barsana, early morning on day one where they wait for the temple door to open.
Men gather in front of the temple door waiting for it to open, they sing bhajans as they wait.
Once the temple doors open, devotees go inside and while they gather on the ground floor, the residents of this village start pouring colour on them from the vantage position of first floor balcony.
Even as colours continue to pour, tolis sit down and sing holi bhajans.
The next day, similar play take place in Nandgaon when the Radha and her friends visit Krishna’s village. The devotees from Barsana gather at the open premises of the temple and local devotees pour colour on them from the upper corridors.
Entire floor of the temple floods with colours
A very prominent of the vibrant transgender community is seen in the festival. Many of them come dressed as Radha and her friends.
After 3-4 hours of play with colours in the temple, towards the evening entire crowd of devotees thousands of them gather at the open space near the temple for the ritual of “lathmar” (beating with the sticks).
Here Radha and her friends dressed in bright gorgeous saris and jewelry carrying big heavy sticks beat up the men. The men are only supposed to protect their head with a leather pillow of sort.
Even as a massive crowd of mostly men, but many women too jostle and play, the security forces keep a sharp eye on miscreants to prevent any untoward incidents. Reports of molestations are often heard, so several many female police staff are deployed in the area. These cops have to bear all the colours and water throwing, and still carry on their duty.
At the lathmar ground many quirky devotees can be seen, one playing flute and dancing, another rolling on the floor for some wish fulfilment.
The photo of Mohd Aamir Khan giving a shoulder of support and empathy to Ankit Saxena’s grieving father Yashpal Saxena who breaks down during a meeting with the Karwan-E-Mohabbat is an iconic photo for what it represents, the idea of India united in diversity.
Mohd Aamir Khan was 18 year old in 1998 when he was suddenly picked up by plain dress police, taken to a torture room, beaten and tortured till he succumbed and signed some blank papers. A week later he was produced in Court, as an accused in 19 cases of terrorism. Framed as a terrorist at 18, Aamir spent fourteen years in jail even as the trials ran and one by one all but two of the false cases fell apart. In Jan 2012 Aamir was acquitted in 17 cases, two remains pending. The National Human Rights Council in it’s Relief Order granting Rs. 5 lacs as monetary relief, said this about the extent of the harm caused to Aamir by these false cases:
The materials on record not only reflects the excesses committed by the concerned police authorities but it also depicts the silent incarceration suffered by the victim. The fact is the victim had to spend 14 years long incarceration in the prison for no reason violating his human rights.
Yashpal Saxena is the father of Amit Saxena. On 1 February around 8.30 pm in the middle of a busy road few metres away from their home, Yashpal Saxena’s only son, 23-year-old Ankit was brutally murdered by four members of a Muslim family. Some considered it an honour killing for the alleged love affair between the family’s daughter Shehzadi and Ankit, but right-wing Hindutva groups were quick to view the crime through the prism of Hindu khatre mein hai (Hindus are in danger) and wanted to make it an excuse to vilify Muslim community. Ankit’s family firmly held their ground refusing to make it a communal issue, a brave act that made them heroes.
Mohd Aamir lost 14 prime years of his life in jail, his dreams aspirations destroyed because he was a Muslim. Yashpal lost his only son because he was a Hindu who fell in love with a Muslim girl. The two met each other when Karwan e Mohabbat went to meet the Saxena family as part of it’s journey of love and atonement. This moment of solidarity, empathy love and kindness between the two represents the real India.
Founded by Arvind Gaur, the Asmita Theatre Group is a 25 year old street and protest theater group. The group performs socially relevant theaters to register protest, raise social awareness. In it’s long history the group has never produced or performed commercial plays, though the artists are professional and doing this for a living, the cause still comes before money.
I took these photos during their performance in Sonepat, Haryana as part of Delhi based NGO PRIA’s Kadam Badao campaign. I was PRIA’s Communications Manager during this period.
More photos on my Facebook page, pls visit https://www.facebook.com/SanjuktaPhotography/
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From my political and personal blog, a piece on Rahul Gandhi, Modi and Gujarat election campaign.
So far Gandhi’s story was the first few chapters of a ‘coming of age’ novel. In all coming of age movies or novels, the protagonist does arrive. The rich and spoilt Sids of the world finally do Wake Up. And people love them, when they do. We all love the underdog, the one who, like a Phoenix, rises up to the occasion and saves the day. Perhaps that’s what worked for Rahul Gandhi in the last three to four months.
