Recently, India was a witness to a tragic event, where a 23-year-old para medic student was brutally gang raped in a moving bus and was beaten with iron rods along with her male friend. They were both thrown out the bus. The girl is in critical condition and is struggling for her life.
This incident has outraged many people, especially amongst the middle classes across the country and protests were seen everywhere in the major metropolitan cities of India. The news media has repeatedly debated the punishment that the perpetrators should face, including the death penalty and chemical castration. Many members of parliament are calling for the harshest punishment.
No rape or assault should go unpunished. But the current outcry, especially the demand for death penalty, is not the solution and does not really address the underlying problem that women face in our society.
Violence against women happens everyday in our society. But we have not seen the same sort of response for other reported incidents. There has never been the same outcry when a Dalit woman was gang raped and the police ignored her complaint. And if a sex worker is raped, it is not even reported. Marital rape is not even considered a crime. Many rape victims are even blamed for the crimes committed against them.
We live in a society where sexism and misogyny is known, accepted and even encouraged. This can be seen in the homes, in schools, in public places etc. Men are been taught to be superior, masculine, bestowed with a sense of entitlement to them and that women should be submissive towards them. But as women have become more economically independent, we can clearly see the men being threatened and are lashing out against it (given the feudalistic values that are still dominant and encouraged by the profiteering system in an extremely unequal society).
Radical activist and writer, Arundathi Roy pointed out recently that in this case the perpetrators were lower class men who brutalized a middle class girl and her male friend. But the same response is never given when the police or the army commit such crimes or when the upper class men rape Dalit women as a way to put them in their place. Rape is an act of dominance and a form of establishing authority. As the perpetrators have said, they wanted to “teach the girl a lesson”.
Following this incident, many have asked for increasing surveillance, CCTV cameras and stricter punishment. If these methods would work they would mainly benefit a small section of the population given the scale of the problem, although even that cannot be assured. The call for the death penalty will have no absolutely effect as most rapes are not reported, many are ignored and trials usually drag on.
The abhorrent caste system plays a huge role in today’s oppression of minorities, working women and the poor. The only way to address this problem would be to reconsider how women are viewed and treated within our society. This is not possible under the exploitative system of capitalism that we live under presently, which must be challenged and removed. This is the only way we can see true equality and an end to sexual violence against anyone.
(The writer is a student activist and a member of Socialist Party CWI-Australia, the sister organization of the New Socialist Alternative CWI-India)