January 2, 2013
PEOPLE’S UNION FOR DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS
30th December 2012
Defend Women’s Right to Equality! Fight against Rape and Sexual Violence!
PUDR mourns the death of the 23-year-old victim of an intensely violent attack and gang rape. However, rather than giving in to anger caused by this distress, we believe that this is a time to reflect on the constitutive contexts that produce an event and figure out how it might never be repeated.
PUDR holds the Indian state primarily responsible for the sorry state of gender rights in this country. Contrary to viewing the ‘problem’ of male dominance as vested in ‘society’, which the state through its laws and regulations enforces and sustains, we see the state as the body that accentuates the inequality of women and sexual minorities in families, communities and in society. The Indian state is constitutionally mandated to treat all the citizens of the country as equal, and to actively foster equality. In reality, the state upholds and manifests dominant patriarchal culture and practices.
It is common knowledge that the odds are stacked against victims of sexual crimes. The home and the public space are unsafe. The reporting of such crimes is difficult, and when reported, women face long, arduous trials, the prospect of meeting their rapists repeatedly, threats, social humiliation, and finally, the possibility of a judgement that lets off the accused on the requirement that he marry his victim. Rape continues to be defined in narrow terms and excludes insertion of objects other than the penis into a woman’s vagina. Medical tests for rape continue to rely on judgements of the ‘character’ of women by deciding whether a woman is inured to sexual intercourse using the infamous ‘two-finger rule’. And the state continues to divest itself of any responsibility towards survivors of rape. Leave alone a crime of power like rape, quaintly-named crimes against women such as ‘eve teasing’ and ‘outraging modesty’ are barely reported, investigated and prosecuted. Sexual violence against women, in word and deed, simply isn’t important enough for law enforcement agencies.
But it is not just such acts of omission that the state is guilty of. The government and its functionaries have routinely practised rape. Conflict zones as well as the neighbourhood police thana have been locations of gang and custodial rape. In October 2011, Soni Sori in Chhattisgarh required hospitalization after undergoing severe custodial torture, including sexual violence. In May 2009, in Shopian in Kashmir, two women were gang raped by army personnel and killed. In 2004, in Manipur, Manorama was raped and killed by the Indian Army. None of these cases led to public trials of the perpetrators; in fact, the SP involved in the case of Soni Sori was given a gallantry award! Of course, enough has been said already of the presence of large numbers of convicted and alleged rapists in the Parliament and various legislative assemblies, though enough cannot be said about the attitude of the Hindu right wing towards women when they can term a survivor of a brutal attack and rape ‘zinda laash’.
A democratic state should make it difficult for those in power to practice inequality. Not only has the Indian state’s record in countering inequality been abysmal, but also its complicity in furthering it, which is why working class and ‘lower’ caste women, women of minority religious and other groups and sexual minorities suffer multiple oppressions of class, caste and gender.
By supporting the oppression of more than half of its population within their families and in their communities, by pretending that marital rape does not exist, by not accounting for violence on sexual minorities, by turning a blind eye to the use of rape and women’s brutalization to enforce upper caste and Hindu majoritarian power and by condoning the practice of a vengeful masculinity by those on its payroll, the Indian state is patriarchal in the extreme.
It is the state’s patriarchal beliefs that allowed it to rain lathis, water cannons and tear gas on peaceful protestors. Like the protestors, PUDR believes that the state and its agencies have over several decades sustained and legitimized violence against women. Whatever the problems with the articulation of demands by the protests over the last few weeks, the government’s response only shows the undemocratic and patriarchal nature of the Indian state. For any significant changes to occur in social attitudes towards women, a democratic state owes it to the populace who elected them to ensure their rights. Much of what the state needs to do is already known: speedy trials, the compulsory registration of rape cases and action against police who make such reporting difficult, the protection of the victim from threats, the complete abandonment of judgements that suggest that rapists can marry their victims, more attention paid to all manner of gendered crimes, the education of state employees in the equality of men and women, and the absolute need for safe public transport.
PUDR expresses solidarity with the protests and the public’s anger. However, we urge protestors to reconsider some of their demands. The emotive demand for death penalty has been rightly criticized by women’s groups already. First of all, death penalty and castration leave too much power in the hands of the state to unleash on those it wishes to silence. Second, death penalties in rape and murder cases have already occurred and have not led to any fall in their occurrence. Rather, lower class men like Billa, Ranga and Dhananjay faced the gallows, while Priyadarshini Mattoo’s rapist and murderer
continues to be endlessly tried in courts that hesitate to award him a death penalty. Finally, it is well-known that the greater the punishment, the lower the rate of conviction. Only the certainty of conviction can lead to true deterrence of any crime. Can the momentum gained in the series of protests across the capital today demand that conviction rate increases to, at least 60%, by the end of next year? Can we see women caught in years of litigation benefit from the agitation today?
However, PUDR also views rape as an assertion of patriarchal power that works at many levels besides the state. Interpersonal relations, the family and community all produce women and sexual minorities in similar ways. The home is no ‘safer’ than the outside for many people. We need to see the connections between these levels and fight for a change that while it recognizes the centrality of the state, also sees our own complicity in the production of unequal gendered and sexualized subjects.
Ashish Gupta and D. Manjit