Interview with the PSTU on the anti-rape agitation

We present below an interview taken earlier in January on the issue of the anti-rape agitations in India. Comrade Adhiraj Bose of the New Wave gave the interview explaining the causes of the upsurge and it’s possible future. The interview was conducted by Comrade Wilson Honório da Silva of the PSTU.

Her name has not been divulgated, but we know she was a 23 years old physiotherapist, who was coming back from a theater with her boyfriend, and was brutally raped, by six men, inside of a bus, on December 16h, what provoked her death, on the 27th. As you point out in your leaflets and materials, unfortunately, this kind of crime is far from being something “new” in India. What is the situation of sexual violence in India? Why, then, this specific case spread a wave of protests all over India?

Adhiraj Bose –I would like to start out by emphasizing, that Indian women are perhaps among the most oppressed in the world. Sexual violence forms a major part of the prevalent modes of oppression of women, which include but are not limited to, female foetecide (killing the woman before birth), dowry deaths, domestic violence, and constant harassment.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) compiles statistics on crime in the country and as per its records, there are above 24000 rapes happening annually and around 36000 cases of molestations last year alone were reported. Dowry deaths number between 7000 and 8000 annually and in the year 2010 around 8319 dowry deaths happened. I should of course explain a bit about the dowry system in India, the principle of dowry is that the bride’s family must pay a kind of ‘protection money’ for the ‘services rendered’ by the groom’s family in ‘taking care of the bride’. It is not the groom’s family who pays.
Although dowry was abolished in law in 1961, the mere passing of the act has not succeeded in liberating women from this curse, as the family structure remains intact. The murderous family usually finds ways of burying evidence which may implicate them in the crime. The extent of the violence can be gauged by the statistic which shows that there are 100 million missing women in India.

As in the rest of the world, apart from violence, oppression of women takes different forms, which often are combined with capitalist exploitation. How is it in India?

Adhiraj Bose – What I said above constitutes the overt and violent aspect of gender discrimination in India, the covert and regular violence that women have to endure include discrimination at the workplace with lower wages and sub-employment rife among women (over-represented in menial professions like construction work, maid service, anganwadi work [Health centres] and under-represented in management) , deprivation of equal rights in property upon succession (it wasn’t until 2005 that the Hindu succession act was amended and this right was recognized ).

Even today, after 7 years of the amendment being passed, women still don’t enjoy a joint right over their husband’s property. In many cases it has been found that their claim to property has been disrespected by their inlaws leading to mental torture, harassment and forced suicides.

The condition of women minorities is just as bad, with archaic provisions for divorce creating conditions for their misuse. One particularly infamous provision of the Muslim marriage act recognizes the ‘triple talak’ whereby the husband can legally terminate a marriage by uttering “I divorce you” thrice.

The condition of women in the rural sphere is generally worse than in the urban sphere.

This is one area where archaic customs continue to dominate despite the intrusion of modern capitalism. Far from resolving the social tensions at the roots, Indian capitalism has succeeded only in exacerbating them. Semi-feudal lords have used their political connections to become capitalist agriculturists. This is best reflected in the situation in Haryana and other parts of north western India where Khap panchayats [Khap councils, formed by the elite castes, also known as “rajas”] formed by village caste elites dispense justice based on archaic ideas and gender biases.

In December, the protests took place almost daily and throughout the country, which has been touted as a “turning point” in the fight against sexual violence in India. Why is this happening now?

Adhiraj Bose – With this background in mind, we must come to the present situation. The protests in Delhi spiralled into an aggressive revolt rather spontaneously. Before this, there were mass mobilizations around single incidents of rape; notable instances have been during the Khairlanji killings, the case of Jessica Lall.

There is an ongoing movement against the Armed Force (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which has worked to protect military personnel from rape and sexual crimes charges in northeast India. Irom Sharmila is demanding the repeal of AFSPA and is on a continuous hunger strike which continues till now. AFSPA however, remains in force empowering the armed forces with wide powers of search and seizure in the northeast which give them unfettered access to brutalize the population of the northeast.

The incident in Delhi however, is special for more than one reason. The initially peaceful protests were met by police violence, which spurred on further more intense agitations, which later on assumed the form of open revolt. Once the situation became tense in Delhi, the rest of the nation woke up and we found protests evolving in every major city.

What are the prospects regarding the continuity of mobilizations?

Adhiraj Bose – The wave continues now, even though it has ebbed considerably since the start of the protests. This is the second time in this year, that such a large scale spontaneous eruption has been seen, the first being the anti-corruption protests last year which was again spurred on by police violence.

We have earlier stated that India is presently in a critical pre-revolutionary stage where such uprisings, revolts and mobilizations will emerge. This trend we have traced to 2009 when clear signs of working class militancy were emerging in the sugar worker’s strike and the motormen strike in Maharashtra, and the peasant uprisings across eastern and central India. The world situation was tense then, and has become tenser now and we are noticing the trend is becoming only more and more aggressive.

On this particular incident of rape, the tolerance of the masses had already reached their threshold, and all pent up anger was unleashed against the government and the system it espouses. Some of the slogans at Delhi, at least, assumed a very general character; “Down with capitalism” was a popular slogan. That is reflective of the deep character of this movement and the implications are far reaching.

5. Just a day before the death, on the 26th, another girl died after being raped, in the district of Patiala. It’s said that she committed suicide after denouncing being raped on November 13th, in a Hindu Festival in Diwali. According to the girl’s family, when they tried to register the crime in the police station they were mocked, the girl was harassed and nothing was done. Is this the typical treatment given by the police for this kind of cases? What are your demands in relation to that?

Adhiraj Bose – In this context, it’s important to gauge the role of the police. The police throughout this protest wave have shown tremendous insensitivity and brutality in suppressing the protests in Delhi. In Pune the police were reluctant to allow even limited peaceful marches in the city, although there was no resort to violence. There was no need for that here at least.

