Sexual violence cannot be attributed simply to some men behaving in ‘anti-social’ or ‘inhuman’ ways: it has everything to do with the way society is structured: i.e., the way in which our society organizes production and accordingly structures social relationships. Once we understand this, we can also recognize that society can be structured differently, in ways that do not require – or benefit from – the subordination of women or of any section of society.
What are the material structures that underpin sexual violence? As I address this question I will also engage with some of the arguments made in two recent articles which offer a professedly Marxist analysis of sexual violence and women’s subordination in India; one is ‘On the Empowerment of Women’ by Prabhat Patnaik, People’s Democracy, January 27, 2013, and the other is ‘Class Societies and Sexual Violence: Towards a Marxist Understanding of Rape’, by Maya John, Radical Notes, May 8, 2013.
Prabhat Patnaik analyses the differences between gender oppression in advanced capitalist countries and countries like India. He notes, rightly, that the development of capitalism in the advanced capitalist countries was accompanied by a destruction of their pre-capitalist structures, facilitated by colonialism and the resulting large-scale emigration into the so-called ‘new world’. Whereas in India, “the “old community” associated with our pre-capitalist structure…continues to remain with us.” The persistence of pre-capitalist structures and extremely stubborn feudal survivals in India is undoubtedly significant in producing the specifically Indian variant of patriarchal oppression. A glaring instance of this is the phenomenon of khap panchayats that pass diktats and death sentences on couples who marry by choice, especially those that do so in defiance of caste norms.