So what are we demanding at India Gate?

Collectives need not always be celebrated; lynch mobs are collectives too, and there was ample evidence of this lynch mob mentality on display in the past few days: baying for blood, here and now. Revenge cannot be an alternative to justice 

Manisha Sethi Delhi 

A mass mobilisation on the issue of sexual violence looks like a feminist dream. Especially, if you recall that only a handful of activists stood shouting slogans in this very capital city, at the Chhattisgarh Bhavan, demanding action against the police officer who had pushed stones in the vagina of Soni Sori. Or, does it offset our reprehension at the re-election of a man who presided over mass rapes of women from a minority community? 

Surely, the large number of people at India Gate should be solace to the mothers of Manipur who had to strip in front of the Kangla Fort, home to Assam Rifles, to protest the gang rape and murder of Th. Manorama by its personnel. And to the people of Shopian who shut down their town for weeks after the bodies of Asiya and Neelofar were fished out of the nullah from across a CRPF camp. Will this mass anger scare the doctor at AIIMS, who, months after the women had been found dead and violated, discovered their intact hymens on their exhumed bodies so that the charge of rape against the army men would not hold? 

But, should we burden those congregating at India Gate with the memories of Manorama, Soni Sori, Asiya, Neelofar or Bhanwri Devi? Perhaps it’s unfair to expect this young crowd to articulate anything beyond their own anxieties of safety in urban public spaces of a metropolis. Is it not churlish, some would say, to ask these questions instead of celebrating the fact that at least now men and women are coming out and demanding action against rapists? Is it not divisive, some ask? 

However, given that it is being seen as a harbinger of epochal change – both, by the media and the participants, both incidentally refusing to be fatigued, discovering the joys of street fighting -- it is only in order that we examine what this moment might mean for the politics of gender justice. 

But, should we burden those congregating at India Gate with the memories of Manorama, Soni Sori, Asiya, Neelofar or Bhanwri Devi? Perhaps it’s unfair to expect this young crowd to articulate anything beyond their own anxieties of safety in urban public spaces of a metropolis

Ideally, a movement’s energy forces the opening of uncomfortable questions, challenging commonsense understanding and expanding our ideas of justice. One sees that the mass protests at Raisina Hill and India Gate are flattening out complexities: reducing sexual violence to rape alone, and the need for legal reform to simply an inclusion of capital punishment, castration and immediate punishment for rapists. 

Feminists have been arguing for reforms in the sexual assault bill on grounds that the definition of rape itself is too narrow. Rape is defined exclusively as penile penetration of the vagina in Section 375 IPC ignoring penetration through several other objects routinely used, especially in mass sexual violence. Threatened Existence: A Feminist Analysis of the Genocide in Gujarat has documented the use of iron rods, sticks, swords to penetrate women as well as the systematic torture and mutilation of women’s bodies. 

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