December 31, 2012
Below we have collected various statements and articles that were written in the past two weeks in the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape and the anti-rape protests. These pieces have appeared on Sanhati and other websites. We also include some older articles, such as one by Comrade Anuradha Ghandy, which still remain pertinent to the issue. Readers may also wish to read articles such as this one by Kavita Krishnan, from the April 2012 Sanhati special issue.
1. Changes in Rape Law: How Far will they Help? – Anuradha Ghandy
2. Fight Violence Against Women Across the Country – Viplav Sanskritik Manch
3. Boycott Republic Day and stand against rape culture (Hindi) – Students for Resistance
4. Appeal to all concerned with violence against women
5. Rape, the Law and the Middle Class – Walter Fernandes
6. Statement on Delhi Gang Rape – Kavita Krishnan, Secretary AIPWA
7. The Power of Shame – Saroj Giri
8. How do we break the Indian penile code (Outlook) – Meena Kandasamy
9. We must resist the cunning of judicial reform (Kafila) – Pratiksha Baxi
10. Rape cultures in India (Kafila) – Pratiksha Baxi
11. Gendered violence and biases in the criminal justice system (Infochange) – Vrinda Grover
1. Changes in Rape Law: How Far will they Help? – Anuradha Ghandy
Anuradha Ghandy has written insightfully and from revolutionary experience on the relationship between Marxism and Feminism. Comrade Anuradha, a member of CPI (Maoist) spent many years among the PGLA in Dandakaranya and was important in expanding the Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sanghatan (KAMS), possibly the biggest feminist organization in India. She wrote this essay about a decade ago. Her critique of patriarchal culture in India that encourages and condones despicable violence against women are extremely relevant for the ongoing anti-rape protests in Delhi. She also questions the extremely limited and patriarchal rape-laws that further humiliate rape survivors and insist on a terrifying culture of compromise. This essay appears in a collection of her writings on caste and gender, called “Scripting the Change” edited by Anand Teltumbde and Shoma Sen.
2. Fight Violence Against Women Across the Country- Viplav Sanskritik Manch
The horrific gang-rape of a young student in the Munirka-Mahipalpur area on December 16th has sparked off wide protests in Delhi. Thousands of people, young and old, have congregated at police stations, India Gate and the CM’s residence expressing their outrage at the brutal incident and the government and police’s lax attitude.
But instead of sensitively listening to people demanding ‘justice’ for the young woman, the Delhi government has created an Emergency like situation and attacked protestors with tear gas, smoke grenades, water cannons and lathi charge! It is heartening to see that common people have braved the systematic force used by the government and still collected in the area. Women with young children, elderly people, families on a Sunday outing, young girls in a discussion on violence they face, activists, journalists-were indiscriminately beaten up by the Delhi Police and Rapid Action Force (RAF) at India Gate on 22-23 December. Metro stations around India Gate are closed and Section 144, which prohibits the assembly of more than 5 people in a public space, has been applied in the area. It’s striking to see the government acting so swiftly and efficiently against peaceful protestors, when during riots, emergencies or when common people are harassed, they are nowhere to be found.
National statistics show that in our country, a woman is raped every 20 minutes. Daily life for women is littered with abuse – unwelcome stares and leering, groping and harassment, lewd comments on the street; beatings, molestation and rape by male family members and threats for dowry in the home. Rising figures of female foeticide show that most girls are killed in the womb. Women who assert their independence and marry outside the caste or community are beheaded or hacked to death by their won families in “honour” killings. Women are barred from working outside the home, while working class women who do are thought of as easy prey and ‘loose’. With such unequal and oppressive gender relations, why should we look at rape as unique?
