‘Freedom without fear is what we need to protect, to guard and respect’

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Following the bestial sexual attack on a 23-year-old paramedical student in Delhi, the capital, along with other cities across the country, has seen numerous protests demanding justice not just for the survivor, but better laws and stringent action against sexual offenders per se. When on Wednesday 19 December students and protesters marched towards the Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s house, the police tried to ward them off with water cannons. Kavita Krishnan, secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), said why Sheila Dikshit and the political establishment are responsible for women’s deplorable social status in India.

 

Today, we demonstrated outside (CM) Sheila Dikshit’s house. Why are we demanding her resignation? We need people to understand why — it’s true that Ms Dikshit made a statement saying the incident (gangrape) occurred on a private bus, not a DTC (Delhi Tourism Corporation) bus, so how could it be her responsibility. This is what we are here to tell her — if a bus containing iron rods and rapists is plying openly in the city with no rules and regulations, if it can pick up passengers at any time, anywhere — then madam, you are responsible for it, it is no one else’s responsibility — it is yours. If that girl is fighting for her life today, you are responsible for it. Why was that iron rod in that bus that day — is something that only you can answer, no one else can. You cannot blame anyone else for it.

But there is a more pressing matter than even this — something that we have been talking about, that we are here to talk abut today – when that journalist Soumya (Vishwanathan) was murdered, Sheila Dikshit had issued another statement saying “If she (Soumya) was out at 3 am in the morning, she was being too adventurous,” — we are here to tell her that 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!

When Neeraj Kumar was newly appointed as a police commissioner, he held a press conference where he said — look, how can the police do anything about incidents of rape? The statistic that he presented was that most number of rapes are committed by people known to the woman. This is an authentic statistic — but shouldn’t that only make it easier to apprehend the rapist? Our question for the police is not ‘why didn’t you prevent this from happening?’. But the conviction rate has gone from 46% in 1971 to 26% in 2012 — who is responsible for this? The fact is that there is a huge gap in the police’s investigation, there is an inconsistency — they have no procedure in place for how to deal with a victim of rape. All the women here know that the Delhi Police has only one way of dealing with such a situation — if you were to walk into a police station today and complain that you have been a victim of sexual violence, the first thing they will tell you is not to file a complaint. Strange people will begin to assemble at the station out of nowhere to “explain” to you – “beta, don’t file a complaint”. Until you don’t speak to the DCP and say that you are from a student body, or a women’s organisation – nothing will be done. I think this is a fairly routine matter – I doubt that there is a single woman inDelhiwho has gone to the Delhi Police and found otherwise. I don’t know which rule book they have adopted this procedure from, but it exists.

Another statement that Neeraj Kumar made at a press conference was that women shouldn’t roam around alone, they should have escorts — and that if you walk around the streets at two in the morning then how can you expect us to come and save you?

This most recent incident is of course the most obvious contradiction — it did not occur late at night, the girl was, in fact, with a male friend — but that is not my argument. I believe even if women walk out on the streets alone, even if it is late at night, why should justifications need to be provided for this, like ‘she has to work late hours’ or ‘she was coming home from a BPO job or a media job’? If she simply wants to go out at night, if she wants to go out and buy a cigarette or go for a walk on the road — is this a crime for women? We do not want to hear this defensive argument that women only leave their homes for work, poor things, what can they do, they are compelled to go out. 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’. We reject this entire notion. We don’t want it.

Why are we here? We are here to say, that if the Delhi Police is running an ad campaign about violence against women — you must have seen the large hoardings everywhere — why is there not a single woman in these ads? They have instead a Hindi film actor, Farhan Akhtar, exhorting us ‘Be a Man, join me in protecting women’. I want to ask — what about the brother who cuts his sister’s head off when she dares to marry into a different community? Is he not playing the role of a male protector too? This machismo is not any solution to the problem of violence against women — it is the root of the problem itself. This is what we need to reflect on.

