People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 12

March 13, 2012


Proud To Be a Woman


G Mamatha


I am proud of being a woman. Yes, I am not saying this just on the eve of the Women's Day. Of course, this year Women’s Day was submerged in the deluge of Holi. Thanks to it, we were saved from the hypocritical ‘celebration’ of ‘womanhood’. We would have been otherwise flooded with advertisements of various companies selling cosmetics, jewellery and cloth lines ‘celebrating’ womanhood, which according to them would be further enhanced by buying their respective products. Saved are we, also from the utterings of various ‘stars’ who would enlighten us about how they would spend the ‘Day’. The more sober among them would state, that it is a day similar to any other day or that woman and their work should be ‘celebrated’ throughout the year.


Fortunately, Women’s Day is none of these, and is, in fact, a celebration of women’s struggle for their rights and is being observed since the last hundred years. So, if it is to be celebrated, it is the victories in the course of this struggle, the rights won and the resolve for future struggles that needs to be celebrated. Because, indeed, a woman’s life is full of struggle. For that matter, the life of all the working people and the poor is a lesson in the daily struggle for existence. But what makes the life of women special is that she needs to struggle not just against poverty and caste discrimination, but also for the virtue of being a woman.


Women, from cradle to grave, every day have to fight – to take birth, go to school, in the school, in the house, on her way out, in the workplace, for deciding her future, choosing a partner, giving birth – for getting heard, acknowledged and recognised. For every step she has to take and in every corner of her life, there lies a predator prowling to gobble her. This 'predator' strikes in the form of a known face many times and sometimes as someone unknown. It is this struggle against dangers, both known and unknown and which strike with a warning and without a warning that makes me, instead of being sorry, proud to be a woman.


Just yesterday there were reports that a months-old baby was sexually assaulted. And coincidentally there was also a report that a young man was sentenced by the court for raping a seventy-five year old woman. These reports, not to mention of the many reports of working women abducted while returning from their work, gang-raped and threatened, speak a lot about the status of women in our country. In fact, every other day there are news reports about the sexual assaults on women. Ironically, all these are taking place in a country that is glorified for the 'respect' it shows to women, in contrast to the West which is depicted as 'characterless'. It is always stated that women have a 'special' place in our society, forget Manu and his laws.


What is the reaction of our administration to all these attacks taking place on women? Let us start by recalling what some of the woman chief ministers had stated. A recently elected woman chief minister, who takes pride in being called didi, stated that the reports of rapes in her state are 'staged' by the opposition to malign her government, notwithstanding the complaints of the victim and the police investigation that proved the complaint to be true. Another woman chief minister who likes to be addressed as aunty, stated that woman should not be 'adventurous'. Let us not forget here the remark made by the chairperson of the National Commission for Women (NCW): ‘It is not wrong to be called sexy.’ This is the attitude of some of our political leaders who take pride in their identity as a woman. This only goes to prove that it is not only gender that matters, but also the class outlook – it is the ideology and not the biology that matters.


If the political leaders, who are accountable to the people for every five years, had reacted in this insensitive manner, let us see what the reactions of the public servants are. Recently, the DGP (director general of police) of Andhra Pradesh had stated that women's clothing and men's diet are to be blamed for rape. Last year, New Delhi’s deputy commissioner of police had blamed women travelling alone behind the rising incidents of atrocities on women. These are, in fact, some of the allegations that are repeatedly stated, in spite of the fact that they are proved wrong. None can understand what clothes worn by the months old baby and the seventy-five year old woman had provoked the 'men' to rape them. One cannot understand how these officers read the Ramayana – would they blame Sita and the clothes she had worn for her abduction by Ravana?


This insensitivity of both the ruling political leaders and the public servants, who lord over the people, is reflected in the appalling numbers recently released by the National Crime Records Bureau. These statistics show that the number of atrocities on women are increasing, while on the other hand, the conviction rate of the perpetrators is coming down.  Nationally, a murderer is far more likely to be convicted than a rapist – an indication that the criminal justice system still does not take rape seriously. In 1973, when the National Crime Records Bureau first published nationwide statistics on rape, 44.28 per cent of perpetrators – almost half – were being convicted by trial courts. In spite of years of hard-fought struggles by women's rights groups, the conviction rate has fallen to 26.9 per cent – just about a quarter. The decade-on-decade conviction rate has been in free fall: to 36.83 per cent in 1983, 30.30 per cent in 1993 and 26.12 per cent in 2003.


Amidst these growing incidents of atrocities, there are people who are stating that rapists should be given capital punishment and only this would check the growing incidence of crime on women. These people look at the entire issue as a 'law and order' problem. If this is really the case, murders should have long stopped. This, of course, does not mean that a strong punishment should not be given to the rapists but what they really do not view are the social aspects involved.


The way society views women has to be changed. It is always the victim who is blamed and not the aggressor. Some of the courts too, try to 'solve' the case by suggesting marriage of the victim and the aggressor. Increasingly, women are portrayed as sexual objects and commodities that should be 'desired'. Empowerment of women is being confined to giving her the power to decide her attire, which is not correct. On the other hand, there are also efforts to confine women in the name of 'honour' to the confines of four-walls – woman who is abused, brings disrepute to the family honour, but the man who commits such a crime does not. This, in itself, shows the skewed outlook towards women, which needs to be changed.


Thus, there are three important things that need to be implemented: (i) the victim should be given confidence to report the aggression (ii) the society should be sensitised to stand by the victim and isolate the aggressor (iii) the law should be strengthened. Along with this, the mindset that views women as weak, as an object, bereft of individuality has to change. Women have to be respected not as 'fairer sex' but as equal human beings. For these changes to be brought in the society, there is no other way but to struggle for the rights.


A senior police officer had recently stated, “In my experience, you will tend to have high reporting of rape where women’s organisations are active and are able to push the authorities to register criminal complaints”. This is equally true in ensuring convictions and putting an end to the abuses. Only strong a strong women's movement can give the strength to women to fight back, stand up, question and change the system. This is what the history of Women's Day teaches us. This is the lesson we all (not just women) need to learn to build a bright future, where everyone is equal in the true sense. After all, women in the ancient society had developed agriculture playing a pre-eminent role in the evolution of human society. Women not only give birth, but give birth to a new society. This is what makes me proud of being a woman.