Perspective on the anti-rape agitations

The anti-rape mobilizations in December last year and early January this year marked a high point of mobilizations in the preceding year. It also brought the question of gender rights and the persecution of women in India to the fore. The epicentre of the mobilizations was New Delhi, which saw the most vigorous protests and the largest mobilizations, and the most repressive policing. After the initial waves however, the movement quickly ebbed following the same trajectory as another massive popular democratic mobilization before, the anti-corruption movement. The one significant difference however, was the complete absence of any organized leadership. The significance of the mobilization is twofold, firstly in terms of its strength and magnitude shown in the frantic and defensive response of the ruling government in placating the protestor’s demands. Secondly, in the spontaneous and unorganized nature of the whole

What was achieved and what was not ?

The immediate achievement of the mobilization was twofold. Firstly, the mobilizations resulted in pressurizing the government into action in passing a stronger law against rape in the form of the Anti-Rape Ordinance. Secondly, in bringing the question of gender rights and violence against women to the fore and creating public awareness to this effect. The power of the mobilizations can be gauged in the way that the state was made to cave in to the interests of the people at large, to the extent that a local MLA from Assam belonging to the Congress party had to step down from his position.

What is remarkable was that this was achieved without any definitive organized leadership guiding the mobilizations. Despite the apparent lack of direction, the movement achieved notable successes and showed the raw power of people mobilized in action. However, it was precisely this anarchic nature of the protests which made it weak in the face of the bourgeois democratic state’s maneuvers. The first reactionary victory against the mobilization was successfully presenting the death penalty as the chief demand of the protests. The media played a leading role in manufacturing consent around this with right-wing political parties and organizations (chiefly the RSS and BJP) playing a decisive supporting role. The demand for the death penalty blotted out any progressive social demands which were being put forward.

Ultimately the state forces, especially the judiciary, assumed a leading position in the mobilization with the creation of the Verma Commission and the passage of the anti-rape bill in parliament. Despite the bill having been passed under pressure with the masses’ anger behind them, the bourgeoisie in power managed to successfully dilute some of the most important and most radical proposals. These included significant advances like the recognition of marital rape and amendments to the AFSPA so as to make soldiers accountable for acts of rape, but they were not accepted in the final amendments passed by the parliament. While not a complete defeat, the government and the media ensured that the victory would be botched up and plenty of loopholes were left to allow continued abuse against women. No wonder, as parliament and the legislature generally are themselves cursed with MPs and MLAs who are tainted with rape charges and charges of violence against women.

It is by no means too late for the embers of the mobilization to be stirred up and set ablaze again. The questions that were raised are still unanswered, and the radicalization which set in has not been entirely lost, despite the mobilization having ebbed. What the mobilizations in January 2013 and December 2012 showed was the impact which can be had when the masses start to move. The need is but to channel the massive energy and give it leadership.

An agenda for gender equality:

Despite superficial appearances, the mobilizations did not merely target one incident of rape, but brought the entire question of gender equality to the fore. Under capitalism, it is impossible to imagine equality of sexes except in their ‘equality’ as wage slaves. Ultimately, even this minimal equality is reduced to a fiction where capitalism desires to create a layer of more easily exploited wage slaves. If it can split men from women by forcing them to endure different material conditions of life and work, leading them to focus on different immediate problems and needs, then the bourgeoisie will have succeeded in dividing the working class in yet another dimension, all the better to rule it. Religion, ethnic origin, skin colour, caste, administrative status (legal/illegal), residential status – all these factors are used by the ruling class to divide workers against each other and if possible get them to attack each other. Sexuality and gender are additional explosive additions to the mix of potential prejudice and deliberately fostered misunderstanding. So every time working women and men stand side by side and demand decent working and living conditions for themselves and their families, and spit on capitalist liars who try to split them and sow hostility between them – each time this happens the bourgeoisie is forced to step back, and its power to exploit and brutalize is diminished.