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. No one is talking about protecting her ‘bekhauf azaadi’, or her freedom to live without fear. 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 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.

Yesterday on television, I heard Sushma Swaraj say something in Parliament that I found disgusting and highly condemnable. She said, “If this girl survives, she will be like a walking corpse,” Why? If she survives, I believe she will live with her head held high, just as she fought off her assailants. She struggled, she fought against sexual violence and that is why she was raped — to teach her a lesson. There is barely a woman here who has not at some point fought for her dignity on the streets ofDelhi, or in its buses. There is not one amongst us that has not found herself alone in such a situation. When we do this, we are told that we are inviting trouble; that we are asking for it. I read – and I don’t know if this is true – that when the girl regained consciousness in the hospital she asked if the rapists had been caught. Her will to fight is still alive. She is not a corpse. We salute her will, and say that those who survive rape are not walking corpses. Rape survivors are complete, strong, fighting women and we salute their spirit.

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 death penalty for the rapists, when within it’s 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.

I don’t want to say a lot more; apart from the fact that it is surprising to me as well that the police is ready and waiting to fire water cannons at us here. I was under the impression that there were protests everywhere in the city today. Shouldn’t the government know this much, at least, that our rage will not be washed away with water cannons, or beaten out of us with sticks? It is shameful that the government and the police who are ever willing to defend the actions of rapists are now poised to attack those fighting for the rights of women.

Translated from Hindi by Nishita Jha

27 COMMENTS

  1. I salute you Ms. Kavita Krishnan for the forceful and compelling article. The politicians in this country have gone mad..The citizens have to insist that Rapists and Murderers who sit as members in Parliament and State Legislatures have to be sacked and such people should be banned for life from contesting any election, nor be appointed to any position in public or private organisation. As long as Criminals are the Law makers this situation of Crime infesting the country in every nook and corner will not go away. We need a grass root movement in the country to change the Constitution and Representation of People Act. Until such time the known criminals if they contest in any elections should be made to lose their deposit and the political party which fields them should be made to lose as well.

  2. Oh shit.. My blood boils when I read the crap the police and the politicians are talking!!why is it fun for men in india to eve tease, molest, or rape woman?? and why is it so easy for them to these?? because the law makes them strong, because the Law is not strong enough to punish them for a horrendous act, they serve jail time thats it?? When will INDIA start respecting woman, and give them the freedom to live just like men, FREE of her will. She is just like you a HUMAN isnt it, Does any Religion? state any scriptures on how should women live their lives???? NO they have the same rights as men, then why are they deprived of everything, why cant Men for once learn and respect WOMEN, rather than look at them as some vegetables in the market waiting to be visually squeezed!!!! Wake Up Please!!!!

  3. Madam, I salute your bravery, your rage and your wisdom. This is exactly the mentality that should be taught men and women in India. A woman has as much right to be adventurous as anyone. Stay strong, and do not give up the fight.

  4. Kavita jee, lal salam
    hears you after long time. You are right and your arise the main questions resposible for culture against women.I like and appreciate your opinion on sushma swaraj comments.This type of mentality actually helps rapists.

  5. Mam the article was pretty impressive and compelling i too believe that the crime rate will only go down by the conviction rate going up rather than severity of the crime increasing .
    On this note I want to add a point … Unfortunately most of the people protesting nor our politicians do not understand but rather are just going on and on about punishing the criminals accused but rather what we need is a change in system which takes the activity of any crime very seriously.

  6. Don’t blame politicians or the govt.As long as Indians keep on blaming the abstract entity the ‘sarkar’ for every ill they will deny responsibilty for their flaws and will not change.Indian society has been hypocritical for a thousand years.Indian men are bastards bec their parents are bastards, not bec the govt tells them to be brutes

  7. This is the strong voice of reason, a straightforward call for fairness in the gender equation and a cry for justice for those who have been repeatedly, relentlessly wronged. When will the people who govern this country open their eyes and hearts and learn to use their brains?

