After the Mourning in India

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The Indian government’s response to the recent much-publicized gang rape case will be measured by its ability to deliver justice for millions of Indian women not in the headlines.
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The death of a young female student, after she suffered a vicious gang rape on a public bus in Delhi, ushered in an unceremonious end to India’s 2012. The New Year in the world’s largest democracy will be marked not with a bang but with a whimper.

This heart-wrenching incident in the nation’s capital has shocked the conscience of Indians and non-Indians alike, and it comes at the tail end of what could charitably be described as a trying year—one that has rendered even the most loquacious of India-boosters at a loss for words. In 2012, India saw revelations of staggering grand corruption, a confidence-decimating blackout that left hundreds of millions without power, and the disappointing reality of a hobbled economy that appears to have lost the dynamism it displayed during the heady 2000s.

The cruel gang rape of “India’s daughter”—and the many other instances of violence against women, some that are reported and many sadly that are not—are blemishes on Indian society.

When it comes to the reasons for the injustices women face in India, there is plenty of blame to go around. Many have rightly pointed to a host of cultural factors that underlie the lamentable status of India’s women. They range from a skewed male-to-female ratio thanks to sex-selective abortion and female infanticide to patriarchal norms that result in women's low status in society to the social stigmas attached to victims of rape or abuse—just to name a few.

Not to be ignored, though, are the deep-seated institutional shortcomings of the Indian state.

Over the past two decades, India has witnessed three great transformations in economics, politics, and foreign policy. These have, in many ways, been good news for the country’s women.

Economically, India has shed some of its socialist tendencies and opened its markets. The benefits from education have increased, changing the incentives of families to enroll young girls in school.

Politically, an era of one-party dominance and centralized power has given way to an age of coalition politics and more decentralized governance. The emergence of local institutions of self-governance, and the reservation of elected positions for women, have increased women’s role in the country’s political life.

In its relations with the outside world, India has shunned autarky and embraced globalization. Today, there are unprecedented opportunities for young Indian women to join the labor force in cutting-edge sectors of the economy.

But despite these strides, India’s institutions have not undergone an equivalent transformation. For instance, the courts are hopelessly overburdened and pocked with vacancies while the criminal justice system appears badly broken. A young Punjabi woman committed suicide after police refused to register her complaint of being gang-raped and instead opted to broker a “compromise” between the accused and the victim’s family.

India’s institutional shortcomings are a problem for all of India’s citizens, not just its women. But, due to the unique confluence of institutional weakness and cultural bias, women are particularly disadvantaged.

As the year ends, Indians from Ajmer to Zahirabad are wondering whether there is any prospect for change on the horizon. There are perhaps reasons to be optimistic. For the second time in as many years, on the heels of injustice, thousands of protesters occupied the streets of Delhi, demanding a more accountable, responsive government.

In 2011, Indians took to the streets—in the wake of a series of high-profile corruption scandals—to support the antigraft fighter and Gandhian social activist Anna Hazare in his push to win parliamentary support to create a Lokpal, or anticorruption ombudsman. This week, protesters were out in force demanding that the government take steps to make India safer for its women—both in its private and public spaces.

Ultimately, “Team Anna’s” maneuver failed, but the protesters gathering at Jantar Mantar in Delhi could learn a few lessons from Anna’s failure.

First, the anticorruption protesters of 2011 obsessively focused on the creation of a Lokpal—treating it almost as if it were a panacea for India’s corruption travails. Today’s protesters seeking a better future for India’s women need not shy away from specifics, but they need to adopt a broad-based assault on India’s institutions. There is no single institutional fix that could have addressed all the ills the Delhi gang rape exposed.

Second, Hazare’s anticorruption movement struggled to connect with the rural grassroots; it instead thrived on a largely urban, middle-class base of supporters who have traditionally been politically diffident. It appears that the vanguard of the most recent outpouring also hail from India’s urban middle class. But if a shift in culture is what is needed to help improve the lot of women, at least in part, then reformers will have to take their campaign on the road—educating citizens in rural as well as urban India about today’s realities and sensitizing them to those truths.

