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India: 'Defend women’s right to freedom without fear! Ensure swift and sure punishment for rape!'

Demonstration in Jammu, December 20, 2012, in protest at the rape and brutalisation of a young woman in the Delhi. Photo: Press TV.

See also "Why socialists need feminism". For more discussion of feminism, click HERE.

By Kavita Krishnan, Delhi

[This is the cover story of the forthcoming January 2013 issue of Liberation, magazine of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation. It is posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with Kavita Krishan's permission. Kavita Krisnan is secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA).]

December 24, 2012 -- In the midst of the unspeakable horror of a rape and attempted murder in Delhi is a spark of hope that we nurture, cradling it with our hands lest it be snuffed out, helping the spark to grow into a steadier flame – and then spread into a forest fire.

A young woman, a 23-year-old student of physiotherapy, boarded a bus in Delhi with a male friend. They were alone on the bus but for a group of men, who began taunting the woman for being out at night with a man. She and her friend didn’t take the taunts lying down – and eventually the group of men decided to "teach her a lesson". They beat her friend senseless. And they ganged up to rape her, brutalising her and leaving her intestines torn.

The hope lies in the huge numbers of people who have come out to protest afterwards. The spontaneous anger and determination to bring rapists to justice was good to see. But even better was the willingness to direct that anger against the society and culture that justifies rape and sexual violence. The popular will – on part of ordinary women and men – to address the roots of sexual violence and end it, is what inspires more hope and confidence than all the fire-spewing rhetoric of MPs in parliament.

Challenging rape culture

One woman who saw a video of our protest demonstration and the speeches of activists at Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit’s house wrote to me to say that the protest struck a chord with her: “Younger girls have been writing to me, absolutely distressed, because their parents are using the Delhi gang rape case as an example of what happens when you 'stray'. Now, they are unable to do anything: from having conversations with their male friends to go to a college of their choice. Watching your protest gave me so much hope and a sense of solidarity.”

Sexual violence is, indeed, a way of imposing patriarchal discipline on women. Women who defy such discipline are punished for their temerity by rape. And the fear of rape and sexual violence works as a permanent internal censor of women’s decisions. And "protection" from sexual violence most commonly takes the form of restrictions imposed on women: curfews in college hostels are the most common instance, followed by dress codes, bans on mobile phones, restrictions on mobility and friendships (especially with men friends), discouragement from taking admission in a college away from home, and so on. If sexual violence and the measures commonly used to contend with it breathe the same patriarchal air, no wonder women feel suffocated.

Some years ago, when journalist Sowmya Visvanathan was shot dead, Delhi's chief minister commented that Sowmya had been "adventurous" in being out on the street at 3 am. The last Delhi police commissioner had said in a press conference, “If women go out alone at 2 am, they should not complain of being unsafe. Take your brother or a driver along.” Of course, these statements were greeted with a chorus of protest, with many pointing out that women who work have no choice but to be out late at night. In the present case, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders in parliament said that the victim had done nothing "rash" – she had not been out very late in the night. One national English TV channel discussing the rape in Delhi kept carrying these bulletins prominently – “She wasn’t dressed provocatively… She wasn’t out late at night… She wasn’t alone.”

The idea remains: that women ought not to be out at night unless they have good reason for it, that women ought to dress in ways that are not "provocative". That it is acceptable to expect women to restrict their mobility and choice of dress in the interests of their safety. That it is acceptable to put women who face violence in the dock and ask them to "justify" themselves. In other words, there is a widely accepted notion that women have to acquit themselves of the charge of having "invited" rape.

But in the protests this time around, it was refreshing to see and hear many women challenge this rape culture – a culture that justifies rape and blames women for "provoking" or "inviting" rape – head on. One placard said – “Don’t teach me how to dress, teach your sons not to rape.” Another declared, “My spirits are higher than my skirt, my voice is louder than my clothes.” And yet another handwritten placard held aloft by a student who was probably participating in a protest for the first time, declared, “You raped her because her clothes provoked you? I should break your face because your stupidity provoked me!”    

When women are offered "protection" on patriarchal terms (terms that impose restrictions and regulations on women), it is time to say "Thanks but no thanks! We don’t need patriarchal ‘safeguards’ for women" – instead we must demand that the government, police, judiciary and other institutions stand in defence of women’s unqualified right to be adventurous, to dress and move and conduct themselves freely at any time of day or night, for any possible reason or no reason at all, without fear of sexual violence. After all, this freedom to be adventurous and to be safe in public spaces is one that men can take for granted; the adventurousness of men is valourised endlessly in popular culture.

Patriarchal ‘protection’ and ‘honour’

Look at the recent ad campaign by the Delhi Police against sexual violence, and you are struck by the fact that it has no women in it. Instead, there is actor-director Farhan Akhtar, saying, “Make Delhi safer for women. Are you man enough to join me?”. Another ad Delhi Police have been using for several years has a photograph of a woman being harassed by a group of men at a bus stop with some men and women simply looking on. This poster proclaims, “There are no men in this picture… or this would not happen” and urges “real men” to “save her from shame and hurt”. It suggests that sexual harassers are not “real men”; that women facing harassment feel “shame” (rather than anger); and that only “real men” can protect women. There is no attempt by the state machinery at asserting or propagating the idea of women’s freedom and rights.

