International Women’s Day: Anti-War, Anti-Capitalist Movement to Emancipate All Workers!

By Saswat Pattanayak

 

“Down with the world of property and the power of capital! Away with inequality, lack of rights and the oppression of women – the legacy of the bourgeois world! Forward to the international unity of working women and male workers.” (Alexandra Kollontai)

The radical roots of International Women’s Day are being systematically suppressed via liberal appeals for male virtues to prevail upon a patriarchy. Revolutionary struggles waged by the women and men to challenge feudal and capitalistic orders are being overshadowed by reformist emotions dramatized in commercials targeting women as a burgeoning consumer class. Incessant demands for emancipation of the working class under the banner of International Women’s Day (IWD) are being discarded in favor of trickling down of legislative charities.

When in 1917, the IWD was first observed in Leningrad, women workers of Petrograd had organized a mass of 50,000, comprising their fellow male comrades in demanding for “bread, peace and land” and to end the imperialistic world war. They confronted the Tsarist military exceeding 180,000 troops, and refused to disperse. Not only that, the organizing women proved to be so exemplary in their resistance, that the Russian Army had to turn mutinous and the first International Women’s Day resulted in the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, the end of Romanov dynasty and the end of Russian Empire.

Alexandra Kollontai
Alexandra Kollontai

 

Alexandra Kollontai, who spearheaded the movement to establish March 8th as the International Women’s Day, had declared it as a “militant celebration, a day of international solidarity, and a day for reviewing the strength and organization of proletarian women.”

Far from being a day for reviewing the strength of working class, March 8th today has been rendered as merely a day for symbolic overtures. Far from a celebration of solidarity across working women, it has become a day to cheer for the women celebrities bossing over structural inequalities. Defeat of the very corporate culture which cemented the women’s day has today usurped the principles and made the anti-capitalist day into an event of consumerist fanfare.

March as the Women’s History Month:

With much of the capitalist world failing to officially regard March 8 as the International Women’s Day, considering its communistic roots, they have however acknowledged the month of March as one to acknowledge the role of women in nation-building. Women’s History Month is now celebrated in the US, UK and Australia among a few other countries. Just as they have succeeded in obliterating the significance of May Day by not celebrating it officially because of its communistic history, they have also managed to avoid IWD as an occasion to duly observe. Instead of celebrating the working class struggles against the imperialistic power structures, Women’s History Month has become a marketing opportunity to further reinforce capitalistic ethos. Instead of celebrating the mass movements and unsung protesters, the Month is instead being used as a way to iconize individuals, bereft of their political contexts.

This March 8 should serve as a reminder that despite the collapse of Soviet Union and despite the lack of global initiatives to bring the women’s rights struggles to the political forefront, the principles guiding the International Women’s Day remain as relevant as ever. IWD is an anti-war, pro-working class global movement that aims to emancipate all women and men. On the March 8th of 1970, the Berkeley Women’s Liberation Front outlined the heroism of Vietnamese Women while answering “What does the Vietnamese War have to do with women’s liberation?” In the words of these radical American feminists: “Everything! Women in the movement here are talking about the essential right of people to live full and meaningful lives, demanding an end to the way women, throughout history, have been objectified and dehumanized. How then can we not recognize these same claims that are being made not only by the oppressed in our own country, but by those who are oppressed by this country abroad?”

The very heroic struggles of Vietnamese women which once informed the revolutionary potential of women in the US are at the core of the IWD history. Although the IWD was celebrated only in the communist countries, it had its roots in American labor history, and this is something the American ruling class conveniently overlooks. After all, it was on March 8, 1911 that the American working women had gathered to commemorate this occasion for the first time, even as it was never granted an official status in the US. And even during the anticommunist era, American women gathered again to celebrate the IWD in 1969 in the city of Berkeley. In subsequent years the day was to be commemorated across institutes in the US, despite official disapprovals. The popularity of IWD grew so much that to evade further embarrassment, Jimmy Carter had to proclaim the week of the March 8th as the “National Women’s History Week” in 1980. Under the Reagan Administration, this History Week was to be formalized and finally celebrated, starting 1982. Five years hence, in 1987, Ronald Reagan would finally expand the History Week to a month, upon the insistence of “National Women’s History Project” (NWHP). Through 1988 to 1994, several legislations ensured that Women’s History Month would be formalized and it has been so since 1995.

This series of reluctant observations on part of American administrations also corresponds directly with the half-hearted approaches towards addressing issues of women’s rights in this country. Struggles for equal pay across sexes, maternity leaves, freedom from racial discriminations, wealth disparities across classes continue to define oppression of women in the United States, and pretty much rest of the world. Without any alternative economic model of women’s empowerment in this vastly unipolar world, capitalistic values continue to impose themselves on people everywhere. It has become almost impossible to break away from the chains of slavery gifted to us by capitalistic greed and mindless competitions which have systemically left behind the traditionally oppressed people, most significantly, the women of color and the disabled women.

