The Gender Studies Group, Delhi University on 4th September’2013, organised it’s first interactive session of the semester titled ‘Mahilayien Mangey Azaadi: Changing the Discourse,Confronting Rape Culture’ at Ramjas College, University of Delhi by Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), an editor with Liberation, and a member of the Politbureau of the Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist (Liberation).
Kavita Krishnan began talking about the protests that erupted following the December 2012 Delhi gang rape. She talked about her experience on field with numerous people, especially youth, who took to streets to show their outrage, demanding justice for the victim and calling for changes in the laws on crimes against women. She thus looks at the December 16, 2012 movement as a threshold moment for the fight against gender injustice and violence in India. Further, she moved on to explain the two major kinds of political visions that emerged during the movement which came to represent two political possibilities – one that endorsed a patriarchal protectionist response and the other advocated a movement beyond patriarchal protection and vengeance. She delved into the ideological conflict of these two political visions, seeking to understand the contradictions in feminist theory and practice.
The patriarchal protectionist response in the movement, Krishnan believes, created a binary among men. A section of male population was demonized as a sexual threat and was pitted against those other sections who end up controlling women’s sexuality in the name of ‘protecting’ them. This act of protection borders on moral policing and obsessive surveillance. She also explored the worrying leap that a set of protesters made from rape to capital punishment, without understanding the problem of sexual violence itself. Intervention of understanding what politics is, she believes, necessary. There is a need to shift the locus to other problems of sexual violence and accountability.
Krishnan then talked about the alternative political vision in the Delhi rape protests which seeked to create a counter-culture to that of the rape culture, one which examines cultural factors that contribute to the ubiquity of gender violence in the country. The culture of misogyny, voyeurism, stalking and sexual harassment contextualize and allow rapes. However, slogan of ‘freedom without fear’ was embraced by many at the protests, hinting at the emergent alertness towards the politics of patriarchal protection. These set of protesters asserted women’s right to be risky and adventurous instead of a stifling ‘protection’. The slogans are as follows- ‘meri skirt se oonchi meri awaaz’ (my voice is higher than my skirt), ‘my skirt is not responsible for your inability to control yourself’, ‘kapde nahi soch badlo’ (Change mentalities not clothes) etc.
Thus, Krishnan stressed on abandoning the political vision of male protectionism. Evoking masculinity as a solution to end violence against women is ironically its very root cause in the first place. We need to broaden the horizons of this discourse and replace patriarchal protectionism with a demand for freedom without fear for women. Thus, rape has to be made a political issue and discussed in the public sphere only then can we confront the rape culture of victim-blaming, sexual harassment and misogyny.
The session was then open for question-answer segment with our guest Kavita Krishnan. We ended the session hoping that everyone in the audience would change the the way they think about confronting rape culture in India.