  8. Ms. Nishita Jha (the translator) it seems has somehow left out the word ‘left’ in her translation. In para 8 which begins with “It is clear that in this country, if you leave out the womens movement-everthing…..” Kavita clearly mentions the word “vaam” (the left ) along with the mahila (womens movement) at this moment in her speech… which somehow has been, as I say, left out by the translator… for whatever reason. But it woulso make good sense to put the word back in… also because Kavita herself represents both these segments of the social and political spectrum…. which is what basically informs her view on this.

  9. Thank you Ms. Kavita Krishnan. You have spoken for many women, including me. As a daughter, I have been hearing about the safety rules from my parents. There is another issue I need to talk about. The rape victims undergo depression. It is rare that we find them live forgetting the scars. Isnt this because of mental weakness? Can every woman in this country fight like the girl in Delhi even after being raped? It is a game of randomness and will every girl survive the aftermath of rape? This concerns me and I believe that society we live in is the prime factor which can help the victim. Then we can live by our freedom. Numbers matter when we are questioning the authority, and I am seeing it increasing.

  10. It is not the laws which need to be changed, it is our attitudes. Laws are good only if they will be applied. We need a ‘fast track’ system of dealing with the rape cases in court system. Capital punishment is not the answer. That will not reduce incidence of abuse against women, it will be answering a violent attack with more violence. We need an end to patriarchal system. We need a change in mentality starting with the family. Father, brothers, husbands, uncles have to start treating their daughters, sisters, wives & nieces with respect and with parity. Older women have to begin to speak up rather than perpetuate patriarchy. There has to be zero tolerance on sexual assault or harassment. Court system & police apparatus has to find innovative laws to make it easier for victims to report not dissuade them from reporting. Men (I am one of them) have to look at ourselves and say what am I doing where I am perpetuating the old ways of patriarchy by not respecting the women whether they are family, neighbours, colleagues or community members. What can I do empower women. Women are trying to achieve success in the workplace and they have done this on their own. But in case of sexual assault, it is the men who assault, who rape and we need to change. We in India are hypocritical, we go to great lengths calling our own women as Didis, Aunties, Betis but we are not willing to give same respect to some one else’s sister or daughter. In rural areas, rape is often by someone from higher class to a girl or woman from lower class. And then starting from within family all the way to Sarpanch there is a systemic attempt to hide the crime and ignore that it has happened. We are a society where thru gendercide, we abort hundreds of thousands of female foetuses and we have done it to a point that in some districts of Punjab and Haryana ratio of female to male child births is frighteningly low. We need to have a serious look at all these things and change the society radically.

  11. This is so very much in line with our mentality of throwing our garbage on the streets and complaining that the government is apathetic towards cleanliness.

    Why put all the blame squarely on the government? Why is it ONLY Sheila Dixit’s responsibility if the bus had an iron rod? What if it were a tool of the bus tool box? This is just looking for a quick fix – squaring the blame on the most visible target.

    Why is no one bothering to protest infront of the media -especially vernacular print media, bollywood and bhojpuri and other b-, c-grade film producers? Our schools and colleges? The panchayats and khaps? And the other social institutions which have contributed over the years to objectify and commodify women? A song like Munni Badnam Hui or Fevicol becomes a rage, hindi and other vernacular dailies feed the masses daily with openly sexual and misogynistic content in the name of ‘popular/interesting’ news, we see women being shown as only brainless, sexual objects constantly through advertisements, movies, television. At homes, boys and girls are treated differently, why even if small children become friends, adults start teasing them as girlfriends or boyfriends…in smaller towns, children are even prohibited in being friends with the other sex, at work women are made to endure barely veiled sexual insults and condescension…it goes on, in every sphere of society.

    Why?

