Of Protests and Politics

Dr. G. Arunima is an Associate Professor at the Women’s Studies Programme, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.

G Arunima

Another related article from the write: The present protests: a deeply hopeful moment

Is there homogeneity of responses within the ongoing protests against rape in Delhi? Certainly not. The sheer diversity of groups, and individuals involved itself is striking; that apart, other than the needlessly over publicized demand for death penalty there have been very serious sets of issues that have been addressed, and responsible judicial and political intervention demanded.

Here I wish to simply express my increasing sense of bewilderment towards what appears to be, at least on social networking sites like FB, a critique that seems to be more of the protesting women, than of crimes against women. All manners of criticism abound – from their class background, living in an urban area, enjoying class and caste privileges, not having protested other instances of violence….The early demand for death penalty has been translated as a reflection of some inherent proclivity that all urban, middle class women have towards violence. Contempt and cynicism is rife. All manners of correlations have been made, and the protesting women (and interestingly the ire is mainly towards women, and not even “youth”) have been homogenized, and condemned out of court.

photo: prakash k ray
photo: prakash k ray

Two slightly different issues to begin with then. First – to reiterate and underscore – a significant number of the people protesting in Delhi are not asking for the death penalty. Students, and their organisations, have been eloquent in their very important demands, especially for speedy justice and responsible safety measures which do not descend into increasing existing surveillance mechanisms. Second – and far more importantly – no one is born “political”, or indeed with the “right kind” of politics. Protests and rebellions are more often than not awash with internal difference, and inchoate demands. It is only through debate, discussion and mostly after dreadful fights that even a minimum consensus is arrived at. Many ginger groups and alternative non party fora of politics in this country have middle class professionals (lawyers, teachers, film-makers, doctors to name just a few), and others, who have felt strongly about any number of issues. These have ranged from caste and communal violence, globalization, gender based discrimination and violence, LGBT and queer rights, rights of the disabled to environmental issues and the problems with nuclear power. A case in point is the anti communal activism in the capital city alone, in which a substantial number of those involved are urban, educated, middle class and often upper caste. Funnily enough, in none of these cases has the charge of “class” been used to discredit those involved.

I say this only because I am deeply concerned with what appears to be, and maybe I am wrong to think this, the language of an all too familiar moral righteousness (certainly reminiscent of the old Left). There is a difference it seems to me when we  – those of us who are also upper class/caste, urban, professional, and not continuously engaged in public agitation – level charges of class privilege and cruelty against a homogenized body of “Delhi protestors”. This is not the same as when Dalit women’s and activists groups, Kashmiri activists, or protestors in the northeast remind one of the deafening public silence  – all over the country – in the use of rape and sexual violence as tools of caste, class and state power. Their skepticism and distance is one from which we must learn – precisely because that is where we see the manner in which rape becomes synonymous with power. The continuance of the AFSPA as a brutal tool of state violence; the correlations between rape, caste and state dominance; the centrality of sexual violence in communal conflict; and racial profiling and legitimizing sexual, and other forms of violence against people of the northeastern states of India are issues that have to be central to the ongoing struggle. This is an opportunity where one can – with whatever difficulties – begin this debate. Afresh.

photo: prakash k ray
photo: prakash k ray

And if we place the urgent need to battle systematic violence – against women and marginalized groups – as a central demand, we also must remember the importance of what the present protests teach us. Many girls and women here have come out precisely because they want to fight the quotidian, and equally systematic, abuse they face. As children (and child sex abuse is rife in this country), teenagers, within families. Many who are shouting on Delhi streets – apparently naively – are also reminding us to take seriously the violation they undergo routinely. Without sophisticated analytical language, they are screaming about the ways in which patriarchy oppresses – through its ritualized enaction of violence on the female body.

The question, and challenge, is – can one debate again the complexity of sexual violence – and its many linkages without necessarily wishing to silence those who may not necessarily speak a known and familiar language.


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