Rape and sexual assault are not aberrations, but they are the norm. Our society celebrates sexual assault in strange ways – the harassment during holi that is brushed away as ‘mamuli ched-chaad’ or the idea that ‘ladki ke na me hi han hai’. Or the pop songs that play constantly on the radio, Honey Singh’s ‘main hun balatkari’ is an obvious example. It’s important to realize that rapists are not ‘demons’. The rampant misogyny and patriarchal practices of our society are what produce rape and rapists. Violence against women is so routine that women who protest it are usually frowned at and condemned. When a woman is sexually assaulted, people ask what she did to “provoke” the man. What she was wearing, something she said, being out in the night, roaming around, her ‘character’ – any of these could mean that she “asked for it”. This is why it is absolutely imperative for us to protest this rape.
But remember September in Haryana? Twenty cased of gang-rape were reported in a month and many of these were Dalit women raped by upper caste men. In 2006, Priyanka and Surekha Bhotmange, two dalit women demanding rightful ownership over their land, were raped, stripped and beaten to death by a crowd of dominant caste men and women in Khairlanji, Maharashtra. During the Gujarat riots of 2002, many Muslim Women raped and murdered by Bajrang Dal and VHP activists. These were women were all attacked not only because they were women but because they were Dalit and Muslim women. In the past month, two minor girls were raped in other cases in north and east Delhi on December 16th itself. A young woman in Siliguri was drudged, gang-raped, and then burnt, and a 5 year old Dalit girl was raped and killed in Bihar. But none of these terrible cases received the same kind of reactions from people or reportage in the press as the Delhi gang-rape case. Is it because we don’t value these women’s lives and safety as much as a middle-class students in Delhi? Or because Dalit, Muslim or working class girls are always thought of as ‘loose’ or ‘inferior’? Or that when women are demanding land, their rights, equal wages or fighting dominant ideas of ‘development’ then violence against them is justified?
If we really want to fight sexual assault, we can’t afford to look at this incident as an isolated case. We must link it with the cases described above. Men do NOT rape for sex or pleasure- they do it to assert their power. This power is not just that of men against women, but of upper-caste men against dalit women, employers against women working in their households or factories, landed men against landless women tilling their fields, and the state against dissenters. Sexual violence is directed against all people is subjugated position.
The people of Delhi are on the streets with the slogan “we want justice”. At this point, it is crucial for us to think through what we mean by ‘justice’ for this young women and rape victims everywhere. Can the definitions of justice being offered today be a real answer?
Today there is frenzy around death penalty for the six rapists. Political parties have endorsed this punishment and common people seem to be rallying around it as well. Some individuals, as well as sections of the media like the Times Group, have even proposed sensational measures like chemical castration for rapists. But can capital punishment be a solution? In all crimes where it is allowed, it has proved to be a weak deterrent. Death penalty, which can only be given in ‘rarest of rare’ cases, will bring the conviction rate for rape down even more than the current obysmal 27%. It may push rapists to kill their victims so that there’s no evidence against them. Further, as statistics show, 90% of rape cases are perpetrated by people known to the victim. When it is already very difficult for women to report their fathers, brothers, uncles or friends for assault, this will become even tougher if the punishment is death.
Death penalty also reinforces the widely held belief that rape is a ‘fate worse than death’ for women and strips them and their families of ‘honour’. The BJP’s Shushma Swaraj has said that the young student will be a ‘zinda lash’ or ‘the living dead’ if she survives. Paradoxically, the doctors have called her a fighter and expressed her desire to continue her studies. This is substantially different from the idea of a raped woman being a victim whose life is over!
More than pragmatic reasons, there is a big question on the ethicality of capital punishment. Giving the state even more powers and the “legitimate right to kill” is dangerous.
More important than severity of the punishment is the certainty that there will indeed be a punishment. This requires strong legal and police reforms. Most rape victims, especially Dalits and Muslims, are dissuaded from filing cases by the police themselves and thus the majority go unreported. If they do manage to file cases, they are subjected to the worst kinds of questioning and abuse. Rape trials that regularly take years to conclude become an added burden on the victim. Changes in legal framework are also much-needed. Many women’s groups are rightly demanding that the definition of rape should be widened from penile penetration of the vagina, to anal penetration, penetration by objects, non-penetrative assault and so on. There are many loopholes in the legal framework around rape that quick and easy solutions like death penalty cannot change. A better deterrent would be trials carried out effectively by a sensitive judiciary, lawyers and police and assured punishment.