Finally, the modus operandi of last year’s anticorruption protests was to demonize politics and politicians. But producing institutional change is an inherently political process. Pressure from the outside is valuable, but the protesters on the streets today—if they are serious about change—need to be visiting legislators tomorrow. What made last summer’s obsession with a Lokpal so unhelpful was activists’ lack of attention to the many other legislative reforms that could help reduce corruption, like the judicial accountability bill or a proposed law that would protect whistleblowers from retribution.

“She died, but she woke us up,” a young protester told the Washington Post when asked about the impact of the young rape victim’s tragic death. As a new year begins, the extent of India’s “awakening” will be determined not simply by the government’s ability to deliver justice to a family that has experienced unimaginable loss but by the government’s willingness to deliver justice for millions of Indian women not in the headlines.

End of document

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Comments (13)

  • Sanjay
    When people in Eastern Europe protest corrupt govts, they are given unfettered license by the Western media to topple them. But when Indians protest their corrupt govt, they are scorned just like anti-Mubarak protesters in Egypt. The corrupt Congress Party is a non-performing kleptocracy which exists only to perpetuate its power, and lord it over the people. This is the same party which stole democracy from 1975-77 during their Emergency rule, and which committed the 1984 riots to massacre thousands of Sikhs in Delhi. This party is a predatory party which seeks to preserve its power and privilege at the cost of the people of India and their freedom.
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    • Swami Vivekananda replies...
      This article: The heart-wrenching incident in the nation’s capital has shocked the conscience of Indians and non-Indians alike.

      “She died, but she woke us up,” a young protester told the Washington Post when asked about the impact of the young rape victim’s tragic death.

      As a new year begins, the extent of India’s “awakening” will be determined not simply by the government’s ability to deliver justice to a family that has experienced unimaginable loss but by the government’s willingness to deliver justice for millions of Indian women not in the headlines.
      The darker reality is that the young woman’s rape and murder outraged the country’s Hindu urban middle class because it was a random and senseless act that could have just as easily victimized their daughters.

      Not so with attacks on the Muslim women in Gujarat. The genocide against them meant that the broader Hindu majority was insulated from it.

      If the New Delhi woman’s fate made every Indian feel more vulnerable, the attack on the Muslim women made Hindus feel more secure.

      Compared with the New Delhi rape, which has triggered a protest movement in India calling for the castration and execution of the suspects, the rapes by bestial Gujarati Hindus (gHindus) elicited barely a whimper.

      The lack of national outrage against the gHindu rapes reduces their true cruelty, breaking down the psychological walls that would at least prevent nonsociopath gHindus from going on a rampage.

      Imbecile Hindus (iHindus) who turn a blind eye to the rape of Muslim women can’t ultimately protect their own.
    • Swami Vivekananda replies...
      The Rashtra Sevika Samiti, the RSS’s women wing, with 55,000 shakhas all over the country, holds camps and indoctrinates thousands of girls-toddlers, adolescents and old - to propagate the idea of a ‘culturally sanitised’ Hindu rashtra and the patriarchal roles it offers women to conform.

      A training camp targeted at the adolescents is called the kishori varg. The kishori vargs are most potent tools to entangle seething teenage emotions with patriarchy.

      Kemi Wahengbam, 26, has been a whole timer for the last two years. She has been posted in the failed Hindu state of Gujarat for the last two years and under her tutelage at least 50 new girls have joined the Gujarat shakha.

      When I ask Kemi about the genocide she resorts to the age old definition of a riot, which is irrational, spontaneous violence, not once acknowledging the possibility of it being organised.

      She says, “It was a reaction. Hindus are very tolerant by nature. Hindu kings have even funded the construction of mosques and churches in this country. So clearly, in 2002, all thresholds were crossed for the Hindus to turn so violent.”

      Kemi’s answer exposes the complicity of the Samiti in the genocide that involves their informed assent to the brutalities against Muslim women which involves gang rapes, slicing of their breasts and the tearing open of pregnant wombs.
      Fathers and brothers, farmers and traders, who were normally law abiding gHindus had turned overnight rapists and molesters with impunity.

