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

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From Mathura to Bhanwari

The recent law on sexual harassment at the workplace rides on the back of decades of campaigns by women's groups, starting with the rape law in the famous "Mathura case" to the guidelines on sexual harassment arising from the fight by Bhanwari Devi to punish the men who gangraped her for opposing child marriage. Unfortunately, lawmakers have failed to heed some of the crucial lessons that can be drawn from these struggles.

Mathura, the 16-year-old adivasi girl whose gang-rape in police custody in Chandrapur, Maharashtra, triggered a nation-wide campaign against rape and demands for reform in criminal law, would be 56 years old this year. Bhanwari Devi, whose gang-rape by upper-caste men in Bhateri village of Rajasthan caused immense outrage and provided the impetus for a significant ruling against sexual harassment at the workplace, is also 56 years old.

Both these icons of the women’s movement might not have benefited directly from the campaigns to reform the law dealing with rape. Mathura had faded into obscurity, having got married and was getting on with her life, completely unaware that one of the pillars of Indian democracy – the Supreme Court of India – was being challenged on her behalf. In 1980, she was in her 20s when journalists from the national media descended on her village to interview the young woman whose case had been the driving force behind changes in the rape law. Not much was heard about her after that.

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