In the forthcoming Gujarat state assembly election campaign Rahul Gandhi came across as the proverbial “New and Improved” opposition leader. His new avatar has given a sigh of relief, and a breath of two lungs full of fresh hopeful air to millions of Indians who were desperately looking for alternatives to save the democracy. On this day when Rahul Gandhi is declared President of the 131 year old, Indian National Congress, many might have taken a deep breathe and said, “Everything is not lost. India still has hopes.”
I followed the election campaign by Prime Minister Modi and Rahul Gandhi closely, and gleefully observed how Gandhi has reinvented himself. From his body language to voice modulation to pronunciation; to the calm and comfort with which he attacked Modi in rallies after rallies – Rahul Gandhi is the absolute antithesis of everything that is Modi.
This photo documentary was first published on Firstpost
Karwan E Mohabbat Reveals The Patterns Leading To Making Of The Hindusthan Envisioned By RSS Guru M S Golwalkar, by Sanjukta Basu
“Humne sabar kar liya (I made peace),” said an old and fragile Jafruddin Hassan with tears around the corner of his eyes, his trembling hands resting between his knees and his head stooped down, hopelessly looking at the floor. Jafruddin of Khurgain village, Shamli district, Uttar Pradesh, is the face of the traumatized minority communities who have learnt to normalize violence in their lives, exactly as it was envisioned by MS Golwalkar, the RSS Guruji, in his book ‘We Or Our Nationhood Defined’ (1939).
Jafruddin Hassan, Khurgan, Shamli
In his book, Golwalkar called Hindus a race that legitimately belongs to Hindustan, ‘Mussalman’ as outsiders or foreigners, and carved out a future for them in which they must forever live at the mercy of Hindus. To quote Golwalkar,
“There are only two courses open to the foreign elements, either to merge themselves in the national race and adopt its culture, or to live at its mercy so long as the national race may allow them to do so and to quit the country at the sweet will of the national race…the foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture…must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment-not even citizen’s rights.”
This vision seems to be complete from the stories that emerged from Harsh Mander’s Karwan E Mohabbat, a month long journey that started from Assam and traveled to Jharkhand, Karnataka, Delhi, UP, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat, meeting families of Dalit and Muslim victims of lynching by caste and religious supremacists including the state apparatus.
The Karwan walks through village Dangawas, Rajasthan to meet the survivors Meghwal family, which lost five members in a decades old land dispute with dominant group, Jats.
Harsh Mander, meeting the widow of Kodarbhai in a tribal village in, Sabarkantha district Gujarat
Making peace with violence – Jafruddin’s story
It has been four years since Jaffruddin’s son Salim was killed by a mob of cow vigilantes somewhere on the cattle trade route between Haryana and UP. Till date, the police have not even handed the post-mortem report to the victim’s family, even though they exhumed his body for the purpose, an inauspicious act that has scarred the family. In his statement Salim mentioned a mob of nine had attacked him but only one was arrested and released on the same day. After exhumation of the body and post-mortem a second FIR was filed but no arrests were made. Four years on, Salim’s family has no information about the case, and they do not even dare to pursue access to justice. Instead, the family lives in fear of further attack on their other sons. “Humne Sabar kar liya,” is their response to all the violence they met. Living at the mercy of self-proclaimed custodians of majority religion has become the norm. Their hopelessness is so manic that Jafruddin blessed Harsh Mander with heaven, “Aap ko jannat naseeb ho” on a mere promise of obtaining a copy of the post-mortem report, the last remnant of his son.
This is a pattern the Karwan noticed in its entire journey meeting over 50 families across India. The religious and caste minorities are being systematically attacked by cow vigilantes and Hindu supremacists unleashing terror in their daily lives, several victims have lost lives or limbs, their only means of occupation taken away, their access to justice made difficult by biased approach of the police and administration and the media is constantly vilifying them with all kinds of fake narratives. The result is a that their lives are disoriented by their misery, they are so broken, scared and isolated that their own lived realities have become fiction. They are neither aware that their basic human rights have been brutally taken away nor are they sure whether they have any basic rights to begin with, exactly as we Golwalkar envisioned.
