By Saswat Pattanayak
Looks like, rape still continues to shock virtuous people in India. Or was it just this latest one? The one that took place in Delhi? Was it because the “izzat” of India’s capital city has now become the new concern? The honorable India has to be reclaimed in all “her” full glory where the goddesses are worshipped and women assaulted?
Or is it that the unprecedented outrage in Indian society today owes to the fact that this rape was of the “more brutal” variety? Since most of us don’t do that kind of “iron rod” rapes. We are the gentler varieties?
The very fact that instead of debating about the status of women in Indian class society, we are expressing disgust at an incident of rape says the extent to which we have surrendered ourselves to corporate media agenda-settings. Sure, the rape was gruesome and sure a woman was tortured and probably shall not survive. But the nonplussed manner in which the Indian society at large is responding to this incident underscores the collective denial about the degraded status of women in India, if not a clear refusal on part of the suddenly agitated, to confront the social realities.
The truth is sexual violence against women is inherently a dominant feature of feudalism/capitalism, where women necessarily are objects to be owned, conquered, glorified or abused, and such treatments are by extension, because they are not meant to be equal stakeholders in the society. Whereas the indignation is rightful and the protests against rapists are steps in the right direction, the larger demands for death penalties/castration/hanging etc are only that much more a vicious reaffirmation of the existing law and order framework.
What is too often forgotten in such times of “awakenings” is that the law and order system within a capitalistic setup typically works to benefit the men over the women, since patriarchy and capitalism are inextricably paired together. Within a framework of exploited labor, women must be especially commodified as they remain the very foundational private property. And if the women belong to further oppressed groups such as the Dalits in India or blacks in the United States, they are counted as nothing more than mere flesh, mere statistics. Religions and dominant cultural heritages sanction rape against these “lowly creatures”. And so commonplace becomes the organized violence against them that reports of their abandonment rarely ever generates collective outrage, let alone justice.
Scripturally, all major religions in the world have treated women as second-class citizens, if not downright slaves. Women have defined roles to play, approved cultural norms to adhere to. They are systemically deprived of reproductive rights, or even of rights to enjoy their status as sexual beings. Within a political-economic setup where women are treated as objects to be controlled, they have no say in matters of marital rapes either. In fact, marital rapes – where the largest concentration of rapes are to be found – remain sanctioned by religious codes. Divorce procedures are made complex while domestic violence goes underreported.
Even when divorce processes are facilitated with ease, women continue to remain dependent on men, because of disparity in economic equality, barring isolated cases where they earn more than the men in their lives. Domestic lives and tensions are confined within families owing to fears of undesirable social repercussions, and consequent stigmatizations. In a heteronormative order, an unmarried woman, or a woman without a husband, or an unwed mother must come to terms with legitimized violence. And the expectations from men to protect the women under similar circumstances – which has become a celluloid epic in cultural extractions – goes on to cement this unequal relationship even further. Women necessarily need men because the law and order systems within capitalism are juridically geared to serve male interests. Until the male “savior” surfaces, the woman must continue to suffer.
All the outrage about the Delhi incident are entirely uncalled for simply because treating rape as shocking devalues the reality. It is insulting towards women whose rape cases have been dismissed at the courts if they at all were allowed to reach there. It is absolving religions of their scriptural allowance for rape to take place to begin with. It is also undermining the roles mothers play in raising their children with religious codes of uncritical submissions. It undermines the roles – especially, educated and relatively empowered women play in tolerating their abusive husbands, their violent sons and privileged brothers.
Once domestic violence is normalized even while remaining the largest contributor to rape culture in capitalistic setups, women get equally oppressed by their secondary masters – the national patriots, and their holy cows, the military officers. Atrocities of American military are well known. What is lesser known is the way Indian military emulates it. “Encounter” killing and rape are integral to the culture of militarism in India and aided recently by the draconian law, “Armed Forces Special Powers Act” (AFSPA). Taking recourse of this and patriotic license providing for such systemic flexibilities, military assaults and tortures of Indian women and children continue all over India, not just in North-Eastern regions or Kashmir. The latest trend is brutalizing the indigenous peoples in the name of combating Maoism in the “tribal belts”.
Demanding castrations and death penalties are the easiest ways to appear moralistic while letting the system sustain its sexist character. If righteous people are really serious about hanging the rapists, they will be surprised by the sudden decrease in the military forces of any country, once such a law is duly implemented. Which is not a bad thing at all, but it will still be striking at the consequences, rather than the roots. And eventually, such death penalty rhetoric (which would enable the rapist to not just rape, but also to kill the victim in an effort to not leave behind any evidence of crime), are dangerous distractions from the core issue – the crisis of capitalism.
