Daughters of India being raped: Whither Mother India?

By Ameen Izzadeen
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)
The words of Mahatma Gandhi, India’s greatest son, ring true as India, the largest democracy on earth, reels from shock and shame following the rape and murder of a young woman last month. At independence, Gandhi said India would be truly free only when a woman was able to walk freely and without fear, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari at midnight.
With Gandhi now largely confined to the rupee notes, India needs to launch its second independence struggle – a struggle which will liberate people from institutional injustices and prejudices.
Yet December 16, the day on which the ‘Daughter of India’ was gang-raped by six brutes, cannot be declared a day on which India lost its freedom again, because a woman is raped every 20 minutes in India.
A society that does not respect its women and does not treat its women with dignity only finds itself in the depths of darkness however advanced it may be economically. Male chauvinism or male superiority complex is a symptom of a sick society.
In ancient Persia, the warped philosophy of the Mazdekite movement declared women and wealth — like water, fire and fodder — common to all men. With the powerful movement being given state patronage by Emperor Qubad, the whole of Persia was thrown into sexual anarchy and erotic crisis.
According to historian Tabari, the philosophy became so widespread that anyone could walk into anyone else’s house and take possession of the women as Persia plunged into chaos and corruption.
Modern society is fast hurtling towards a similar Mazdekite mayhem or something worse. In the world of unbridled commercialism, women are exploited and misrepresented. They have been reduced to exhibits by the capitalist world which markets its products through the vulgar display of women’s flesh, bordering on soft porn. In hardcore porn, which is freely available and easily accessible on the internet, women have no souls. They are dehumanised. Women exist only for one thing – sex.
If this is exploitation or sexploitation, degradation or dehumanisation of women, in other societies, on the pretext of protecting the dignity of women, they are made virtual prisoners. They are forced to wear a garb that reveals nothing but their eyes. Sometimes, even the eyes are not seen. A woman remains the virtual slave of her father, her brothers and her heartless husband. In such societies, women’s liberation is a taboo subject. Those who dare to promote such concepts can do so only at the risk of a bullet in their heads. In October last year, 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan’s Swat area was shot and wounded by extremists who give a male-chauvinistic interpretation to Islam. Her crime: Taking education to girls in a region where the Taliban have forcibly closed girls’ schools because they believe that western education has a demoralising effect on society in general and women in particular.
Violence against women is not confined to communities that refuse to be educated or enlightened. Even in the liberal West, women continue to be battered by abusive husbands. At a time when adherence to human rights is regarded as a key feature of a civilised society, it is sad if not shameful to note that human rights have become largely male-centred. An old English ditty, it appears, has still not lost its validity.
A woman, a horse and a hickory tree
The more you beat ’em, the better they be.
Statistics show that in the United States a woman is beaten every 15 seconds. Nearly one in five women and one in 71 men in the US have been raped at some time in their lives, according to a report by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. If this is the status of women in a country with an educated population, imagine the height of horror in developing countries. What’s more! A significant percentage of women in developing countries, including India, believe that their husbands have a right to hit them.
The rot, it appears, cannot be stopped. But the ruination can be delayed by reforms at individual, community, state and international level.
At international level, it appears that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has still not permeated universally. The United Nations Charter in its preamble insists that one of the goals of the organisation is to reaffirm the global community’s “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women”. One of the purposes of the UN is to promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to, inter alia, sex.
With many countries observing the UDHR in the breach, the UN had to come up with a special convention to protect women – the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which is known as the international Bill of Rights for Women. Sadly, though, many countries have still not ratified the convention or given legal effect to it in domestic law. Amnesty International in a statement observed that governments are not living upto their promises under Women’s Convention to protect women from discrimination, violence such as rape and female genital mutilation.
“Too often countries are failing to fulfil their international obligations regarding women’s rights and the provisions of the Convention are often not enforced at the national level. This leaves women with no means to redress violations of their rights under the Convention…. Millions of women still have no right to live in safety, to think and express themselves freely and without fear, and to participate in the public life in their own countries …it is about time governments translated the human rights of women into reality,” AI said.
Under this convention, countries are required to submit reports for review by a committee – a practice similar to the Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council.
A CEDAW committee in its review of India’s submission in April last year identified widespread poverty, social practices such as the caste system and son preference, as reflected in the high incidence of violence against women, significant gender disparities and an adverse sex ratio, as major obstacles to the implementation of the Convention in India.
It also noted that India did not provide adequate information relating to the implementation of some articles and the general issue of violence against women.
Obviously, one cannot expect India to mention widespread rape allegedly committed by Indian soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir – a region ravaged by a struggle for freedom from India since the partition of British India in 1947 –in the CEDAW report.
According to the US embassy cables posted in 2010 on the whistleblower website, Wikileaks, whose founder editor Julian Assange also faces what many analysts see as politically motivated rape charges in Sweden, International Committee of the Red Cross officials told US diplomats that India “condoned” torture and that “sexual penetration” formed part of the maltreatment of victims. The ICRC alleged that of the 1,296 detainees interviewed, 304 complained of sexual torture, including rape.
In another incident that allegedly took place in 1991, Indian soldiers were accused of raping women in the remote Kashmiri village of Kunan, after its men were taken to a detention centre for questioning. A New York Times report quoted a district magistrate in the area as saying that the armed forces “behaved like violent beasts.” They rampaged through the village from 11 P.M. on Feb. 23 until 9 the next morning.
“A large number of armed personnel entered into the houses of villagers and at gunpoint they gang-raped 23 ladies, without any consideration of their age, married, unmarried, pregnancy etc. There was a hue and cry in the whole village.”
Local people say that as many as 100 women were molested in some way.
However, the then Indian government dismissed the claims of such mass rape as “terrorist propaganda”. The denial only caused more outrage in this troubled region while international human rights groups believe that the allegations were credible.
If the horror on the moving Delhi bus which brought death to the 23-year-old medical student Amanat – not the real name but an honorary name given by Indians with conscience – and shame to India is not to be repeated, radical reforms are needed at state level too. Armed forces during their military operations to suppress separatist struggles and Maoist militancy must be punished if they violate the honour of women.
Asking women to carry chilie powder – an outrageous suggestion by Delhi’s police commissioner – is not the answer.
However, it is heartening to note the activism of the Indian middle class, which is politically reawakening though it is caught up in the capitalist trap of consumerism. Aided by a powerful media culture which has been empowered by a Right to Information Act, the Indian middle class by its activism has shaken the government and is successfully waging a battle against corruption.
Indian activists are demanding reforms that will end violence against women. It won’t be that easy in a country where caste is a curse. It won’t be easy in a country where female foeticide is still practised and the girl child is regarded a burden. Such misguided practices against nature have led to gender-related social chaos.
Cultural constraints and tradition that make a rape victim a social outcast and that allow the rapist to roam freely must change. Because of such prejudices, only 26 out of 100 rape cases end in convictions in India.
Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, says government and police officials have insisted that most rapists cannot be prosecuted in India, because they are known to the women attacked. Other officials have publicly suggested that victims themselves are “asking for it” by their use of freedom of movement.
The security of women is a major issue facing humanity. It needs to be dealt with by means of tough laws and social reforms aimed at eliminating discrimination against women. In a society like India where the mother is regarded as next to God and in some cases as God or above God, one only hopes that the present agitation for social reforms and tough laws will succeed. Mother India is not a movie; it’s a hallowed tradition that honours women.

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
This entry was posted in Political analysis and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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