In the middle of the unspeakable horror of the rape and murder in Delhi is a spark of hope.
The horror is clear. A young woman boarded a bus with a male friend. A group of men taunted her for being out at night with a man.
She and her friend didn’t take the taunts lying down, so the men decided to “teach her a lesson”. They beat her friend senseless. And they gang raped her, leaving her intestines torn.
The hope lies in the huge numbers of people who came out to protest. Even better was the willingness to direct that anger against the society and culture that justifies rape and sexual violence.
One woman who saw a video of one of our demonstrations wrote to say, “Girls have been writing to me, absolutely distressed, because their parents are using the Delhi gang rape case as an example of what happens when you ‘stray’. Watching your protest gave me so much hope and a sense of solidarity.”
Sexual violence is often used as a way of imposing discipline on women. But “protection” from sexual violence most commonly takes the form of restrictions imposed on women—curfews, dress codes, restrictions on mobility.
The last Delhi police commissioner BK Gupta told a press conference in 2011, “If women go out alone at 2am, they should not complain of being unsafe. Take your brother or a driver along.”
These statements were greeted with a chorus of protest. Many people pointed out that women who work have no choice but to be out late at night.
But the idea remains that women ought not to be out at night and they ought to dress in ways that are not “provocative”. In other words, women have to acquit themselves of the charge of having “invited” rape.
The outrage over the events in Delhi is welcome. The struggle for justice should also include those raped by the police or raped because of their caste or religion.
In 2004, Thangjam Manorama Chanu of Manipur was raped and murdered by personnel of the Assam Rifles army unit. To date, the perpetrators have not been punished. In fact the Indian government is protecting them, claiming that army personnel cannot be subjected to a criminal trial.
Two young women, Neelofer and Aasiya, were raped and killed by army personnel in Shopian, Kashmir, in 2009. The entire state machinery has engaged in a massive cover-up. The perpetrators are free.
Countless women from Dalit backgrounds are raped all over the country by men of the upper castes. Mobs from the BJP and RSS parties gang raped Muslim women during the Gujarat genocide of 2002.
The Delhi police and chief minister, beleaguered by the popular outrage, are taking the familiar route of projecting an “external enemy”—the migrant worker. And others are trying to channel the anger against sexual violence into class hatred for the migrant poor.
It is all too easy to forget that rapists in more than 90 percent cases are fathers, brothers, uncles, neighbours. They are people the victim has known, trusted, and been expected to respect and obey.
If the Delhi rape has awakened people to the crime of sexual violence, we must ensure that the voices of Manorama, Neelofer, Asiya and countless others calling for justice are heard.
For more on the All India Progressive Women’s Association go to aipwa-aipwa.blogspot.co.uk