ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Need for an Everyday Culture of Protest

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? 

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.

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