Lessons from the struggle for a safe social environment for women

The experience of the on-going struggle for justice and protection of women’s rights, fuelled by the gang-rape in a moving bus leading to the painful death of a 23-year old woman in Delhi, has brought forth some very important lessons.

The first lesson is that security and the rule of law in our country is meant to protect only a privileged few and not the citizens at large. The rule of law is not uniformly enforced. Hence the police cannot be trusted to provide security for every working woman.

The Delhi Police, which had immediate access to the eye-witness account provided by the injured young man who was travelling with the woman victim, chose to keep this evidence hidden for many days. It put out a story of how promptly the police acted. When the eye-witness subsequently told his story to a TV channel, it exposed the police version as a pack of lies. The young man who was attacked along with the woman in the bus said that when the two of them were left lying naked on the road in precarious conditions, the policemen who arrived on the scene argued for nearly half an hour to settle which police station ought to take responsibility for this case.

The behaviour of the Delhi Police in this case is not an exception, but a telling example of how the police is trained to act in the interest of a minority class, and how they generally react to gruesome physical attacks on working women and men. Facts are suppressed for as long as possible, and the people are fed with a false story. This gives time for the police to check whether the criminals have some high level connections, whether there is some VIP to be protected, etc.

The response of the politicians in charge show that insensitivity and callousness towards the toiling majority of people is characteristic of not only the police force but of the entire state apparatus, from top to bottom.

The Chief Minister of Delhi, Shrimati Shiela Dixit, was quick to divert the blame, pointing out that the Delhi Police reports to the central Home Ministry and not to the state government. Home Minister Shinde, on his part, refused to meet the protestors in the capital city. He accused them of collaborating with Maoists to demoralise the police. He ordered lathi charge and use of tear gas and water cannons to put down the masses of women, workers, youth and students who had assembled to demand justice.

It has come to light that the bus in which the crime was committed had no permission to ferry passengers within the city. The growing privatisation and deregulation of transport services in Delhi has created conditions where all kinds of vehicles ply illegally in cahoots with the police and powerful politicians. The drivers and conductors in such buses are typically on temporary contract, which means a further lowering of the sense of social responsibility and degree of accountability. Regular staff of DTC would not risk losing their jobs while someone on temporary contract has little to lose. Thus the struggle for women’s safety has exposed the anti-social character of the policy of privatisation and deregulation of bus transport services.

The Manmohan Singh government has now appointed a special body, the Mehra Commission, to investigate all the facts and submit a report on the commissions and omissions of the police and other concerned public institutions. Meanwhile, the Delhi Police has filed a case against the TV channel that interviewed the eye-witness, for having exposed the truth without their permission!

A second important revelation is that the dominant ruling ideology is to blame women for getting attacked, which shows that the existing political system is anti-women in both theory and practice.

Numerous personalities have been reported in the media airing the most outdated and chauvinist views against women. Outright lies have been given great publicity, such as the statement of an RSS leader that such attacks on women take place only in urban India and not in rural Bharat.

More importantly, several “people’s representatives” have also aired various justifications for attacking women, with no action being taken against them either by their respective parties or by the legislative body of which they are members. An MP from West Bengal, who belongs to the Congress Party and is the son of the President of India, called the protesting women in Delhi “dented and painted women”, implying that they are as bad as prostitutes. A leading Congress Party leader from Andhra Pradesh declared that women who stepped out of their home in the evenings are inviting trouble. A BJP minister from Madhya Pradesh said that women who crossed the “laxman rekha” will inevitably get attacked.

A clear lesson from all this is that we cannot rely on the parties in parliament to ensure protection for women.

A big debate has been unleashed in the corporate media about alternative proposals for strengthening the laws against rape. The Manmohan Singh government has even appointed a Verma Commission to propose measures to strengthen the laws against rape and other forms of violence against women.

The Delhi gang-rape case showed how people do not want to get involved with the police, and hence do not even report to the police to save someone who is dying on the streets. This was pointed out very clearly by the young man who got attacked along with the gang-rape victim. He concluded very sensibly that strengthening laws is of no use as long as people are alienated and afraid to approach the police.

The ruling class wants all the people to be engaged in debating ways to strengthen the laws. This is a useless exercise and a deliberate diversion. Strengthening the laws is useless as long as the law enforcing machinery is geared to protect only a privileged minority.

Putting all these lessons together, one comes to the inescapable conclusion that collective self-defence is necessary on an immediate basis. Since we cannot rely on the political leaders nor on the so-called security forces, we have to organise on the basis of our own collective strength to defend ourselves.

Working people, women and youth, all have to organise to defend ourselves. We have to defend our sisters and friends, mothers and daughters, classmates, colleagues, wives and girlfriends. People’s committees in every neighbourhood need to take charge of protecting all residents and securing the social environment for women.

Side by side with taking immediate action to organise collective self-defence, we must demand and fight for fundamental changes in the political system and the rule of law. Political power has to be reconstituted to make the workers, peasants, women and youth the masters, with political parties playing an enabling role in empowering the people. Law has to defend in theory and practice the rights of women, as women and as human beings. We must fight for a modern democratic State that would not permit any violation of women’s rights by anyone under any pretext.

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Punish the Guilty    Womens empowerment    Sheila Dixit    Justice Verma    Delhi gang rape    Jan 16-31 2013    Struggle for Rights    Popular Movements     Rights    

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