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?
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!
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
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.
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?
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.
STATEMENT BY WOMEN’S AND PROGRESSIVE GROUPS AND INDIVIDUALS CONDEMNING
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
No Patriarchy, No Police State, No Capital Punishment: A Report on the Rally Against Rape
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. 
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
The demand for fast track courts: some fast track courts exists more will come up soon.
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).
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
 For some background on the Delhi gang rape case, see this statement from Radical Socialist.