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The Need for an Everyday Culture of Protest

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Will some of the same people who have vented their anger in protest against this gang-rape at least raise voice in support of a sex worker’s livelihood, a heterosexual person’s right to live with a partner without marriage, a single parent, a lesbian or gay person’s right to chose a partner, walk with the women while they reclaim the streets at night not just on 31st December but every night; and not pass moral judgments on these groups of people? 

 

Rukmini Sen (rukmini@aud.ac.in) teaches sociology and gender studies at Ambedkar University, New Delhi. 

 

There is a lot of despair in me at this moment. I am angry and helpless at the same time. Anger in seeing the way media wants to give a name to the nameless—Amanat (trust), Damini (lightning), Anamika (one without a name), Nirbhaya (fearless), brave-heart. It seems to be connected with the patriarchal practice of renaming the daughter-in-law when she comes to the husband’s family in many upper caste Hindu families in India. I felt anger in seeing how immediately she has become the daughter of the nation;
“India’s daughter”, “brave heart daughter”—a daughter who had fought bravely till the end, and finally gave in; how politicians suddenly turned mothers, sisters and fathers to understand her pain. Wonder whether she would still have been a brave daughter if she had died immediately after reaching the Safdarjung Hospital, whether the politicians and the middle class would have been equally pained if she was out on the streets at 1.30 in the night with her male friend instead of 9.30 pm? Why cannot she remain anonymous? Why do we continuously refer to her as a rape victim—because she did not survive in life? But why victimise her, make her a national symbol, a “birangana” as somebody among the crowds in Jantar Mantar said? Are we not reminded of the way Bangladesh named its women who were raped by the Pakistani army as biranganas?

Suddenly this has become an issue that the nation identifies with, how her death seems to have shaken the conscience of the nation. One wonders why the conscience of the nation does not get shaken every day given that there is a reporting of some incident of violence against woman that we see in the newspapers or television channels. It is for the same reason that one wonders how in a democracy ensuring freedom to women but not protection of women, has never been a political issue although rape and sexual assault came out of our homes since the early 1980s through the women’s movement. Or is it that only when the violence is of a particular extent—namely the extent of its brutality and the violence occurs to an otherwise “good” woman from a middle class family of urban Delhi that the conscience gets impacted. When Manorama was raped and killed she became an alleged militant, when Bhanwari Devi was raped the courts denounced the charges by claiming that rules of purity could not possibly allow a Brahmin to rape a woman from a lower caste, when dalit women were raped in Khairlanji their caste status did not allow public protests of this nature, and of course when lesbian women committed suicide, the nation which still continues with Section 377 in its Penal Code could not “legitimately” have its conscience shaken. Ironically, this is true for both the politicians as well as the protestors. One needs to be a “perfect” rape victim to generate these responses. Of course this notion of the “perfect” changes with time, but there is a continuous re-creation of the perfect victim.

Demands

There are many demands that are being made by various women’s organisations and students’ organisations. Of course reiterating that capital punishment cannot be the solution and should not be a demand at all, I want to actually introspect about whether legal punishment could resolve an issue which is so intrinsically structural? One is referring to the need for each one of us to reflect upon what we teach our daughters and sons within the family. Do we continuously remind our girls to restrict their mobility, return home before dark reinforcing the myth that all incidents of violence happen outside the home and at night; encourage them towards higher education yet make them internalise that marriage is the best thing that can happen to them. Teach them that only if her husband and in-laws concede can she work outside the home, have a career; propagate that their careers are secondary to their husband’s, they might have to leave their jobs, albeit willingly, when a child is born? Do we not engage ourselves with what is it that the schools are teaching the young minds? The culture of fear that we perpetuate everyday in our institutions through informal/formal norms and sanctions goes a long way in shaping our attitudes. So when we discuss the need for changing mindsets and attitudes, all of us need to ask ourselves whether we are contributing our bit to maintain the patriarchal order in some manner or the other. It is by no means to suggest that the state, the police; the judiciary is cleared off their responsibilities. We need to carry on the pressure of speedy trials, fair trails, higher convictions, taking complaints, effective and regular public transport, enacting laws based on feminist jurisprudence.

The helplessness that I feel in me comes from trying to grapple with the meaning of democracy. If we are democratic why is it that the government is making every possible effort to curb dissent? The 27th December protest march from Nizamuddin to India Gate which got blocked near Zakir Hussain Marg had slogans “Delhi Police Hai Hai”, to “Delhi police Halla Bol” to also “Delhi Police Saath Do”—it was a good example of how there can be polite collective dissent. But the government only responded by closing down 10 metro stations on 29th December and making certain parts of the city completely inaccessible to its democratic citizens. The same metro that the government prides in increasing connectivity for the people of Delhi can take away from these same people through one order. Is the meaning of democracy limited to the Constitution? --has it partially extended in some aspects of our public lives but without any meaning inside the homes. At the same time, inspite of taking away democrartic freedoms from the citizens, there were thousands who joined the protests, and the prayers at Jantar Mantar on the 29th of December. Thus, there is still hope in people’s struggles and collective voices. Will some of the same people who have vented their anger in protest against this gang-rape at least raise voice in support of a sex worker’s livelihood, a heterosexual person’s right to live with a partner without marriage, a single parent, a lesbian or gay person’s right to chose a partner, walk with the women while they reclaim the streets at night not just on 31st December but every night; and not pass moral judgments on these groups of people? Moreover, would we as democratic citizens of India continue to protest when we witness the undemocratic nature of the everyday lives of most women in our country? That is what the long term strategy of this struggle needs to be, not just punishment for the rapists in this case and stricter laws on violence against women. 

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