Khurshida, a middle aged widow, abandoned by her in-laws after the death of her husband, lives in Bhango, Mewat with her four children. Her husband, Ajmal, died mysteriously in police encounter in 2010. In 2012 she suddenly received a bank draft of Rs. 500,000, presumably a compensation from NHRC, but no explanation as to what had happened to her husband. This story is most baffling and speaks of the sinister plan going on in every rung of the current administration. It is obvious that there has been an enquiry into Ajmal’s death and the police must have been held guilty of human rights violation otherwise this compensation would not be paid. But the fact that no details about the investigation has been communicated to the widow is proof that administration wants to hush up matters.
It is hard to even attempt to understand Khurshida’s grief. Ajmal used to drive dumper trucks and had no police case on him. One fine morning he went out for work and the next thing Khurshida knows is that he is dead and buried. She didn’t even get to see his body, no rituals were performed, “Kuch pata nahi chala, koi mitti bhi nahi mili,” said Khurshida to Karwan travelers. The psychological impact of such traumas, of lives lost without reason, of grief without closure, of violence without accountability are all part of the dehumanization of minority community and normalization of violence in their lives. Today, Khurshida has bought a land with the money she got and is trying to raise her children by working as a labourer. “I am an uneducated villager where will I go to ask questions?” is the end of the matter for her.
Threats from right wing group – a strategy to cut off the victim from empathy and support system
What the minority community, disoriented by their sorrow, need the most is an assurance that their lives matter, that the violence caused to them should not have happened and that we the people of this nation are sorry and extend our condolences. That was the idea with which Harsh Mander started his Karwan. But those trying to dehumanize the minority community are also against anybody who would extend any empathy and support to them. They are not only perpetrating violence but also cutting the victim off from all support system.
A day before the Karwan was supposed to reach Alwar all six accused named by Pehlu Khan in his dying declaration were given a clean chit by Rajasthan state police. The timing of the decision was rather fateful and soon enough the Karwan received threats from Hindu extremist groups. Harish Saini from Hindu Jagran Manch reportedly appealed to Rajasthan administration to not allow the Karwan to hold any event in Alwar. “Any attempt to pay tribute to deceased Pehlu Khan would not be tolerated,” said Keshavchand Sharma of Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
Even though the Karwan received Rajasthan administration’s assurance that it would not be stopped anywhere local partners in Behror succumbed to the threats, the venue for peace meeting ‘Ganesh Plaza’ got cancelled and no other venue could be arranged. Local traders threatened to close down Behror in case the Karwan held any event. A defiant Harsh Mander however remained steady on his mission to at least pay tribute to Pehlu Khan by offering flowers at the spot where he was lynched. Even this much humanity was not to be allowed by the right wing groups. The State police also tried to put pressure on Mander, “If you place flower at that spot, this would become a trend,” said one of the officers. “Let it be, what is wrong in it?” replied Mander.
The Karwan had to enter Rajasthan with police protection. The travelers were given instructions on what to do if stones were thrown at the bus, “Duck and don’t move” they were told. Despite constant threats and pressure the Karwan arrived at Behror on 15th September and was met with a considerably large crowd of Hindu right wing groups.
Above Two photos: In spite of heavy police deployment Men from right wing groups started gathering near the spot where Pehlu Khan was lynched protesting Karwan’s attempt to pay tribute by offering flowers.
Harsh Mander and few others briefly sat in dharna near the Behror police station with his demand to offer tribute to Pehlu Khan and finally placed flowers at a symbolic location among heavy police security. As the bus moved towards Jaipur with a police escort, right wing goons from the street chanted “Bharat Mata Ki Jai,” “Joote maaro salo ko” and threw stones and shoes at it.
Such extreme hate, threats and intimidation towards a group of ordinary citizens with a simple message of love and empathy is a sign of the times we are living. The message is clear, anybody trying to build peace and harmony is doing so at their own risk. The Karwan members are not the regular protestors in political rallies facing tear gas and lathi charge or grassroot activists facing establishment’s ire. It is a group of people who usually do not have direct political participation. It was this category of people who Harsh Mander wanted to reach out, to build a bridge between the victims and those unaffected. It is also this category which might be easily intimated, and by doing so the right wing groups are trying to deter any such attempts for all times to come.