We must also seriously question the intentions and integrity of the Parliamentarians shedding crocodile’s tears for the young student. The same political parties have carried out and justified sexual assault of women across the country. The Congress has shielded men guilty of sexual violence. Soni Sori, an adivasi school teacher in Dantewada, Chattishgarh has accused state police of torture and being raped with stones, but the government instead of taking action, gave the SP Ankit Garg a Police Gallantry medal!
Other political parties are no better. BJP women members have made fiery speeches in the Lok Sabha and media, but their party has indulged in worst kinds of violence against women, be it calls for systematic rape of Muslim women during the Babri Masjid demolition (1992) or during the Gujarat riots when scores of Muslim women were raped and murdered under Narendra Modi’s leadership. Modi was voted to Gujarat government for a third term the day the Delhi protests broke out!
It is the same political system that justifies rape by armed personnel and police. Remember the rapes and murders of Asiya and Nilofer Jan in Shopian, Kashmir by the army, that were protested by Kashmiri youth in the streets, much like we’ve seen at india Gate in the past few day. There the youth faced not just lathis and water cannons, but guns and bullets of the state police. Or the army’s brutal rape and murder of Manorama Devi in Manipur in 2004 which agitated Manipuri women activists to protest naked at the Assam Rifles headquarters in Imphal, with posters saying “Indian Army, Rape Us”. These crimes go ignored and unpunished in the name of “national pride” and “security”, with faulty enquiries that seek to bury the evidence rather than bringing the guilty to book. The rapists roam free under the protection of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA).
Are legal solutions enough? Laws, no matter how strong or effective, can’t change the social system that produces violence against women. We should challenge the traditions that bind us to the ‘safety’ of our homes, families and communities, and take to the streets and public places even more, for work or fun. We need solutions that take into account the social and political set-up that makes sexual violence emerge, a society that rests on the oppression of the many for the privilege of a few. Unless we build a strong solidarity with all women and men facing violence, because of their work, their caste or religion, their sexual choices, we cannot fight rape.
Speed up rape trials and punish the perpetrators!
Down with patriarchy!
Viplav Sanskritik Manch
4. Appeal to all concerned with violence against women
Released By : MAYA JOHN on behalf of Centre for Struggling Women (CSW)-Sangharshil Mahila Kendra
SUPPORTED BY : Mazdoor Ekta Kendra (MEK), Blind Workers Union (BWU), Anand Parbat Industrial Area Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti, Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS)-Delhi, Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS)-Haryana, Nirman Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti (NMSS), Ghar Bachao Morcha-Baljeet Nagar, Mahila Panchayat-Punjabi Basti, ITI Students Solidarity
The recent brutal gang-rape of a 23-year old woman in Delhi has left the entire nation shocked and outraged. The fact that the woman was picked up along with a male companion from a crowded bus stand and then raped in the moving bus has left the public stunned. The sheer brutality with which the rape was committed has fuelled large scale protest. This widespread agitation by women and general masses all over the country reflects not just shock, but is also an expression of tremendous anger against continuous and growing violence on women. After all, the recent case of gang-rape is not an anomaly but a latest manifestation of a deeply ingrained rot that corrodes our lives, now overtly and at other times covertly.
Unfortunately, while there has been massive public outrage and a long dormant anger has spilled onto the roads, there has been little effort to tackle this issue in a rational manner. Spontaneous anger and symbolic violence have given vent to our frustration, but also carry the danger of being co-opted by the vested interests of the ruling class and its decadent culture. Therefore, this is an opportune (and imperative) moment for us to envisage ways in which to prevent such incidents from recurring in the future, and to ensure that the agitation against violence on women is not misused by vigilante groups (and other dubious social forces). We have to keep our autonomy of action, as well as the independence of our will intact. Thus, we must consciously deliberate upon the direction and content of the ongoing struggle.
