Asghar Ali Engineer

(Secular Perspective Feb. 1-15, 2010)


Women generally are considered weak in our patriarchal society and men feel they need to be protected. Is it true? Well it may be true in some contexts but there are instances where women have dared where men chicken out or ‘weaker’ women have proved to be morally much stronger. Here it also needs to be stressed that only physical strength or strength of arms is not real strength, it is moral values which make really strong. Those who have moral superiority need not fear anyone and cannot be defeated.

Though no one can say women are inherently morally stronger but women tend to have better morals than men. There are number of reasons for that. Men aspire more for power and domination than women and hence resort to more morally unsound practices. They are involved more in crime than women and women tend to be more ethical in their behavior.

With very few exceptions women have not waged wars. Most of the ferocious and highly destructive wars in which millions of innocent human beings were killed were launched by men. In the last century two world wars were launched and fought by men, women only suffered. Women are far more sensitive to human life than men. It is women who give birth to life and sustain it. She carries human life for nine long months in her womb  and than, after giving birth, nurtures it for years before child  becomes self sufficient.

Men, on the other hand, to realize their own ambitions or wealth or power, would kill thousands of human beings within few seconds by dropping bombs or launching deadly missiles. Who caused atom bomb to be dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima killing more than two lakh people at a time? Not a woman. For men, power and authority are far more important than sensitivity to human life.

In communal riots in India too men have been real culprits than women. In my 40 years of investigating and monitoring communal riots in India I have not find a single instance in which any woman plotted and executed riots, much less killed any Hindu or Muslim. It was only in Gujarat that one Maya Kodnani is alleged to have instigated men to kill innocent human beings in Narodia Patia. I have found no other instance.

However, I have come across several instances in which women have saved the lives of innocent people. These women are real inspiration for peace loving people. I would like to throw some light here on the role of these women. Some I discovered while investigating riots and some I read about in newspapers and subsequently met them and some we had occasion to felicitate them on behalf of Women for Secularism, an organization working for rights of women at grassroots.

I came first such instance during investigation of communal riots in Ahmedabad in 1969. Now I do not remember her name but she was a vegetable vendor living in Jalimsingh Ni Chawl in Ahmedabad where there were two Muslim families as her neighbors. During the riots of 1969 a mob surrounded the Chawl and demanded that the Muslims be handed over to them to be killed and their household looted.

This woman the vegetable vendor, heard this and came out of her room with her sickle with which she used to cut her vegetables, came down the stairs and stood at the entrance challenging the mob to step forward to kill Muslims. I will cut the head of anyone stepping forward with this sickle, then you can kill me and walk over my dead body to kill the Muslims. None came forward and the mob of 500 dispersed.

I met this lady during my investigation and asked her why did you risk your life to save Muslims? She said first of all they were my neighbors and it was my duty to save their lives or die before they were killed. Secondly they were from my own village in Rajasthan. What face I would have shown to my villagers if they were killed. Thirdly, it was my duty to save human lives. They were innocent and had nothing to do with the ongoing violence.

But there were men in the Chawl, they could have come forward to save their neighbors’ lives. If these men had no courage, what could I do? I did what I could to save my Muslim neighbors. She was indeed an inspiration for hundreds of men. These men hid inside their homes while this woman alone took the challenge.

Another instance I know of was of Mrs. Yadav from Aligarh when communal riots broke out there in 1994. A bus carrying baraat (marriage party) going towards Lucknow was parked in the bazaar and driver had gone for some work. A Hindu mob came to set fire to the bus. They were mostly women and children going for the marriage. Mrs. Yadav was passing from there along with her son.

She saw that bus will be set afire killing 40 women and children. She looked around for something with which she could ward off the mob. She found an iron rod, picked it up and charged the mob with it. The mob ran away and she asked her son to drive the bus towards their house. Fortunately the driver had left the ignition key in the bus itself enabling her son to drive the bus off to their compound thus saving 40 lives single-handedly.

The Chief Minister Mulayamsingh Yadav himself met the lady and rewarded her with 1 lakh of rupees for her courage. I also met her when I went to Aligarh for investigation. She told me she was not sure whether she would be able to save their lives but I considered it my duty to at least make an attempt. More than courage, she said, it was my duty to save innocent lives, especially women and children. They all would have been reduced to ashes. I am fortunate to save their lives.

In this case too there were many men around but none showed courage or interest to save these innocent lives where a woman alone could pick courage and wielded rod and saved these lives. More than any thing else women after all are more sensitive to human life. She became talk of the town in Aligarh for her unusual feat.

In 2008 riots broke out in Bhainsa in Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh. A house of Muslim Syed Osman was set afire on October 10 in which whole family including women and children would have been burnt alive but for the courage of Tuljabai 61 and her son and other women members of her family who saved their lives. Others looked on. Again a woman came forward showing extra-ordinary courage and others showed no concern. Communal minded men were busy killing and destroying.

Communal riots broke out in Sangli, Miraj, Ichalkaranji and Kolhapur district in early September 2009 on the eve of Ganesh festival 7-9 September 2009. During these riots 60 mosques and dargahs (mausoleums) were destroyed or damaged. But several Hindu women from these villages not only saved Muslim lives but also repaired these mosques and dargahs. For example the Gram Panchayat of Kavthepiran,  which is run by women, decided to repair the damaged Muslim religious places and try to get life back to normal. These Hindu women said, “Our Muslim sisters played an equal role in getting the award for our village. There are over 100 Muslim houses in the village and some had started leaving the village after the riots. But we stopped them. All women from the village visited the Muslim houses and assured to protect them.” Thus they prevented Muslims from migrating from villages and assured them of security to their lives and properties. This sanity in the midst of communal frenzy by men was shown by illiterate rural women.

Some of these women were Hasubai Buchare, Rekha Chanade, Vandana Gaikwad and Nisha Butade, all grassroot workers. I met them in Icchalkaranji where we felicitated them on behalf of Women for Secularism in a convention held on 13th November 2009. I found them very courageous and though some of them illiterate or with very little education, spoke with great verve against those who organize communal violence to serve their political ends and vowed never to allow such violence in their village.

The communal violence in Kandhmal district wherein about 40 Christians were killed by some Hindu fanatics, also saw many Hindu courageous women who came forward to save lives of Christians fellow villagers in 2008. Some of these women were Ms. Ranchi Pradhan, Ms. Suruchi Pradhan of Rudenia village, Ms. Satyabhama Nayak and Ms. Nabojini Pradhan who showed exceptional courage in saving lives of many Christians or protect their houses. We felicitated all of them in the convention of All India Secular Forum. (Pradhan is the title used by Hindu tribals of Kandhmal)

These women are also all illiterate and grass root workers. Their humanism is very much alive and are free of communal prejudices. They proved to be more of human being than Hindu, Christian or Muslim. It gives us great hope and proves two things: one, that women are far more compassionate than men and two, illiterate women are far more free of communal prejudices than highly educated urban people.

The Women for Secularism is, therefore, concentrating on these grass root women and mainly working among them. These women suffer much more at the hands of tradition bound men, especially those men who are votaries of communal ideologies and yet these women are far less prejudiced and are more humane. They are our asset and we must see that they get their Constitutional rights. They need to be better organized than they are today. There is also great need to build awareness of their rights.


Centre for Study of Society and Secularism


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