The practice of cross case on victims – a pressure tactics to withdraw cases against attackers
Families after families met by the Karwan revealed another dangerous pattern in the police investigation. Almost in all the cases of lynching by cow vigilantes there are criminal cases filed against the victim, casually referred to as ‘cross-case’. Cross cases are filed by cow vigilantes or registered suo-moto by police on various grounds like flouting traffic laws or animal protection laws etc as a means to put pressure on the victim not to pursue cases against vigilantes. Often these cross cases keep hanging on the victim’s fate while the perpetrators easily obtain bail and justice seem elusive. In such situation the victim or victim’s family is tempted to make a compromise leading withdrawal of cases by both sides. Although the legality of this is not so linear or simplistic the truth is that Muslims having any kind of dealing with cows, be it simple transportation, buying or selling for dairy are scared to even file FIR against cow vigilantes for the fear of getting roped in a cross case.
Immediately after Pehlu Khan and his son were brutally attacked my cow vigilantes criminal cases were filed against the victims on grounds of cattle slaughter and animal cruelty, which were completely baseless, a fact now confirmed by Court. In Vadavli, Gujarat a riot broke out between Dalits and Thakurs and FIRs got registered against both communities although Dalit residents of the village claim that force used by them were in self-defense. This space is too small to share all such cases but suffice to say that with cross cases the cycle of violence is complete – dehumanization, isolation and victim blaming.
A bike and a car burnt down in Vadavli, Gujarat in a riot between Thakurs and Dalits. In terms of scale the Vadavli riots were similar to Basirhat riots in West Bengal, but the media completely blacked out Vadavli
The Karwan would have a formal closing on 2nd October 2017 at Por Bandar. Karwan leader Harsh Mander has given a call to every Indian, “Chalo Por Bandar, hum sab Gandhi” (Let’s go to Por Bandar, we are all Gandhi). How much will this initiative achieve is a question to be answered in the proverbial ‘long run’. But one thing is very clear, the powers that be are rattled by the potential impact of the Karwan and attempts to throttle has begun. On 14th September, RSS spokesperson Rakesh Sinha openly threatened Harsh Mander on NDTV to investigate his NGO’s funding. As soon as Mander reached office on 22nd September his NGO Center for Equity Studies received income tax notice. “They can cancel our FCRA, shut down the organization. How does it matter? This would be an infinitely small fraction of the suffering that we bore witness to in the Karwan,” Mander wrote on the WhatsApp group signaling the long fight ahead.
Not In My Name, a peaceful non-violence Artistic event to protest against the growing incidence of cow vigilantism which has cost several innocent Muslim lives recently.
Over thousands of middle class citizens across 14 cities in India and five cities outside India, including London, Boston and Karachi came together to make one loud message heard, enough is enough. We don’t want any more killing of minorities in the name of majority’s imagined hurt religious sentiment. “Not in my name” is a message that violence is not accepted by my religion or culture or Constitution. Anti-social elements from the Hindutva camp of politics who call themselves protectors or worshippers of cows should know that the crime, violence, and blood is on their hands alone and they alone are responsible for violence. They are not a part of Hinduism.
BJP came to power in 2014 general elections with mere 31% of vote share, the lowest in India’s history, largely owing to anti-incumbency sentiments and hopes of development promised by Modi during the election campaign. While there were no mentions of Ram Mandir, Hindu Rashtra and other Hindutva tropes in the election campaign, foot soldiers of BJP interpreted Modi’s win as a sign to discard the Constitutional values of secularism and usher in Hindu Rashtra. Three years on, people of India, including those who voted for BJP, are now tired of the hate and violence. They are taking to the streets to mark their protest, “Not in my name. I didn’t vote for this.”
These are some of the moments from New Delhi’s event at Jantar Mantar where over 4 thousand gathered braving the rains. It was refreshing to see that the crowd consisted of people not from usual social and academic background but included business class, young entrepreneurs, MBAs and techies etc. The event saw several powerful performances by artists Maya Krishna Rao, Fauzia Dastango, Rabbi Shergill, Vinod Dua and others.
These are some photos from my most recent photo shoot. I had some of the greatest fun shooting this wedding. I was hired by Shubhasish’s elder sister but I already knew Shubhasish from a young age since he went to the same school as my cousin brother did. In their childhood, my cousin brother, Shubhasish and many of their friends had visited our house many times. So all those boys met me at the wedding after a long time, and couldn’t stop chatting up. It was almost like I am the VIP there instead of the bride and bridegroom. Since I write media stories on Indian politics these days, some of them even wanted to discuss some articles I have written. As a photographer in a wedding, it was overwhelming to get so much attention. I was secretly both embarrassed and happy, with all the love and affection.
Arpita and Shubhasish make a lovely cute couple. My heartiest wishes to them.
