India: “Why did it need an incident so unspeakably brutal to trigger outrage?” (AWTWNS 7 January 2013)

The AWTWNS packet for the week of 7 January 2013 contains one article. It may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as it is credited.

To subscribe or for back issues, go to or

Write to us; send us information, comments, criticisms, suggestions and articles:


India: “Why did it need an incident so unspeakably brutal to trigger outrage?”

7 January 2013. A World to Win News Service. The outrage in Delhi and other Indian cities (among women of all social classes and many men too) against the violent gang rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old Delhi student is most welcome. This righteous response was met with tear gas and beatings from the Indian state. At the same time, to quell some of the protest the government has set up a fast track court and five men of the six accused have now been charged with rape, sequestration and murder. Usually, it takes years for a rape case to come to trial. Deliberation around the sixth is whether to try him as a minor or an adult.

The indignation over this crime has created a national sense of shame and a conversation in India: About the pitiful reaction to violence against women from the government, its courts and law enforcers. About how rape has gone on virtually unpunished, how blatantly anti-women British colonial laws from 1860s did not change after independence until a brutal rape case lead to the formation of a women’s movement in 1983 and to the laws currently in effect, how the emphasis in Indian culture is not the violent attack on a woman’s body but the honour that is stolen from her husband, how the police often themselves rape victims who report rape, how many politicians running for office have been accused of rape, how rape is ingrained in Indian culture, how families try to hide rape and tell daughters to accept it as part of the price for being a woman, and how earlier infamous rapes cases got swept under the rug after promises by authorities to ”sensitise” judges, police, lawyers and other authorities who deal with rape victims.

Violence, oppression and male domination of women exists worldwide in all societies. It originated when patriarchy, the family, private property and classes came into being and persists in both “modern” and traditional ways, and often both at once. It is endemic to the functioning of all systems of exploitation. Only the forms are different and vary according to how different countries are integrated into the overall imperialist system of exploitation and oppression that dominates the globe.

Women (and their bodies) are viewed as lesser beings that should be covered for their sinfulness and punished in a myriad of humiliating and violent ways, as objects of sexual pleasure and as commodities. Women endure murder or rape by husbands, family members or partners, bride-burnings, honour killings, prostitution, degradation by a global pornography epidemic, female genital mutilation, rape by an occupying army or militias, rape of female soldiers by male soldiers of the same army, forced abortions of unwanted girl foetuses and death or illness from illegal abortions. See AWTWNS121126 for statistics on the prevalence of rape in Western countries like the U.S., UK and France and the also prevalent view that the woman is somehow at fault.

The article we are reprinting below is from, an online progressive weekly Indian magazine. It captures well the violence women face in India. Towards the end of the article, the author expresses concern with an attitude that permeates the government when criticised for its lack of dealing with rape and violence against women. The authorities respond by saying ”cops’ attitudes were merely a reflection of the society they came from”.

Fundamentally there is a great deal of insight in that government quote, but here we have an important difference with the author. The institutions of the state of the ruling classes cannot be adjusted in such a way that they can be relied on for fundamental social change. Police are a concentration of the kind of society they serve, the social and economic relations their job is to protect. Women are dominated by men because of the workings of the whole exploitative system. The ideas, culture and police apparatus are part of the superstructure that developed around the existing system, whether in “modern” capitalist societies like the U.S. or U.K. or countries in the third world. The ideas, values, and social relations are a reflection of how that system and society functions and serve to keep the ruling classes in power.

Inequalities and oppressive divisions between men and women as well as between classes, castes (an important particularity in India) and different nationalities can only be eliminated in a society organized around entirely different principles.

Change never comes about without intense struggle to fight injustice and bring more and more people into resistance against the existing ruling classes. It is with this kind of resistance that people can raise their sights and see the need to fight for a revolutionary solution. The fury in India should be applauded and go further to that fundamental ”reckoning”. Overthrowing India’s ruling classes and establishing a new revolutionary state power is an essential step in eliminating the oppression of women in all its forms.

Why did it need an incident so unspeakably brutal to trigger our outrage?

By Shoma Chaudhury, Managing Editor,, December 20, 2012

The surging outrage at the gang rape of a paramedic in New Delhi this week is welcome and cathartic. But it is also terrifying. There’s a fear that this too shall fade without correctives. But there is also a question we must all face: why did it need an incident so unspeakably brutal to trigger our outrage? What does that say about our collective threshold as a society? Why did hundreds of other stories of rape not suffice to prick our conscience?

The harsh truth is, rape is not deviant in India: it is rampant. The attitude that enables it sits embedded in our brain. Rape is almost culturally sanctioned in India, made possible by crude, unthinking conversations in every strata of society. Conversations that look at crime against women through the prism of women’s responsibility: were they adequately dressed, were they accompanied by a male protector, were they of “sterling character”, were they cautious enough.

It’s not just the extreme savagery the young girl suffered that has jolted everyone therefore. Running beneath that is the affront that it could happen at 9.30 pm, while a decently dressed woman was with a male friend, in a well-lit tony south Delhi neighbourhood. This certainly accentuates the impunity that’s set in. But it also lays bare the maddening subtext that blunts our responses at other times. The assumption is that rapes later at night, in places more secluded or less privileged, and of women who may be alone or sexily dressed are less worthy of outrage because they feed into two pet ideas India holds: that a woman asks for rape either through her foolishness or promiscuity. In some way or the other, she is fair game.

There are other deep examinations this rape forces on us: what do we consider violence? Does it really need a woman to be tossed out naked on a road with her genitals and intestines ripped up for us to register violence? Why does gang rape horrify us more than mere rape? Why do rapes of Dalits [“untouchables”] or tribal or Northeastern women not shock the nation into saying “enough is enough”? We do not distinguish between bearable murders and unbearable murders; why does rape come graded in such debasing shade sheets?

Rape is already the most under-reported crime in India. But beneath that courses a whole other universe of violence that is not even acknowledged. It’s not just psychopathic men in a rogue white bus who can be rapists: it’s fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles, friends. Almost one in every two women would have a story – perhaps told, perhaps untold – of being groped, molested or raped in the confines of their own homes. If they dare speak of it at all, they are told to bury and bear it. Take it as a part of life. To name an uncle who has been molesting a minor niece would be to shame the family. And marital rape – that stretches the very imagination. It’s a mark of our bestial ideas about women that even judges often suggest that rape survivors marry their rapists to avoid the hell of life as a single woman rejected by society.

There are, therefore, three reckonings this horrific rape forces upon us now. How can India change its endemically diseased mindset about women? How can strong deterrences be built against rape? And how can contact with the police and justice process not be made to feel like a double rape?

Harsher, swifter punitive measures are definitely needed to puncture the idea of immunity that’s built up around rape. Fear of consequence is a powerful tool. But that can be only one aspect of the correctives. What is equally needed is a government-led gender sensitisation blitzkrieg at every level of Indian society: in schools; in anganwadis [courtyard shelters, started by the Indian government in 1975 to combat child hunger and malnutrition]; in pop culture; in village shows; in the police, legal and judicial fraternity. Even “sensitisation” is too patriarchal a word: what we need is a determined drive towards modernity. Indians have an inherent impatience for process. We prefer the drama of retributions: demands for lynching and capital punishments. Set aside for a moment the larger argument against death penalties, we forget to ask, who will take these cases to a point where judgements can even be handed out?

Earlier this year, Tehelka published a sting investigation on how senior cops in the National Capital Region think about rape. It made for bone-chilling insights. But there was absolutely no action from the establishment. The argument went that the cops’ attitudes were merely a reflection of the society they came from. Nothing should make us more fearful than that.

– end item-

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *