The following article is an edited version and the original article can be read from Tamil Solidarity website.
On 8th of March, as the world observed International Women’s Day celebrating women’s achievement in many spheres, it brings the spotlight on the struggle of women in general. Today women across the globe are being overworked more than ever before from cooking, rearing children, doing household chores as well as working paid jobs. There are more women in the labour force than ever before in the US, out-pacing men. But it says very little about equality and is not indicative of the rearrangement of power. In the recession of 2009, there was a disproportionate loss of jobs amongst women compared to their male counterparts, in particular affecting female headed households.
In spite of tremendous achievements by women and their ability to excel in many fields, even in this 21st century there is still widespread oppression of women across the globe. There continues to be sexual violence against women, with women being categorised as second class, and also as the underclass as in the case of Dalit women. Girls and women are being forced to do labour of every kind – domestic, migrant, farming, reproductive, slave & wage labour.
Delhi Rape & Aftermath
A good example to highlight the issue of violence against women would definitely be the infamous Delhi rape incident on 16th of December 2012. Since then there had been One Billion Rising, which also activated anti-rape violence demonstrations in more than 270 countries. It is vital for us to recognise that this was not an isolated incident and is not unique, only in that it got wide media coverage. Another incident also worth highlighting occurred in the village of Badaun in the state of Uttar Pradesh where two girls aged 14 and 15 were raped, murdered and their corpses hung on a mango tree. The families of the girls allege that police were disinclined to file an FIR because the victim belonged to a low caste, and the perpetrators were from higher caste.
The recent documentary by Leslee Udwin is an indictment on oppression of women in India. It tells the gang rape of Jyothi Singh by the five men and gives chilling statistics such as a woman in India is raped every 20 minutes. In addition, images of the riot police attacking the protesters with brute force and yet they could not be easily scared away. The utter outrage of the protestors showed how disgusted they were with the prevailing conditions and their resilience displayed a strong sense of solidarity. The Indian government’s efforts were in vain.
There is a petition on change.org condemning the shockingly sexist comments by the two lawyers representing the rapists. This is a reflection of outrage among many ordinary people. Comments such as, “A female is just like a flower. It gives good looking…very softness performance, pleasant. But on the other hand, a man is like a thorn. Strong, tough enough. The flower always need protection. If you put that flower in a gutter, it is spoilt. If you put that flower in a temple, it will be worshiped”, “You are talking about man and woman as friends. Sorry, that does not have any place in our society. A woman means, I immediately put the sex in his eyes.” and ”We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman.” Another of the lawyer is shown saying, “If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight.” When asked at a later point in the film if he stands by those comments, he replies that he does.
The Gender Divide
“The inequalities between men and women and the violence against women flow from the deeply ingrained idea that women are possessions of men, to gratify men’s needs, and should depend on and submit to men. These ideas stem from women’s role in reproduction and property inheritance in class based societies. Women’s sexual lives were relegated to producing offspring that would inherit the father’s property, and women were seen, therefore, as property themselves. The boys are thought to be dominating and aggressive and girls learn to be caring, loving and submissive. These stereotypes of masculinity and femininity are not only social constructs, but also have been internalized by both men and women.” (Socialism and the Fight for Women’s Liberation)
While the pressure to earn and look after the family is more on the man, the women are supposed to do the menial jobs and take care of their children and even other members of the family. It is because of these gender stereotypes that women are at a disadvantage and are vulnerable to violence and other kinds of discriminations and injustices. Systemic deprivation and violence against women: rape, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, femicide, dowry deaths, domestic violence, high level of female illiteracy, malnutrition, undernourishment and continued sense of insecurity keeps women bound to home, economically exploited, socially suppressed and politically passive.
“Patriarchal constructions of knowledge perpetuate the divide further and this is reflected in educational institutions, knowledge system and media which reinforce male dominance. More subtle expressions of patriarchy was through symbolism giving messages of inferiority of women through legends highlighting the self-sacrificing, self-effacing, pure image of women and through ritual practice which emphasized the role of women as a faithful wife and devout mother.” “The husband should be constantly worshiped as a god, which symbolized that man is a lord, master, owner, or provider and women were the subordinates. It legitimized that a woman should never be made independent, as a daughter she should be under the surveillance of her father, as a wife of her husband and as a widow of her son. While in ancient India women were by and large treated as equal to men, the restrictions on women and patriarchal values regulating women’s sexuality and mobility got strengthened” during the establishment of class society. (Dr. UV Shakeela, Gender Studies, University of Calicut)
“Patriarchal constructions are legitimized by religion as most religious practices regard male authority as superior and the laws and norms regarding family, marriage, divorce and inheritance are linked to patriarchal control over property biased against women. A person’s legal identity with regard to marriage, divorce and inheritance are determined by his or her religion, which laid down duties for men and women and their relationship.” “Thus the mobility of women is controlled. They have no right to decide whether they want to be mothers, when they want to be, the number of children they want to have, whether they can use contraception or terminate a pregnancy and so on and so forth. Male dominated institutions like church and state also lay down rules regarding women’s reproductive capacity.” (Dr. UV Shakeela, Gender Studies, University of Calicut)
Similarly caste and gender are closely related and the sexuality of women is directly linked to the question of purity of race. The caste system is the control over the labour and sexuality of women. Ideologically concepts of caste purity of women to maintain patrilineal succession justified subordination of women. The prohibition of sacred thread ceremony for both women and low castes, similar punishment for killing a women, denial of religious privileges are illustrations which indicate how caste and gender get entrenched. (Pravin Kumar Jha, Indian Politics in Comparative Perspective)
