The recent brutal gang-rape of a 23-year old woman in Delhi has left the entire nation shocked and outraged. The fact that the woman was picked up along with a male companion from a crowded bus stand and then raped in the moving bus has left the public stunned. The sheer brutality with which the rape was committed has fuelled large scale protest. This widespread agitation by women and general masses all over the country reflects not just shock, but is also an expression of tremendous anger against continuous and growing violence on women. After all, the recent case of gang-rape is not an anomaly but a latest manifestation of a deeply ingrained rot that corrodes our lives, now overtly and at other times covertly.
Unfortunately, while there has been massive public outrage and a long dormant anger has spilled onto the roads, there has been little effort to tackle this issue in a rational manner. Spontaneous anger and symbolic violence have given vent to our frustration, but also carry the danger of being co-opted by the vested interests of the ruling class and its decadent culture. Therefore, this is an opportune (and imperative) moment for us to envisage ways in which to prevent such incidents from recurring in the future, and to ensure that the agitation against violence on women is not misused by vigilante groups (and other dubious social forces). We have to keep our autonomy of action, as well as the independence of our will intact. Thus, we must consciously deliberate upon the direction and content of the ongoing struggle.
It is important to remember that we are not fighting against only one brutal incident of rape, but against an entrenched phenomenon. It is a fact that women in this country have and are facing sexual exploitation and oppression in diverse forms. Recently cases of rapes have been reported from Haryana, Gujarat, UP and other states but the media has made the current case a city specific issue. Clearly, not all incidents of rape have met with the same quantum of media coverage and public outcry (at least at the level of the capital and its corridors of power). This is not to say that there have been no movements or agitation against sexual violence on women. Indeed, the ongoing protests should be seen in continuation with and connected to other protests against similar violence on women. Hence, the current protests should not be de-linked from, or stand unaware of the ground prepared by preceding struggles like those of the stone pelting spirited masses in Kashmir, the naked protest by Manipuri women against the sexual offences committed by army personnel, the protest against the rape and murder of Dalit women in Khairlanji (Maharashtra), etc.
Of course, for many, the current protests in Delhi might be a belated response to all these equally spine-chilling incidents of rape and brutality. However, for many others, it is the (uncomfortable) proximity of the incident (the feeling that the rape took place in the capital itself and could happen to anyone) which might be propelling the response. Moreover, some are troubled by the fact that political opportunists have increasingly taken hold of the spontaneous mass reactions. From the unfortunately named Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena (which has absolutely no relationship with the progressive ideology of Bhagat Singh, nor any connection with kranti), Shiv Sena activists, misogynist ‘babas’, funded ‘anti’-corruption crusaders, cadre from a Party of rapist-rioters to all kinds of agent provocateurs have high jacked the reactions of common masses. Some have rightly pointed to the hypocrisy of the media which has been ‘earnestly’ covering the current protests. Indeed, the very media which talks about reform measures to curb such incidents also projects women as objects of sexual fulfillment through advertisements, promotion of nudity through newspapers, etc.
In this light, we must realize that we need to assert our autonomy from such elements, and recognize who are the genuine and authentic fighters. We must also plan and prepare for the long run so that the next time, instead of them outnumbering us, we overpower them with, both, our ideological preparation and organizational resilience.
We need to realize that in no movement or mass reaction of such kind can we find a pure constituency, i.e. people who want to genuinely fight against women’s oppression because in the safety and freedom of all women they see the liberation of women they know. Of course, the general male chauvinist response is to protect ones’ own womenfolk, but to do the same to others. This is precisely why at various venues of the ongoing protests, many male ‘agitators’ were seen harassing (ogling, touching inappropriately, etc.) women protestors. Even the recent rape of a factory woman worker by a rapist whose own daughter was raped earlier (19 December 2012 newspaper reports from Welcome area in northeast Delhi) points to the hypocrisy with which male chauvinism functions.
