Dec 24 : ‘Freedom without fear is what we need to protect, to guard and respect’

December 24, 2012

http://tehelka.com/freedom-without-fear-is-what-we-need-to-protect-to-guard-and-respect/

Following the bestial sexual attack on a 23-year-old paramedical student in Delhi, the capital, along with other cities across the country, has seen numerous protests demanding justice not just for the survivor, but better laws and stringent action against sexual offenders per se. When on Wednesday 19 December students and protesters marched towards the Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s house, the police tried to ward them off with water cannons. Kavita Krishnan, secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), said why Sheila Dikshit and the political establishment are responsible for women’s deplorable social status in India.

Today, we demonstrated outside (CM) Sheila Dikshit’s house. Why are we demanding her resignation? We need people to understand why — it’s true that Ms Dikshit made a statement saying the incident (gangrape) occurred on a private bus, not a DTC (Delhi Tourism Corporation) bus, so how could it be her responsibility. This is what we are here to tell her — if a bus containing iron rods and rapists is plying openly in the city with no rules and regulations, if it can pick up passengers at any time, anywhere — then madam, you are responsible for it, it is no one else’s responsibility — it is yours. If that girl is fighting for her life today, you are responsible for it. Why was that iron rod in that bus that day — is something that only you can answer, no one else can. You cannot blame anyone else for it.

But there is a more pressing matter than even this — something that we have been talking about, that we are here to talk abut today – when that journalist Soumya (Vishwanathan) was murdered, Sheila Dikshit had issued another statement saying “If she (Soumya) was out at 3 am in the morning, she was being too adventurous,” — we are here to tell her that women have every right to be adventurous. We will be adventurous. We will be reckless. We will be rash. We will do nothing for our safety. Don’t you dare tell us how to dress, when to go out at night, in the day, or how to walk or how many escorts we need!

When Neeraj Kumar was newly appointed as a police commissioner, he held a press conference where he said — look, how can the police do anything about incidents of rape? The statistic that he presented was that most number of rapes are committed by people known to the woman. This is an authentic statistic — but shouldn’t that only make it easier to apprehend the rapist? Our question for the police is not ‘why didn’t you prevent this from happening?’. But the conviction rate has gone from 46% in 1971 to 26% in 2012 — who is responsible for this? The fact is that there is a huge gap in the police’s investigation, there is an inconsistency — they have no procedure in place for how to deal with a victim of rape. All the women here know that the Delhi Police has only one way of dealing with such a situation — if you were to walk into a police station today and complain that you have been a victim of sexual violence, the first thing they will tell you is not to file a complaint. Strange people will begin to assemble at the station out of nowhere to “explain” to you – “beta, don’t file a complaint”. Until you don’t speak to the DCP and say that you are from a student body, or a women’s organisation – nothing will be done. I think this is a fairly routine matter – I doubt that there is a single woman inDelhiwho has gone to the Delhi Police and found otherwise. I don’t know which rule book they have adopted this procedure from, but it exists.

Another statement that Neeraj Kumar made at a press conference was that women shouldn’t roam around alone, they should have escorts — and that if you walk around the streets at two in the morning then how can you expect us to come and save you?

This most recent incident is of course the most obvious contradiction — it did not occur late at night, the girl was, in fact, with a male friend — but that is not my argument. I believe even if women walk out on the streets alone, even if it is late at night, why should justifications need to be provided for this, like ‘she has to work late hours’ or ‘she was coming home from a BPO job or a media job’? If she simply wants to go out at night, if she wants to go out and buy a cigarette or go for a walk on the road — is this a crime for women? We do not want to hear this defensive argument that women only leave their homes for work, poor things, what can they do, they are compelled to go out. We believe that regardless of whether she is indoors or outside, whether it is day or night, for whatever reason, however, she may be dressed — women have a right to freedom. And that freedom without fear is what we need to protect, to guard and respect.