It is important to remember that we are not fighting against only one brutal incident of rape, but against an entrenched phenomenon. It is a fact that women in this country have and are facing sexual exploitation and oppression in diverse forms. Recently cases of rapes have been reported from Haryana, Gujarat, UP and other states but the media has made the current case a city specific issue. Clearly, not all incidents of rape have met with the same quantum of media coverage and public outcry (at least at the level of the capital and its corridors of power). This is not to say that there have been no movements or agitation against sexual violence on women. Indeed, the ongoing protests should be seen in continuation with and connected to other protests against similar violence on women. Hence, the current protests should not be de-linked from, or stand unaware of the ground prepared by preceding struggles like those of the stone pelting spirited masses in Kashmir, the naked protest by Manipuri women against the sexual offences committed by army personnel, the protest against the rape and murder of Dalit women in Khairlanji (Maharashtra), etc.
Of course, for many, the current protests in Delhi might be a belated response to all these equally spine-chilling incidents of rape and brutality. However, for many others, it is the (uncomfortable) proximity of the incident (the feeling that the rape took place in the capital itself and could happen to anyone) which might be propelling the response. Moreover, some are troubled by the fact that political opportunists have increasingly taken hold of the spontaneous mass reactions. From the unfortunately named Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena (which has absolutely no relationship with the progressive ideology of Bhagat Singh, nor any connection with kranti), Shiv Sena activists, misogynist ‘babas’, funded ‘anti’-corruption crusaders, cadre from a Party of rapist-rioters to all kinds of agent provocateurs have high jacked the reactions of common masses. Some have rightly pointed to the hypocrisy of the media which has been ‘earnestly’ covering the current protests. Indeed, the very media which talks about reform measures to curb such incidents also projects women as objects of sexual fulfillment through advertisements, promotion of nudity through newspapers, etc.
In this light, we must realize that we need to assert our autonomy from such elements, and recognize who are the genuine and authentic fighters. We must also plan and prepare for the long run so that the next time, instead of them outnumbering us, we overpower them with, both, our ideological preparation and organizational resilience. We need to realize that in no movement or mass reaction of such kind can we find a pure constituency, i.e., people who want to genuinely fight against women’s oppression because in the safety and freedom of all women they see the liberation of women they know. Of course, the general male chauvinist response is to protect ones’ own womenfolk, but to do the same to others. This is precisely why at various venues of the ongoing protests, many male ‘agitators’ were seen harassing (ogling, touching inappropriately, etc.) women protestors. Even the recent rape of a factory woman worker by a rapist whose own daughter was raped earlier (19 December 2012 newspaper reports from Welcome area in northeast Delhi) points to the hypocrisy with which male chauvinism functions.
This then brings us to the question of the mentality and conditions which perpetuate inequality and violence. While we need to continue our struggle against all odds like Article 66A of the IT Act which prevents us from protesting on the internet, road blocks, tear gas, water cannons, metro blocks, Article 144, etc. which prevent our expressions of discontent from spilling onto the streets, and hence to become visible—the need of the hour is to make a level headed analysis of the concrete situation and to put forward a set of concrete demands that are rational and desirable. Such an approach also demands that we look beyond the immediate event which is but a mere symptom of several grave problems, and focus our eyes on the disease itself—a disease that will outlive the current event and short-term remedial measures tabled in the name of ‘providing justice’. It is with this objective of fighting the actual malaise and to uproot it as a whole that we are putting forward this set of concrete demands, though without forgetting the old wisdom “without changing everything, we do not change anything”.