If history teaches us any lessons, then the International Women’s Day teaches us a few: that, women will not be emancipated anywhere without women’s liberation everywhere; that, without the recognition of the ways race, class, gender and other social locations intersect, there is no way to bring the historically oppressed women to the same platform that has been achieved by the privileged women; that, the radical history of working women’s movements to liberate women and men must not be diminished by those eager to erase the history of struggles and replace them with history of charities. That, the month of March, the week of March 8th and the Day of the International Women instruct us this: the working women (and, men) of the world must unite in cause, because they have nothing to lose. And, everything to gain.

(Written for Women’s Rights NY Blog)

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Post-Miley Feminism

 

 

(Written for Kindle Magazine, December 2013)

 

By Saswat Pattanayak

A wealthy white woman used specific “ghetto” elements from the black culture to materially profit from those insincere projections. And much of the world media ignored this aspect entirely, while castigating her instead for wearing indecent attires. And finally, when this attracted the attention of white feminists, they rallied behind her to protest slut-shaming.

Following her memorable performance at VMA in August, Miley Cyrus helped generate what Mikki Kendall had earlier hashtagged as, “Solidarity Is For White Women” (in lambasting the ways white feminists had been protecting the disgraced Hugo Schwyzer).

In conveniently overlooking the serious nature of cultural appropriations, what suddenly reemerged within the feminist discourse is how race intersects with feminism itself. It became quite apparent that feminism – or for that matter, any radical politics – was not going to make any headway, if it was not explicitly going to embrace intersectionality. In other words, was Cyrus going to find support from only a section of feminists, on issues that had direct implications for them? Does feminism often work this way? If yes, should it?

The images of Cyrus that night were compelling for various reasons. Her sexy outfits were the least of them all, in an era of a virtually saturated landscape so far as sexualized visual images go. What stood apart was how she used black women as props on the stage that night, reminiscent of the days of slavery when white masters used slaves as stand-alone objects/accessories for amusement of their guests. What stood apart was how she created an atmosphere of a circus, with herself as the ringleader motorboating black women as the dancing bears.

That she wanted to live out her fantasies and feel sexually empowered were all defensible propositions, but the fact that she had to degrade black women as objects in order to play those out, while in real life she does not have to experience the racist society as a black woman does, was what made it all so irrefutably disgusting. Likewise, while the white feminists upholding her right to rub herself on Robin Thicke was an acceptable defense, what became a profound contradiction was their remaining silent over her own treatment of backup dancers. Indeed, when black women pointed this out, they faced the charges of misconstruing feminism – thus, it remained no longer a Cyrus moment. It demanded critical reflections on part of all those who identify with feminist, progressive and revolutionary politics.

Batty Mamzelle wrote, “Historically, black women have had very little agency over their bodies. From being raped by white slave masters to the ever-enduring stereotype that black women can’t be raped, black women have been told over and over and over again, that their bodies are not their own. By bringing these ‘homegirls with the big butts’ out onto the stage with her and engaging in a one-sided interaction with her ass, (not even her actual person!) Miley has contributed to that rhetoric. She made that woman’s body a literal spectacle to be enjoyed by her legions of loyal fans.”

What the Cyrus episode brought to the fore was not just the need to apply intersectional analysis to feminism in the US, but by its very extension and logic, to have it applied everywhere. In much similar vein, argument can be made about the selective solidarities displayed among Savarna feminists in India, who remained eerily silent throughout the protest marches against rape and murder of a Dalit woman in Jind district of Haryana. The level of indifference was so staggering that the mainstream media which had gone agog to report extensively on rape culture since Nirbhaya, entirely ignored a three-day conference organized by Dalit women to question the casteist nature of Indian justice system. In a bold move to oppose what I would term, after Kendall, as “Solidarity Is for Savarna Women”, the organizers (AIDMAM) exclaimed: “The silence from all corners is deafening and this particular case of alleged rape and murder of a 20 year old Dalit girl in Jind is only another one in a long list of cases of sexual violence on Dalit women. Today, we do not even know what to ask for! Should we make a claim for a separate State for Dalit women? A State that will give us a life of security? A separate State that will allow us to live our lives peacefully? A State that will permit us to go to schools? A State that will allow us to go to the toilet without fear? A State that will give us the basic right to life? Dalit women have lost all hope in the Government, in the police, the judiciary, the elected representatives and with civil society. We do not want to just trigger the conscience of the system and the people, but seek all voices for justice for Dalit women in India.”

While the defense of “sluttiness” remains the primary – and, valid – agenda for white feminists in the US, the demand for police protection of nightlife in Delhi remains a legitimate concern of savarna feminists in India. At the same time, what the racial implications of the powerful images of Cyrus that night suggests, the peripheral realities can no longer be kept under wraps. While defending Slutwalk, it is necessary that white folks do not appropriate slavery, just as while deploying additional police force to ensure “Bekhauf Azadi” for urban women, it is necessary to make the legal system work efficiently to render justice for Dalit women whose priorities may vary qualitatively.

Solidarity across race and caste is a possibility only when the histories of unique struggles by the historically oppressed are duly recognized, and sufficient consciousness-raising efforts are undertaken by the historically privileged.

Radical Roots of International Women’s Day!