The problem is that machismo is being prescribed as a solution – when in fact, it is the root of the problem of violence against women! Rape is not the only form of violence against women. Recently, there have been a series of incidents (in different parts of the country), where a father or a brother has chopped off the head of a woman for having an extramarital affair or for marrying outside their caste. A man in Tamil Nadu’s Dharmapuri district killed himself when his daughter married a Dalit – sparking off severe violence against the entire Dalit community. Men are being exhorted to defend women’s "honour" from "shame". When they police their sisters’ or daughters’ relationships – even to point of murdering her in case of her defiance – do they not claim to have acted in defence of "honour"?    

Then, there is the notion that rape robs a woman of "honour". The Rajput queens of old are said to have preferred to burn themselves alive en masse rather than wait to be raped by conquering armies. One factor in the large number of suicides of women following rape is no doubt the fact that they are told their life is "ruined" and not worth living.

BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, speaking in parliament, declared that even if the Delhi rape victim were to survive, she would remain a zinda laash – a "living corpse". Reacting to this statement, a woman student of Jawaharlal Nehru University, participating in a vigil at Safdarjung, said: “We’ve come here to let the rape survivor know we’re with her. We angry with the statement made by Sushma Swaraj that a woman who has been raped remains a "zinda laash". We’re here to say we hope she lives the fullest life with her head held high – and it is the rapists who ought to suffer and be shamed, not the survivor!” 

End custodial, communal and casteist rape 

The outrage and anger over the rape and attempted murder of a young woman in Delhi is welcome. The outrage, solidarity and struggle for justice should also embrace the victims of custodial, communal and casteist rape.

  • In 2004, Thangjam Manorama Chanu of Manipur was raped and murdered (with bullets in her private parts) by personnel of the Assam Rifles. The perpetrators of this gruesome rape and murder have not been punished; in fact the Indian government is protecting the perpetrators, claiming that army personnel under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act cannot be subjected to a criminal trial!
  • Two young women, Neelofer and Aasiya (the latter a schoolgirl), were raped and killed by army personnel in Shopian, Kashmir, in 2009. The entire state machinery has engaged in a massive cover up. The perpetrators are free.
  • Recently, a young adivasi [Indigenous] schoolteacher Soni Sori was raped by Chhattisgarh police officers, who inserted stones in her private parts. But SP Ankit Garg, instead of being arrested and punished, got a Presidential Gallantry Award on Republic Day! Soni Sori continues to be stripped and humiliated in Raipur jail, and remains in the custody of her rapists.   
  • Countless Dalit women are raped all over the country by men of the upper castes; while BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh [organised right-wing Hindu-chauvinist] mobs gang-raped Muslim women during the Gujarat genocide of 2002.      

Police or army uniform, and the dominance of caste and community, cannot be a licence to rape and kill! If the Delhi rape has awakened people to the crime of sexual violence, we must ensure that the voices of Manorama, Neelofer, Asiya, Soni, Priyanka Bhotmange (Khairlanji) and Bilkis Bano (Gujarat) – and countless others – calling for justice, are heard.  

Demonising the poor

The Delhi police and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit, beleaguered by the popular outrage, are taking the familiar route of projecting an "external enemy" – the migrant worker! And some others too are trying to channel the anger against sexual violence into class hatred for the migrant poor.

In a TV interview Dixit said that the nature of Delhi had changed thanks to the influx of migrants, who could "attack and flee", and this made crime against women difficult to fight in the city. The Times of India on December 20 carried a story about how "migrants" were "on the prowl" in the night in Delhi, quoting "top Delhi Police officers" as saying that migrants are prone to crime and rape because this group "stays away from their families for years. They are attracted to big city life. However, they have little means to attain it.”

An op-ed article in the same day’s Times of India by one Tuhin A. Sinha said that “a huge chunk of male population lives away from its spouse to earn a livelihood. It is this chink which has shown a greater propensity towards committing gender crimes. It makes sense, in this situation to consider legalizing prostitution.”

What is this article saying? Do migrant women or the wives of migrant men, separated from their spouses, go around raping people?! Isn’t it a shameful justification of rape to suggest that it is motivated by male sexual starvation? If we say the rapist rapes women when deprived of access to his wife or a sex worker, is his wife or the sex worker the usual recipient of his violence? Can rape be fixed by ensuring a steady supply of sex/women as a commodity to all men? Or do we need to recognise rape as an act of patriarchal violence, assert the personhood of women and challenge the notion of women as "providers" of sexual and domestic services?

False notions

The Times of India is running a campaign calling for chemical castration and so on. If, instead, the Times were to stop justifying rape by blaming it on male sexual starvation, it would be much more helpful for the campaign against sexual violence! The calls for chemical castration and the like are all based on the false notion that rape stems from sexual desire. In fact rape is motivated by hatred of women, not desire for women! Notorious serial rapists such as the British serial rapist and killer Robert Napper and Jack the Ripper are suspected to have been impotent. 

Only 26 in every 100 rapists are punished – SHAME!

End impunity – ensure a 100% conviction rate for rapists!

Undoubtedly, perpetrators of sexual violence enjoy a sense of impunity, a sense that they will go unpunished. The facts tell their own story: National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows that incidents of rape in the country have increased by 791% since 1971 (murder increased by just 240%, and robbery by 178%, kidnapping increased by 630%). 

And conviction rates for rape dipped from 41% in 1971 to 27% in 2010. Conviction rates for other crimes against women – dowry death, cruelty by husband and relatives, trafficking, molestation, sexual harassment, kidnapping – are similarly very low. The reason is that the police force, hospitals and courts are unfriendly to women and gender-biased.