Without a doubt, our most formidable weapon against sexual violence is a sustained mass movement. Of course, a list of demands, as the one below, will only see the light of day until women across the country organize themselves under women organizations, and launch a multi-pronged and consistent movement on the issue of women’s exploitation and oppression. We, thus, appeal to all women and men to become part of progressive and democratic organisations so that even after these protests ebb we don’t just go back to leading our existing lives, but continue to aspire and struggle for a more just and equitable society for all. It is in this light, that our demands below are not just demands from the state but also stand for our claims on society.
1. Provide safe and adequate public means of transport. In Delhi itself there is a shortage of more than 5000 buses. This creates overcrowding and scope for sexual harassment of women commuters.
2. All public means of transport (buses and autos) should be monitored. Every vehicle must be connected with a Global Positioning System (GPS) device so that its movement is monitored by the Traffic Police.
3. All employees working in DTC, Cluster buses, BEST, city and state transport buses, auto rickshaws, Grameen Sewa must wear the public service vehicle (PSV) badge.
4. In future recruitment of BUS conductors, priority should be given to women.
5. No unregistered tourist/travel agencies must be allowed to ply their private vehicles. Further, there should be proper monitoring of personnel working in these private tourist agencies.
6. Banning of unsafe private transport.
7. Increase frequency of Delhi Metro trains so that overcrowding and scope for sexual harassment can be checked. Metro trains should ply throughout the night.
8. Severe punishment for violation of traffic rules, especially tinted glasses, unclear/small-lettered number plates, use of loud music, and loud honking aimed at harassing women commuters.
9. Vehicles plying at night should be properly scanned.
10. Increase the number of ladies’ special buses, including their night services.
11. No auto or taxis should be allowed to refuse passengers. License fees and other charges levied on these modes of transportation must be kept at minimum so as to keep the fare low. Majority of autos and taxis are owned by a handful of cartels-mafias. Such cartels must be busted, and instead, recognition must be given to auto workers’ own unions.
12. Special women protection cells should be formed in Railways. All compartments in trains should have emergency alarm and other provisions for security of women commuters.
13. Provision of separate school buses for government school students so that there is no overcrowding on certain routes.
14. Proper and adequate street lighting.
15. Women employees working in night and early morning shifts should be provided company transport facility.
16. Increase the number of affordable working-women’s hostels to ensure safe accommodation for single working women.
17. All out-station girl students studying in colleges must be provided cheap and safe accommodation by their respective institutions so as to hinder harassment by private landlords.
18. There should be a clear distinction in the degree of punishment between rape and rape-brutality-murder; the latter should be punished more severely than the former. The quantum of punishment between the two types of rapes should be clearly separated. Death penalty is not a rational option because it would create the danger of every rapist considering murdering the victim so as to efface evidence and escape death penalty. There should be a legislation which recognizes the graded nature of sexual assault/violence based upon the concepts of hurt, harm, injury, humiliation, and degradation. The logic of awarding death penalty to a rapist is based on the male chauvinist belief that rape is a fate worse than death. In this context, the most important deterrent is the certainty of punishment, rather than the severity of its form.
19. Separate fast track courts for cases of violence on women should be constituted. 25,000 more courts are required in addition to the existing 16,000. All pending cases of rape (All India-100,000, Delhi 1000) should be solved by specially constituted courts within 100 days.
20. Medical examination of rape victims should be conducted by lady doctors wherever possible and no intrusive or archaic methods for medical examination should be conducted against the will of the rape victim.
21. All districts in the country must be equipped with facilities for forensic test.
22. All rape victims must be provided the needful psychological counseling.
23. All requisite steps should be taken for the rehabilitation of the victims including adequate employment opportunities.
24. The onus of proving oneself not-guilty should lie on the accused.
25. Cross-examination of rape victims must not be allowed to become a cause for harassment.
26. All those persons whose charge sheets have been filed for rape cases by the Election Commission must be barred from contesting elections for public bodies.