      The act was largely supported by gHindu women and elders who believed there was nothing amiss for Muslim women to be raped/molested/murdered, as it was rightly done to avenge the crimes against Hindu women in 14th, 15th and god knows how many centuries, as a skewed historical narrative became popular narrative.
    • Swami Vivekananda replies...
      Odious Hindus (oHindus) either deny that the genocide even occurred or, if they accept it, claim it wasn’t as grisly as news accounts suggest.
      The details of the rape, gang rape, and mutilation of women are too awful to bear repeating.
      This is what happened again and again in Naroda Patiya — women were stripped, raped and burnt.

      Nothing was left of these mutilated women — no bodies, no evidence, no justice.
      The Muslim genocide in Gujarat remains a defining moment for any understanding of communal violence and Muslims in contemporary India: violence ritualized in humiliating attacks on body, property, place of worship and even monuments; the rape of women and the destruction of the vagina and womb to signify the destruction of future generations, indeed, the future of Muslims themselves; the dishonor of women to dishonor the community they come from.

      Particularly striking were the mass rapes and mutilations of women.

      The typical tactic was first to (gang-)rape the woman, then to torture her, and then to set her on fire and kill her.

      The evident preoccupation with destroying women’s sexual organs reveals a dark sexual obsession about allegedly ultra-virile Muslim male bodies and overfertile Muslim female ones, that inspires and sustains the figures of paranoia and revenge.

      The brutality on women, particularly the use of trishuls on their private parts, for rapes and killings will forever remain embedded in our consciousness.

      Bajrangi – butcher of Naroda Patiya – slashed the pregnant Kausar Banu to death. He then used a sword to kill and lift the unborn child, proclaiming that he felt like Maharana Pratap.

      It is to the shame (??) of the gHindu sher that he is viewed as god­father of Bajrangi.

      One had only read about Fascism and Nazism in books of history and fiction.

      But what the Gujarati Muslims experienced in 2002 must have been much more dreadful than that.
    • Swami Vivekananda replies...
      [Append to January 29, 20138:47 PM post]
      A Hindu woman married to a Muslim was mass-raped.

      Two gHindus kidnapped her 16-year old daughter and threatened to rape her, unless she signed an affidavit claiming she had filed a false case against them. She consented, got her daughter back, but an upright senior aHindu police officer, Nirja Gortu, heard of the matter, and intervened to ensure that a FIR was registered by the gHindu police for threats, intimidation and kidnapping; she also met the rape-victim and assured her of all support.

      But there is an ironical twist to this last story: The woman suffered a serious road accident, her legs turned gangrenous and had to be amputated. By then her husband had lost interest in her, and she had no money for her treatment. The accused paid for her medical expenses, and in return she compromised in the case concerning the kidnapping of her daughter.

      But she is still persisting with her appeal in the rape case, in which the accused gHindu had secured an acquittal at the trial court.
      Although the Constitution vests the right to life and liberty in all citizens of India, irrespective of differences in religion, the dominant oHindu community determines whether Muslims can live their lives in peace.

      Ironically, the oHindu state is deeply complicit in the violence experienced by Muslims, thus nullifying the principle of equal citizenship.
      Those oHindus responsible for mass crimes and continuing persecution of Muslims stand unpunished and defiant.

      As for the innocent Muslims who were killed and raped, justice is as distant as it always was.
    • Swami Vivekananda replies...
      Investigations were stalled, evidence was systematically destroyed and witnesses intimidated.

      A compromised gHindu police force refused to file cases.
      The gHindu police subverted the law of the land in complicity with the gHindu crime manager. This travesty of justice took place through investigative sabotage, implying the deliberate distortion of FIRs, thus weakening a criminal case at its very inception.