This then brings us to the question of the mentality and conditionswhich perpetuate inequality and violence. While we need to continue our struggle against all odds like Article 66A of the IT Act which prevents us from protesting on the internet, road blocks, tear gas, water cannons, metro blocks, Article 144, etc. which prevent our expressions of discontent from spilling onto the streets, and hence to become visible—the need of the hour is to make a level headed analysis of the concrete situation and to put forward a set of concrete demands that are rational and desirable. Such an approach also demands that we look beyond the immediate event which is but a mere symptom of several grave problems, and focus our eyes on the disease itself—a disease that will outlive the current event and short-term remedial measures tabled in the name of ‘providing justice’. It is with this objective of fighting the actual malaise and to uproot it as a whole that we are putting forward this set of concrete demands, though without forgetting the old wisdom “without changing everything, we do not change anything”.
Without a doubt, our most formidable weapon against sexual violence is a sustained mass movement. Of course, a list of demands, as the one below, will only see the light of day until women across the country organize themselves under women organizations, and launch a multi-pronged and consistent movement on the issue of women’s exploitation and oppression. We, thus, appeal to all women and men to become part of progressive and democratic organisations so that even after these protests ebb we don’t just go back to leading our existing lives, but continue to aspire and struggle for a more just and equitable society for all. It is in this light, that our demands below are not just demands from the state but also stand for our claims on society.
- Provide safe and adequate public means of transport. In Delhi itself there is a shortage of more than 5000 buses. This creates overcrowding and scope for sexual harassment of women commuters.
- All public means of transport (buses and autos) should be monitored. Every vehicle must be connected with a Global Positioning System (GPS) device so that its movement is monitored by the Traffic Police.
- All employees working in DTC, Cluster buses, BEST, city and state transport buses, auto rickshaws, Grameen Sewa must wear the public service vehicle (PSV) badge.
- In future recruitment of BUS conductors, priority should be given to women.
- No unregistered tourist/travel agencies must be allowed to ply their private vehicles. Further, there should be proper monitoring of personnel working in these private tourist agencies.
- Banning of unsafe private transport.
- Increase frequency of Delhi Metro trains so that overcrowding and scope for sexual harassment can be checked. Metro trains should ply throughout the night.
- Severe punishment for violation of traffic rules, especially tinted glasses, unclear/small-lettered number plates, use of loud music, and loud honking aimed at harassing women commuters.
- Vehicles plying at night should be properly scanned.
- Increase the number of ladies’ special buses, including their night services.
- No auto or taxis should be allowed to refuse passengers. License fees and other charges levied on these modes of transportation must be kept at minimum so as to keep the fare low. Majority of autos and taxis are owned by a handful of cartels-mafias. Such cartels must be busted, and instead, recognition must be given to auto workers’ own unions.
- Special women protection cells should be formed in Railways. All compartments in trains should have emergency alarm and other provisions for security of women commuters.
- Provision of separate school buses for government school students so that there is no overcrowding on certain routes.
- Proper and adequate street lighting.
- Women employees working in night and early morning shifts should be provided company transport facility.
- Increase the number of affordable working-women’s hostels to ensure safe accommodation for single working women.
- All out-station girl students studying in colleges must be provided cheap and safe accommodation by their respective institutions so as to hinder harassment by private landlords.
- There should be a clear distinction in the degree of punishment between rape and rape-brutality-murder; the latter should be punished more severely than the former. The quantum of punishment between the two types of rapes should be clearly separated. Death penalty is not a rational option because it would create the danger of every rapist considering murdering the victim so as to efface evidence and escape death penalty. There should be a legislation which recognizes the graded nature of sexual assault/violence based upon the concepts of hurt, harm, injury, humiliation, and degradation. The logic of awarding death penalty to a rapist is based on the male chauvinist belief that rape is a fate worse than death. In this context, the most important deterrent is the certainty of punishment, rather than the severity of its form.
- Separate fast track courts for cases of violence on women should be constituted. 25,000 more courts are required in addition to the existing 16,000. All pending cases of rape (All India-100,000, Delhi 1000) should be solved by specially constituted courts within 100 days.
- Medical examination of rape victims should be conducted by lady doctors wherever possible and no intrusive or archaic methods for medical examination should be conducted against the will of the rape victim.
