Monday, October 15, 2012

Women in India stand against sexual violence

Violence against women, including especially rape & murder, is a terrifying thing in women’s lives; wherever we go, whoever we’re with & from our earliest years, we need to constantly calibrate the potential for danger. Statistics do not really show the scale of the problem since so much violent crime against women goes unreported, partially from fear of reprisals & partially due to cavalier & contemptuous treatment by officials. But there is considerable evidence that such violence is growing around the world & that it is used as a weapon of war & for social control. To buttress war & intervention propaganda, US media emphasizes violence against women in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, the DR Congo, Honduras--where the violence is considerable & egregious. It is also statistically comparable to violence against women in the US & other countries not sustaining occupation, plunder, bombing, war.

In India, rape & other forms of sexual assault are used as weapons of social control over poor women & especially those of the Dalit & other oppressed castes. Presently, there is an epidemic of rape in the Indian state of Haryana, where 17 cases were reported just in the past month. There were 367 in the first six months of this year, 733 last year--& these are only the reported ones. Many of those raped were young girls; several of them were gang rapes, many of the victims were Dalits. According to a study by Navsarjan, a Dalit organization, there were 379 cases of atrocities against Dalit women in three Indian states between 2004 & 2009. Of these, 76 were cases of rape or gang rape. By early 2011, not even one third of the cases had been adjudicated.

The political response of Indian politicians to these horrific crimes has put them in stiff competition with several US politicians (like Paul Ryan) for the Global Misogynist Imbecile of the Year award. Dharambir Goyat, a Haryana spokesperson for the Congress Party, said he thought 90% of rapes were consensual. Mamata Banerjee, the West Bengal chief minister, said increase in rapes in India could be because men & women interact with each other more freely now. When Sube Singh, a khap panchayat member in Haryana, was asked what was causing the epidemic of rapes, he commented, “I think girls should be married at the age of 16, so they have their husbands for their sexual needs, & they don't need to go elsewhere. This way rapes will not occur." Om Prakash Chautala, the head of a political party, agreed with Singh. Haryana’s Sarva Khap Jat Panchayat is now attempting to get a lower marriage age converted into law as the solution to rape.

Khap panchayats are caste-based exclusively male councils. They have no legal jurisdiction--in fact, they were recently condemned as illegal by India’s Supreme Court because they usurp the rule of law. They are under growing scrutiny & criticism for extrajudicial rulings which involve honor killings. For generations, khaps have dominated social life, operating as de facto law over everything from marriage to property disputes in Haryana & other states. Women’s rights & Dalit civil rights organizations view khaps as part of the problem along with refusal of the legal system to enforce laws protecting women & children.

Today, women’s groups, Dalit organizations, & other political groups led rallies in the Haryana city of Rohtak & in Delhi to protest the violence against women & the mute collusion of the government. These activists are at the rally in Rohtak. Such protests are needed around the world & we send our fullest solidarity to our sisters in India forging a new generation of fighters for human rights for women. (Photo by Mustafa Quraishi/AP)

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