      The source of the problem is the communalisation of gHindus at large and the gHindu state apparatus, for which the gHindu crime manager is culpable.
      The three main components of the gHindu Executive - the Police, the Executive Magistracy, and the Auxillary services - tasked to maintain law and order, are promoters of statelessness and mobocracy, by intentionally creating an ambience facilitating extensive anti-Muslim crimes and subversion of the Criminal Justice System.
      Witness-victims report grave and widespread intimidation by the gHindu police in not allowing them to file their complaints just after the genocide. If they do succeed in filing these, the police refuse to include the names of the accused, largely referring to "anonymous mobs" among whom none could be identified and therefore prosecuted. They also report deliberately shoddy investigation.

      From deliberately ambiguous gHindu police complaints to shoddy investigation, to cross-cases, to encouraging compromise, to prosecution lawyers who act like defense attorneys, to biased judges, the legal course is a minefield, for witness-victims who are anyway dealing with the challenges of reconstructing their broken lives in a hostile social and political environment. Defense lawyers are skilled in ensuring that these cases are unendingly adjourned, on a vast variety of pretexts.

      We witness not merely the collapse of justice, but its systematic planned subversion.
      This implication of the gHindu government at the highest levels is evident from the distribution of the spoils of the genocide: oHindus who towed the party line have been rewarded and aHindus who resisted were punished.
    • Swami Vivekananda replies...
      oHindu Gujarat is unique in that the ruling gHindu establishment has obstructed justice at every turn.

      Every institution of governance has been infiltrated by oHindus.

      A fascist middle class is leading the assault with their insidious, toxic oHindu thinking.
      oHindu police is in the hands of the government, so is the prosecution.

      In the lower courts, the judges come from the same oHindu society and are naturally colored by the same prejudices.
      It’s a well known fact that the business of religion has led to deep and permanent divisions in the law enforcement agencies.

      The oHindu police repeatedly botched up investigations, forcing the Supreme Court to transfer the probe to the SIT in nine cases.

      If the oHindu police forces have been wasted by religious fervor, the oHindu courts have not been spared either. Suspecting bias, the Supreme Court has transferred several cases outside the state.

      Just one reason why Gujarat is a failed Hindu state.

      Also, just one reason why gHindus are failed human beings.
  • Sanjay
    Why was it right for the ruling govt to have this fragile victim airlifted 4000 km abroad, when equal or better facilities existed in India? Why hasn't the author not made even the slightest mention of this? She was too sick to undergo a transplant operation, and desperately needed to stabilize first. The govt wanted to send her away in the hopes of making the protests die down more quickly. The last thing they wanted was for crowds to be holding vigils outside her Delhi hospital, keeping this story - and the public's discontent - in the headlines. Now she's died as a result. Why isn't the author taking note of this?
    When her dead body was flown back in the middle of the night, the govt wanted to have her cremated right away, in the dead of night, in hushed secrecy, against the wishes of the family. The family insisted on waiting until sunrise, as required by Hindu tradition, and managed to get her cremation delayed until then. The govt was mainly wanting her cremated before any protesters could show up. How dare the govt impose its desires upon the devastated family. How dare the ruling politicians override the girl's health needs just to fulfill their selfish political needs. How dare the author not even take the slightest note of any of this. The conduct of the govt has been despicable, and the blind eye turned by its supporters in the media has also been despicable.
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  • Swami Vivekananda
    This article: When it comes to the reasons for the injustices women face in India, there is plenty of blame to go around.

    A host of cultural factors that underlie the lamentable status of India’s women: ... patriarchal norms that result in women's low status in society ...
    Mohanrao Bhagwat, RSS chief: The Indian ethos and attitude towards women should be revisited in the context of ancient Indian values.
    Saffrons developed a constitution of their own based on ‘Manu dharmshastra’ which will promote the idea of ‘vaidik dharma’ and Sanatan Dharma where women will be idolized like ‘Sita’.

    An ideal woman is one who follows her husband like ‘Sita’ and does not question her man.
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    • Swami Vivekananda replies...
      The myth that women had a place of honor in ancient Indian period is well constructed.

      During the long span of ancient Indian period the status of women kept changing, but women being subordinate beings was the running theme.

      During the Aryan period of pastoral life the women were supposed to commit symbolic self immolation after the death of husband, later this got converted to actual burning of the widows.