“Ardent greetings to working women and women toilers throughout the world who are uniting in one common family of labour around the socialist proletariat.
I wish them every success:
1) in strengthening the international ties of the workers of all countries and achieving the victory of the proletarian revolution;
2) in emancipating the backward sections of women toilers from intellectual and economic bondage to the bourgeoisie;
3) in uniting the peasant women around the proletariat—the leader of the revolution and of socialist construction;
4) in making the two sections of the oppressed masses, which are still unequal in status, a single army of fighters for the abolition of all inequality and of all oppression, for the victory of the proletariat, and for the building of a new, socialist society in our country.
Long live International Communist Women’s Day!”

J. Stalin, Pravda, No. 55, March 7, 1926.

March 8th as the International Women’s Day was first observed in 1917 in Leningrad. And it was no mere coincidence that this day also marked the first day of the great communist revolution. Declaring this day as the International Women’s Day, women workers of Petrograd organized themselves, and brought over 50,000 workers to join them, demanding “bread, peace and land”. Revolutionary women were joined by students, white-collar workers and teachers heralding red banners and chanting “Down with the War!” The Tsar tried to suppress this movement by deploying over 180,000 troops, but many refused to budge, bogged down by the sheer enormity of women revolutionaries on the streets! Heeding to the calls of the women comrades, the Russian Army turned mutinous, and what was organized as the International Women’s Day resulted in abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, the end of the Romanov dynasty and the end of the Russian Empire.

Such is the significance of March 8th!

8 March heralded the new era of communism in the world, starting with the Soviet Union that was guided by this day to incorporate policies to prioritize gender equality. Lenin on March 4, 1921 wrote in Pravda, “You cannot draw the masses into politics without drawing in the women. For under capitalism the female half of the human race is doubly oppressed. The working woman and the peasant woman are oppressed by capital, but over and above that, even in the most democratic of the bourgeois republics, they remain, firstly, deprived of some rights because the law does not give them equality with men; and secondly—and this is the main thing—they remain in household bondage, they continue to be ‘household slaves’, for they are overburdened with the drudgery of the most squalid, backbreaking and stultifying toil in the kitchen and the family household. No party or revolution in the world has ever dreamed of striking so deep at the roots of the oppression and inequality of women as the Soviet, Bolshevik revolution is doing. Over here, in Soviet Russia, no trace is left of any inequality between men and women under the law. The Soviet power has eliminated all there was of the especially disgusting, base and hypocritical inequality in the laws on marriage and the family and inequality in respect of children.”

On the International Women’s Day of 1925, Stalin wrote in Pravda, “There has not been in the history of humanity a single great movement of the oppressed in which women toilers have not participated. Women toilers, the most oppressed of all the oppressed, have never kept away from the high road of the emancipation movement, and never could have done so. As is known, the movement for the emancipation of the slaves brought to the front hundreds of thousands of great women martyrs and heroines. In the ranks of the fighters for the emancipation of the serfs there were tens of thousands of women toilers. It is not surprising that the revolutionary working-class movement, the mightiest of all the emancipation movements of the oppressed masses, has rallied millions of women toilers to its banner. International Women’s Day is a token of the invincibility of the working-class movement for emancipation and a harbinger of its great future.”

While much of the western world had not yet allowed women to vote, or to work alongside men in various spheres of life, let alone granting reproductive rights; inspired by the advances of March 8th, Soviet Union had enormously succeeded in implementing gender equality, legalized abortion, and supported one-parent families. The USSR Constitution’s Article 122 read: “Women in the U.S.S.R. are accorded equal rights with men in all spheres of economic, government, cultural, political and other public activity. The possibility of exercising these rights is ensured by women being accorded an equal right with men to work, payment for work, rest and leisure, social insurance and education, and by State protection of the interests of mother and child, State aid to mothers of large families and unmarried mothers, maternity leave with full pay, and the provision of a wide network of maternity homes, nurseries and kindergartens.”

Indeed, addressing the Central Committee on March 8th, 1949, Stalin declared that 277 women had been elected Deputies of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, and more than 1700 elected to the Supreme Soviets of the Union and Autonomous Republics and about half a million women were Deputies to local Soviets. As much as 44% of the total number of graduates in Soviet Union were women, while 237 women were awarded with the highest civilian award of the country. Motherhood and rearing of children in the USSR were also highly regarded, with the state assigning enormous funds to aid mothers with large families and to unmarried mothers. Over 2.5 million mothers were awarded the “Motherhood Glory” and “Motherhood Medal”. It was not just a coincidence that more women were elected to the Supreme Soviet than the number of women in most democratic countries’ legislative bodies combined during that time. In a way, women were empowered in varying capacities – as politicians, as factory workers, as engineers, as peasants, as mothers – with or without a husband.

Alexandra Kollontai
Alexandra Kollontai

Very first official recognition of March 8th in the world was made in Soviet Union due to the efforts of Alexandra Kollontai, who went on to become the world’s first female ambassador (to Norway, in 1923). Kollontai considered Women’s Day as a “militant celebration”, a “day of international solidarity, and a day for reviewing the strength and organization of proletarian women.” She recalled later, “but this is not a special day for women alone. The 8th of March is a historic and memorable day for the workers and peasants, for all the Russian workers and for the workers of the whole world. In 1917, on this day, the great February revolution broke out. It was the working women of Petersburg who began this revolution; it was they who first decided to raise the banner of opposition to the Tsar and his associates. And so, working women’s day is a double celebration for us.”

