(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
January 13, 2013
The Struggle for Equality and Justice for Women
THE horrific gang-rape and murder of a 23 year old young woman student in Delhi has led to outrage and protests all over the country, particularly among young people. What has been highlighted by this tragic episode is the need for better policing, speedier justice through the courts and tightening up of the laws which deal with sexual assaults and violence against women. But over and above this, the protests were centered around the subordinate status of women in our society and the deep-rooted patriarchal attitudes towards women, their growing treatment as sex objects and the denial of their role and status as equal citizens. What has been heartening is the assertion by so many young women and young men that they will not tolerate such a state of affairs.
While this has been the positive side of the public protests and debate, there are other aspects which bring out the enormous task ahead in the fight for equality and justice for women. The patriarchal, sexist and reactionary views on women have also been displayed in their full range in the furore surrounding this gruesome incident. One after another statements and views have been made by political, religious, social and community leaders which reveal the depth and extent of patriarchal and male chauvinist views on the status of women and about the crime of rape committed by men.
The RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat proclaimed that rapes were mainly occurring in “India” that is, the urban areas where Western lifestyles have been adopted. According to him: such things do not happen in “Bharat” ie, the villages. “You go to villages and forests of the country, and there will no such incidents of gang-rape or sex crimes.” This is a travesty of the actual facts. A large number of the sexual assaults are in the rural areas where the target is often the women of the poorer sections, dalits, adivasis and agricultural labourers.
The reality is that women in both urban and rural India are increasingly subjected to sexual assaults. The rape of minor girls is being reported increasingly in the rural areas too. Bhagwat’s assertion that ancient Indian society had no such problems is equally untrue as patriarchy and anti-woman attitudes have prevailed over the ages as seen in Manusmriti.
The widespread criticism of these views did not deter the RSS chief. Two days later, he spelt out his patriarchal views about women. He said husband and wife are “bound by a social contract” where the wife has to take care of household chores and the husband’s duty is to earn for the house”. So this is the RSS ideal, a woman’s place is her home. The idea of a woman, educated and able to work to earn a living and lead a life as an equal citizen, becomes a Western concept.
The RSS mindset is also reflected in what the chairperson of the Chattisgarh Women’s Commission, Vibha Rao, stated that “Women influenced by Western culture send wrong signals through their dress and behaviour and men often take the cue from those signals”.
That such stereotyped views of women’s role is widespread is also seen in the manner in which the Congress PCC president of Andhra Pradesh, Botsa Satyanarayana claimed that the girl in Delhi was gang-raped because she had gone out at night. To make matters worse, the Congress MP, Abhijit Mukherjee, divided the protesting young women in Delhi as “dented and painted women” and not real students.
The worst possible insult to the brave woman’s memory came from the so-called spiritual leader Asaram. In a discourse, he made the shocking remark that the young woman could have saved herself if she had told each of the six drunken men that she viewed him as a brother and had begged for mercy. He also stated that mistakes are not committed from one side. This is a man who has been patronised by the leaders of the BJP in Gujarat and who has faced serious allegations in the deaths of two minor boys and other sexual abuses going on in his ashrams.
Various measures are being suggested to prevent violence against women and to ensure their security. Some of them are reactionary and are motivated by the view that it is women who have to behave in such a manner so as not to provoke men. Such are the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind’s recommendation for the abolition of co-education of boys and girls; the various dress codes and ban on use of mobile phones by girls proposed by khap panchayats and the Puducherry government’s recommendation that girl students wear overcoats.
The essence of the matter is whether women can have an equal status in society; that they can step out of their homes for education, jobs and all other activities which are the rights of a citizen of the country; that they can be free of violence, both in public spaces and in their families. The struggle is to ensure the equal status of women and their role in society in the political, social and cultural spheres.
The Central Committee of the CPI(M), in its meeting held in October 2012, had noted the alarming increase in the cases of sexual violence against women all over the country. Rapes and gang-rapes of women and minor girls were a frequent occurrence. Taking note of this, a call had been given for the Party units to organise protests against such attacks on women on October 30. On this day, for the first time, the Party took up this issue and organised dharnas and rallies to rouse public opinion against such violence and to demand stern action against the culprits.
The gang-rape and death of the young woman in Delhi and the spate of such attacks on women from all over the country underlines the necessity to take up this issue in a comprehensive way. The CPI(M) has already submitted its views on what changes are required in the laws dealing with rape and sexual assaults; and the need for time-bound judicial process to deal with such cases. The Party has also asked for steps to prevent the broadcast or publication of demeaning and highly sexist advertisements that commodify women’s bodies. There is also the need for including gender sensitisation courses for boys and girls in the syllabi of schools and colleges.
Along with this, the Party and the mass organisations should take the lead to fight against patriarchy and male chauvinism in all spheres of society. This is part of the struggle to ensure that women are treated as equal and independent citizens.