27. Fill up all vacancies in various subordinate and higher courts. A law should be passed ensuring trial by an elected jury in all courts
28. Proper protection must be provided for victims and witnesses in the cases of sexual offences.
29. Rape-trials must be held in-camera and should be presided over by women judges.
30. Women helpline and other emergency services should be provided round the clock and should be well advertised.
31. Creation of a special vigilance team to monitor PCR vans.
32. CCTV cameras should be set in all police stations, and swift action must be taken against errant police personnel. This is in the light of cases like Soni Sori who was tortured and raped in police custody. Shockingly, she is still languishing in a prison in Chhattisgarh.
33. Increase the proportion of women in the police force. Currently there are less than 6.5 per cent women in the Delhi Police.
34. Introduce compulsory courses on gender sensitivity in the training module of the Police Force instead of a few token workshops for a handful of Police Officers. Around 80,000 human rights violation complaints are lodged every year against the Police force of which a large number pertain to sexual offence against women.
35. No male Police personnel should be designated to deal with victims of sexual offences, i.e. for enquiry and for escorting the victims to the court for trial. Instead, lady Police personnel in plain clothes should be deployed for the purpose.
36. There should be proper distribution of Police between common masses and VIPs. A whopping 50,059 are guarding VIPs, which is 20,000 more than the sanctioned number. These Police personnel should be employed to serve the common masses and not for the security of VIPs and for curbing democratic movements of the masses.
37. The role and functioning of National Commission for Women (NCW) should be audited annually and made public. There has been a tendency among the ruling Parties to distribute posts in this office as favors to its henchmen! This practice should be discontinued and free and fare elections should happen for all the posts so that individuals with credibility and standing in the women’s movement may be able to make their way to this important office.
38. Gender sensitization to be included in school and higher education curriculum.
39. Religious texts and practices/rituals which degrade women and create misogynist culture should be debated, boycotted and banned.
40. Ban on the sale of liquor after 8pm.
41. Unauthorized selling of liquor must be stopped and the culprits responsible for the same should be severely punished. Concerned authorities should be reprimanded for their negligence.
42. Severe punishment for consumption of liquor at public places.
43. Movement of inebriated groups of men late at night must be monitored and they should be fined/detained if they are perceived to be a threat to the safety of women. Drunken brawls, hooliganism, rowdyism by individuals and particularly groups of men are a major hazard for women travelling late at night. Adequate laws must be passed and efficiently implemented so as to ensure that women may be able to commute safely and free from fears.
44. Serving of liquor in bars and pubs till late must be banned.
45. Prompt registration of FIRs must be ensured. If the same is not accepted a written explanation must be provided by the concerned Police Station. Refusal to lodge FIRs filed by Dalits, minorities and tribals should be punished. As per the National Crime Records Bureau Report of 2011, out of the total 14618802 complaints of crime received by Delhi Police only 59249, i.e., less than 0.5 per cent, were registered as FIRs. This shows the general apathy of the Delhi Police towards all crimes in Delhi. As per Delhi Police Annual Report of 2010, only 11.88 per cent of all complaints received by the Crimes Against Women (CAW) Cells in Delhi were converted into FIRs. This criminal apathy is responsible for the confidence enjoyed by criminals in the state. Needless to say here that if the situation is so dismal in Delhi then it must be much worse in the rest of the country.
46. All necessary steps should be taken to ensure that speedy and efficient investigation is done in rape cases. Currently, a larger proportion of those charged with rape and other crimes against women go scot free. The conviction rate in crimes against women has fallen in the country from a meager 27.8% in 2010 to 26.9% in 2011. As per studies conducted in Delhi, rape convicts imprisoned at the Tihar Jail of Delhi have committed an average of four rapes before conviction! This betrays the failure of the entire criminal-justice system.
47. Conduct periodic audit on women’s safety in the city. Local women’s organizations and women’s hostel unions must be involved in this process.
48. Police should be made accountable to women in all urban and rural localities and for this purpose regular Police-woman interactions must be conducted.
49. Women under no circumstances should be detained at Police Stations during night time. Every Police Station must have women personnel.