- All districts in the country must be equipped with facilities for forensic test.
- All rape victims must be provided the needful psychological counseling.
- All requisite steps should be taken for the rehabilitation of the victims including adequate employment opportunities.
- The onus of proving oneself not-guilty should lie on the accused.
- Cross-examination of rape victims must not be allowed to become a cause for harassment.
- All those persons whose charge sheets have been filed for rape cases by the Election Commission must be barred from contesting elections for public bodies.
- Fill up all vacancies in various subordinate and higher courts. A law should be passed ensuring trial by an elected jury in all courts
- Proper protection must be provided for victims and witnesses in the cases of sexual offences.
- Rape-trials must be held in-camera and should be presided over by women judges.
- Women helpline and other emergency services should be provided round the clock and should be well advertised.
- Creation of a special vigilance team to monitor PCR vans.
- CCTV cameras should be set in all police stations, and swift action must be taken against errant police personnel. This is in the light of cases like Soni Sori who was tortured and raped in police custody. Shockingly, she is still languishing in a prison in Chhattisgarh.
- Increase the proportion of women in the police force. Currently there are less than 6.5 per cent women in the Delhi Police.
- Introduce compulsory courses on gender sensitivity in the training module of the Police Force instead of a few token workshops for a handful of Police Officers. Around 80,000 human rights violation complaints are lodged every year against the Police force of which a large number pertain to sexual offence against women.
- No male Police personnel should be designated to deal with victims of sexual offences, i.e. for enquiry and for escorting the victims to the court for trial. Instead, lady Police personnel in plain clothes should be deployed for the purpose.
- There should be proper distribution of Police between common masses and VIPs. A whopping 50,059 are guarding VIPs, which is 20,000 more than the sanctioned number. These Police personnel should be employed to serve the common masses and not for the security of VIPs and for curbing democratic movements of the masses.
- The role and functioning of National Commission for Women (NCW) should be audited annually and made public. There has been a tendency among the ruling Parties to distribute posts in this office as favors to its henchmen! This practice should be discontinued and free and fare elections should happen for all the posts so that individuals with credibility and standing in the women’s movement may be able to make their way to this important office.
- Gender sensitization to be included in school and higher education curriculum.
- Religious texts and practices/rituals which degrade women and create misogynist culture should be debated, boycotted and banned.
- Ban on the sale of liquor after 8pm.
- Unauthorized selling of liquor must be stopped and the culprits responsible for the same should be severely punished. Concerned authorities should be reprimanded for their negligence.
- Severe punishment for consumption of liquor at public places.
- Movement of inebriated groups of men late at night must be monitored and they should be fined/detained if they are perceived to be a threat to the safety of women. Drunken brawls, hooliganism, rowdyism by individuals and particularly groups of men are a major hazard for women travelling late at night. Adequate laws must be passed and efficiently implemented so as to ensure that women may be able to commute safely and free from fears.
- Serving of liquor in bars and pubs till late must be banned.
- Prompt registration of FIRs must be ensured. If the same is not accepted a written explanation must be provided by the concerned Police Station. Refusal to lodge FIRs filed by Dalits, minorities and tribals should be punished. As per the National Crime Records Bureau Report of 2011, out of the total 14618802 complaints of crime received by Delhi Police only 59249, i.e., less than 0.5 per cent, were registered as FIRs. This shows the general apathy of the Delhi Police towards all crimes in Delhi. As per Delhi Police Annual Report of 2010, only 11.88 per cent of all complaints received by the Crimes Against Women (CAW) Cells in Delhi were converted into FIRs. This criminal apathy is responsible for the confidence enjoyed by criminals in the state. Needless to say here that if the situation is so dismal in Delhi then it must be much worse in the rest of the country.
- All necessary steps should be taken to ensure that speedy and efficient investigation is done in rape cases.Currently, a larger proportion of those charged with rape and other crimes against women go scot free. The conviction rate in crimes against women has fallen in the country from a meager 27.8% in 2010 to 26.9% in 2011. As per studies conducted in Delhi, rape convicts imprisoned at the Tihar Jail of Delhi have committed an average of four rapes before conviction! This betrays the failure of the entire criminal-justice system.
