We have all recently witnessed unprecedented response to a young woman’s brutal gang rape and eventual death. The public anger and mass grief it triggered finally pushed our government to take action. Such is the power of people’s resolve!
Yet, sexual assaults and violence continue unabated across the country, from everyday instances of sexual harassment like stalking, touching and staring to violence at home and at the work place. Sexual violence against women from Dalit and Adivasi communities, religious minorities and the differently abled, and people marginalised on the basis of gender and sexuality is being invisibilised. There is reluctance to recognise marital rape (committed by a “trusted” partner) as a crime. Sexual abuse and torture by security forces in Kashmir, North-East and Chhattisgarh (including custodial violence) enjoy state impunity.
The Justice Verma Committee introduced many critical recommendations like command responsibility for custodial rape. Many of these suggestions have been overlooked by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2013. One big lacuna is the proposed gender neutrality of the accused. Unlike in existing law where the accused is male, the new Bill makes it possible for women to be charged with these offences. In a culture known for its anti-women positions and acute gender inequalities, this clause makes a mockery of sexual violence (including rape) against women. We demand that this be changed immediately!
Public ferment against sexual violence is being projected as a call for death penalty. We strongly condemn any retributive justice practised by the state, and appeal that any form of punishment function within the ambit of human rights and justice. We call upon the Government of India to join the overwhelming majority of nation states that have abolished death penalty.
Sexual assaults are but a part of a wider spectrum of cultures of violence that entail discrimination against women. Honour crimes and killings, khap panchayat diktats, attacks on women’s autonomy, neglect of women’s health, women workers’ lack of social security, and neoliberal policies that oppress poor women in multiple ways are all the result of anti-women attitudes. Patriarchal institutions like religion and community lose no time in calling for curtailment of women’s freedoms in the public sphere in the name of safety. The “Din Hamara Raat Hamari Abhiyan” or Take Back the Night Campaign is a rejection of such moral policing that impinges on women’s right to full participation in society.
The International Women’s Day is an enduring symbol of women’s solidarities and struggles against injustices. On this occasion, we salute the fighting spirit of sisters from across the nation including Soni Sori in a Chhattisgarh jail, Irom Sharmila in a Manipur hospital, “Suryanelli” battling a 17-year old case in Kerala and many unnamed women challenging the capitalist-state nexus in Orissa and other parts of Central India. We raise our voices against all such violations.
We invite people from all walks of life to join us in remembrance, resistance and celebration of women’s extraordinary achievements. Let us collectively resolve to fight for women’s justice, dignity and autonomy.
Lend your voice and support to women’s movements that have been working in multiple directions: from consciousness raising to supporting women’s facing violence, from law reform to challenging traditional notions about women’s roles, opposing caste-communal violence to supporting women’s political participation and so on. Significant work continues to be done to challenge prejudices against women with disabilities and people of different genders and sexualities. Thanks to such efforts, women have achieved major strides in redefining family and inheritance, political participation, legal reform vis-à-vis domestic violence, dowry deaths, and adverse sex ratio.
Resolve to end injustice and violence against women!
Stand up for women’s rights!
Brief overview of the women’s movements in India
* 1848: Savitribai Phule started girls’ schools, defying threats by feudal forces (?)
* 1885: Rukhmabai chose prison over marriage as a child bride & studied to be a doctor
* 1940s: Telengana women part of militant struggles for land and freedom
* 1970s: anti-liquor, anti-price rise movements, issues of land alienation and wife-beating addressed in Shahada, Maharashtra
* 1977 onwards: Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh established; unequal wages, women’s retrenchment, sexual division of labour attacked
* 1970s: Custodial rape of Mathura (a young tribal girl); teachers challenged the Supreme Court judgement; state forced to recognise custodial rape as a crime
* 1980s: massive participation of women in Chipko and Appiko environmental movements
* 1992: woman activist gang raped in Rajasthan; Supreme Court framed Vishakha Guidelines, predecessor of Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace 2012
* 2009: Delhi High Court decriminalises consensual, adult same-sex relationships
History of the International Women’s Day
* 1857: thousands of women workers in the New York garment industry took to the streets against unfair wages, 12-hour work days and sexual harassment in the workplace
* 1910: Clara Zetkin’s gave a call in Copenhagen, Denmark to establish an “International Women’s Day”
* 1911: on 19 March, more than a million women and men marched together
* 1911: On March 25, a fire in a sweatshop in New York killed 145 female garment workers. In solidarity, 80,000 workers marched to attend the mass funeral
* 1912: 14,000 textile workers went on strike with the slogan “Better to starve fighting than starve working”
* 1913-1914: the International Women’s Day also became a day for protesting against the First World War and for world peace.