The struggle in a patriarchal region: The Delhi gang rape case

On the 8th of March, the world celebrated international women’s day, a day that began in celebration of women’s economic, political, and social achievements, is now widely used to shine spotlight for the struggle of women. Today women across the globe are being overworked more than ever before. Women’s labour of birthing, rearing, cooking, maintaining life and along with doing their paid jobs is a common scene in many homes. There are more women in the labour force than ever before in the US, outpacing men. But it says little about equality and is not indicative of the rearrangement of power. In the recession of 2009, there was a disproportionate loss of jobs than men, in particular affecting female headed households.

In spite of tremendous achievements of women and their ability to excel in any field they have chosen, in the 21st century there is a widespread oppression of women across the globe. There continues to be sexual violence against women, with women being categorised as second class, and in times the underclass, of society, in the case of Dalit women. Girls and women do labour of every sort – domestic, peasant, migrant, farming, reproductive, consumer, affective, slave and waged. Birthing – that is actually called labour – is done exclusively by women. The new proletariat(s) embraces the labour of girls and women: from sex workers in all their variety, to migrant female labourers crisscrossing the globe, to women and girls hauling water and gathering wood, to the dagongmei in China’s mind-numbing iPad factories. It is no small point that many of the women and girls in the Congo and Rwanda, are brutally raped and murdered, while out gathering firewood.

The Delhi rape

A perfect example would be the much controversy that surrounded the rape of the 23 year old student in New Delhi on the 16th of December 2012. Since then there had been One Billion Risings, which also activated anti-rape violence demonstrations in more than 270 countries. It is vital for us to recognise that this was an isolated incident and is not unique, only in that it got wide media coverage. Another example of an incident in the village of Badaun in the state of Uttar Pradesh where two girls aged 14 and 15 were raped, murdered and their corpses hung on a mango tree can be noted here. The families of the girls allege that police were disinclined to file a first-hand report because the victim belonged to a low caste, and the perpetrators were from a higher caste. Since these incidents more chilling stories have emerged from Uttar Pradesh and other parts of India, with another two women found hanging from trees in the past few days, which occurred in 2014.

The documentary

The recent documentary by Leslee Udwin is an overpowering indictment of female repression in India. It tells the gang rape of Jyothi Singh by the five men. Chilling statistics such as in India a woman is raped every 20 minutes emerged from this video. In addition, eye watering images of the riot police being ordered to control the demonstrations against this rape in 2012 using brutal force and energy, is absolutely disgusting. The Indian government’s efforts were in vain. The protestors could not be easily scared off. Their utter rage of this crime against humanity and their resilience displayed a strong sense of solidarity.
There is a petition on condemning the sexist ruthlessly shocking comments conveyed by the rapists’ defenders. This is an outcry by the general public showing their anger and dismay. Comments such as, “A female is just like a flower. It gives good looking…very softness performance, pleasant. But on the other hand, a man is like a thorn. Strong, tough enough. The flower always need protection. If you put that flower in a gutter, it is spoilt. If you put that flower in a temple, it will be worshipped”, “You are talking about man and woman as friends. Sorry, that does not have any place in our society. A woman means, I immediately put the sex in his eyes.” and ”We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman.” Another of the lawyer is shown saying, “If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight.” When asked at a later point in the film if he stands by those comments, he replies that he does.
As an echo from the documentary and the actions of the Indian government, on the 6th of March a rapist was pulled out of jail and burned alive in India. An outcry of rage from the masses.

The problem

The inequalities between men and women and the violence against women flow from the deeply ingrained idea that women are possessions of men, exist to gratify men’s needs, and should depend on and submit to men. These ideas stem from women’s role in reproduction and property inheritance in class based societies. Women’s sexual lives were relegated to producing offspring that would inherit the father’s property, and women were seen, therefore, as property themselves. The boys learn to be dominating and aggressive and girls learn to be caring, loving and submissive. These stereotypes of masculinity and femininity are not only social constructs but also have been internalized by both men and women. While the pressure to earn and look after the family is more on the man, the women are supposed to do the menial jobs and take care of their children and even other members of the family. It is because of these gender stereotypes that women are at a disadvantage and are vulnerable to violence and other kinds of discriminations and injustices. Systemic deprivation and violence against women: rape, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, femicide, dowry deaths, domestic violence, high level of female illiteracy, malnutrition, undernourishment and continued sense of insecurity keeps women bound to home, economically exploited, socially suppressed and politically passive.

