Editorial from the Communist Party of India
(Marxist-Leninist) Liberation’s ML Update
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.
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.
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.
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
against sexual violence is still long and hard – but it is significantly less
lonely, and the ranks of the fighters have swelled.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.