Violence is the most acute expression of the general attitude prevailing in society towards women as inferior beings. The story of humankind is the story of the subordination and domination over women, the devaluation of her labour and self to the extent that she was at one time completely eliminated from the social, economic and political spheres and confined to the four walls of her family’s home. The struggles of the past few centuries have achieved great inroads, with the world now recognizing that women should be considered equal, and women proving their mettle as equal contenders in every sphere of human activity. But the battle has just begun, and for the great majority of women life is just as it was for their foremothers before them, if not worsened by the capitalist system which has thrown the vast majority of working people deeper into poverty and a derogatory existence. The phenomena of the commodification of the female form has further amplified and complicated the exploitation of women in the labour force.
Violence both physical and sexual as an expression of domination over women has been present in society in overt or in subdued forms since a very long time. Domestic violence is still treated as a standard or inconsequential event in many communities, including ours. While commoditization of the female body is a new phenomenon, the objectification of women as a man’s possession, as equivalent to cattle, is nothing new, having several references in our cultural heritage. From women ‘won’ in war or ‘bought’ in the slave trade, to the girl-next-door ‘given’ in marriage, it is evident that women have never owned themselves or their own bodies – until very recently, and then too a very small section of them. So in a society which largely does not believe women can determine for themselves what they want to do or who they want to associate with, consent itself is an absurd term. And the violation of consent at the essence of rape, molestation, harassment and trafficking is just an extrapolation of this. This is perhaps the reason why the perpetrators of such violence so often escape punishment while the innocent women they have violated have to deal with social stigma. The mirage of a responsibility to ‘uphold the family’s honour’ imposed solely on women at the expense of their own will and freedom also inserts a sense of shame that makes the wound inflicted by sexual violence a thousand times more devastating.
The rise of communal politics and the polarization of society taking place as a consequence, acutely affect women. Assault and torture during communal riots is one face of this. The narratives of women caught in the Muzzaffarnagar riots and later living in the refugee camps attests to this concern. Another aspect is the imposition of greater restrictions upon women as religious fundamentalism grows stronger. Outfits like the RSS, its students’ wing ABVP, Shiv Sena, are doing whatever it takes, from prohibiting girls from carrying mobile phones, restricting hours of access to institutional libraries, to screening women at the doors of temples, and harassing young couples. The thousands of young girls and boys hunted down in the hateful ‘love jihad’ campaign, those ruthlessly slaughtered in the name of ‘honour killings’ stand testimony to the barbaric times we are living in. And the essence of this barbarism is the reinforcement of absolute control of the patriarchal family, community and society over the minds and bodies of women.
The right wing anarchy perpetrated by the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal is a singular experience altogether. Once a ‘safe’ state for women, where society is quite progressive where it comes to educating and empowering its daughters, West Bengal has transformed almost overnight. While the number of rapes has shot up, the perception of safety has quietly dissolved, edged on by the state governments’ not only disowning the responsibility for providing security but also denying to acknowledge the occurrence of these events by discrediting the victim and those standing beside her. After the rapes at Park Street, Katoa, Kamduni, Madhyamgram, Sattore, the chief minister and other TMC leaders instead of lending a shoulder to the victim or her family, demonized them as political conspirators. On the other hand the ruling party has used rape and the threat of rape as a means of enforcing its sway over the masses, with a ruling party MP caught on camera threatening to “set his boys onto” homes of people supporting the left. The vulnerability of women in the state is showcased by this glaring contradiction – the ruling party MP issuing this statement while the state government almost simultaneously announces compensation “rates” for rape victims. Even college and university campuses have not been spared in this regard. The civilized world can rarely have stood witness to a situation akin to Bengal in peacetime.
The latest statistics of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that every day 93 women are raped in India. That translates into one woman raped every 20 minutes. The NCRB also records a gradual increase in the number of rapes reported nationally - from 24,923 in 2012 to 33,707 in 2013. Crimes against women have increased by 7.1% since 2010, and reports of children being raped have increased by 336% in the last 10 years. The reports of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) and National Women Commission say that West Bengal tops the list of violence against women in India for the last four and a half years. Several years after the protests that erupted after the ‘Nirbhaya’ rape and murder in New Delhi, the national capital continues to be the most unsafe city in the country. The number of rapes in Delhi almost doubled from 585 in 2012 to 1,441 in 2013. Delhi is followed by Mumbai (391), Jaipur (192) and Pune (171) among the top unsafe cities in the country. These are official statistics. Add to this the alleged incursions of human rights that are often referred to by protesters in militarized areas, which may have a kernel of truth in them if not wholly true.
The Students’ Federation of India (SFI) has steadily stood beside the women’s fight for equality. In the face of the renewed attack on women’s rights across the country, students’ have been the first to the battleground debating and discarding every attack on the freedom of women. The rise of violence against women is a part of the multifaceted campaign to push them away from social, political and economic participation back into the four walls of the home. This must be combated politically and socially leaving no stones unturned. Further, the students must defend their campuses from every sort of discrimination and restriction by gender and work towards the political empowerment of girls inside campuses which might translate into their social empowerment outside in the community.