Remember, this abysmal percentage of conviction (26%) is in those cases where FIRs [First Information Report] are filed. Rape is the most under-reported crime: studies indicate that for every reported case of rape, more than 50 go unreported. In hundreds of cases, the police simply refused to file FIRs, or demoralises the complainant so much that she withdraws her complaint. When it takes days of struggle to get an FIR filed, one can imagine there is no urgency in the matter of collecting forensic evidence.

The medical examination in hospital is another ordeal – it is common for doctors to perform the "two finger test": inserting two fingers into the woman’s vagina to establish whether or not she is "habituated to sexual activity". In spite of the Supreme Court’s injunctions against this practice, emphasising that the survivor’s past sexual activity is irrelevant, this "test" continues to be given credence in lower courts.

Trials run on for years, allowing the rapist greater chances to exert pressure on the complainant and witnesses. The delay wears out the complainant, often leading her to concede defeat.

And in the event it does come to the court, the trial can be an ordeal where the complainant is subjected to all sorts of humiliating questions.

Courts have been known to pass a variety of gender-biased judgements in rape cases. Even if the bench itself is sympathetic and sensitive, the shoddy work of police and prosecution combine to prevent a conviction.

The intimate enemy

In the national outrage against rape, it is all too easy to forget that rapists are not an "alien species" in our society that can be exterminated. Rapists are not always faceless strangers – in most than 90% cases, in fact, they are fathers, brothers, uncles, neighbours: people the victim has known, trusted and been expected to respect and obey.  

According to the National Crime Records Bureau data for 2011, “Offenders were known to the victims in as many as 22,549 (94.2%) [of all cases reported in India in 2011]” and “Parents/close family members were involved in 1.2% (267 out of 22,549 cases) of these cases, neighbours were involved in 34.7% cases (7835 out of 22,549 cases) and relatives were involved in 6.9% (1560 out of 22,549 cases) cases.”

In other words, rapists are not separated from the rest of society by a neat wall. Rapists are not born. They are created – by a society that demeans and subordinates women. 

The foremost preventive for sexual violence and other forms of violence against women ("honour" crimes, sex-selective abortion, domestic and dowry violence, sexual harassment), then, is what the women’s movement is doing: challenging patriarchal attitudes and women’s subordination; asserting women’s unqualified personhood and freedom; demanding full equality for women. The problem is that the governments, the dominant political parties, and the state machinery, remain hostile to the women’s movement’s struggle. Instead they stand by patriarchal forces at every juncture.

We can’t allow perpetrators of sexual violence to continue to be free of the fear of punishment!  

We need steps to be taken IMMEDIATELY.

Let’s demand a change at every level of the system:

  • Gender-sensitive laws, swift and sure punishment: hold a special session of parliament without delay to enact comprehensive laws against sexual assault (including provisions for marital rape and rape by security forces), sexual harassment and "honour" crimes in consultation with the women’s movement.
  • Judiciary: Fast-track courts for all cases of sexual violence (not only rape but sexual harassment too must be set up, with verdicts to be delivered within three months). Any judge who has made remarks or passed judgements which justify any violence against women and go against gender equality, must be made to quit.
  • Police: Gender sensitisation training modules to be introduced in all police stations, including procedural instruction and training for dealing with rape complaints. Proper infrastructure and rape investigation kits to be made available in all police stations. Punitive measures including dismissal in case of failure to register cases of sexual harassment/rape.
  • Hospitals: A separate ward for medical and psychological care of rape victims and proper infrastructure for handling pathological-forensic investigations in hospitals.
  • Ending the culture of justifying gender violence: An end to ANY justification of sexual violence, "honour" crimes or domestic violence. Those public servants including elected representatives or police officers or judges who indulge in victim-blaming must be made to quit.
  • Support: Social, medical, legal, psychological and economic support – at the government’s cost – for rape survivors.
  • Prevention and education: Gender equality be made an essential part of the school curriculum, to be drawn up in national consultation with women’s movement activists in the field. The aim should be to challenge misogyny, patriarchal attitudes and hostility to women’s freedom and rights, head on, on a war footing.  

When denial of justice in cases of sexual violence is the norm rather than the aberration, it is hardly surprising that some brave women have been pushed to desperate measures in their quest to be free of violence in their lives. Kiranjit Ahluwalia, an expatriate Indian living in Britain, set her husband, who was a habitual wife beater, on fire. Some years ago, women slum dwellers in Nagpur together killed a serial rapist in the courtroom itself. A Bihar schoolteacher Rupam Pathak knifed to death a BJP MLA after police failed to take action against him in spite of her rape complaint.

It is ironic that BJP leader Smriti Irani declared that she would shoot rapists dead without care for the law – while her own party leaders branded Rupam as immoral and thanks to their NDA government in Bihar, Rupam has been sentenced to life imprisonment in a fast-track trial, while her rape complaint remains uninvestigated!

In the situation where the main problem is that rapists do not have to fear punishment thanks to shamefully low rates of conviction, death penalty for rape is unlikely to provide any real deterrence.

Rape is patriarchy’s way of punishing women’s very being, women’s demand for equality and freedom, and asserting male dominance. Rapists do not "desire" women, they hate and fear women’s freedom.  

As ordinary people storm the streets demanding justice for victims of sexual violence, let’s raise the battle cry: Defend women’s right to freedom without fear! Ensure swift and sure punishment for rape! Fight and win women’s equality and dignity!

Postscript

I can't agree at all with Arundhati Roy that these protests happened only because the victim was middle class. Middle-class women also do not usually get a response like this! They above all are the ones accused of being "illegitimate" victims because they are said to drink, smoke, dress sexily etc.!

