“The heinous gang rape and mutilation of a 23-year-old paramedical student in Delhi on December 16, who later died of her injuries, sparked a momentous wave of protests against the oppression of women in India. Demonstrations erupted in many of India’s cities, including Kolkata (Calcutta), Mumbai, Bangalore, Panaji and beyond. Significantly, demonstrations were also held in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, where women face conditions similar to those in India.
“The epicenter of the protests was Delhi, which prides itself on being part of the ‘new’ India, where shopping malls and night clubs exist side by side with massive slums. In fact, the capital has the highest recorded incidence of rape of any major city in India. Demonstrations by students and other youth continued for days, courageously defying repression by the police who attacked with water cannons, tear gas and lathi (bamboo sticks).
“Anger among women intensified with an outburst of grotesque anti-woman chauvinism that sought to blame the victim for the crime. M.L. Sharma, a lawyer for one of the five accused, stated that ‘respectable’ women do not get raped, while the Indian president’s son, Abhijeet Mukherjee, baited the demonstrators for being ‘painted’ and ‘dented,’ i.e., ‘Westernized’ and not young. A leader of the fascistic Hindu-chauvinist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) declared that sexual crimes ‘hardly take place in Bharat but occur frequently in India’ (Wall Street Journal, 8 January). The RSS is connected to the Hindu-supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which openly espouses Hindutva (‘Hinduness’), a toxic mix of nationalism and religious obscurantism, to stoke violent pogroms, particularly against Muslims.
“The term ‘Bharat,’ the Hindi word for India, harks back to an imagined past of idyllic rural life—as opposed to urban India, which is supposedly blighted by decadent Western influence, especially on women. The reality of life for most people in Indian villages is extreme poverty and brutal caste oppression. In the countryside, rape of dalit (so-called ‘untouchable’) women is considered a matter of caste privilege by ‘upper’ caste men, who use rape as a weapon in the subjugation and humiliation of the woman and of her entire caste. A March 2006 study of violence against dalit women by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights reported that out of 500 women studied, 116 had been raped or gang-raped; among the perpetrators, ‘dominant caste landlords emerged as the most prominent group.’
“Police often assist vigilante groups which conduct raids on entire dalit villages, burning homes and raping women. The scope of such violence is captured in a November 2012 incident in Tamil Nadu, where 148 dalit houses were torched by a 2,500-strong mob because of a non-dalit woman who had married a dalit man in secret. Police also rape and murder with impunity as part of the military offensive in areas such as Chhattisgarh in eastern India, where it is directed against a Maoist insurgency based on the adivasi (tribal) people. In Kashmir, the occupying Indian Army uses murderous violence, including rape, to subjugate the Muslim population, with the perpetrators exempted from prosecution by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. In 1991 in Kunan Poshpora, units of the Indian Army gang-raped nearly 100 Kashmiri women, aged 13 to 80, in a single night.”