This condition of more easily exploited wage slaves is exactly how the bourgeoisie sees the role of women under capitalism. The situation becomes both more complicated and more cruel in those countries where capitalism emerged belatedly. India is the leading example in our times. Where the bourgeoisie is compelled to share its power with vestiges of the earlier ruling classes, the worst elements of casteism and monarchism survive into the present day, it becomes a political necessity for the new ruling capitalists to keep women trapped in the rigid old social hierarchy to please this antediluvian layer of support.

To build a struggle for gender equality, we must first acknowledge that the source of women’s oppression is the prevailing social order under capitalism itself. The wealth and splendour of the rich capitalists depend entirely on the poverty and oppression of the people whose labour creates this very wealth and splendour. The produce of our work is stolen from us and appropriated as their exclusive property by those who do no work at all. The more we work, the richer they become (and “India”, too, which for them is just the same thing) but the poorer we are in comparison. This means that saying that a solution to the abuse and brutalization of women exists within the existing framework is sowing illusions in the ability of the bourgeoisie to bring about a just and free society. This is the great weakness of all reformists political tendencies, and especially feminism as it exists today (dominated by bourgeois feminism). It has no concrete solution to this most urgent of social questions, as it has no programme or stomach for fighting against the depredations of capitalism, let alone trying to abolish it. As a result we have seen it fail in providing the right kind of leadership to the protestors during the anti-rape agitation.

The leadership that is needed will first of all set up lasting centres for continuing the fight for equality, since it will understand that only persistent and conscious political work and social pressure will drive those in power to a) do anything at all, b) give any measures passed real teeth, and c) give the issue of women’s status and security permanently high priority in the media and public opinion. Further it will draw up a simple but powerful set of demands that are capable of bringing about real change in relation to the health and education and welfare of all women of all ages, both in relation to society in general (reactionary traditions and public prejudice) and to the hidden (and not so hidden) abuse and exploitation of girls and women at home and in families. And working class women and poor peasant women will be fully aware of the need to demand all kinds of improvements in the conditions to which they are subjected at work, whether in factories, offices, shops, kitchens or fields. Not least an end to sexual harassment and abuse by employers and overseers.

The Socialist proletarian alternative to the capitalist solution :

The bourgeois feminist solution is restricted within the inherently inequal and sexist framework of capitalism. Its foundation is wage slavery and unjust exploitation. The bourgeois feminists ignore the fact that all social inequalities and enslavement existing today are in one way or another tied into this supreme enslavement. For this reason, their solutions often come up as superficial and piecemeal and more often than not end up as failures. The socialist alternative strikes at the root of the cause !

While bourgeois feminists seek to preserve the rule of capital and aim only for according a section of women the right to enrich themselves to the level of their male bourgeois counterparts, we seek to abolish the entire system of enrichment ! For socialists, the aim is for all gender inequalities must stand abolished ! The first step towards this is the abolition of inequality in the workplace and for an end to discriminatory treatment of women. Every political and social institution in our time is plagued with sexism, and our attack is on them all !

In the indian context the police and polity are especially rotten in this regard. Against the police institution we must fight for the strictest of actions against indiscipline and insensitivity from the police as well as pushing for greater participation of women in the police force. Against the polity, we have the strictest scrutiny against concessions to patriarchic forces and for expulsion of delinquent parliamentarians. A first attack could be focussed on MPs and MLAs charged with rape and sexual assault. We must call for their dismissal and set a precedent therein.

In the workplace, sexual harassment and exploitation of women workers is rampant. Yet the bourgeois feminists, care a fig for them ! A perfect example of capitalism and patriarchy working in symphony is the treatment of women workers in textile industries in Coimbatore where mills mostly controlled by upper caste Kammas deliberately prefer lower caste women workers. The reason ? They are made to sign contracts for short periods of time during which they are worked more and paid less than their male counterparts. The duration of the contract in turn is tied in to dowry for their marriage. The biggest advantage to the textile capitalist here is to prevent the workers from getting organized. The condition of the mostly female workforce in Bangladesh’s garment industry tells us the same tale and poses the most stark question to all those who want to fight for gender equality and women’s emancipation. Either to challenge capitalism or to forsake the struggle !


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