If such horrific violence could happen to a middle-class woman in the national capital -- women from oppressed castes, the working class, religious minorities, oppressed nationalities, adivasi backgrounds are even more disempowered and are likely to face gender violence! In the name of opposing the hierarchy of violence, we should not imply that we endorse a reverse hierarchy, suggesting that the rape of a middle-class woman is a "lesser" rape!

There is absolutely no reason why this solidarity that has emerged now should not extend to dalit, minority and adivasi women. My experience was that when I raised Soni Sori's and Nilofer Aasiya's stories in the protests there were cries of SHAME -- an outcry in fact -- from general crowds of people...

There is indeed a campaign by some (mainly the Delhi government, police and the Times of India targeting migrant workers and slum dwellers. But why assume (as Arundhati seems to) that all the protesters on the streets are somehow targeting the poor?

 

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

December 21, 2012 -- Tehelka.com -- Following the bestial sexual attack on a 23-year-old 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 December 19, 2012, students and protesters marched towards the Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit’s house, the police tried to ward them off with water cannons.

Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), told why Sheila Dikshit and the political establishment are responsible for women’s deplorable social status in India.

* * *

Today, we demonstrated outside (Delhi Chief Minister) Sheila Dixit’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 (gang rape) 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 Dixit 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.

Kavita Krishnan appeared as a studio guest in Al jazeera's Inside Story on December 24, 2012.

 

Comments

Statement condemning sexual violence and opposing death penalty

STATEMENT BY WOMEN’S AND PROGRESSIVE GROUPS AND INDIVIDUALS CONDEMNING

SEXUAL VIOLENCE

AND

OPPOSING DEATH PENALTY

 

On 16 December, 2012, a 23-year old woman and her friend hailed a bus at a crossing in South Delhi. In the bus, they were both brutally attacked by a group of men who claimed to be out on a ‘joy-ride’. The woman was gang raped and the man beaten up; after several hours, they were both stripped and dumped on the road. While the young woman is still in hospital, bravely battling for her life, her friend has been discharged and is helping identify the men responsible for the heinous crime.

We, the undersigned, women’s, students’ and progressive groups and concerned citizens from around the country, are outraged at this incident and, in very strong terms, condemn her gang rape and the physical and sexual assault.

As our protests spill over to the streets all across the country, our demands for justice are strengthened by knowing that there are countless others who share this anger. We assert that rape and other forms of sexual violence are not just a women’s issue, but a political one that should concern every citizen. We strongly demand that justice is done in this and all other cases and the perpetrators are punished.

This incident is not an isolated one; sexual assault occurs with frightening regularity in this country. Adivasi and dalit women and those working in the unorganised sector, women with disabilities, hijras, kothis, trans people and sex workers are especially targeted with impunity – it is well known that the complaints of sexual assault they file are simply disregarded. We urge that the wheels of justice turn not only to incidents such as the Delhi bus case, but to the epidemic of sexual violence that threatens all of us. We need to evolve punishments that act as true deterrents to the very large number of men who commit these crimes. Our stance is not anti-punishment but against the State executing the death penalty. The fact that cases of rape have a conviction rate of as low as 26% shows that perpetrators of sexual violence enjoy a high degree of impunity, including being freed of charges.

Silent witnesses to everyday forms of sexual assault such as leering, groping, passing comments, stalking and whistling are equally responsible for rape being embedded in our culture and hence being so prevalent today. We, therefore, also condemn the culture of silence and tolerance for sexual assault and the culture of valorising this kind of violence.

We also reject voices that are ready to imprison and control women and girls under the garb of ‘safety’, instead of ensuring their freedom as equal participants in society and their right to a life free of perpetual threats of sexual assault, both inside and outside their homes.

In cases (like this) which have lead to a huge public outcry all across the country, and where the perpetrators have been caught, we hope that justice will be speedily served and they will be convicted for the ghastly acts that they have committed. However, our vision of this justice does not include death penalty, which is neither a deterrent nor an effective or ethical response to these acts of sexual violence. We are opposed to it for the following reasons:

1.    We recognise that every human being has a right to life. Our rage cannot give way to what are, in no uncertain terms, new cycles of violence. We refuse to deem ‘legitimate’ any act of violence that would give the State the right to take life in our names. Justice meted by the State cannot bypass complex socio-political questions of violence against women by punishing rapists by death. Death penalty is often used to distract attention away from the real issue – it changes nothing but becomes a tool in the hands of the State to further exert its power over its citizens. A huge set of changes are required in the system to end the widespread and daily culture of rape.

2.    There is no evidence to suggest that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to rape. Available data shows that there is a low rate of conviction in rape cases and a strong possibility that the death penalty would lower this conviction rate even further as it is awarded only under the ‘rarest of rare’ circumstances. The most important factor that can act as a deterrent is the certainty of punishment, rather than the severity of its form.

3.    As seen in countries like the US, men from minority communities make up a disproportionate number of death row inmates. In the context of India, a review of crimes that warrant capital punishment reveals the discriminatory way in which such laws are selectively and arbitrarily applied to disadvantaged communities, religious and ethnic minorities. This is a real and major concern, as the possibility of differential consequences for the same crime is injustice in itself.

4.    The logic of awarding death penalty to rapists is based on the belief that rape is a fate worse than death. Patriarchal notions of ‘honour’ lead us to believe that rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman. There is a need to strongly challenge this stereotype of the ‘destroyed’ woman who loses her honour and who has no place in society after she’s been sexually assaulted. We believe that rape is tool of patriarchy, an act of violence, and has nothing to do with morality, character or behaviour.