Prior to March 8th inspiring the Revolution and ensuring women equal rights in the USSR, struggles of women as an organized movement had already been duly observed starting 1909. On February 28th that year, women socialists of the United States had organized with meetings and demonstrations all over the country demanding voting rights. Next year in 1910, German Communist Clara Zetkin recognizing the American socialist workers, called for a demand to observe “Women’s Day” under the slogan, “The vote for women will unite our strength in the struggle for socialism.”

In 1911, German communists wished for March 19th to be considered the Women’s Day. Kollontai mentions that it was no mere coincidence either, for on that day following 1848 revolution, “the Prussian king recognized for the first time the strength of the armed people and gave way before the threat of a proletarian uprising. Among the many promise he made, which he later failed to keep, was the introduction of votes for women.” It was in 1913 that the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda recognized “Working Women’s Day” on March 8th, but soon thereafter the movement paused a while with the first world war breaking out.

While the First World War was ongoing, Norway alone managed to respect the Russian working women’s call to observe the Women’s Day in 1915. And finally, 1917 arrived and on the 8th of March, women of Russia marched the streets demanding “Bread for our children” and the “Return of our husbands from the trenches” as the slogans that firmly and officially established the International Women’s Day, as we know of it today. Alexandra Kollontai wrote, “At this decisive time the protests of the working women posed such a threat that even the Tsarist security forces did not dare take the usual measures against the rebels but looked on in confusion at the stormy sea of the people’s anger. The 1917 Working Women’s Day has become memorable in history. On this day the Russian women raised the torch of proletarian revolution and set the world on fire.”

(By Saswat Pattanayak, March 8th, 2013)

Additional reading: International Women’s Day :: A Short History

Our Rape, Their Rape

rape-saswat

By Saswat Pattanayak

The need is to change the entire language of rape. Not to just call it a rape, but as rape by men. Not simply that a Dalit woman was raped, but a Dalit woman was raped by a Hindu upper-caste man. Not just a woman was gang-raped, but six men raped a woman one by one by one by one by one by one. Not just Violence Against Women (VAW), but Violence Against Women By Men (VAWBM). Not just laws around gender discrimination or sexism, but specifically around men discriminating against women or laws to hold male sexists accountable. Not just a survivor or a victim, but a woman victim of a crime committed by men. Sure, it will upset the traditional editing style sheets, and the brevity would be a casualty, but there are far greater casualties in the process when we do not explore the societal norms by calling them what they really are and each time supplementing them with supportive statistics.

In a rape culture, as Andrea Dworkin once said, statistics do not quantify the injuries, they are used merely to convince the world that such injuries even exist. All the more reason why social locations of the victims and the perpetrators need to be declared while reporting the violence, because the invisibility of genderqueer and religious/caste/racial minorities is even more pronounced when we fail to take into account the perpetrator as even a gendered being. Merely categorizing a sexual assault as violent crime is to discount the very complexed and humanized basis of rape culture. The truth is all of us – men and women – have been socialized with casteism, homophobia and heterosexism. Denying this will keep the prejudices intact. We need to recognize any racist and homophobic/transphobic remarks and the abundantly circulated “rape jokes” even before we can recognize the various ingredients of the rape culture we inhabit. As Dale Spender mentioned in her work “Men Made Language”, there are 220 words for a sexually promiscuous woman and only 20 for her male counterpart. We need to alter this man-made language and call rape as what it actually entails, as described by the women survivors/victims, not as how the sexist judicial experts define it by.

Military rape, minority rape, date rape, workplace rape, marital rape. There is our rape, and then there is their rape. If violence against all women must stop, there probably is little use in stratifying rape in this way. But in a lesser than ideal environment that pervades us, such a stratification is acutely essential. Social locations – age, gender, class, nationality, sexual orientation, ability, caste, race, religion, etc play significant roles in enabling a rape culture to remain acceptable for centuries now. Ignoring social locations is the primary reason why it takes so long for the men to realize that rape is untenable. Because truth be told, rape culture prevails not because rape is considered an heinous aberration, but because rape is socially sanctioned in the garb of various systems of oppressions.

If conviction rate is abysmally low all over the world when it comes to cases of rape reaching the court, it is precisely because there lies a distinction between what ‘we’ consider as rape versus what ‘they’ do. Ageism affects rape culture to the extent that younger women are more likely to be accepted as rape victims than older women. The “two-finger” test is a logical continuation of such an illogic. When it comes to gender, the men are rarely accepted as rape victims (even when the perpetrators remain overwhelmingly men). Out of fear of being called a “sissy”, a man in the rape culture rarely tests legal boundaries, which in turn, by definition exclude men from the purview as potential victims. Class as a cultural construct poses as much a hindrance to justice as it remains as an economic category. Rape of “low-class” women hardly merit any legal consideration, let alone conviction. The “good women” can only be raped, ever since the days of mythologies or since beginning of the “world’s oldest profession”. Nationality of the woman works against her if she happens to be a refugee from Bangladesh, a subject of a disputed region such as Kashmir, a freedom fighter from the North-East, or a prisoner of war anywhere in the world. Rape is blurred even more when it comes to alternative sexual orientations. The stigmatization goes one step further as the larger world perceives sexual assault itself might have “caused” queer people to be queer. Caste and race play decisive roles in how rape statistic is registered. Dalits, Muslims or genderqueer in India are constant targets of sexual assaults that are hardly ever considered as hate crimes, leading to no special provisions to protect the most vulnerable sections of the society.