    Why are we not targeting the roots of this malaise? Yes, the law and order situation of this country is deplorable. Yes, the attitude of the policemen and higher officials is totally apathetic. But these people havent dropped from Mars – but are one of you and me. They have received the same social conditioning that most of the others in their backgrounds have received. Yes, they are in a position of responsibility. But how can we expect them to be any different if we arent able to handle a responsibility ourselves? We have children, because we want to have children. How can we let them get raped? Isnt this a failure of our responsibility as a parent? The men who rape also come from the same families as we do. Have the same morals and values that we have. Isnt it our failure as parents, relatives, friends and society to breed such men who rape another woman/girl/child – of their own blood and kin or friendship? Why have we let sexual perverseness become all pervasive? Why are we mute recipients of whatever is dished out to us in the name of entertainment? Why are we still committing female foeticide? Why are we not providing our daughters the same opportunities as we provide our sons?

    Yes, the politicians, government, and its agencies have a huge role to play in creating a culture of insolence and impunity. But what is more frightening is the complete breakdown of the moral fabric of this country. Police can only firefight. At best it can deliver swift justice. But as citizens, it is our duty to do all we can to prevent these kind of crimes from occurring. By taking action – outside our homes, and within.

  12. Whoever believes that the govt will take care of every citizen is asking too much… Govt. is not Spiderman to appear from no where, it is a mechanism at best.. While it is a miracle even that this vast diverse country with so much of opinions is a nation at all even after 65 years it is necessary that people do everything to take care …Hence our mothers and elders told us to be home at the right time especially girls and no less boys too… Only people who have nothing to lose would want the kind of freedom that seems to be demanded..

    No one can dispute that one use diligence rather than wish perfect safety…. and wish for being in the place they wish at odd hours with company or without … I remember the words of the Sheikh in BENHUR “Balthasar is a good man but until everyone is like him we shall keep our swords bright and our intentions clear” … This applies to humankind everywhere any time all times….. No one can claim a blanket safety even for men.. Sensible men know as well that they are helpless with determined hooligans and mindful of this. Rather than see problems as part of the “HUMAN Condition” compartmetalising into women’s issues and men’s issues is the saddest mistake that the so called advocates for women do and in the process widen the rift…. Also branding all men the same way is an unintended fallout of the binary thinking… please dont divide ourselves into Men and Women…

  13. I pray that Ms. Kavita Krishnan is able to bring about a radical change, as it is obviously needed. I also pray for the safety – real safety – of the women of India. I pray that one day very very soon a woman in Dehli can go out and buy herself a cigarette, or a candy bar, or whatever at 3 am alone and not have to be afraid. I could not imagine living a life of fear as these women do.

  14. The women in New Delhi should apply for gun permit to protect themselves like our impotent PM, corrupt CM’s and Ministers who keep ARMED body guards for their protection. What do you expect from Delhi CM Shiela Dixit who herself is protected by armed body guards..? In INDIA one has to protect themselves. Only fools will go to the Govt expecting Justice and protection. US Households have over 300 million Guns (Pistols,Rifles, shot gun etc) and in many States one can buy a gun just showing your driver license. Most men and women in US carry concealed weapons. In TX in some Schools the teachers carry concealed weapons to protect themselves and the children against attackers and shooters as gun violence is rampant in USA. Recent killing of 20 small School Children (aged 5 to 6) and 6 teachers including the Principal in an Elementary School in Newtown, CT by a mentally impaired 20 year old youth (who shot himself when Police arrived with SWAT team (who carry deadly assault weapons like Military) shook the entire Nation forcing President Obama to come to the City, meet the victims families and now the gun debate is going on. The Police in US do not hesitate to shoot and KILL the attacker when challenged in a public place or in a home. People in US respect the Police but still prefers their own way of protecting themselves. Gandhi’s ahimsa culture will not work in India now. You need to be as powerful as the attackers and defend yourself today..!

  15. The day women and likeminded men form an independent voting block fighting for root and branch police reforms across India as a top priority, over even corruption, we will see the change in the mind set of political parties.Otherwise there is no hope for lasting change.Wirh 2014 near, this is the right time to take movement from roads to election.

