University, school students and working class youth are out in the streets of the national capital asking for justice from a political system and its ruling class that has secured its own selfish interest at the expense of the vast majority.
After 65 years of becoming an independent country that held the promise of a subject people being able to build a new society where the rights of all people would be respected, people are out on the streets demanding the most basic right for half the population – the right to dignity for women.
The response of the government following the horrific rape of a young woman and assault on her and her friend in a Delhi bus on December 16th reflects the utter callousness of the Indian ruling class towards the people. In the first instance, the incident did not provoke any official response. However, what the government did not anticipate was the level of public protests that this criminal act evoked from a wide section of the youth population. Within a day of the crime being reported, the capital was shaken by a storm of protests that spread to other cities across the country. In Delhi, the demonstrators assembled at India Gate, marched up Rajpath to Rashtrapati Bhavan and demonstrated in front of Sonia Gandhi’s house.
What was the response of the government then? They attacked the protestors, lathi charged them and sought to discourage them with water cannons and teargas. Its chief concerns were that the demonstrators should not march on to the Presidential complex or that the visiting Russian President should not hear about this terrible crime against two young people right here in the capital city! On the 5th day of the protests, lumpen hoodlums were deliberately sent in among the protestors to provoke the police and damage vehicles and resort to violence. This was just what the police were waiting for and they unleashed their full fury on many innocent demonstrators.
However, this has not quelled the spirit of the youth. They are determined to continue their protests till such time as they see that the government is really going to take some steps to secure the city for women. The people, especially the youth, are not willing to accept any placating by the Prime Minister, Delhi Chief Minister or the Home Minister. They are not willing to listen to promises which they know from their own experience are empty platitudes. They are clearly rejecting moves of any political party to hijack the agitation.
There is no dearth of laws in our country to punish those guilty of sexual offenses. But the reality is that very few criminals have been indicted or even tried. In Delhi as in other cities and towns across India, criminal gangs and lumpen elements freely roam around and terrorise people. They operate with impunity because they know that they will not be pulled up and punished by the law; the existing system needs such criminals to do the bidding of the rich and powerful – whether it is to secure votes for the political parties, evict people from their homes for the slum lords and land mafia, attack striking workers on behalf of the capitalists, or participate in communal genocides, etc. Without the knowledge of the police and the protection of the politically powerful, these criminal hoodlums cannot exist.
Within this context, women are especially vulnerable to being targeted. Indian society has not experienced the social revolution that would have made a break with its medieval past. Women continue to be oppressed and humiliated by the backward social customs still prevailing in society, including the caste system and backward religious customs. Through colonial times when capitalism was developing and in contemporary times with further development of capitalism, the bourgeoisie found it suitable to preserve some of the medieval practices of caste and discrimination against women in order to better carry out the exploitation of all the people.
Under capitalism, patriarchy has continued to deny women their rightful place and they are among the most discriminated against in a vastly unequal society. They are repeatedly told that they have to “know their place.” They are abused and attacked for allegedly stepping out of line. They do not have a say even in their own personal lives and they are blamed for all the crimes committed against them! At the same time, under the capitalist system, young girls and boys are abused for sexual gratification. It is no wonder then that women cannot feel safe even in our capital city.
When the Indian ruling classes claim that they are at the head of a modern society, they are talking of a very limited sphere of techno-industrial development, the financial markets and commercial operations that enable them to maximize their returns on investment. They are not concerned with the well-being and dignity of human beings; they are least concerned about the status of women.
A society that allows such assaults on women and keeps her enslaved cannot offer any dignity for men either. How far a society has advanced depends very much on how emancipated women are. If society cannot guarantee the safety and dignity of women, and in fact condones and perpetuates violence against them, then this society must be fundamentally transformed! Together, all of us who are outraged by the growing incidence of violence against women must work for a new system where the human rights of all are guaranteed, and even one such incident will not be tolerated. Women have to be in the forefront of this struggle, because the emancipation of women depends upon the emancipation of society as a whole. This is the vision that we have to fight for – a society where women and men are respected equally and all human beings can live with dignity.