As stories of the Delhi riots and the CAA-NRC protests from earlier this year resurface, the tales of fathers of two daughters stand out. One disowned his daughter and the other stood by his.
In February, student activist Amulya Leona went on the stage where Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi was speaking minutes earlier, and said, “Hindustan Zindabad, Pakistan Zindabad…” Amulya was cut off by Owaisi and other people on the stage, booked for sedition almost immediately — and India found a new ‘enemy’ in a 19-year-old woman.
In May, Pinjra Tod activist Natasha Narwal was arrested by the Delhi Police under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA, for her alleged role in the ‘communal violence’ in the national capital earlier in the year. She has been lodged in Tihar Jail ever since.
‘Radical not anti-national’
Amulya’s disappointed father Vojald Leona said that she should rot in jail because she hurt the feelings of Indians. He disowned her publicly and said the police should “break her legs”.
Majority of Indians are racist, casteist, anti-women and hate minorities. No wonder, it seeps into fathers who place borders before daughters. Standing up for a shared humanity, which you would have known had Leona been allowed to finish her speech, is not an ‘anti-national’ act.
As Natasha’s 70-year-old retired scientist father Mahavir Narwal puts it, during a conversation over the phone, “If Amulya’s views are humanist and don’t come from hatred for anyone, then her family should support her. It is not right to dismiss every woman’s independent views as radical. Most importantly, radical is not anti-national.”
But even former India cricketer and current BCCI chief Sourav Ganguly doesn’t know the difference. Remember when he censored his adult daughter Sana’s anti-CAA post on Instagram and said, “She is too young… to know about anything in politics”?
In a patriarchal society, women are always “too young”, “too old” or “too naive” to think about any issue. As Mahavir says, “You can agree or disagree with your daughter. Natasha and I disagree on one issue. I believe that change should be bigger and whole. She thinks that change should come from small steps.”
He jokingly adds, “She, in fact, takes my class on certain issues.”
Mahavir is the head of Haryana Vigyan Manch, which promotes science and scientific temper. The father humbly accepts that he learns from his daughter and that there can’t possibly be any shame in learning from women around you. He is standing by his jailed daughter, not admonishing her.
Not into Uncle Communalism
Unlike his other Indian counterparts, Mahavir Narwal doesn’t think he knows everything or that he needs to ‘correct’ his children. Especially his daughter. We often find middle-aged Indian ‘uncles’ instigating the young to be hateful towards minorities and women. I call these men ‘Uncle Communalism’ — the lot who think making jokes about their wives is okay, and so is casual Islamophobia. They think letting their daughters go to college and wear jeans is ‘liberal’ enough, but why have opinions?
Vojald Leona would rather disown Amulya for what he would call ‘anti-national’ stance than talk to her. Such is the mentality towards daughters that even in a situation like hers, Leona’s agency was taken away. Vojald said, “She was joined by some Muslims and wasn’t listening to me.”
Contrary to this, Mahavir Narwal derives his strength from his daughter. He has met Natasha a few times in jail and discovered a different side of her. She now teaches yoga to the other inmates. Police personnel are impressed too. One of them told him, “She doesn’t get intimidated easily.”
Let our daughters evolve
In recent years, we have seen a different kind of hatred towards feminism, scientific temper and progressiveness in India. Mahavir Narwal says that the arrest of activists by the Delhi Police are out of fear. They never liked Pinjra Tod.
To him, Pinjra Tod is an expression. It is a volunteer group of women. It is evolving. It doesn’t have a written ideology. Mahavir says, “Our daughters will evolve too. When we were protesting against the Emergency, people viewed us as radical too. But how is that section of our history written now? Those who went to jails at that time are not seen as radicals today. I went to jail during aapatkal and my daughter went to jail during another aapatkal.”
The world is horrified by the idea of independent women. Mahavir Narwal says that he can’t wait for Natasha to get bail and talk to her about the experience of spending time in jail. If only Vojald Leona could learn a thing or two from Mahavir.
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