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Freedom of women without fear is what we need to protect: Rights activist

IBNLive.com
Dec 22, 2012 at 11:49pm IST

All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA) secretary Kavita Krishnan while asking for Delhi Chief Minsiter Sheila Dikshit resignation in an interview with Tehelka said freedom of women without fear is what needs to protected.

Here is the full transcript of the interview:

Today, we demonstrated outside Sheila Dikshit's house. The reason why we are asking her resignation is because Sheila made a statement saying the incident (gangrape) occurred in a private bus, not a DTC (Delhi Transport Corporation) bus, so how could she be held responsible. But if a bus containing iron rods and rapists is plying openly in the city with no rules and regulations, if it can pick up passengers at anytime, anywhere, then she (Sheila Dikshit) is responsible for it. If that girl is fighting for her life today, she is responsible for it. Why was an iron rod in that bus, is something that only she can answer, and no one else can. She cannot blame anyone else for it.

'Freedom of women without fear is what we need to protect'

Activist Kavita Krishnan asked for Sheila Dikshit's resignation for the Delhi gangrape incident.

There is one more important issue which we are here to discuss, when that journalist Soumya (Vishwanathan) was murdered, Sheila Dikshit had issued a statement saying "If she (Soumya) was out at 3 am in the morning, she was being too adventurous." So we are here to tell her (Sheila Dikshit) that women have every right to be adventurous. We will be adventurous. We will be reckless. We will be rash. We will do nothing for our safety. Don't tell us how to dress, when to go out at night, or how to walk or how many escorts we need.

When Neeraj Kumar was newly appointed as a Delhi Police Commissioner, he held a press conference where he said, "How can the police do anything about incidents of rape, when most of the rapes are done by the people who know the victims." But shouldn't that make it easier to apprehend the rapist? If the victim knows who the rapist is, it should be easier for the police to apprehend him.

We are not asked police why they are not able to prevent rapes. But the conviction rate has gone from 46 per cent in 1971 to 26 per cents in 2012, who is responsible for this? The fact is that there is a huge gap in the police's investigation, there is an inconsistency. They have no procedure in place for how to deal with a rape victim. All the women here know that the Delhi Police has only one way of dealing with such a situation, if you were to walk into a police station today and complain that you have been a victim of sexual violence, they will ask you not to file a complaint. Strange people will assemble at the police station and ask you not to file a complaint. Until you don't speak to the DCP and say that you are from a student body, or a women's organisation, nothing will be done. This is a common practice, I doubt that there is a single woman in Delhi who has gone to the Delhi Police and found otherwise. I don't know which rule book they have adopted this procedure from, but it exists.

Another statement that Neeraj Kumar made in the same press conference was that women shouldn't roam around alone during the night, they should have escorts. He further said 'if you walk alone at 2.00 am, then how can you expect us to come and save you?'

This most recent incident is of course the most obvious contradiction, it did not occur late at night, the girl was, in fact, with a male friend, but that is not my argument. I believe even if women walk out on the streets alone, even if it is late at night, why should justifications need to be provided for this, like 'she has to work late hours' or 'she was coming home from a BPO job or a media job'? If she simply wants to go out at night, if she wants to go out and buy a cigarette or go for a walk on the road, is this a crime? We do not want to hear this defensive argument that women only leave their homes for work, they are compelled to go out. We believe that regardless of whether she is indoors or outside, whether it is day or night, for whatever reason, no matter how she may be dressed, women have a right to freedom. And that freedom without fear is what we need to protect, to guard and respect.

I am saying this because I feel that the word 'safety' with regard to women has been used far too much. All of us know what this 'safety' refers to. We have heard our parents use it, we have heard our communities, our principals, and our wardens use it. It means you behave yourself; you get back into the house. You don't dress in a particular way. A whole range of laws and instructions tell us what to do in the guise of keeping us 'safe'. We reject this entire notion. We don't want it.

If the Delhi Police is running an ad campaign about violence against women, you must have seen the large hoardings near ITO, why is there not a single woman in that ad campaign? They have instead a Hindi film actor, Farhan Akhtar, exhorting people 'Be a man, join me in protecting women'. I want to ask, what about the brother who cuts his sister's head off when she dares to marry into a different community? Is he not playing the role of a male protector too? This machismo is not any solution to the problem of violence against women; it is, in fact, the root of the problem. This is what we need to understand.

It's clear that in this country, if you leave out the women's movement, the government, the police, the political parties, the judiciary; when they speak of women's 'safety' they are speaking from within a specific patriarchal understanding of the term. No one is talking about protecting her freedom to live without fear. These protests on the street today, I hope they continue and grow, because this is where the answer lies. The answer doesn't lie in installing CCTV cameras, with death penalty or chemical castration. I am saying this because even though our rage is justified, I am afraid of some of the solutions that are being offered. If the conviction rate for rapists is low, how can death penalty be the solution to the crime? Conviction rate is low because in our entire procedure, the one person you have failed to take seriously is the complainant who was raped. It is an entirely different matter that the laws for rape are also extremely weak and flawed. For instance, if an object is inserted into a woman's genitals, it is not included within the definition of rape. When the recent (gangrape) incident will be tried in the court, the description of rape in court will not include the fact that the men inserted an iron rod into her vagina, which is the reason why she is battling for her life today.

Yesterday on television, I heard Sushma Swaraj in Parliament say something in Parliament that I found disgusting and highly condemnable. She said, "If this girl survives, she will be like a walking corpse," Why? If she survives, I believe she will live with her head held high, just as she fought off her assailants. She struggled, she fought against sexual violence and that is why she was raped. There is barely a woman here who has not at some point fought for her dignity on the streets of Delhi, or in its buses. When we do this, we are told that you are inviting trouble; that you are asking for it. I read in newspapers, I don't know if this is true, that when the girl regained consciousness in the hospital she asked if the rapists had been caught. Her will to fight is still alive, and we salute her will to fight. Those who survive rape are not walking corpses.

The last thing I want to address is that there are many people who say don't politicise such cases. But we can't disregard politics as insignificant. There is a culture in our country that justifies rape; that defends the act through the words of people like KPS Gill who had said that women who don't dress appropriately invite rapes. If we have to change this thinking then we have to politicise this issue. We have to find out what women are saying. The government has to listen. Just shedding a few crocodile tears within the confines of Parliament is not enough, it is not enough to scream 'death penalty' and wind up the issue. I find it funny that the BJP is demanding death penalty for the rapists, because the states which have BJP governments ask their goons to chase down girls who wear jeans or fall in love with members of minority communities. We need to create a counter culture against this ultimatum. We need to create a counter politics, one that asks for the right for women to live freely without fear.

It is surprising that the police are ready and waiting to fire water cannons at us here. I was under the impression that there were protests everywhere in the city today. Shouldn't the government know that people's rage will not diminish by water cannons, or by beating them up? It is shameful that the government and the police who are defending the actions of rapists are now poised to attack those fighting for the rights of women.

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