Such abject desensitization is not unique to a specific country. Following the unprecedented media coverage of recent gangrape in Delhi, many commentators across political milieu have come up to interrogate “Indian culture”. While some have discovered the Indian culture mutilated through western influences leading thereby to violence against women, the more critical variety have been on a spree to denounce everything about Indian culture to point out its inherent sexism that has logically led to a misogynistic atmosphere. Demands are being made to not just focus on Delhi, but rest of India, not just on Hindu women, but women from all religions and regions, not just the middle class, but also the working class and the indigenous. All these are necessary and certainly long overdue. At the same time, all these demands invariably – directly or indirectly – work towards cleansing the national image. The idea is to let our Motherland emerge stronger by taking care of ‘her’ women and prevail upon the world as the land of mythical superwomen that India is destined to re-emerge as. Such romanticized notions of an infallible nationhood undergoing a shocking phase of gangrape has itself made a mockery of women’s issues on this planet, while systematically undermining the political economy of sexual assaults.

Their Rape:

In a rape culture, rape should appear as the least shocking of realities. Sure, India has a 26% conviction rate, but in the United States, there are an estimated 400,000 “rape kits” currently backlogged. And by the time the kits are tested the statute of limitations expires and the rapists no longer get charged. Only 24 percent of rapists are arrested in America. The statistic is not any more encouraging in the United Kingdom either. The British government acknowledges that as many as 95% of rapes are never reported to the police, and the country has roughly 6.5% conviction rate. Los Angeles with 923 cases, Philadelphia with 945 cases and New York City with 1092 incidents of reported rape cases, the differences between first world and third world countries soon begin to fade when it comes to treatment of women. According to FBI, a violent crime occurs every 25.3 seconds with a murder every 35.6 minutes while forcible rape takes place every 6.2 minutes. Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center reports that 78 women are forcibly raped each minute in the U.S. (which is 1,871 per day or 683,000 per year). Over 23% of lesbian and bisexual women had been raped compared to 6% of their heterosexual peers. Likewise, 83% of women and 32% of men with developmental disabilities have been sexually assaulted.

America has no national rape law and among the victims of hate crimes, the number of raped women are double the number of those murdered. Not to mention, of the average 90,000 rapes reported, only 20,000 rapists are identified each year. Moreover, statutory rape is excluded from the definition of rape, just as forcible oral or anal penetrations are. Also excluded from the definition of rape are penetration of vagina or anus with an object or other body part, the rape of a man, the rape of a woman by another woman, any non-consensual rape that does not involve physical force such as rape during the drugged or drunk conditions.

Dwelling upon the uncanny resemblance between India and the United States, the “culture” in Rape Culture emerges as merely a condition, not the root. The political economy – the various stages of evolving feudalism and capitalism – offers the systemic grounds for rape normative. Towards that extent, rape culture is a global, and not a national, phenomenon and it sanctions violence against women by men across all cultures of the world.

Our Rape:

Delhi faltered only in so far as the jingoistic tone retained its character by expressing shock and disgust that unfolded in dramatized teary-eyed disbelieving manners. Beyond that, any feminist movement small or big – in rural hinterlands or capital cities – is worthy of unquestioned solidarity. It is only because the Delhi protests focused so much on reclaiming “Indian culture” (clearly a regressive myth in itself), that the global media continued to focus on India reforming itself, rather than understanding the revolutionary potential that such a movement could realize at an international scale.

Just as not everyone who protests against rape condones death penalty, it is also erroneous to assume that all those who join the protesters in Delhi have necessarily remained silent during assaults on women in Kashmir, Manipur or Gujarat. Instead, the question we need to ask at this hour is whether or not those who have been protesting against injustice anywhere else in the world will also join their counterparts in Delhi. The dominant energy within progressive forces displayed in enormity is a continuation of the larger anti-status-quoist progressions in India that are quite evidently present to the extent that the Prime Minister considers some activists as traitors to the country and as principal threats to India’s internal security. It would be a monumental mistake to overlook this acknowledgement on part of the state power that a viable alternative exists in India that clearly has caused unprecedented discomfort to the ruling elites. The massively organized supports for the Maoists and indigenous peoples all over the “tribal belts” demonstrate this anti-nationalistic presence. Numerically, the statistics may not be overwhelming, but there is a growing consensus and empathy-building in process that must be duly recognized as potentially revolutionary in Indian context. These groups of dissenters have invariably always protested against misogyny and patriarchy, without exceptions, and they have expressed similar outrage when it came to Delhi.

