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India: Fearless freedom for women won’t be stopped by the wall of reaction

Protesters from the All India Progressive Women's Association in Delhi, December 22-23, 2012.

[For more discussion of feminism, click HERE. For more on India, click HERE.]

Editorial from the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation’s ML Update

December 16, 2013 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- “What has changed since last December?” is the question everyone is asking a year after the brutal gang rape and murder that sparked off a massive movement. After all, the number of rapes and sexual assaults are higher than ever, and women certainly don’t feel safer.

In fact, the changes are enormously significant and precious. The winds of change that made last year’s slogans of fearless freedom possible, continue to blow strong, in spite of the many obstacles.

Last year, many had wondered why only a handful of the most brutal of gang rapes where slum dwellers were perpetrators, made it to the headlines, while the everyday sexual degradation faced by women, or sexual violence by powerful men, passed unnoticed. A year later, December 16 saw sexual harassment by a retired Supreme Court judge making it to the headlines and editorials.

The fact that sexual harassment and violence faced by women at the workplace, and the need to end the impunity of the more privileged perpetrators, has emerged as a matter of public concern is an important and welcome change.  

In the past year, many women have spoken of how the protests made them feel more empowered to raise their voices against sexual harassment and violence. The lawyer who wrote of the harassment at the hands of Justice Ganguly has spoken of how the protests of last December might have helped her to go public.

“What has changed”, she said, “is that women ... feel there is a small group, a small segment of society that will stand by them. Of course, that number is still very small, but for those who have been at the receiving end, it means a great deal.” The journalist in the Tejpal case could talk to her male colleagues of the violence she faced – confident of their understanding, support and solidarity, and they stood staunchly by her.

Soni Sori, the fighter against custodial rape by Chhattisgarh cops, was greeted with long applause this year at a Delhi gathering of last year’s protesters, as she told them, “I got strength from the movement you have sustained since last December. The torture had demoralised and shattered me physically. In jail, I realised there are women in worse conditions than me. I reached out to you and you responded. The movement you launched and the strength I got from it kept me going.”

The fight against sexual violence is still long and hard – but it is significantly less lonely, and the ranks of the fighters have swelled.

The other immensely significant change can be witnessed in the spontaneous outburst of outraged protest against the Supreme Court’s Section 377 verdict re-criminalising homosexuality. In another day and age, a Supreme Court ruling that homosexuals are criminals would have further isolated and demoralised an already marginalised group of gay rights activists, who could not count on support even from some of the largest women’s organisations. This year, days before December 16, 2013, enormous street protests declared that the Supreme Court ruling bends shamefully to religious reactionaries and fails to protect the rights of homosexuals. Public opinion has forced even most ruling-class political parties to break their silence and at least say the right thing.

Some prominent supporters of the [Hindu-chauvinist] Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) among young celebrities, who had been touting BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi as the leader of “modern, young India”, have been embarrassed by the BJP’s the retrograde support for Section 377 and BJP leaders’ homophobic utterances.

Even in the mainstream media, the dominant opinion is that Section 377, that declares homosexuality to be “unnatural”, is a relic of a patriarchal, unscientific and discriminatory colonial order. Such a law had no place in India prior to colonial rule, and should certainly have no place in modern democratic India.

In a world where even the pope is having to modify the Catholic Church’s homophobic stances, personal freedoms and constitutional liberties cannot be violated to defer to the opinion of a handful of religious leaders and god men. A significant section of India’s vocal younger generation finds it troubling that the Supreme Court, which chooses to be vocal about red lights on cars, should be “recuse itself” from protecting people from an unconstitutional law.          

Doubtless, the forces of patriarchal reaction too are gathering their forces. The communal rapists of Muzaffarnagar are yet to be arrested even after an FIR [a First Information Report is the information recorded by the police officer on duty, given either by the aggrieved person or any other person about an alleged crime] the has been registered. Communal and casteist forces still seek to curb women’s freedoms and unleash violence on minorities and oppressed castes in the name of “protecting women”. Dalit and adivasi [Indigenous] women battling rape continue to struggle for justice.

Rapes by Armed Forces continue to be shielded by the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) that is imposed not only in Kashmir and Manipur but has also recently been given an extension in Communist Party of India (Marxist) ruled Tripura.

Stalking by the Gujarat government and its “Saheb” is being justified in the name of “protecting” the victim from her male friends. The chairperson of the National Commission for Women, herself a leader of the Congress party, echoes the sentiment of the far-right RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat when she blames rapes on urbanisation and advises women to keep themselves safe by adhering to “Indian culture”. Justice Ganguly sticks to his post as West Bengal Human Rights Commission Chairperson in the face of sexual harassment charges that have been upheld by a Supreme Court panel – and a former speaker and a former chief justice are part of his team of defenders. A central minister and senior judges alike warn that if women complain against sexual harassment, they won’t get jobs.  

Still, these forces of reaction are forced to shout louder – because they know they have to work harder to be heard above the slogans of bekhauf azaadi. The battle for fearless freedom is a long one, by no means easy – but the fighters’ ranks have swelled, their voices have grown more confident and their spirits are high. The winds of change won’t be stopped by the wall of reaction.

Comments

This is disgusting

Why in the world we live in, are men from third world countries still able to treat women no better than dogs, and not only is it seen as acceptable, but its the norm.

I think its sick the way women are battered, abused and sometimes even given away by selfish, unintelligent men, who believe because you was born female you don't deserve to live a full and happy life like them and their precious sons do.

It really knocks me sick, especially when sons are brought up to believe their mothers deserve to be treated this way when all they have ever done is raise and love their sons.

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