“A patriarchal system is still deeply entrenched in India. Once the daughter marries, it is expected that her husband’s family will be her first priority in every respect and her own parents and siblings become secondary. Further, she is expected to take care of her in-laws along with her husband and children. Hence this is the prime reason of sons continuing to carry a high premium in India.” (Pravin Kumar Jha, Indian Politics in Comparative Perspective)
“In the traditional Indian home, it was assumed that the son upon marrying would bring his bride to live in his parents’ home in the joint family set-up. In fact, when the parents wanted to arrange a match for their son, one of the prime qualities they sought in their future daughter in-law was her ability to adjust into the family. Ideally, the new bride was supposed to be treated like a new daughter in her new home, but in reality, it was often not so. Along with the benefits of loving familial bonds, were the more serious problems of mother-in-law and other extended family interference due to reluctance to let go of the son to the detriment of his wife’s interests and needs.” (Pravin Kumar Jha, Indian Politics in Comparative Perspective)
“If he (the husband) agreed with his wife, he was immediately made to feel guilty by his parents as to how much they had sacrificed for the son which was actually very true as the parents went to great lengths for their son’s education and financial success as a son was considered a sort of life insurance for their old age and if he sided with his parents, the wife accused him of being tied to his mother’s apron strings. Generally, due to her financial dependence as a mother of her growing family, the wife remains trapped in the dysfunctional family dynamics.” (Pravin Kumar Jha, Indian Politics in Comparative Perspective)
In spite of the large patriarchal establishment that runs Indian society, the parents of Joythi Singh are positive examples of a changing society. Although now there are still cases where women are more likely to be stopped from getting an education if they are from an economically poorer background. In the last two decades, more women are going to work. They are becoming primary breadwinners, and men fear losing the decision-making powers at home.
The determination of Joythi’s mother to see her daughter educated was a personal delight, especially from a community where mothers themselves are a major reason for women enslavement. Economic empowerment, education are just the beginning for ending women oppression.
However, in the case of the rapists depicted in the documentary, all of their attitudes and action are a consequence of grueling poverty, lack of education and a culture that turns a blind eye to female foeticide. India’s well known reputation for latter especially, where women aren’t exactly half the population of India. For every 1,000 boys under the age of six, there are only 914 girls. Girls are either killed in the womb, or the newborn is gagged, asphyxiated or poisoned. Often, it is the mother, still raw from her delivery, who has to eliminate every trace of her daughter. Where on the one hand women are objectified on the big screen; here women are constantly reminded of the powerlessness because of their gender.
The bus driver’s comments, calmly explaining that a woman who resists rape is begging to be murdered. He had no remorse at anything that was done except a subtle flinch when the victims numerous injuries to the body was read out. These men grew up in an environment watching their female siblings or peers not having the right to education, food, healthcare, freedom of speech or mobility as they did. Deep down both they and their women counterparts felt that women are lesser citizens. As in the case of one of the rapists’ wives, who, in spite of her husband raping and murdering an innocent girl is still wanting to be with him and goes on to completely deny that her husband would have done such a thing. In one of her statements in the documentary, she simply just asks why her husband is being punished when there are other perpetrators at large.
Travel in India is dangerous ordeal for women where in unisex compartments there are multiple cases of indecent exposure and touching without the consent of the girl. The most heart-breaking ordeal is that fellow passengers watch these incidents with no objection or comment.
Despite men and women mostly working nowadays, there is an inherent assumption that most women will go part time or give up their career with the arrival of children. This is common in the west as well.
The Need to Fightback
In India where feudal practices are still deep rooted, the arrival of industrialisation and disproportionate development, oppression of women has taken a different dimension altogether. We don’t need just reforms but a total transformation of society. “Underpinned by inequality, exploitation and oppression, the current economic climate we live in is incapable of bringing about the liberation of women. While it is possible to fight for and win some improvements in women’s lives, the underlying crisis of the system means that those gains are limited and constantly being challenged. Real liberation, therefore, cannot be achieved through a gradual, piecemeal transformation of the current system but requires a complete change in the way that society is organized and structured. Because of the double oppression which they experience under capitalism, both as women and as workers, working-class women have a particular interest in changing society.” (‘Liberal’ Feminism http://www.socialistalternative.org/it-doesnt-have-to-be-like-this/liberal-feminism/) “This means women’s organizations, unions, community activists and individuals must fight together against women’s oppression and the system as a whole. Only then can we create a society that works in the interests of all people.” (Let’s Turn the Anger into Building a Mass Independent Women’s Movement)
“Before women joined the workplace (in the US) during World War II, most women were expected to raise children, cook and clean, and submit to their partner’s authority. Since the vast majority of men were needed for the war effort, leaving many factories and workplaces without necessary labour, women entered the workforce in large numbers for the first time. Once the war ended, many women stayed in the workplace, working alongside men, proving they were equals, and fighting alongside men for better wages and workplace conditions. This experience helped undermine sexist ideas in the workplace and society at large laying the foundation for the women’s movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s, as well as providing a model for how to continue the struggle to end sexism, sexual assault, and violence towards women. History shows, again and again, that nothing has been more effective at undermining sexist ideas than the combination of women playing a full role in society and in production, as well as women and men organizing and fighting together for their common interests.” (Socialism and the Fight for Women’s Liberation)
Tamil solidarity opposes all forms of oppression and defends the right to protests and stands in solidarity with the campaigners and human rights activist protesting against women oppression. We strongly condemn the Indian government’s ban on the showing of this documentary. And we demand that sexual violence against women in India and across the world is stopped, the perpetrators involved need to be brought to justice via a full independent investigation involving the victims’ families.
In solidarity we only grow stronger,