After the most shocking and heinous assault on a 23 year-old woman in a moving bus, right in the heart of the capital, Delhi has been taken by an avalanche of protests. Thousands and thousands of men and women are gathering everyday at Rajpath, Jantar Mantar and other areas of Delhi demanding justice for the victim, severe punishment for the guilty and addressing the root cause of the continuing oppression and exploitation of women. The victim who is struggling for her life in a city hospital has become a powerful symbol for all those who are seething with anger against the growing injustice against women, and against the forces of the status quo who directly or indirectly contribute to the preservation of such a socio-political system built on patriarchal foundations. Lok Raj Sangathan condemns this terrible crime and demands that the guilty should be severely punished.
But the youthful protestors who have thronged at the centre of the Capital to express their anger and their just demands are being treated as criminals by the State. The protestors have been demonstrating in the most peaceful manner over the last four to five days. But they have faced water cannons and lathi charge by the police. The overlords in the Home Ministry do not want to allow them even the right to protest peacefully. In the last 24 hours they have let loose anti-social elements who have deliberately infused violence, leading to the death of a constable, in order to discredit those who have been protesting peacefully and giving the police justification to attack the protestors. These anti-social elements are the pawns of those who are in power, because it is they who control and use such hoodlums whenever they want to create a riot, communal genocide, assaults on women or attack any section that raises its voice against injustice in society.
The thousands of people who are pouring out onto the streets of Delhi and other cities are demanding that the ugly realities of the present system should not be brushed under the carpet once again. They are emphatically making the point that it is not enough for those in power to mouth homilies and admonitions about ensuring the safety of women. They need to act decisively and bring about fundamental changes in the present system that will ensure that such ghastly incidents do not take place again. They need to guarantee the safety and security of women at all costs. But is it in the interests of the forces of the status quo to do so?
The two biggest political parties, the Congress and BJP, themselves have been charged of committing the most heinous crimes against women. Notwithstanding the fact that many of the netas of these parties have chargesheets of rape and abduction of women, it is the leaders of these parties who led a mob of murderous goons in the 1984 genocide of Sikhs in Delhi, the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, the ensuing murderous attacks on Muslims in Mumbai, Surat and other cities, and the massacre of muslims in Gujarat in 2002. It is they who allow the army to violate women’s rights regularly in Kashmir, north-east and so-called terrorist infested areas in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and other states. In these incidents of state-organised violence, women were raped, tortured and killed systematically. Unspeakable crimes were committed against them including ghastly attacks on pregnant women and removing their foetus, such as in the Gujarat violence. The entire state apparatus was used by these political parties to commit these crimes. Without the connivance and support of the cabinet, bureaucracy, courts and security forces such genocides and mass killings could never have taken place. So, with what face do they dare to come in front of the people to lie to them one more time that the safety of women should be left in their hands?
There is no dearth of laws to prevent sexual offenses and to severely punish the perpetrators of such crimes. The Criminal Laws Amendment Bill, 2012 is under discussion in the Lok Sabha. Another piece of legislation called the Protection against Sexual Harassment at Work Bill, 2010 is still being discussed in Parliament. The IPC itself has ample provisions to apprehend the guilty and mete out severe punishment. But why are such laws either rotting in Parliament or not being used to punish the guilty? Those in the highest positions at the centre, who organized the mobs and used the police apparatus to carry out unspeakable crimes against women in 1984, are yet to be punished. It is after 10 years of struggle by human rights activists that some of the murderers of Gujarat were sentenced, while the big fish remain scot free. The Nithari incident, which happened 7 years back, is still awaiting the final verdict. So, it is no wonder that demands for “street trials” by the lakhs of people assembled in Delhi are sending shivers up the spine of central ministers.
Incidents of such violence against women are being portrayed as merely the result of backwardness of some anti-social elements in society. But this is not so. The present economic and socio-political system is inherently against the interests of women. Women are harassed and oppressed at home, in the workplace and in society. Women from poorer households are exploited and subjugated even more. The plight of tribal women is totally pathetic. The discrimination and exploitation of women at home and outside is bound to continue, because the government, bureaucracy, political parties of the establishment and the most powerful business interests stand to gain by putting women down, by terrorizing them and by perpetuating these crimes. Such crimes continue to happen because those in power view women as just vote banks, work slaves, objects of entertainment and tools for increasing sales of their products.
The present political system marginalizes the majority of people from playing a central role in ensuring the rights of people. We are sidelined and kept out of the political process and power, deprived of the right to make decisions or initiate laws about issues that affect our daily lives. Those guilty of committing the worst atrocities on women are never punished because the culprits in most cases enjoy powerful state support and political patronage. What justice can be expected when the accused, the prosecutor and the judge are the same, i.e. the Indian government and its institutions? Would putting some women in power in the present system solve the problem of security for women? The former president was a woman, but she as commander in chief of the army – according to the principle of command responsibility -- was ultimately responsible for hundreds and thousands of women raped and killed in the north east and Kashmir. What good is it that we have a woman Chief Minister in Delhi, who cannot even provide for basic necessities such as sanitation and safe toilets for women? It is our elected governments who encourage the use of women as objects of sex and their commodification in media and advertising. It is these governments who turn a blind eye to the widespread prostitution and trafficking of women and girls, especially from the poorest regions of the country. It is they who keep women in abject poverty by diverting funds to unproductive expenditures and tax breaks for the monopolies.
Those of us who are protesting on the streets and demanding immediate action should remember that our struggle is long and we have to cross many hurdles. We have to fight with the conviction that genuine emancipation of women is possible only in a society where other inequalities and injustices also cease to exist. We also need to fight with the vision that we have to link our struggle for the right of women to live in a safe and secure environment with the struggles of other sections oppressed by patriarchy, class, caste, and religion into one large torrent of protests against the present order of things.
The system of democracy that we have today, where a few representatives of the people have usurped all the powers of the people, has to be thoroughly overhauled. People should have a right to select and elect their candidates. They should have the right to recall their representatives who do not work for their interests. They should be able to initiate legislation that they feel necessary to ensure their well-being and safety. They also should have powers to supervise the implementation of such legislation to make sure that the guilty be punished, whoever they are, especially those in command whose duty is to ensure safety for all.
While we should continue to demand justice and punishment for the guilty, it is becoming more and more clearer that we cannot rely on the police forces and those in power to meet our demands. We have to rely on our own forces. We should organize to protect ourselves by building our neighbourhood committees cutting across party affiliations, caste, religion and gender, and organize our defence. Only in this way we can ensure that such crimes do not happen again and criminals go unpunished. At the same time, let us carry on the struggle for a lasting solution to prevent crimes against women and for a society that will ensure safety and security for all.