Raji Aujla: Attack On Nodeep Kaur Driven By Gender And Caste Discrimination

Nodeep Kaur was attacked again and the image kept me up all night

Raji Aujla
March 9, 2021 | 4.5 min. read

The sun was setting behind the Columbia Mountain range, casting monochromatic blue hues in the surrounding valleys. It felt melancholic, like Picasso’s Blue Period.

My body felt tired and triggered. 

It was International Women’s Day and I felt equal part elated, watching Sikh women protesting in India; with equal parts devastation, because of the burden that these women carry and the fine wrinkles around their eyes that show strength but also immense concern.

Nodeep Kaur was attacked again and the image kept me up all night. 

Jaskaran from Baaz sent me the first message, and within moments a message came in from Darshan at the People of the Community, and then another from my journalist friend in Delhi. Her message contained the head exploding emoji. Simple and succinct as it illustrated my state of mind at that very moment. 

My body told me not to open Suraj Kumar Bauddh’s tweet that Jaskaran sent. I was mid-meeting with the Canada Council for the Arts and trying to resist all distractions to perform my job. My head didn’t listen. 

There she was. A photograph of Nodeep Kaur. Labour rights activist, a Dalit Sikh woman. She was wearing canary yellow kurta, gold glasses. She had a look of defiance, peering directly into the camera’s lens. She was centre of the frame, her arm being pulled by members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) while six women and a man with a red turban held her back. 

Nodeep was at the Bhagat Singh Chhatra Ekta Manch, an organized event for International Working Women’s Day, held at the Arts Faculty of Delhi University where the attack took place. She was a part of the speaker line up, alongside Bilkis Dadi, Kusum, amongst others. They gathered to uplift the women of caste, colour, sexualities, and different professions fighting to end the facist regime in India and to amplify unheard voices of rape survivors. 

Harpuneet Kaur wrote that the event was disrupted by ABVP supporters led by Delhi University Students Union joint secretary Shivangi Kharwal. They clashed with the organisers before Nodeep could make her address. They removed posters, uttered misogynist and homophobic slurs, and physically attacked the gathering while the policestood by. As a result, three student activists were detained, many students had bruises, marks on their bodies, clothes torn off, students dragged. The ABVP supporters got away. 

The ABVP is a right-wing all India student organization affiliated to the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a member of. 

They confronted the organizers because they were angry at the event’s theme since it discussed the negative states of affairs in India: Rape, misogyny, homophobia, casteism. They wouldn’t allow Nodeep Kaur to take the stage to deliver her speech. What we have been seeing - especially since the farmers’ protests erupted - is censorship at all levels of Indian society that suppress the voices of any movement that is anti-government. 

This International Working Women’s Day event, however, called for the rights of all citizens, especially those of minority religion, creed, gender, caste. So this act of violence and gatekeeping led by ASVP supporters was to silence women speaking their truths by calling for the social justice of all marginalized folx. To put it simply, they were silencing democracy. 

The truth is India doesn’t want to hear it. 

They don’t want to hear people fight against a system that for centuries has monopolized on the suppression of certain voices. Caste hierarchy and gender hierarchy are the organizing principles of the brahmanical social order and are incredibly interconnected. This social order has indoctrinated subordination of lower castes and women to ensure caste purity but also economic and patriarchal control. This type of social stratification allows higher castes to succeed through patrilineal succession and subjugates lower castes and women to inhuman conditions of existence.

This organized event symbolizes an awakening. The female protestors and activists, women’s farmer organizations and women caucuses and unions, all of this activity is led by women and it implicates all levels of societal function and patriarchal oppression that has dominated the subcontinent for so long. 

We are seeing a rise in academics, writers, feminists that are activating their voices to liberate the Indian woman. Some writers have gone so far as the retelling of some of the oldest Sanskrit epics of ancient India. Ramayana from Sita’s maternal perspective by Samhita Arni or The Forest of Enchantments by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni that talks about the complexities of women’s lives and Sita’s own realizations of this.   

“We have to implicate the ways Hindutva is deeply misogynistic ideology and ideologies of domination always take a misogynist lens on female purity, female submission, the idea of women needing to be in their place,” Harsha Walia told me in another conversation. “This is very much a part of the Brahmical code that oppresses women, especially Dalit women. Gendered violence is inherent to Hindutva.” 

To me, these two things aren’t separate. Caste and gender discrimation is the basis of India’s “progress” and without it India’s brahmanical social order will fall. And, it needs to. India is at the melting point of a complete civil rights movement. The ethical issues underlying these movements have become glaringly obvious. Nodeep was attacked and she will continue to be attacked. The truth is, it’s not what she dissents, it’s that she dissents.

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Raji Aujla is the founder of Willendorf Cultural Planning focusing on better representation and inclusion of IBPOC voices in Canadian arts and culture. Follow her on Instagram: @raji.aujla


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