Focusing on gender wars and demonizing all men as beasts and all men as potential rapists is highly regressive and counterproductive. Asking that men give up their privileges is akin to asking capitalists to give up their wealth. This is utopian at its best, and reactionary, at its worst. Blaming the victim is as bad a strategy as disempowering them. By depending on the men to change their paths is to evince faith in patriarchy, just as expecting the police to end rape culture is to assert faith in capitalistic judiciary. The reality is most rapes do not take place outside of the inner circles of the victims. The very devaluation of women – the necessary condition for capitalism to flourish – is the primary enabler of rape culture. Not only are men assured of the “availability” of women for their gratifications – be they in full-blown capitalism of commodified women, or in feudal setups ensuring arranged marriages, they also end up becoming sexual toys for the men – and conversely, their inaccessibility resulting in forcible submissions – go beyond mere morality.
Boycotting a few corporate brands and killing a few greedy men do not alter the conditions of capitalism, just as hanging a few rapists and calling men beasts do not alter patriarchy. However, challenging patriarchy or racism in all their forms is a very effective method to wage war against capitalistic status quo, precisely because sexism and racism are inherent to capitalism. But what is paramount is the critical consciousness-raising that takes into account the need for women to remain accountable as much as the men, so that the war against capitalism to put an end to patriarchy have equal stakeholders. Empowering revolutions, not sheer anarchy and disorganized/misdirected/media-driven anger can firmly end the violence against women and children – a goal that is not just desirable or ethical, but an absolute necessity for realization of a socialistic world.
When it comes to gender violence, there is nothing as a “current crisis”. Getting surprised at the Delhi Police insensitivities is also foolish, since it is then assumed that by taking on a certain position – be it that of the cop, or the officer, the gentleman or the father – the person suddenly will renounce his privilege. Clearly, it is not the responsibility of the police force to make sure that rapes do not happen. Certainly not within the same society whose basis of economic reality is itself suspect. And contrary to the prevailing outcries, rape culture is not exclusive to India. Indeed, the United States, the citadel of capitalism is deeply entrenched by rape culture. Quite naturally so, because rape culture is not merely a byproduct of cultural factors; it is primarily the culmination of exploitative economic conditions. Incidents of rape in India have witnessed an eight-fold increase over the last four decades, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. Widening economic divides among people, and especially among men and women coupled with powerlessness among the most oppressed have ensured that whereas murders have increased by 106%, incidents of rape in India have increased by 792%.
However, if some immediate measures must be taken/preached within the Indian context, they must include women’s participation more than ever. It is perhaps politically correct to say that men should be asked not to rape, but such a placard overlooks the fact that men are conditioned to be disrespectful towards women within a family culture; such attitudes do not suddenly manifest within a rape culture later on. The family units in individualistic societies are spearheaded by male patriarchs and hoodwinking divine blessings, who, in turn, are legitimized by the political-economy that forces women to remain enslaved to the system.
The necessary reforms therefore must begin with women putting a stop to their worshipping of gods – be they the husbands or be they the religious figures – both of whom benefit immensely from capital accumulations. Women must take responsibilities for their own inactions and of their reactionary stances. If children they must raise, they must not indoctrinate them with religions that eventually recycle the same societal values of patriarchy for the next generations of men. They must not demand uncritical obedience from their children towards the regressive elderly. They must not expect competitive selfish gains from the children in their quest to pride themselves as parents of success stories. While demands for harsher punishments for the rapists may be just and proper, they must not become the goals in themselves. In fact, confusing stricter laws as revolutionary victories alone allows for the oppressive ruling classes to grant concessionary justice to uphold and legitimize their status-quo, until the next incident captures media attention.
The onus lies with the working class men and women to understand revolutionary theories and practices so that they can collectively challenge and overthrow existing capitalistic status-quo that inherently sustains sexist, racist laws and benefits from patriarchal conditionings. What’s important is not to ask men for mercy or police for protection, but to form alliance with every revolutionary formations to overthrow the last vestiges of feudalism – the patterns of caste violence, the licenses to rape women in the name of religious sanctions, the sacrosanct marriages – and to organize a communistic future that will no longer depend on legal interventions from the capitalistic judiciary.