5.    An overwhelming number of women are sexually assaulted by people known to them, and often include near or distant family, friends and partners. Who will be able to face the psychological and social trauma of having reported against their own relatives? Would marital rape (currently not recognised by law), even conceptually, ever be looked at through the same retributive prism?

6.    The State often reserves for itself the ‘right to kill’ — through the armed forces, the paramilitary and the police. We cannot forget the torture, rape and murder of ThangjamManoramaby the Assam Rifles in Manipur in 2004 or the abduction, gang rape and murder of Neelofar and Aasiya of Shopian (Kashmir) in 2009.Giving more powers to the State, whether arming the police and giving them the right to shoot at sight or awarding capital punishment, is not a viable solution to lessen the incidence of crime.
Furthermore, with death penalty at stake, the ‘guardians of the law’ will make sure that no complaints against them get registered and they will go to any length to make sure that justice does not see the light of day. The ordeal of Soni Sori, who had been tortured in police custody last year, still continues her fight from inside aprison in Chattisgarh, in spite of widespread publicity around her torture.

7.    As we know, in cases of sexual assault where the perpetrator is in a position of power (such as in cases of custodial rapeor caste and religionviolence), conviction is notoriously difficult. The death penalty, for reasons that have already been mentioned, would make conviction next to impossible.

We, the undersigned, demand the following:

  • Greater dignity, equality, autonomy and rights for women and girls from a society that should stop questioning and policing their actions at every step.
  • Immediate relief in terms of legal, medical, financial and psychological assistance and long-term rehabilitation measures must be provided to survivors of sexual assault.
  • Provision of improved infrastructure to make cities safer for women, including well-lit pavements and bus stops, help lines and emergency services.
  • Effective registration, monitoring and regulation of transport services (whether public, private or contractual) to make them safe, accessible and available to all.
  • Compulsory courses within the training curriculum on gender sensitisation for all personnel employed and engaged by the State in its various institutions, including the police.
  • That the police do its duty to ensure that public spaces are free from harassment, molestation and assault. This means that they themselves have to stop sexually assaulting women who come to make complaints. They have to register all FIRs and attend to complaints. CCTV cameras should be set up in all police stations and swift action must be taken against errant police personnel.
  • Immediate setting up of fast track courts for rape and other forms of sexual violence all across the country. State governments should operationalise their creation on a priority basis. Sentencing should be done within a period of six months.
  • The National Commission for Women has time and again proved itself to be an institution that works against the interests of women. NCW’s inability to fulfil its mandate of addressing issues of violence against women, the problematic nature of the statements made by the Chairperson and its sheer inertia in many serious situations warrants that the NCW role be reviewed and auditedas soon as possible.
  • The State acknowledges the reality of custodial violence against women in many parts of the country, especially in Kashmir, North-East and Chhattisgarh. There are several pending cases and immediate action should be taken by the government to punish the guilty and to ensure that these incidents of violence are not allowed to be repeated.
  • Regarding the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2012, women’s groups have already submitted detailed recommendations to the Home Ministry. We strongly underline that the Bill must not be passed in its current form because of its many serious loopholes and lacuna. Some points:

-      There has been no amendment to the flawed definition of consent under Sec 375IPC and this has worked against the interest of justice for women.

-      The formulation of the crime of sexual assault as gender neutralmakes the identity of the perpetrator/accused also gender neutral. We demand that the definition of perpetrator be gender-specific and limited to men. Sexual violence also targets transgender people and legal reform must address this.

-      In its current form, the Bill does not recognise the structural and graded nature of sexual assault, based on concepts of hurt, harm, injury, humiliation and degradation. The Bill also does not use well-established categories of sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault and sexual offences.

-      It does not mention sexual assault by security forces as a specific category of aggravated sexual assault. We strongly recommend the inclusion of perpetration of sexual assault by security forces under Sec 376(2).

Endorsed by the following groups and individuals:

  • Citizens’ Collective against Sexual Assault (CCSA)
  • Purnima, Nirantar, New Delhi
  • Sandhya Gokhale, Forum Against Oppression of Women, Bombay
  • Deepti, Saheli, Delhi
  • Mary John, Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS), New Delhi
  • Jagori, Delhi
  • Vimochana, Bangalore
  • Stree Mukti Sanghathan, Delhi
  • Madhya Pradesh Mahila Manch
  • Kavita Krishnan, AIPWA, New Delhi
  • Anuradha Kapoor ,Swayam, Calcutta
  • Kalpana Mehta, Manasi Swasthya Sansthan, Indore
  • Nandita Gandhi, Akshara, Bombay
  • Indira, Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression, (WSS), New Delhi
  • National Alliance of people’s Movements (NAPM)
  • Mallika, Maati, Uttarakhand
  • Meena Saraswathi Seshu, SANGRAM, Sangli
  • GRAMEENA MAHILA Okkutta, Karnataka
  • WinG Assam
  • Arati Chokshi, PUCL, Bangalore.
  • Action India, Delhi
  • Majlis Law, Legal Services for Women, Mumbai
  • Sahiayar (Stree Sangathan), Vadodara, Gujarat
  • Vasanth Kannabiran (NAWO, AP) Asmita
  • Sheba George, SAHRWARU
  • SAMYAK, Pune
  • Shabana Kazi, VAMP
  • Sruti disAbility Rights Centre, Kolkata
  • Forum to Engage Men (FEM), New Delhi
  • MASVAW( Men Action for stopping Violence Against Women), UP
  • Breakthrough, New Delhi
  • V Rukmini Rao, Gramya Resource Centre for Women, Secunderabad
  • LABIA, a queer feminist LBT collective, Mumbai
  • Law Trust, Tamil Nadu
  • Men’s Action to Stop Violence agaisnt Women (MASVAW), UP
  • National Forum for Single Women’s Rights
  • NAWO-AP, Arunachal Pradesh Women’s Welfare Society (APWWS)
  • Indigenous Women’s Resource Centre (IWRC)
  • New Socialist Initiative, Delhi
  • Gabriele Dietrich, Pennurimai Iyakkam
  • Sangat, a South Asian Feminist Network
  • Stree Mukti Sanghatana, Mumbai
  • SWATI, Ahmedabad
  • Tamil Nadu Women Fish Workers Forum
  • Subhash Mendhapurkar,SUTRA, H.P.
  • Mario, Nigah, queer collective, New Delhi
  • Sushma Varma, Samanatha Mahila Vedike, Bangalore
  • Priti Darooka, PWESCR (The Programme on Women’s Economic,Social and Cultural Rights), New Delhi
  • Pushpa Achanta (WSS, Karnataka)
  • AWN, Kabul
  • AZAD and Sakha Team, Delhi
  • Ekta, Madurai
  • Empower People
  • Vrinda Grover
  • Chayanika Shah, Bombay
  • Aruna Roy
  • Kalyani Menon-Sen, Feminist Learning Partnerships, Gurgaon
  • Nandini Rao
  • Pratiksha Baxi
  • Amrita Nandy
  • Farah Naqvi, Writer & Activist, Delhi
  • Nivedita Menon
  • Urvashi Butalia
  • Kaveri R I, Bengaluru
  • Dunu Roy
  • Harsh Mander
  • Anil TV
  • Laxmi Murthy, Journalist, Bangalore
  • Rahul Roy
  • Rituparna Borah, queer feminist activist
  • Ranjana Padhi, New Delhi
  • Trupti Shah, Vadodara, Gujarat
  • Vasanth Kannabiran
  • Sudha Bharadwaj
  • Veena Shatrugna,  Hyderabad
  • Kamayani Bali Mahabal
  • Kiran Shaheen, Journalist and activist
  • Lesley A Esteves, journalist, New Delhi
  • devangana kalita, assam
  • Aruna Burte
  • Anita Ghai
  • Mohan Rao, New Delhi
  • Rakhi Sehgal, New Delhi
  • Geetha Nambisan
  • Charan Singh, New Delhi
  • Manjima Bhattacharjya
  • Jinee Lokaneeta,Associate professor, Drew University, Madison, NJ
  • Kavita Panjabi, Jadavpur University, Kolkata
  • Albertina almeida, Goa
  • Satyajit Rath, New Delhi
  • Prerna Sud, New Delhi
  • Priya Sen, New Delhi
  • Aarthi Pai, Bangalore
  • Kalpana Vishwanath, Gurgaon
  • Aisha K. Gill, Reader, University of Roehampton, London
  • Ammu Abraham, Mumbai
  • Anagha Sarpotdar, Activist and PhD Student, Mumbai
  • Anand Pawar
  • Anuradha Marwah, Ajmer Adult Education Association (AAEA), Ajmer
  • Asha Ramesh, activist/researcher/consultant
  • Bondita
  • Gauri Gill, New delhi
  • Sophia Khan, Gujarat
  • Niranjani Iyer, Chennai
  • Dyuti Ailawadi
  • Gandimathi Alagar
  • Gayatri Buragohain – Feminist Approach to Technology (FAT), New Delhi
  • Geetha Nambisan, Delhi
  • Sadhna Arya, New Delhi
  • Vineeta Bal, New Delhi
  • Suneeta Dhar
  • Geeta Ramaseshan, Advocate, Chennai
  • Sonal Sharma, New delhi
  • Anusha Hariharan, Delhi/Chennai
  • Jayasree.A.K,
  • Gautam Bhan, New Delhi
  • Jayasree Subramanian, TISS,Hyderabad
  • Jhuma Sen, Advocate, Supreme Court
  • Teena Gill, New Delhi
  • Kannamma Raman
  • Karuna D W
  • Kavita Panjabi
  • Shalini Krishan, New Delhi
  • Lalita Ramdas, Secunderabad
  • Manasi Pingle
  • Madhumita Dutta, Chennai, Tamil Nadu
  • Manoj Mitta
  • Pamela Philipose
  • Parul Chaudhary
  • Preethi Herman
  • Sunil Gupta, New Delhi
  • Radha Khan
  • Rama Vedula
  • Rebecca John
  • Renu Khanna, SAHAJ
  • Rohini Hensman (Writer and Activist, Bombay)
  • Rohit Prajapati, Environmental activist, Gujarat
  • Roshmi Goswami
  • Shipra Nigam, Consultant Economist, Research and Information Systems, New Delhi
  • Shipra Deo, Agribusiness Systems International Vamshakti, Pratapgarh
  • Rukmini Datta
  • Sridala Swami
  • Sarba Raj Khadka, Kathmandu
  • Satish K. Singh, CHSJ
  • Shinkai Karokhail, from the Afghanistan Parliament
  • Sima Samar, Kabul
  • Smita Singh, FTII, Pune
  • Subhalakshmi Nandi
  • Sujata Gothoskar
  • Swar Thounaojam
  • Inayat Sabhikhi
  • Jaya Vindhyala, Hyderabad

A Report on the Rally Against Rape

No Patriarchy, No Police State, No Capital Punishment: A Report on the Rally Against Rape
India /
Monday, 7 January 2013
/ Soma Marik /

Soma Marik is an Associate Professor of History, RKSM Vivekananda Vidya Bhavan, Calcutta. She is an activist in Nari Nirjatan Pratirodh Mancha (Forum Against Oppression of Women, Caluctta) and the network Maitree.