- Conduct periodic audit on women’s safety in the city. Local women’s organizations and women’s hostel unions must be involved in this process.
- Police should be made accountable to women in all urban and rural localities and for this purpose regular Police-woman interactions must be conducted.
- Women under no circumstances should be detained at Police Stations during night time. Every Police Station must have women personnel.
- A special ‘crime against women’ cell should be constituted within the army to prevent sexual harassment of lady army personnel, to check misogynist culture and to prevent sexual offences against civilian women by army personnel.
- Scrap Armed Forces Special Powers Act and Public Safety Act which are being used by the army and Police, respectively, to commit atrocities upon women. Even some of the particularly atrocious cases like Kunan-Pushpor incident (February, 23 1991) in which least 53 women were raped in a single night by the soldiers of the 4th Rajputana Rifles; abduction, gang rape and murder of Neelofar Jaan and Aasiya Jaan of Shopian (Kashmir) on May 2009 by CRPF personnel; and torture, rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama by 17th Assam Rifles in Manipur 2004 are yet to be creditably dealt with as a result of the protection provided to the armed forces through the aforementioned Acts.
- The C. Upendra Commission Enquiry (2004) Report regarding the Manorama rape case should be made public.
- An independent enquiry commission should be constituted to look into the matter of crimes on women committed by army/paramilitary force/police personnel.
- All kinds of custodial (prison, police stations, convent, temples, mental asylums, NGOs and hospitals) rapes must be considered as aggravated sexual offences warranting more severe penalty.
- Constitute a ‘Children’s Safety Task Force’ and ensure its periodic inspection-visits of schools, orphanages, etc.
- All play schools should be properly regulated and monitored.
- Selling of dangerous substances like acid, which are used to commit violence on women, should be banned immediately.
- Agencies which provide domestic workers (maid servants) should be banned and the agencies should be taken over by the employment exchange department run by the local government.
- Depiction of women as sex-objects in advertisements, newspapers, magazines and all other forms of media should be banned and punished.
- Complete ban on pornography and on the screening of movies in theaters and songs which portray women in a misogynist manner.
- Ban on fashion shows, beauty contests which objectify women’s bodies as sex objects.
- Festivals related hooliganism should be severely punished and preventive measures like banning of balloon-selling before Holi should be strictly implemented.
- Ensure proper safety of women at all workplaces. Constitute ‘Crime Against Women’ cells in Police Stations of industrial areas, and constitute anti-sexual harassment committees within factories which have trade union representation within them.
- Forcing women employees to wear skimpy clothes at airports, pubs, auto expo, restaurant chains, etc. must be banned. Any change of uniform should be done only through consultation and approval of the workers’ union, or representative body of the employees in cases where no union exists.
- Make marital rape a punishable offence.
- Paid-rapes (prostitution) should be abolished along with proper rehabilitation of victims of prostitution. Complaints of sexual violence perpetrated on prostitutes should be immediately filed.
- Trafficking of women and children must be prohibited in all forms and severely punished.
- Since in many cases women and children are sexually exploited within the four walls of their home by people known to them, the government should develop an alternative system of accommodation, financial assistance and job opportunities for those women who feel inclined to leave their homes and live independently. Special attention should be paid to the difficulties and needs of disabled women.
- All women should be provided job opportunities by the government so that they become independent from their male family members and in situations of conflict may be able to lead their lives independently.
- Khap Panchayats, casteist-communal organizations and other kinds of vigilante groups responsible for spreading and normalizing misogyny must be banned.
- Severe punishment for the perpetrators of honour-killings, including those who abet this brutal crime.
Released By: MAYA JOHN on behalf of Centre for Struggling Women (CSW)-Sangharshil Mahila Kendra
Mazdoor Ekta Kendra (MEK), Blind Workers Union (BWU), Anand Parbat Industrial Area Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti, Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS)-Delhi, Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS)-Haryana, Nirman Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti (NMSS), Ghar Bachao Morcha-Baljeet Nagar, Mahila Panchayat-Punjabi Basti, ITI Students Solidarity