For the right for women to live freely without fear

Direct Action, January 13, 2013

[Following the brutal sexual attack on the 23-year-old paramedical student, mass protests erupted in Delhi and cities across India. On December 19, students and protesters marched on the house of the Delhi chief minister. The police tried to ward them off with water cannons. Below are extracts from the speech to the rally by Kavita Krishnan, secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), and a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation.]

Women have every right to be adventurous. We will be adventurous. We will be reckless. We will be rash. We will do nothing for our safety. Don’t you dare tell us how to dress, when to go out at night, in the day, or how to walk or how many escorts we need!...

We believe that regardless of whether she is indoors or outside, whether it is day or night, for whatever reason, however, she may be dressed — women have a right to freedom. And that freedom without fear is what we need to protect, to guard and respect …

I am saying this because I feel that the word “safety” with regard to women has been used far too much — all us women know what this “safety” refers to. We have heard our parents use it, we have heard our communities, our principals, our wardens use it. Women know what “safety” refers to. It means — You behave yourself. You get back into the house. You don’t dress in a particular way. Do not live by your freedom, and this means that you are safe. A whole range of patriarchal laws and institutions tell us what to do in the guise of keeping us “safe”.

It’s clear that in this country, if you leave out the women’s movement — everything else, the government, the police, the political parties, the judiciary, when they speak of women’s “safety”, they are speaking from within a specific patriarchal understanding of the term …

These protests on the street today, I hope they continue and grow, because this is where the answer lies — not with CCTV cameras, with death penalty or chemical castration. I am saying this because even though our rage is justified, I am afraid of some of the solutions that are being offered.

If the conviction rate for rapists is low, how can the death penalty be the solution to the crime? In your entire procedure, the one person you have failed to take seriously is the complainant who was raped. It is an entirely different matter that the laws for rape are also extremely weak and flawed — for instance, if an object is inserted into a woman’s genitals, it is not included within the definition of rape. The recent incident on the bus, when tried in court, will not include within the description of rape that the men inserted an iron rod into her vagina — the reason that she is battling for her life today …

The last thing I want to address are the people who say not to mix politics with rape. We cannot disregard politics as insignificant; we do need to talk about politics. There is a culture in our country that justifies rape; that defends the act through the words of people like KPS Gill, who said that women who dress provocatively invite rape, and many other such high ranking officials like him. If we are to change any of this, we need to politicise the issue of violence against women, find out what women are saying about what is being done to them. The government has to listen.

Just shedding a few crocodile tears within the confines of the parliament is not enough. It is not enough to scream “death penalty” and wind up the issue. I find it funny that the BJP is demanding the death penalty for the rapists, when within its own constituencies it gets goons to chase down girls who wear jeans or fall in love with members of minority communities — saying that women must adhere to “Indian sensibilities”, or else.

We need to create a counter-culture against this ultimatum. We need to create a counter-politics, one that asks for the right for women to live freely without fear.

Translated from Hindi by Nishita Jha.