50. A special ‘crime against women’ cell should be constituted within the army to prevent sexual harassment of lady army personnel, to check misogynist culture and to prevent sexual offences against civilian women by army personnel.
51. Scrap Armed Forces Special Powers Act and Public Safety Act which are being used by the army and Police, respectively, to commit atrocities upon women. Even some of the particularly atrocious cases like Kunan-Pushpor incident (February, 23 1991) in which least 53 women were raped in a single night by the soldiers of the 4th Rajputana Rifles; abduction, gang rape and murder of Neelofar Jaan and Aasiya Jaan of Shopian (Kashmir) on May 2009 by CRPF personnel; and torture, rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama by 17th Assam Rifles in Manipur 2004 are yet to be creditably dealt with as a result of the protection provided to the armed forces through the aforementioned Acts.
52. The C. Upendra Commission Enquiry (2004) Report regarding the Manorama rape case should be made public.
53. An independent enquiry commission should be constituted to look into the matter of crimes on women committed by army/paramilitary force/police personnel.
54. All kinds of custodial (prison, police stations, convent, temples, mental asylums, NGOs and hospitals) rapes must be considered as aggravated sexual offences warranting more severe penalty.
55. Constitute a ‘Children’s Safety Task Force’ and ensure its periodic inspection-visits of schools, orphanages, etc.
56. All play schools should be properly regulated and monitored.
57. Selling of dangerous substances like acid, which are used to commit violence on women, should be banned immediately.
58. Agencies which provide domestic workers (maid servants) should be banned and the agencies should be taken over by the employment exchange department run by the local government.
59. Depiction of women as sex-objects in advertisements, newspapers, magazines and all other forms of media should be banned and punished.
60. Complete ban on pornography and on the screening of movies in theaters and songs which portray women in a misogynist manner.
61. Ban on fashion shows, beauty contests which objectify women’s bodies as sex objects.
62. Festivals related hooliganism should be severely punished and preventive measures like banning of balloon-selling before Holi should be strictly implemented.
63. Ensure proper safety of women at all workplaces. Constitute ‘Crime Against Women’ cells in Police Stations of industrial areas, and constitute anti-sexual harassment committees within factories which have trade union representation within them.
64. Forcing women employees to wear skimpy clothes at airports, pubs, auto expo, restaurant chains, etc. must be banned. Any change of uniform should be done only through consultation and approval of the workers’ union, or representative body of the employees in cases where no union exists.
65. Make marital rape a punishable offence.
66. Paid-rapes (prostitution) should be abolished along with proper rehabilitation of victims of prostitution. Complaints of sexual violence perpetrated on prostitutes should be immediately filed.
67. Trafficking of women and children must be prohibited in all forms and severely punished.
68. Since in many cases women and children are sexually exploited within the four walls of their home by people known to them, the government should develop an alternative system of accommodation, financial assistance and job opportunities for those women who feel inclined to leave their homes and live independently. Special attention should be paid to the difficulties and needs of disabled women.
69. All women should be provided job opportunities by the government so that they become independent from their male family members and in situations of conflict may be able to lead their lives independently.
70. Khap Panchayats, casteist-communal organizations and other kinds of vigilante groups responsible for spreading and normalizing misogyny must be banned.
71. Severe punishment for the perpetrators of honour-killings, including those who abet this brutal crime.
The trauma of the Delhi woman who was raped has ended with her death. The atrocity roused middle class anger all over the country. Emotions ran high around this atrocious act of some drunken men and the demonstrators made demands such as death penalty for rape and castration in public. This outburst is understandable given the cruelty of the perpetrators of the crime. However, one can ask whether this will become one more case of reacting to a single case without taking cognizance of the malaise that leads to such crimes. It became a high profile case because it happened in Delhi. That does not reduce the atrocity of the crime. But for change to occur in favour of women one has to go beyond this single case and deal with the issues involved. One has to remember that what happened in Delhi is not an exception. It received publicity because it happened in the capital but many more cases are hushed up regularly or are not reported. According to police records during 2011 India witnessed 228,650 crimes against women, 24,206 of them of rape and 35,565 of kidnapping and abduction.