Everything that has been said about violence against Dalits, on Muslim women and women elsewhere in India, especially in Gujarat and Kashmir, are true. And it is also true that the national media have neglected to adequately report – as is their wont – the protest movements associated with the causes in North-East and Odisha. But it is quite another thing to suggest that people have not raised their voices against oppression in India, while the Indian state machinery has been roundly harassing and brutalizing dissenters – including numerous Soni Suris – all over the country all these years, precisely to throttle the resistance movements.

Many progressives have questioned why Delhi, why now and why the middle class? Isn’t the middle class, after all, the biggest perpetrator of violence against women? The answer is perhaps a tad simplistic – culturally enslaved by the corporate media, the bourgeois elements in Indian society usually wake up only to the “breaking news” and “shocking news”. And therefore the concerns are genuine – that the middle class might even disappear from the map of activism as soon as the media cease coverages of this specific “event”. And to criticize them for not finding Manipur and Gujarat shocking enough is to state just the obvious. However, to find them joining the ranks of their traditional adversaries in exposing the multi-level failures of the Indian state power, in fact provides a profound opportunity for further sensitization and consciousness-raising. Any occasion is as good as the present to forge alliances with the reluctant and the enthused, the enlightened and the uninitiated. History is replete with revolutionary moments, occasional and unexpected “sparks” that have altered its course.

What India needs right now is greater mobilization among peoples across social locations from all over the country and the world – to sufficiently challenge the dominant narrative propounded by the “vibrant democracy” advocates. Not to strengthen it by employing reactionary excuses of undermining the growing dissent. But to overwhelm the ruling class with pronounced narratives of non-compliance that hitherto were considered unpatriotic. If the eventual goal is to transform the entire society, it has to take into account the heterogeneity of comradely compositions and revolutionary diversity – recognizing the differences, and celebrating the common goals. Its not some monolithic Indian culture we need to reclaim from the purists. We need to participate in and make the entire women’s movement our own – sustained media or not, political will or not. And we need to Take Back the Nights – everywhere in the world.

Renowned feminist Selma James recently cited Mumia Abu-Jamal’s response to the increasing criticism of the Occupy Movements as being less than inclusive. She said when some people asked Mumia why “this place (Occupy) is so white?”, he answered, “Then get your ass over there. If its white, darken it. Turn up. Participate. Make it yours.”

(Written for Kindle Magazine. Illustration: Soumik Lahiri)

Rape Culture and Capitalism: What is living and what is dead

By Saswat Pattanayak

I understand many of us, Indians, are ashamed these days. And it is true that protests and placards do not educate the rapists. And that the students came out on the streets only because it is New Delhi. But we should not miss an important aspect of it all – most protesters clearly defying governmental bans are demonstrating an important tactic in the struggle for women’s rights anywhere in the world. This is a strategy that should not be discouraged, rather used everywhere – be it in Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Orissa or Manipur.

Or for that matter, in London, New York and Stockholm. Because last checked, India is as unsafe a country for women as are the United States, United Kingdom and Sweden. Statistically speaking, there are more rapes taking place per hour in the US than in India. Whereas in India the number of rape cases amount to over 20,000 a year, the number well exceeds 90,000 in America with third of the population. The unreported cases of rape and ridiculously low conviction rates are also common and comparable across the modern capitalist nations.

It is necessary to fight for women’s rights, but why should the drive stop at the borders? Those of us who refuse to adequately acknowledge the protest movement in Delhi by citing the relative silence in Gujarat and North-East also commit similar fallacies when we fail to protest against abuse of women elsewhere in the world. Why should a “safe Delhi” narrative be replaced only with an equally jingoistic, “safe India”? The fact is protesting against social injustice anywhere should be encouraged, not spurned. No matter the intensity, no matter the limited purpose, no matter the viability. True, that the goals go astray when people demand for death penalty instead of conviction, and true, that some reactionary elements at times also end up hijacking the movements, but it is also true that inaction, silence and skepticism are not going to help the principled oppositions to the status quo, that takes place in any shape, way or form.

Violences on women are rising everywhere, in every corner of the globe. But that is only because more cases are being reported today than it used to be the case earlier. The journey from feudalism to capitalism in the case of India is a journey of advancement, of progression. More women today than ever before are aware of what comprises sexual harassment. More women understand their reproductive rights today than in the “good old days”, which some Indians are craving for by citing the “vulgarization of Indian culture” as the prime factor behind the rape statistics.

Rape culture is a necessary culmination of capitalism, only because it is acknowledged     as thus. In the days of slavery and feudalism, women were not even counted as human beings with needs and demands. Certainly there was no hue and cry about “rape” and in the days of the past, the ruling classes comprised kings and landlords – for whom total ownership of women was not something to be ashamed of, but something to take pride in. “Conquest” of women used to be the prevalent culture and rape was never treated as an exception or aberration. Young girls used to be “gifted” to the royals before they could be married off during their childhood days. In many a cultural settings of the past, the “virgins” were first offered to the rulers. It is no wonder that the sanctity around virginity is a result of feudal structure and its remnants today aid the common men in craving for virgin women.