I am saying this because I feel that the word ‘safety’ with regard to women has been used far too much — all us women know what this ‘safety’ refers to, we have heard our parents use it, we have heard our communities, our principals, our wardens use it. Women know what ‘safety’ refers to. It means – You behave yourself. You get back into the house. You don’t dress in a particular way. Do not live by your freedom, and this means that you are safe. A whole range of patriarchal laws and institutions tell us what to do in the guise of keeping us ‘safe’. We reject this entire notion. We don’t want it.

Why are we here? We are here to say, that if the Delhi Police is running an ad campaign about violence against women — you must have seen the large hoardings everywhere — why is there not a single woman in these ads? They have instead a Hindi film actor, Farhan Akhtar, exhorting us ‘Be a Man, join me in protecting women’. I want to ask — what about the brother who cuts his sister’s head off when she dares to marry into a different community? Is he not playing the role of a male protector too? This machismo is not any solution to the problem of violence against women — it is the root of the problem itself. This is what we need to reflect on.

It’s clear that in this country, if you leave out the women’s movement — everything else, the government, the police, the political parties, the judiciary; when they speak of women’s ‘safety’ they are speaking from within a specific patriarchal understanding of the term. No one is talking about protecting her ‘bekhauf azaadi’, or her freedom to live without fear. These protests on the street today, I hope they continue and grow, because this is where the answer lies — not with CCTV cameras, with death penalty or chemical castration. I am saying this because even though our rage is justified, I am afraid of some of the solutions that are being offered. If the conviction rate for rapists is low, how can death penalty be the solution to the crime? In your entire procedure, the one person you have failed to take seriously is the complainant who was raped. It is an entirely different matter that the laws for rape are also extremely weak and flawed — for instance, if an object is inserted into a woman’s genitals, it is not included within the definition of rape. The recent incident on the bus when tried in court, will not include within the description of rape that the men inserted an iron rod into her vagina — the reason that she is battling for her life today.

Yesterday on television, I heard Sushma Swaraj say something in Parliament that I found disgusting and highly condemnable. She said, “If this girl survives, she will be like a walking corpse,” Why? If she survives, I believe she will live with her head held high, just as she fought off her assailants. She struggled, she fought against sexual violence and that is why she was raped — to teach her a lesson. There is barely a woman here who has not at some point fought for her dignity on the streets ofDelhi, or in its buses. There is not one amongst us that has not found herself alone in such a situation. When we do this, we are told that we are inviting trouble; that we are asking for it. I read – and I don’t know if this is true – that when the girl regained consciousness in the hospital she asked if the rapists had been caught. Her will to fight is still alive. She is not a corpse. We salute her will, and say that those who survive rape are not walking corpses. Rape survivors are complete, strong, fighting women and we salute their spirit.

The last thing I want to address are the people who say not to mix politics with rape. We cannot disregard politics as insignificant; we do need to talk about politics. There is a culture in our country that justifies rape; that defends the act through the words of people like KPS Gill who said that women who dress provocatively invite rape, and many other such high ranking officials like him. If we are to change any of this, we need to politicise the issue of violence against women, find out what women are saying about what is being done to them. The government has to listen. Just shedding a few crocodile tears within the confines of the Parliament is not enough, it is not enough to scream ‘death penalty’ and wind up the issue. I find it funny that the BJP is demanding death penalty for the rapists, when within it’s own constituencies it gets goons to chase down girls who wear jeans or fall in love with members of minority communities — saying that women must adhere to ‘Indian sensibilities’, or else. We need to create a counter culture against this ultimatum. We need to create a counter politics, one that asks for the right for women to live freely without fear.

I don’t want to say a lot more; apart from the fact that it is surprising to me as well that the police is ready and waiting to fire water cannons at us here. I was under the impression that there were protests everywhere in the city today. Shouldn’t the government know this much, at least, that our rage will not be washed away with water cannons, or beaten out of us with sticks? It is shameful that the government and the police who are ever willing to defend the actions of rapists are now poised to attack those fighting for the rights of women.

Translated from Hindi by Nishita Jha