The immediate incidents aside, the police have performed most ignominiously in dealing with sexual crimes in India and are notorious for corrupt practices. Not limited of course to the treatment of sexual crimes. A combination of chauvinism and apathy has made police enforcement in this sphere of policing a total waste. Often policemen are reluctant to record FIRs relating to rape, using the false categorization of ‘genuine case’ vs. ‘false case’.

Within the police force itself, there are hardly any women, and the force is by and large a male dominated force with minimal participation of women. The total participation of women in India’s police force has been reported to be as low as 3.98% of the total force size.

To this our proposal is twofold : 1) In the immediate time, we must remove the policemen who have shown insensitivity towards women during the policing in Delhi, 2) in the long run, demand for more representation of women in police and the creation of specialized cells in police stations for dealing with sexual violence and LGBT issues. Part of this campaign would be to make the existing cells more functional.

6. The Brazilian press is highlighting the demand for Capital Punishment for rapists. What is The New Wave’s position on that?

Adhiraj Bose – The sorry state of affairs of enforcement and conviction of rapists, have led to a very frustrated expression of anger which has presently assumed the form of demanding the death penalty.

Whilst we do sympathize with the mass anger being expressed we do not support any demand for imposition of death penalty. We do not stand in principle for giving the bourgeois a weapon of legalized murder. India already has provision for death penalty and by reports it has been more abused than used. (The People’s Union for Democratic rights cites 1422 executions having occurred in India between 1953 and 1963 alone) The media in India are focussing on the demand for death penalty and overall ‘stricter punishment’ for rapists.

However, the despicable strategy behind all of this is to distract the mobilizations to a dead end. Vent the anger to a dead end of execution and make sure the whole movement is pacified. Additionally, the government would also like to paint the protestors in colours of banality and barbarism, the ones demanding death penalty particularly those who do not belong to any organization are useful for painting this essentially false and one-sided image of the mobilizations. From your account it seems the international press is also playing its part in the falsifications.

7. In your leaflets you say that sexual violence targets mainly women, but also is strong against LGBT. Brazil has an average of 300 LGBT killed by year in homophobic attacks. What is the situation in India? How is the LGBT movement in your country and how is it acting in relation to the present situation?

Adhiraj Bose – Whilst it is true that our leaflet focusses on only one angle of sexual violence, that is only because it focusses on the immediate mobilization and we intended to express our support to the mobilizations.

However, our programmatic position on violence and gender based discrimination takes into account the LGBT spectrum as well. In India, the movement is quite nascent in nature compared to Brazil. It is presently dominated by elite bourgeois leadership without the participation of the poor. However, that is changing with the movement becoming wider and increasingly more acceptable in the larger spectrum of movements.

Presently, the movement for LGBT rights is gathering ground around the abolition of section 377 which outlaws homosexual sexual practices under the pretext of ‘unnatural sex’. An important judgement was passed in the Delhi high court which recognized that this section was outdated and needed to be struck down. However, the law has yet to be amended, and the case is pending in the Supreme Court currently. In relation to the present situation, the LGBT community broadly sympathizes with the rape survivor and sympathizes with the protests at large.

8. Due to the wave of protests, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was forced to make the judiciary sue the men who were involved in the rape in the bus. Bikram Singh, leader of the Congress Party in the state of Assam, was arrested, accused of attacking a girl (on Monday, December 31). It seems that these decisions are unprecedented, since, as you say in the pamphlet, there are 369 politicians involved in such cases. What are the expectations for these facts?

Adhiraj Bose – The ‘unprecedented’ actions of the Indian government was in the face of overwhelming protests. Something had to be done to douse the people’s ire. The rapists being tried with this rapidity was the result of mass pressure which forced the normally nonchalant government to act.

This is not the first instance of mass pressure forcing the state to act to its whims, earlier in the case of Jessica Lall, mass pressure played a pivotal role in influencing judicial opinion for punishing Manu Sharma who was accused in the murder case. In the Khairlanji protests as well, mass pressure had an influence over judicial processes where death sentence was passed. However, even in this case the final verdict was passed after 2 years of the actual incident, a remarkable pace considering that cases can linger in court for well over a decade.

Eventually, the higher court turned down the death sentence of the session’s court and commuted the death sentence awarded in that matter to a 25 year rigorous imprisonment. Given this example and others like it, I remain somewhat pessimistic about the process against the rapists. I would be surprised, however, if a stern order is not passed by the judiciary in this matter.

9. What are the proposals of the New Wave for the continuity of the mobilizations?

Even if this individual case be dealt with strictly, the fundamental question of law reforms would remain unanswered. With a good number of politicians and legislators themselves being accused of rape and sexual charges, I would expect some sort of opposition from them in parliament. What form this opposition would take would remain to be seen; at this point, the bourgeois would most likely try to hide and concede to mass pressure than reveal their true character and have their heads chopped. The case of the Assamese Congress party leader is significant in this case, a recent news report showed villagers beating him in public!

A campaign which focusses on cleansing the political structure in the country of such sexist and brute elements would constitute a very vital part of a larger campaign for gender equality and must unquestionably form a part of the whole struggle against patriarchy in India. For this we have demanded de-recognition of all such politicians who have been charged with sexual crimes be they MPs, MLAs, and politicians with party tickets being fielded during elections.

The New Wave group’s present focus is to try to build up such a campaign for de-recognition with organizations involved in the fight against gender discrimination. We are presently working on that agenda. The idea of it is to suspend the position of the politician till the charge is proven, and strip him of all responsibilities pertaining to representation. If the charges are proven, to press charges and move ahead with process of law. Such people must then be banned permanently from political life.


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