The Good Old Days Fallacies
Any romanticization of the brutal days of the past must end immediately. Neither India nor any other country in the world can claim to have provided for a safe society for women during their feudal stages of developments (barring probably the tribal and other matriarchal phases, which anyway suffered from other malaises). The reality today may not be any better when other factors are taken into consideration, and I shall dwell on that shortly, but uncritical assessment of the days of yore are grossly regressive and we cannot afford to model a future society after such heinous past.

When serfdom gives in to the rise of modernity and capitalism, there are bound to be struggles, but recognition and knowledge of such struggles empower women and other oppressed sections in unprecedented manners. A growing challenge to narrow nationalism helps borrow and reproduce cultural imports, including some progressive ones – and this becomes a step in the right direction for the traditionally oppressed. Thanks to the growing cosmopolitanism, more Dalits and more women are finding for themselves avenues for education and empowerment today. These are by no means small achievements. Indeed, these are the only justifiable achievements a country like India can boast of in its long “glorious” history.

With advent of capitalism and industrialization, more women find themselves at the workplace, and such a shift is bound to challenge the male hegemony. Through empowered outlooks, more women begin to challenge patriarchy, and that too disturbs the traditional males. Through more involvement in decision-making process, more women begin to exercise their rights to have a child – or to abort one, to marry – or not to marry, and finally they begin to articulate as sexual beings, and not just as sexual objects. Of late, India has witnessed a LGBTQ “pride” movement that could not have surfaced without the present consciousness. Through “Slutwalk”, another movement of solidarity among feminists is shaping up globally and Indian women have joined the cause, despite some obvious flaws in conceptualization and appropriation of the word “slut”. Defying the moral police that run ruckus all over the country during “Valentine’s Day”, women in India are now openly flaunting their love interests in the public. Suffice it to say that such liberated outlooks have started to cause a crisis that is about to shatter the status quo and challenge the norms of capitalism.

Capitalism replaces feudal society, but the wealth still remains concentrated along the lines of traditional privileges. Although education and empowerment is ushered in through capitalism, they are properly utilized only by the families of the former landowners. Slaves get emancipated, but they have no way to compete as equals. Capitalism establishes the “old boys networks”, thrives on favoritism and establishes a meritocracy whose rules are defined by the traditionally privileged which go a long way in sustaining the class society. Capitalism firmly enforces the class divide and this in turn plays right into the hands of the traditionally oppressive gender, the male.

Be they Indian men or North American men or European men or Australian men or Arab men or Hindu men or Muslim men or Christian men or Buddhist men – the men typically and automatically advance faster than the women under capitalism. Male advancement invariably accompanies brutal competitiveness that characterizes such individualistic societies. At the same time, they are constantly challenged by more women and children – a development for which men, owing to their historical and superconscious makeups, remain clearly unprepared for. Gender violence is akin to class war and racial struggles in the sense that the historically privileged social location retaliates against those it had oppressed whenever it faces a challenge to its dominance.

It will be a wishful thinking to suggest that we go back to the “golden era” of Indian culture. Wishful only because that is clearly not going to happen. Even the societies where feudalism still remains intact will have to advance to capitalism sooner than later. And with contradictions of capitalism – which are of a very different nature than the struggles within feudalism – are going to pave way to even more advanced forms of struggles – the class war. But we have not reached a stage where majority of people are class-conscious and we must go through this essential period of struggle to duly recognize variety of social locations such as caste, race, gender, ability among others, and allegiances such as nationality and religion – the factors that hinder critical social justice education from empowering everyone.

The cultural contradictions
It is necessary to understand that the protests against rape in Delhi have two basic components – one that cries out for death penalty or stricter punishment, and another that demands equality of women. While the former is an endorsement of feudalism and a reinforced belief in the status quo, the latter is an unqualified call for socialism. Delhi Police long infamous for being sexist has hired a renowned Bollywood actor-director Farhan Akhtar to entice men into becoming more “man enough” to join them in protecting Indian women. This is not just a crude display of macho tendencies that make the world an unsafe place to begin with, what is even worse is such artistic collaboration lends credence to a law and order system that is inherently oppressive – Indian police and military system systematically brutalizes countless poor through rape, murder and torture as tools to suppress any dissenting voices. No wonder then, despite the advertisements claiming that Delhi Police is interested in protecting women, once the people gather to register their protest on the streets, the state power unleashes its menace through violent suppressions.

But it would be wrong to especially focus on Delhi Police. Same calls for feudalistic past are being made by leading women leaders of India as well. Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal has commented on the increasing number of rape cases thus, “The way media is cooking up rape stories, it would be difficult to believe a genuine rape case.” Sushma Swaraj, the leader of opposition in India has dehumanized rape survivors as “living corpses”. Sheila Dixit, the Chief Minister of Delhi has advised women “not to be adventurous”. In each of such assertion lies the firm refusal on part of ruling class women, along with their men, to break away from India’s feudal past.

Just as the struggle continues in modern India to destroy the last remnants of feudalism, so also the struggle must continue to recognize the early symptoms of Indian capitalism. As the traditionally privileged males – the landowning, slaveowning and women-owning –  fail to understand the historical advancements made by women today in almost all spheres of society, their resistance against this upheaval is going to emerge all the more. Traditional men are puzzled over the emerging idea that women no longer need to be bound by traditional family roles, and that such a shift also extends to women’s prerogatives to choose sexual partners whether or not they are married. A major resentment against the sexual freedom for women represents itself through variety of censorships, sexist laws and moral dictates on clothing patterns. Even as rapes continue to be condemned by the society which is ready to shun feudalism, various factors and societal excuses leading to rapes are being deliberated upon by the same society that is struggling with capitalistic values.