Patriarchal constructions of knowledge perpetuate patriarchal ideology and this is reflected in educational institutions, knowledge system and media which reinforce male dominance. More subtle expressions of patriarchy was through symbolism giving messages of inferiority of women through legends highlighting the self-sacrificing, self-effacing, pure image of women and through ritual practice which emphasized the dominant role of women as a faithful wife and devout mother. The husband should be constantly worshiped as a god, which symbolized that man is a lord, master, owner, or provider and women were the subordinates. It legitimized that a woman should never be made independent, as a daughter she should be under the surveillance of her father, as a wife of her husband and as a widow of her son. While in ancient India women were by and large treated as equal to men, the restrictions on women and patriarchal values regulating women’s sexuality and mobility got strengthened during the establishment of class society.

Patriarchal constructions are legitimized by religion as most religious practices regard male authority as superior and the laws and norms regarding family, marriage, divorce and inheritance are linked to patriarchal control over property biased against women. A person’s legal identity with regard to marriage, divorce and inheritance are determined by his or her religion, which laid down duties for men and women and their relationship. Thus the mobility of women is controlled. They have no right to decide whether they want to be mothers, when they want to be, the number of children they want to have, whether they can use contraception or terminate a pregnancy and so on and so forth. Male dominated institutions like church and state also lay down rules regarding women’s reproductive capacity.

Similarly caste and gender are closely related and the sexuality of women is directly linked to the question of purity of race. The caste system is the control over the labour and sexuality of women. Ideologically concepts of caste purity of women to maintain patrilineal succession justified subordination of women. The prohibition of sacred thread ceremony for both women, similar punishment for killing a women, denial of religious privileges are illustrations which indicate how caste and gender get entrenched.

A patriarchal system that is still deeply entrenched in India. Once the daughter marries, it is expected that her husband’s family will be her first priority in every respect and her own parents and siblings become secondary. Further, she is expected to take care of her in-laws along with her husband and children. Hence this is the prime reason of sons continuing to carry a high premium in India.

In the traditional Indian home, it was assumed that the son upon marrying would bring his bride to live in his parents’ home in the joint family set-up. In fact, when the parents wanted to arrange a match for their son, one of the prime qualities they sought in their future daughter in-law was her ability to adjust into the family. Ideally, the new bride was supposed to be treated like a new daughter in her new home, but in reality, it was often not so. Along with the benefits of loving familial bonds, were the more serious problems of mother-in-law and other extended family interference due to reluctance to let go of the son to the detriment of his wife’s interests and needs.

The themes of a mother-in-law’s ill-treatment of the daughter-in-law often harsher and it was actually no picnic also for the poor husband being caught in the middle of these family dramas. If he agreed with his wife, he was immediately made to feel guilty by his parents as to how much they had sacrificed for the son which was actually very true as the parents went to great lengths for their son’s education and financial success as a son was considered a sort of life insurance for their old age and if he sided with his parents, the wife accused him of being tied to his mother’s apron strings. Generally, due to her financial dependence as a mother of her growing family, the wife remains trapped in the dysfunctional family dynamics.

In spite of the large patriarchal establishment that runs Indian society, the parents of Joythi Singh are positive examples for the changing society. Although now there would be cases where are more likely to be stopped from getting an education if there are from an economically poorer background. In the last two decades, more women are forced to go to work. They are becoming primary breadwinners, and men fear losing the decision-making powers at home.

The mind-set of Joythi’s mother was a personal delight, especially from a community where mothers themselves are a major reason for women enslavement. Economic empowerment, education is the beginning for ending women oppression.

