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I do not wish to reiterate the emotional responses that most women I have spoken to have felt about the rape and the subsequent death of the 23-year-old girl. The sorrow, devastation and anger are all there. But beyond that, there are things that need to be urgently understood.
First, that women are not asking for safety. They are asking for freedom. The same freedom that men have when they walk on the streets of a city or a village at night. We have every right to that fearlessness, and we claim that. We refuse patronage and patriarchal protection both on the streets and at home, because the other side of that is control, oppression, un-freedom. The rape is being used as an excuse in several homes to impose greater restrictions on women and young girls, to instill fear in their hearts and minds, and this is exactly what we wish to condemn. The way the Delhi Police especially has acted with female protesters has the same aim: to instill fear. And in that sense the state is no less patriarchally oppressive than families. We refuse fear. We want to assert our right to fearlessness. The streets are ours as much as the men's and we will claim them at whatever hour of the day or night we wish, in whatever clothes we wish. And the men better behave themselves.
Second, we wish to declare zero tolerance for violence against women anywhere in the world - at home or on the streets. The men who are screaming out for the death penalty are doing so in order to declare themselves 'good men' and the rapists as 'aberrations', pathologies of this society. But for a woman in a patriarchal society such as this, the whole world is an aberration. Men who have harassed women on the streets, eve-teased, sexually harassed and otherwise insulted women in the workplace, beaten up their wives and girlfriends have no business protesting against rape. We have zero tolerance for this hypocrisy and wish that the continuum of violence against women in this society, from the home to the streets, from verbal to physical abuse, from domestic violence to rape, be recognised. We need to pledge never to be silent again and ostracise men who participate in, or collude with, any kind of violence against women in this society.
Third, this is, from the first to the last, a women's movement. While we welcome the participation of our male comrades, who feel strongly pained and angered by these horrors, we must also refuse the so-called solidarity of the right-wing political forces in this country who have been forever the most hostile to women's liberation. We do not require their hypocritical patriarchal protection. We are not protesting as mothers, sisters or daughters - we are protesting as women, and that is good enough.
Lastly, while I am glad that voices have been raised to this unprecedented (in recent years) extent about this particular rape, this is also the time to remember the rapes that have been denied legitimate justice and have been forcibly silenced. The rapes by the Indian army in Manipur and Kashmir, the rapes of lower caste and tribal women all over India, all the names that haunt us at this juncture: Thangjam Manorama, Soni Sori, Radharani Ari, Tapasi Malik, the woman on Park Street and many, many others.
Also the death penalty would achieve nothing, even though we claim greater rates of conviction, speedier legal proceedings and a sensitised police force. If widespread consciousness, gender sensitisation at all levels, education in new norms of gendered behavior, and a policy of zero tolerance about crimes against women is cultivated from now on, perhaps something could be achieved. This should stretch from homes - where women need to stop being insulted and beaten up and raped by their near and dear ones - to police stations - where custodial rapes are a dime a dozen. We must also remember that rape is not a question of modesty or 'izzat' but of serious violation (emotional and physical) that needs to be addressed as such. There is life after rape. It is not a fate worse than death and not a condemnation of the woman for all time to come. We have to begin to speak of rape 'survivors', not rape 'victims'. Women who are the most marginal in society are the most vulnerable to rape - sex workers, migrant labourerers, lower caste and tribal women, women in Kashmir and the North East, amongst others. We must also not forget that male sex workers, transgendered people and intersex people, as well as children on the streets and elsewhere, are also routinely raped - and this should be taken into consideration when we speak of sexual violence. The continuum that exists between 'eve-teasing' and rape needs to be recognised. Moral guardianship of the state and greater surveillance is not the answer, but true gender-sensitisation and a consolidated women's movement for gender justice needs to be reformulated in this country.
More about Trina Nileena Banerjee
After completing her MA in English Literature from Jadavpur University, Trina Nileena Banerjee proceeded to complete a Masters of Studies (M St.) in English at the University of Oxford. For her PhD she worked on a history of women in the group theatre movement in Bengal between 1950 and 1980. She currently teaches at the Theatre and Performance Studies Department at the School of Arts and Aesthetics in Jawaharlal Nehru University and is also working on a monograph on Embodying Suffering: Interface(s) between Women’s Protest Movements and Women’s Performance in Contemporary Manipur (1980-2010). Her research interests include Gender, Performance, Political Theatre, Theories of the Body, Postcolonial Theatre and South Asian History. She has also been a theatre and film actress, as well as a journalist and fiction writer/poet.
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