These are reported cases. Probably a much bigger number goes unreported because of the stigma attached to it. Secondly, according to police records around 90 percent of rapes are committed by persons known to the victim, most of them family members. Thirdly, a large number of victims belong to voiceless communities. For example, in an article in Counter-currents, Cynthia Stephen quotes a dalit girl from a village in Tamil Nadu as saying “ there is no girl in our lane who has not been coerced or raped by the dominant caste men when they go to the fields to fetch water or for work.” Men from the dominant castes threaten the dalits with dire consequences if they dare complain to the police. So these cases go unreported. Finally, often the police add to the trauma. For example, an 18 year old girl in Badhshapur village in Patiala committed suicide on December 26, six weeks after being raped by three men. Her mother reports that when she went to complain to the police they humiliated the girl with lewd question such as “how did they touch your breast? Did they open their jeans or coat first?” The criminals were arrested only after her suicide. Or take the case of the police officer in Haryana who was elevated to the highest rank though a budding tennis star had accused him of raping her. She too committed suicide because she was unable to bear the harassment. The officer was given a six month jail sentence some years after his retirement.
These and other cases are symbolic of the attitudes of our society. The middle class stages demonstration in high profile cases and ignores the rest. Also the so called national media do the same. For example, when on December 23, 2005 some university students got into a railway compartment at Kokrajhar not knowing that it was a military wagon. All of them were raped by men paid to protect the citizens. But it did not become national news. Even in Assam it remained a Bodo women’s issue, not of all women. In other words, crimes against women are a result of the strong patriarchal values of our society but are also conditioned by ethnic and caste attitudes and in many cases by a false sense of patriotism. For example when the security forces rape women people are told to protect their honour and not report those cases. The victims do not matter. Even laws such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act protect such criminals in uniform.
Given these attitudes, one can ask whether new laws, even death penalty, can prevent such crimes. One does not deny that police reforms and strong laws are required. But they alone cannot solve the problems that are deep rooted in our culture which is visible in actions such as a few lakh female foetuses aborted every year because women are considered a burden. If all rapists were to be hanged, the victims would have to lose some of their family members who are perpetrators of these crimes. Moreover, the acceptance of the value of male superiority by most women ensures that abuses are kept secret often on the pretext of protecting the girl’s or family honour. Or take the case of the tribal customary laws in the North East that give all social power to men alone. The leaders refuse to change the laws. For example, Nagaland has not been able to hold elections to the municipal councils because of the tribal leaders’ opposition to 33 percent reservations for women. They claim that their customary law does not allow women to have political power.
It is clear then, that laws cannot change this system. Dowry, child labour, caste-based discrimination are banned by law. But they cannot be implemented without changing the attitudes that give birth to these abuses. It is as true about women’s status as about corruption, caste and ethnic attitudes. No law can become effective without a social infrastructure to support it. But the temptation of the middle class that leads the demonstrations against rape, corruption and other abuses is to take up an event in isolation and ignore the attitudes and the social systems that cause it. For example, this class rightly took up political corruption as a cause to fight against but very few of them asked whether the hands of those who protested are clean. Similarly, this class also protested against the unjust arrest and jailing of Dr Binayak Sen and that was required. But they did not question the Sedition Act or the middle class needs for which the tribals are displaced. Their impoverishment is at the root of the Maoist rebellion in Central India.
One needs to ensure that also the issue of rape does not end with one case. The gender, class and caste attitudes that cause such abuses have to be tackled. One cannot stop at condemning the politician and the police departments. That step is required but new laws can only give one peace of conscience and cannot solve the problem. One has to look inwards and examine the social and cultural values that are behind such crimes. If the Delhi rape case leads to such self-examination, the 23 year old para-medical will not have laid down her life in vain.
The author is a former director of North Eastern Social Research Centre, Guwahati.