The vicious beating and gang-rape of a 23-year-old student in New Delhi, who died in hospital two weeks later, sparked outrage across India and the world, writes Joy Mcready
The brutality and premeditation of the attack – six men conspired to snatch a woman in order to rape and kill her – spawned mass protests against frequent rapes and their slow and ineffective prosecution. In many cases police refuse to hear reports from victims and some women report being raped by the police themselves.
The state’s response to the demonstrations was swift enough. On 26 December, hundreds of armed police and troops battered protestors with water cannon, teargas and baton charges as they marched on the presidential mansion demanding justice for rape victims.
That day a 17-year old girl, who had also been gang-raped in Delhi, committed suicide. It had taken over two weeks for her case to even be registered, amid allegations that officers had pressured her to withdraw her case and marry one of her attackers.
FACT: a woman is raped every 14 hours in Delhi, known as India’s “rape capital” – one out of every four cases across the whole of India occurs here. Of the 635 rape cases reported in the first 11 months of 2012, only one ended in conviction.
But India is not the only country that has a bad record on rape convictions. In the UK, only 1,070 rapists are convicted despite an estimated 95,000 victims each year.
Why can’t rape victims get justice?
Although 90 per cent of UK rape victims said they knew the identity of their attacker, just 15 per cent went to the police, telling researchers it was “too embarrassing”, “too trivial” or a “private/family matter”.
The reason rape victims can’t get justice, even in countries where rape laws are well established is because of the inequality between the sexes (sexism) and the role of private property which is fundamental to capitalism.
The root of sexism lies in the family structure and a woman’s role as domestic slave within it. Women perform a necessary service for capitalists – they feed, clothe and care for the next generation of workers for free.
In many countries, women are excluded from social production and economically dependent on men. In many ways they are treated as private property, subjected to male guardianship under the father or husband. Their reproduction is controlled through forced monogamy.
Even where they work outside the home, while being systematically paid less than men, women shoulder the vast majority of the housework and caring for children, the sick or the elderly.
Capitalism exploits the division between the sexes in order to drive down wages in the long term. However, this division is maintained because men gain some short-term benefit from it, in the sense they do not have to perform this extra work or face the social and sexual oppression common to all cultures. Thus women’s subservient role is preserved inside the (private) home, as well as in the workplace.
This male authority in the private sphere means that, no matter the letter of the law, rape and domestic violence is seen as a “domestic incident” that the head of the household should be left to sort out. Because the assaults are personal and usually behind closed doors, it becomes a “he says, she says” dispute where the victim is often put on trial instead of the accused.
Even when rape happens in public, as in this shocking case, it takes a mass mobilisation to force the state to act. Women continually come up against the (mostly male) police force and judiciary who instinctively treat them as second-class citizens and the property of another.
Halla Bol: raise your voice
It is no wonder that many women do not report a rape. The reasons are the same worldwide: the shame associated with the assault, the fear of not being believed, the torture of reliving the attack over and over again, the length it takes to reach a verdict (two years in the UK), the poor conviction rate and the fear of a repeat attack or reprisal.
Additionally, women are often blamed for their rapes: in one poll, 68 per cent of Indian judges said that “provocative attire” amounts to “an invitation to rape”. But it’s not about changing what women wear or how we behave – it’s about changing the economic and social system that keeps women subordinated. Delhi demonstrators waved placards saying: “Don’t teach me what to wear, teach men not to rape.”
The women in India are showing the way forward. They are fighting back through self-defence classes and collective action. Mass protests have forced the government into speeding up sexual assault trials.
However, in the midst of this reactionary ideas are also emerging. A village council has decided to ban “vulgar songs” at weddings, prohibit women from wearing jeans and T-shirts, and stop girls from carrying mobile phones to school.
Now that they have a groundswell of support, the protestors need to take their fight to the next level and demand:
- End the two-fingers test, which is used by doctors to determine if a woman has been sexually active before the rape.
- Root out the rapists in the police and government: over the past five years political parties have fielded candidates for state elections including 27 charged with rape.
- Zero tolerance for public sexual harassment or molestation.
- Fully funded refuges for rape and domestic violence victims.
- Campaign against forced marriages.
- Divorce on demand.
- Free contraception and abortion on demand.
- Free childcare and socialised domestic labour
- Free education.
- Equal pay and opportunity for work.
Special demands need to be raised to combat the reactionary ideas in rural areas:
- Literacy programmes for women in the countryside.
- Rights and access to land.
- Campaign of education among women to understand their rights.
- Equal say in the village council meetings and decisions.
The struggle for these demands will mean a collective struggle of both men and women in communities, trade unions and political parties. In order to win these rights for all women, it must be part of an international working class women’s movement – one that has the overthrow of capitalism in its sights.
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