A substantial section of the men who oppose rape also are quick to offer the dress codes and time limits for women as well as raising objections against “clubbing”, “smoking”, “extra-marital affairs”, and a general sense of “cultural degeneration” that apparently make women “easy prey”. At the same time, they refuse to acknowledge that men have continued to indulge in every such “vices” without hindrances for centuries. Patriarchy is just not open to letting women join the scene at equal footing, because that would end the system as we know it. And since capitalism provides for the “opportunities” for women to either reject – or, conversely, accept – the terms of objectification, disgruntled men then hold “cultural corruption” accountable as the convenient culprit.

Not only have upper caste Hindus started quoting Manusmriti to reduce women into symbols of “worships”, even the Bahujan Samaj Party which represents Dalit mainstream interests has found itself embarrassed over calls for feudalism as a method to “protect” women. Rajpal Saini, a BSP member of Parliament recently was quoted saying, “There is no need to give phones to women and children. It distracts them and is useless. My mother, wife and sister never had mobile phones. They survived without one.” BSP supremo Mayawati likewise has joined the right-wing ideologues in calling for “stricter laws” as a deterrent to rape. “It is not enough to just arrest them (the rapists), but action should be so strict that no one should dare to act in such a manner.”

What is to be done?
The reality is conviction rates in cases of rape are abysmally low. Not just in India, but around the world as well. In the United States, there are an estimated 400,000 “rape kits” (just in case, that’s the situation for 400,000 women) currently backlogged. And by the time the kits are tested the statute of limitations expires and the rapists no longer get charged. Only 24 percent of rapists are arrested in America. The statistic is not any more encouraging in the United Kingdom either. The British government acknowledges that as many as 95% of rapes are never reported to the police, and the country has roughly 6.5% conviction rate.

Precisely because of the nature of patriarchy and the way it engulfs feudal/religious societies as well as capitalistic/liberal societies, the need of the hour is to recognize the war against women as a systemic feature of the world, and to collaborate with every progressive force looking to replace such a status quo. Harking back to the past is not the solution. Looking forward to dismantle the forces of feudalism/capitalism is the approach we must adopt. Let there be no surprise or disappointment in the increasing number of rape cases being registered. More the number of women report assaults, more certain are we to become that the political economic system within which we seek solution is an inherently evil – and fragile – one. Arundhati Roy recently spoke about the fact that the rich people used to oppress women exercising a certain amount of discretion in the past, while thanks to the cultural shifts and movie culture today, their disdain towards women is becoming more apparent. While that is true, we also need to acknowledge this as an evolution for the better. The more racist and sexist people expose their real colors, the greater will the need be felt to overthrow the existing system. Just as in the similar vein, the greatest challenge to racism are not the avowedly racists, but those that deny their race privileges.

What is happening in India is truly remarkable. The collective disdain towards the system may not last forever, since right-wing moralists are going to take it over with sheer power of wealth and media distractions, just as the Occupy movement in America got co-opted by the liberal Democrats for their political aspirations. And as such, the dissenters do not always represent the best interests of the most oppressed in such outbursts, where Dalits, blacks, and the poor often do not find themselves represented. But these outbursts, howsoever temporary, do provide for a recipe of non-cooperation and of civil disobedience. As Howard Zinn reminds us, gradual reforms take place not because of good laws suddenly finding their way in, but because of dissenting people compelling the bad laws out of the system through mass movements. The truth is dissenting voices against the ruling classes world over are increasing phenomenally with more people ably aided by critical education and alternative media. Majority of the world is still too poor, and underprivileged to exchange a wage-earning day in favor of a placard-holding session. And that is precisely why oftentimes in history, progressive sections of the society across classes form larger alliances and go against the grains. And towards that extent there is a need for all of us to collaborate with resistance movements that aim to challenge the ruling order no matter if the causes immediately impact us or not, or if the causes are too narrowly framed by taking on specific agendas. Warmongering against Iran must be opposed just as we should protest massacre of Shia Muslims in Pakistan, and demand for rescue of Palestine from the reactionary Zionists. Role of the revolutionary is to recognize that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.

In Indian context, some of us are protesting against communalism in Gujarat, some of us are raising voices against militarism in Manipur, some engaged in defending lands in Orissa, some protesting against the rape in Delhi. Each of these movements has the potential to be hijacked, infiltrated, and demolished. And yet, each also has the potential to collaborate with fellow resisters all across the globe, and to encompass the ethos of revolutions that will annihilate feudalism, smash down patriarchy, and shatter every iota of capitalism that is inherently exploitative. Eventually, what capitalism produces are its own “grave-diggers”. And its fall and the victory of the revolutionaries are equally inevitable. And there is never a better time than now, to emerge united with the working women and men, the world over – regardless of the prevailing challenges and, because of them.

(Originally published by Radical Notes)