The Delhi gang rape is gruesome. [1] But it does not stand alone. There were 22,000 rapes reported in 2010, and this implies at least 100,000 unreported cases. In the National capital, Delhi, there were around 570 cases reported. West Bengal has about 9,000 cases of rape, where the matter had not begun moving in courts. Rapes, gang rapes, rape as a “political” action (rape of "lower" caste women, rape of minority community women, rape of political opponents) have been taking place continuously. Though India’s political leaders have been claiming stridently that India is forging ahead, that India is one of the new powerhouses of the world, in terms of the violence inflicted on women, in terms of the sheer barbarism of rape, India shows no sign of being a forward looking, civilized country.

It was with this perspective that students, mainly from Jadavpur University and Presidency University, called for a "Rally Against Rape," to assemble at the College Square on 27th December at 2 PM, and to march to Rani Rashmoni road, hold a meeting, and also to send a deputation to the Chief Minister or someone representing her.

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The program at its peak had about 1,000 people. The major political parties had no space in it. The CPI(M) [Communist Party of India (Marxist)] royally ignored it, to the great pleasure, one suspects, of the organizers. The Trinamul Congress [The All India Trinamul Congress is the ruling party in West Bengal, and abbreviated "TMC"] tried to cash in on it without joining at all, by sending a small TMC women’s brigade to the same spot for a separate rally; the purpose perhaps was to demobilize, disperse or confuse the participants. The student organizers showed great presence of mind by instantly pushing their program back by an hour.

The organizers issued a statement, reproduced below:

“Capital Punishment is not a solution. Neither is public humiliation. These are products of mob mentality which lead us back to our medieval nature.

1. For every 100 people accused in rape charges, only 26 are convicted. We want fast-track courts in all cases of sexual violence, and certainty of punishment for the guilty.

2. End all legitimization of sexual violence, domestic violence, ‘honor killings’ and the like. All government officials, including elected public representatives, guilty of maltreatment of rape victims should resign.

3. A dedicated department for the funding of medical treatment and psychological therapy of rape victims should be formed. Hospitals should have the infrastructure for forensic analysis to aid criminal investigations.

4. Gender-sensitization and neutral laws ensuring sure justice. After due consultation with women’s rights and issues groups and organizations, provisions for such laws have to be made, through which sexual violence (including marital rape and custodial rape), sexual harassment and mercy killings can be made criminal offences.

5. Pregnancy and maternity leaves have to be secured for women employees in both public and private sector.

6. The rights of the Single Mother have to be ascertained and secured with due diligence by the State Government.

7. All State Government forms and document requiring the name of ‘Father/Husband’ should also require the name of ‘Mother/Wife.’

8. Sexual harassment laws should be affected in the workplace. Those companies which do not fulfill these requirements should have their licenses revoked.

For your consideration,

To Prevent Rape and to End Patriarchy:

1. The Female Body is not an object. Stop Objectification and Commodification.

2. The Female body is not just flesh. Try and put an end to ‘flesh trade."

3. Eradicate pornography.

4. A woman’s value is not just for her vagina.

5. Stop female foeticide and infanticide.

6. Rape can be stopped only when we bring about a change in our own mentality.

7. Raise your voice against all acts of oppression against women and ma 8. Women’s security cannot be ascertained by increasing the recruit in police forces and installing CCTVs. We do not want a police state on the pretext of security.”

The demands were worked out by consulting with each other and with others who were posting on Facebook, writing in blogs, and so on. In other words, this displayed a creative use of horizontal networking and organisational techniques. Discussions continued after the rally too, so that one suggestion that came was to criticize the Bengali text that had called for ending prostitution and to focus instead on ending trafficking.

The rally had about 85% people in the age group upper teens to mid or late-twenties, with barely 15% from older adults. This was in fact heartening, though it did also bespeak a gap between older people working in various mass organisations, including the women’s networks like Maitree, and the radical youth. Politically, though banners were absent, faces from [various student organizations] Jadavpur University FAS [Forum for Arts Students], Presidency IC [Independents’ Consolidation], AISA [All India Students Association], PDSF [Progressive Democratic Students Federation], DSO [Democratic Students Organization] and others could be identified. There were a small number of Maitree members and a small number of Radical Socialist members. CPI(ML) Liberation [Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)] was the political organisation that had brought a large number of people, and Malay Tewari was one of the speakers, along with Benjamin Zachariah of Presidency University Department of history. It was surprising that though organised by students, giving speeches was handed over to seniors. Another feature was the presence of numerous vanloads of policemen, at one stage, before the rally had started, even more numerous than the protesters. No cops, when women are raped. No cops to arrest rapists. But hundreds of them, possibly to protect the state from the "dented and painted" women.

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It was reported that a team of five representatives (Sanjukta Basu, Sayantani Gupta, Ankita, Sudhanya Pal and Koumi Dutta) met Firhad Hakim, the Minister for Urban Development to place the demands. His remarks on them were:

- The demand for fast track courts: some fast track courts exists more will come up soon.

- The demand for ending all legitimization of sexual violence, domestic violence, "honor killings" and the like and the demand that those guilty of maltreatment of rape victims should resign was left without response.

- In response to therapy of rape victims, funding medical treatment, etc.: he assured a certain amount of monetary assistance for the treatment of the rape survivor.

