It has been three years to the brutal gang rape that killed a courageous young Nirbhaya but women continue to fight for justice and freedom from fear, says statement released by women activists, students and progressive groups
As 2015 comes to a close, we remember the tumultuous times in December 2012 when thousands of people – young and old – poured into the streets of Delhi in pain, rage and outrage. This was, of course, in the aftermath of the brutal gang rape and assault on a young woman that eventually led to her tragic death. That it occurred in the heart of Delhi, the capital of the country, was a shocking truth that people demanded and the government pledged to change.
Yet, in the three years since December 2012, women continue to face violence in every space they occupy, including their own homes, in public places, on public transport and at workplaces. There have been many attacks on women and girls, some accompanied by huge media coverage, but most taking place away from the public glare. Violence is the weapon used to keep them “in their place” on the basis of their identities, including caste, class race, religion and disability.
These range from sexual assaults and rapes and even murder of adivasi women and girls in Bijapur, Chhattisgarh, by CRPF men; on Muslim women in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh; on Dalit women in Haryana, on women from Northeast India, either in their own states or in the places they move to in search of brighter opportunities.
Women occupying workplaces in the informal and formal sectors are facing increasing levels of backlash. From women working in fields, mines or inside homes, on construction sites or tending roadside stalls, to women working in corporate offices, non-governmental organisations, educational institutions, law offices or in the media, countless cases bear testament to the systematic sexual harassment they face at workplaces. While some have taken courage to file cases against their perpetrators, the severe consequences that have had to face from the media and the courts for speaking out are a matter of deep concern.
Take for instance some of the most high profile cases of sexual assault by senior male colleagues at workplaces as varied as the courts, media houses and NGOS. In case after case, the women have faced hostile work environments, been named and outed, harassed and finally hounded out of their jobs. While the men are out on bail (if arrested in the first place), reinstated in their jobs with full public sympathy and credibility, the women complainants are out in the cold, their stories trashed and disbelieved, their workplace harassment continuing as ‘punishment’ for having spoken out, their economic status severely compromised. Yet, the rhetoric of ‘misuse’ of the law by women is growing every day; with little regard for the facts on the ground.
If we turn to cases filed under the new amendments to the law against sexual assault that were passed in the wake of the movement in December 2012, the scene is dismal. Be it the women in Muzaffarnagar, Bhagana or Bastar, or the women employees of Tehelka or TERI, they all await justice.
The police and the judicial system, not to mention society, the media and political powers that rule at States or the Centre, have mostly worked to subvert the law
Worryingly, even as women who file cases under the laws enacted to protect women are feeling betrayed and vulnerable, a growing clamour brands the laws against gender-based violence as “draconian,” “biased against men”. Another disturbing fact is that 40% of rape cases filed in Delhi is by parents branding elopements as ‘rape.’ These cases hide a tale of familial violence against women who choose their own partners. In addition, is the intensified political offensive on inter-caste and inter-faith love. A recent sting operation by Cobrapost exposed how outfits close to the Sangh Parivar run an organized racket to brand inter-faith love as ‘love jehad’ and beat and coerce women to give up such relationships.
Unfortunately, the Governments allow these outfits to attack the rights and freedom of women with impunity. At the same time, central and state governments are increasingly seeking to use the issue of violence against women to push through regressive policies like death penalty, or lowering the age of juvenility – even though the Justice Verma Committee carefully considered and rejected these measures as counter-productive and against the interests of victims of gender violence. Measures that we as women’s, students’ and progressive groups and movements have steadfastly resisted.
The movement of December 2012 had raised the slogan of Bekhauf Azaadi, or Fearless Freedom for women and for all, and had specifically challenged moves to control women in the name of their own safety, and to use the fear of rape to justify patriarchal restrictions and surveillance on women’s freedom.
We share the grief and have full empathy with parents and families of victims of violence. It is however important that we continue to place the issue of violence against women and children at the centre of discussions and not “victimhood”. We understand that one instance of sexual violence in a family sometimes takes a toll on the family as a whole and it is years before they can recover. In our struggle against violence we must be aware and ensure that we do not reinforce victimhood and prolong this suffering. They, victims and families need to heal, and their loss and grief must not be publicly paraded.
We stand in solidarity to commemorate the victim of the December 2012 gang rape, as well as all the other known and unknown women and girls who face sexual and other forms of abuse. For us, this is a day that calls upon us to renew our vision of substantive, reformative and reparative justice for victims and survivors of sexual violence, as opposed to retribution against perpetrators. Such justice can only truly be achieved in a society that is both ethical and humane, and in which the survivor and her health and freedom are the focus of the procedures of the criminal justice, medical, and social welfare systems. We condemn the impunity that most often accompanies acts of gender-based violence against women, girls, boys and trans people. We assert their right to equality in the eyes of the law.
• We stand today in hope with millions across the country – and indeed, the world – that justice will prevail in all cases, including the December 2012 case, according to the prevailing laws of the land.
• We state unequivocally that we are against draconian punishments like death penalty or chemical castration.
• We believe in reformative and reparative rather than retributive justice, which gives a chance for people – including juveniles – to change and turn their lives around.
• We reiterate our demand for certainty of justice and not severity of punishment.
• We reject the logic of ‘instant’ vigilante justice and instead seek to strengthen the systems and due processes of justice, to ensure that these work for and not against victims.
• We demand that the Governments at the State and Centre uphold their obligations under the Constitution of India and under international human rights Covenants to guarantee women and girls the right to equality, freedom and justice.