However, in the case of all the rapists depicted in the documentary, all of them were living with gruelling consequences of poverty, lack of education and a culture that turns a blind eye to the abortion of female foetuses. India’s well known reputation for femicide, where women aren’t exactly half the population of India. For every 1,000 boys under the age of six, there are only 914 girls. Girls are either killed in the womb, or the newborn is gagged, asphyxiated or poisoned. Often, it is the mother, still raw from her delivery, who has to eliminate every trace of a daughter. Here is where women are objectified on the big screen; here is where women are constantly reminded of the powerlessness that is their gender.

The bus driver’s comments, calmly explaining that a woman who resists rape is begging to be murdered. He had no remorse at anything that was done except a subtle flinch at when the victims numerous injuries to the body was read out. These men such as the rapists grew up watching their female siblings or piers not having the right to education, food, healthcare, freedom of speech and mobility as them. Deep in both their thoughts the men and women believe that women are lesser citizens. As in the case of one of the rapists wives, who, in spite of her husband raping and murdering an innocent girl is still with him and goes on to completely deny that her husband would have done such a thing. One of the shocking statements by her was when she simply just asks why her husband is being punished when there are other perpetrators at large.
The men may have experienced getting more of the share of food or getting milk when their female sibling got none. In some houses healthcare is only an absolute must for male children whilst is only given to a female child who is dying. Poor women in India are a supply for surrogate motherhood and majorly used a reproduction machine. Travel in India is dangerous ordeal for women where in unisex compartments there are multiple cases of indecent exposure and touching without the consent of the girl and the female compartments being too crowded. The most heart-breaking ordeal is that fellow passengers watch these incidents with no objection or comment.
Despite men and women are both working today, there is an inherent assumption that someone mostly women will go part time or give up their career with the arrival of children. A common finding in western countries too.

As this report is being published the two lawyers featured in the documentary have been demanded to make an apology and provide an explanation of their statements before a disciplinary will be issued to them.

Our fight back

In India which is in large still grasping onto deep rooted feudal practices that arrival of industrialisation and disproportionate development, oppression of women cannot be completely stopped. We need not just reforms but a total transformation of society. Underpinned by inequality, exploitation and oppression, the current economic climate we live in is incapable of bringing about the liberation of women. While it is possible to fight for and win some improvements in women’s lives, the underlying crisis of the system means that those gains are limited and constantly being challenged. Real liberation, therefore, cannot be achieved through a gradual, piecemeal transformation of the current system but requires a complete change in the way that society is organized and structured. Because of the double oppression which they experience under capitalism, both as women and as workers, working-class women have a particular interest in changing society.” This means women’s organizations, unions, community activists and individuals must fight together against women’s oppression and the system as a whole. Only then can we create a society that works in the interests of all people.
Before women joined the workplace during World War II, most women were expected to raise children, cook and clean, and submit to their partner’s authority. Since the vast majority of men were needed for the war effort, leaving many factories and workplaces without necessary labour, women entered the workforce in large numbers for the first time. Once the war ended, many women stayed in the workplace, working alongside men, proving they were equals, and fighting alongside men for better wages and workplace conditions. This experience helped undermine sexist ideas in the workplace and society at large laying the foundation for the women’s movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s, as well as providing a model for how to continue the struggle to end sexism, sexual assault, and violence towards women. History shows, again and again, that nothing has been more effective at undermining sexist ideas than the combination of women playing a full role in society and in production, as well as women and men organizing and fighting together for their common interests.

Tamil solidarity opposes all forms of oppression and defends the right to protests and stands in solidarity with the campaigners and human rights activist protesting against women oppression. We strongly condemn the Indian government’s ban on the showing of this documentary. And we demand that sexual violence against women in India and across the world is stopped, the perpetrators involved need to be brought to justice via a full independent investigation involving the victims’ families.

In solidarity we only grow stronger.
Bharathi Subramaniam