Concerning gender-sensitization and neutral laws ensuring sure justice, etc., he promised to refer to the law department. He also considered this demand to be very necessary and important. He also wanted to implement sex education in all educational institutions in consultation with the education department.

- Pregnancy and maternity leaves have to be secured for women employees in both public and private sector: government sectors will provide 18 months leave, laws for private sectors will be checked soon to implement this on them.

- The rights of the Single Mother have to be ascertained and secured with due diligence by the State Government: he was indifferent to this.

- All State Government forms and document requiring the name of "Father/Husband" should also require the name of "Mother/Wife": he asserted this will require a "constitution revision". This shows a total lack of laws. This can be done by government with no constitution change, since Article 14 declares all Indians to be equals, and other laws, including Supreme Court verdicts, can be used in this context (e.g., Geetha Hariharan’s case).

- Sexual harassment laws should be affected in the workplace. Those companies which do not fulfill these requirements should have their licenses revoked: he wanted laws to be "effective," but did not agree to revoking licenses.

- Stop trafficking in women: no comments.

- Damayanti Sen must be brought back as the investigating officer in the Park Street rape case: Damayanti Sen’s transfer has nothing to do with the Park street rape case; she violated rules and hence, the transfer.

- Government must publish White Paper on rapes cases till date: formal agreement.

One question we face, and I personally faced after participating in this rally is, do such civil society protests matter, and if so how?

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Very briefly: yes, they do. It is because women have been protesting ever since the Mathura rape case that there is some action, some visibility for rape cases. Some laws have been passed or modified. One example is the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Law. It is because some women, somewhere, stood up and resisted that we all have more rights than in the past. So we need to constantly go out into the streets and fight until all our goals against patriarchy are met.

I would also add, civil society action is being advised to not go beyond a certain point, by the corrupt parties and leaders. We are being asked to be satisfied now that some ministers, including the Prime Minister, have spoken. The reality is that the PM uttered platitudes that mean nothing. [West Bengal Minister for Urban Development and Municipal Affairs] Hakim gave a set of promises that cost nothing. We need to connect demands from different sectors and widen our alliances and bridge the “civil” and “political” gulf. For example, we need to ask at election times, not what leaders are promising for tomorrow, but what they have done over the past five years. We need to demand that Electronic Voting Machines must have an “I do not like any candidate” button, and that if this gets the highest number of votes all the candidates must be disqualified. We need to stop protecting rapists in uniform, including through repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. For a start, therefore, we need to add these demands and to come out repeatedly until some of these demands at least are met. And we need to express solidarity with rape victims everywhere in India, and with women on whom violence has been unleashed in any form.

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Postscript, December 29, 2012: This morning, I, along with countless other Indians, learnt that the victim of the gang rape in Delhi has died in Singapore. We also know since the day before yesterday that Anisur Rehman, a CPI(M) leader and former minister, made objectionable remarks about [Chief Minister of West Bengal] Mamata Banerjee, showing that like the Bourbons, the CPI(M) has learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. Rehman’s query, about what would be the CM’s fee if she were subjected to sexual assault, was one that perfectly followed Anil Basu’s earlier comment. But this was immediately matched by Congress MP Abhijeet Mukherjee, who is not merely an MP but son and successor of another MP, none other than Pranab Mukherjee. He remarked that the "dented and painted women" who were protesting did not know the ground realities. That he withdrew this after protests and prodding show not contrition, but the reality that whenever Indian politicians of any party make spontaneous comments about women, it is obscene, or degrading, or trivializing.

And that goes for a vast number of women politicians as well, as shown immediately by Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, TMC MP, who told CNN IBN that there was a great difference between the Park Street Case and the Delhi Case, because in Park Street there had been no rape. "They (the Park Street rape and Delhi gang rape) are totally different. The incident at Park Street was not a rape at all. It was a misunderstanding between two parties involved in professional dealing—a woman and her client." According to the Times of India, “Trinamool leader Subrata Mukherjee, who was quick to condemn Anisur Rehman’s sexist comment against the chief minister, was not so forthcoming when asked for his reaction on Ghosh Dastidar’s insensitive remark”. In other words, for all these parties, without exception, even the massive public outrage over the Delhi gang rape is not a wake up call. They will continue as before. When in government, they will try to conceal rape cases, assist the policemen who taunt and humiliate rape victims, transfer honest police officers, and use the language from the gutter to attack victims and those who stand up in solidarity. If a victim dies, they will then use honeyed lies and set piece commentaries, while hoping that the issue would soon be over. As the Delhi case has shown, they will use false claims, as with Constable Tomar’s death, and they will ask TV managers, “Theek hai?” ["Is it fine?"] after mouthing inanities. If the death of the young woman is to make us wake up, then it must be in the direction of rejecting every mainstream political party.

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We can start by demanding and carrying on a sustained campaign all the way to the elections of 2014 with at least these few demands:

- Set up fast track courts to ensure that rape cases are tried and completed.

- Ensure that police take action in ALL cases of rape and sexual assault, not on selected ones where media takes particular interest.

Ensure punishment of police and administrative personnel if they ignore rape cases or flout laws in rape cases.

- Stop protecting rapists in uniform, including through the abolition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

- Change the electoral machinery and law so that EVMs all carry a "do not want any of the candidates" button and declare none found suitable if that gets the highest votes.

We will be told that all this will hamper the state, that these are anarchic demands. Who are the greatest threats to women? Anarchy, real or imagined? No. it is the criminal gangs, the police and politicians who protect them.

January 2, 2013

All pictures included were taken by the author.

[1] For some background on the Delhi gang rape case, see this statement from Radical Socialist.

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