They are calling it the blue wave, as an estimated 50,000 supporters turned up at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar on Sunday, 21st May 2017, answering the clarion call by Bheem Army Ekta Mission to protest against the recent cast based atrocities in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh.
Caste based violence is common in India, a deeply polarized caste based society. The Khairlanji massacre of September 29, 2006, in Maharashtra, in which four members of a Dalit family were stripped, paraded naked and killed by a mob of 40 upper caste men, still remains one of the most horrific violence against Dalits.
But this is the first time that Dalit youth in such large numbers have gathered to not only protest the atrocities but also to assert their identity albeit through a display of aggression and muscle flexing. This new aggressive face of Dalit identity is being led by Chandrashekhar Azad, a young lawyer from Saharanpur Village, and founder of Bheem Army Ekta Mission. Following the May 9 clashes, Chandrashekhar went into hiding evading his arrest. On 15th May, in true rebel style, he shared an audio message on YouTube from an undisclosed location and announced his public appearance on 21st May at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar.
I visited Jantar Mantar, as usual to witness the event as a feminist and critical lens and here are some of the images I shot. I reached the venue late (news of second death in my family within a month reached that morning), so missed the large crowd but captured some of the fine points. Well, tried.
1. The Jantar Mantar event was mainly a show of strength
I asked many of the youth what was the gathering about and what were the main demands. Many of the youth seemed clueless. It seemed they came to show Dalit strength and to extend support to their hero Chandrashekhar. Several posters talked about Dalit atrocities and anti-Hindutva anti-Brahminial sentiments.
2. The trappings of Bheem Army is not apolitical
They come at a momentous time for India’s political scene when people of India have lost all hopes from Congress, is tired of Saffron terror, and feeling betrayed by AAP, Chandrashekhar Azad of Bheem Army enters the scene justly positioning himself as the next political option. In his underground message he didn’t mince words while talking about the saffron terror, the nexus between police and Yogi government of Uttar Pradesh, took a dig at the prime minister’s 56″ chest, and gave an emotional clarion call to Dalits all over the world to come united on 21st May.
3. Significant cultural shift in Dalit Identity
Founded in 2015 the Bheem Army and its founder Chandrashekhar has already attained a cult status which also brings a significant cultural shift in the Dalit identity. Large posters of Chandrashekhar Azad flaunting a masculine and assertive image, are very inspiring for Dalit youth perhaps for the right reasons, but is in deep contrast with the subtle and peaceful image of Bhimrao Ambedkar, considered a Dalit hero thus far.
4. No Shift From Masculinity and Gender Gaps
Bheem Army does not deviate much from the traditional model of political uprising – men taking main ‘actions’, heroes are worshiped, and women on the fringes. ‘Traveling by roads and rail they came in large numbers’ ran the headlines on many newspaper, but not even a handful of them were women. Where were the rural Dalit women in this mass gathering? Why weren’t they seen in Jantar Mantar? Why they didn’t travel? Everywhere I looked I just saw thousands of men in groups. A handful of women were from the city, part of various organizations. Few merely accompanied men to take care of children, who remained veiled at the fringes.
An urban woman, supporter of the movement, refused to pose with a group of Dalit men for my camera.
5. The Connection Between Buddhism and Dalit Identity
Ambedkar led the Dalit Buddhist movement, and while several protesters attending the gathering on Sunday sported a badge or photo of Gautama Buddha, some of the alleged actions of Bheem Army in Sharanpur clash hasn’t exactly been non-violent. Dalits in large numbers are converting to Buddism but whether it is just to register protest or do they also have real understanding of the values of Buddhism that is not clear.
6. Left, Secular and Liberal May Join Hands
Sunday’s massive gathering at Jantar Mantar is testimony to some key facts, firstly, Bheem Army is a people’s movement with a strong leader and great public support; secondly, it has the necessary financial backing to be converted into a political campaign; thirdly, it is on its way to consolidate the anti-saffron populace as evident from the support extended by people’s leaders like Kanhaiya Kumar of JNU and followers of Rohith Vemula among others. Message of ‘Bhagwa Atank Murdabad (Down with Saffron Terror)’ were also loud and abound.
India desperately needs a strong opposition and movements like that of Bheem Army gives us that much needed hope. At least the blue coloured Nehru caps with the words Bheem Army sounding similar to Aam Admi, was quite telling of that hope.