  16. The reason men have power over women (wo men) is because they are physically stronger. They are in no way superior. This is a fallacy based on pseudo supremacy and ignorance held by men. If men were superior jails would be empty of men and full of wo men, (wo). But it is the reverse. Wo only have words to defend themselves and men do not take kindly to wo’s words if they contradict men’s views. Compare male rapists to fe male rapists. Fe is extremely low. Crime is mostly male. Murders mostly male; yet men think they are superior. A man’s place in the family should NOT be at the head. He should be the provider and protector, where their physical strength can be utilised.

    In Australia two thirds of high achievers are fe male, (fe). I write fe male as I dislike having male tacked onto my gender description. Please note that any change to gender description goes BEFORE the male, not after. Fe male, wo man and s he. Not malefe, not manwo, nor hes as it would be if it was tacked on after. Men must step aside and let wo take their rightful positions in the world and family.
    Please read my article in Online Magazine OVI: http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/9475 My latest article on Online Magazine OVI on men: About Men

  17. Ms Kavita Krishnan: What a fantastic voice for woman both in India and world wide. Why should we not go to a party or such and walk home alone. Why should we be careful how we dress? We are doing nothing wrong. it is our right, just as it is a man’s right to do and go where we please in freedom.

  18. a woman has a right
    to walk where she will
    and when
    a woman has a right
    to be safe
    without escort
    a woman has a right
    to look pretty and not fear
    that her beauty will be used
    against her
    when someone else decides
    to abuse her
    and if someone does
    it is always
    that someone else’s choice
    that someone’s crime not hers
    and a crime of this society
    that still permits the mentality
    that women are fair game
    whether they happen to be
    outside the walls of the prison
    called home
    or within those very walls
    unable to protect themselves
    against violence
    a woman has a right to be
    absolutely free
    from the fear of men

  19. These private buses have been run by goons for the last 20 years. They are rude, drive badly and threaten people. They are run for the benefit of local politicians . Sheila dixit can’t give us a world class bus service which is safe. She should resign now

  20. My Salute to you Kavita for airing such a strong voice and I am sure this will make Madam Dikshit to shut her mouth and atleast make an introspection.See her audacity while saying that the rape happened in a private bus ,not in DTC bus ! Shame Ms Dikshit, an ocatagenarian lady like you have not felt the gravity of the situation even now !

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  22. Bang on target! Punishment is just a part of the solution.
    What our society highly needs is attitudinal change! We must stop using the patriarchal lens to interpret and eradicate our social issues. Hopefully, these outbursts will lead to that.

  23. you have expressed it very well Mam. it is just not the punishment or the severity of the punishment. It is the mindset, our system which needs to change.

  24. I will ask all the agitators to take following oaths:
    1. That they will not indulge in such acts
    2. They will stand witness in courts fearlessly if any crime is committed in front of their eyes.
    3. That they will not use glass blinders in their cars and report to police if any vehicle uses such translucent films on their glasses.
    4. That they will abide by traffic rules( It is the greatest menace in Delhi where sons and daughters of influential people live and are the main culprits in act of road rage)

  25. Ms.Kavita Krishnan, I fully support for stringent punishment for the Rapists, but I believe that the death penalty is too mild for these in-humans. They should be first surgically castrated and be given heavy dosage of estrogen and then allowed to rot in the jail for at least 6 month, where the other inmates of the jail will do all sorts of atrocities on these rapists. Only this may put some sense of remorse in their head. By sending them to the gallows you will only be liberating their dirty, pervert souls which may go behind that of the 23 year old. Let her soul have some peace wherever it is. After 6 months they must be executed. There is no point in feeding them in the jail with hard earning tax payers’ money. There is hardly any usefulness to our society by keeping them alive. Also I must point out here, that I wonder about the school authorities who had been using this bus for ferrying innocent kids. This matter should be looked into as well.

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