      It is probably around this period that two great epics were written, Ramayan and Mahabharat.

      In Ramayan Lord Ram banishes his pregnant wife Sita, because of the rumors about her character amongst the subjects of Ayodhya.

      In Mahabharat, the Panadavas use their common wife Draupadi as a ‘thing’ and use her as a bet in gamble. Not to be left behind their cousins try to disrobe her in the court in front of the King Dhritrashtra!

      So much for the glorious place of women in ancient India!

      Later period’s values are well reflected in Manusmiriti, where the women were explicitly denied education and serving the husband and household chores were regarded as equivalent of education for the women. Manusmriti gives the detailed code for women and it leaves no doubt about women being subordinate or the property of men.

      The Gupta period (3rd to 7th Century), which is regarded as the Golden Period of Ancient India, the women were having limited access to education and barring few names which are dished out to prove the glorious condition of Hindu women, mostly the women were having limited access to education. Their participation in Yagnas was secondary to husband, the Yajman, who was the primary being who had solicited the priest for the Yagnas. Yajnman word interestingly has no female equivalent.
    • Swami Vivekananda replies...
      The Ramayana and the Mahabharata have become India's default epics. Five stories of rape and sexual assault from these epics are particularly useful.

      The Ramayana has the abduction of Sita by Ravana, and, running parallel to it, the disfiguration of Surpanakha by Rama and Lakshmana -- two atrocities, not one, that trigger a war.

      The Mahabharata has the public assault on Draupadi at its heart, the abduction and revenge of Amba, and the sanctioned rapes of Amba and Ambalika by Ved Vyasa.

      Sita is not a passive victim. She exercises complex choices, leaving a marriage where she is no longer treated with respect. She is the first single mother.

      Surpanakha, the woman in the forest, sees herself as a free agent. She is Ravana's sister and, by extension, probably as learned as her brother; that she is free enough to express her desire for the brothers Rama and Lakshmana; and that she is indeed free to roam the forests without protection.

      Draupadi's reaction, after Krishna rescues her from Dushasana's assault while her husbands and clan elders sit by in passive silence, is not meek gratitude. She berates the men for their complicity and their refusal to defend her; instead of the shame visited on women who have been sexually assaulted, she expresses a fierce, searing anger. She demands justice and is prepared to call down a war that destroys the clan in order to receive her due.

      She will wear her hair loose, she says, as a reminder of the insult; she does not see herself and her body as the property of the clan, least of all as the property of the husband, Yudhisthira, who has gambled her away to the Kauravas.

      Amba is the woman who will even become a man in order to wreak revenge on the man who first abducts and then rejects her. Ambalika is so afraid of the man who is in her bed that she shuts her eyes so as not to see him.

      Contemporary warnings handed out to women in India: if you assume that you are free to roam everywhere, even in the forests, you will be hurt by the most ostensibly chivalrous of men.

      Punchline to this warning: if you hurt the wrong woman, prepare for war.
    • Swami Vivekananda replies...
      India's liberal intellectual tradition has received a stunning blow with the removal of an essay - that celebrates diversity - from Delhi University's BA history (honors) syllabus.

      The essay is the late A K Ramanujan's Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translations.

      Written in 1987, the essay drew attention to the "astonishing" number of "tellings" of Ramayana (the story of Ram) over the past 2,500 years in different languages, regions and mediums.

      The rich diversity in the various tellings of the Ramayana that Ramanujan wrote about raised the hackles of Hindu thugs in 2008, when activists of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Sangh Parivar (a family of Hindu terrorist organizations), vandalized Delhi University's history department to protest against the teaching of this essay, describing it as a "blasphemous" essay that was "malicious, capricious, fallacious and offensive to the beliefs of millions of iHindus".

      In the Sangh Parivar's narrow view of the world, the only Ramayana is Valmiki's Ramayana.

      To them there is only one Ram story and that is the one which Valmiki told, where Ram is the perfect son, ruler and husband, never mind that he treated his wife rather shabbily.
      A great text by AK Ramanujan quite clearly captures the ubiquitous nature of Ramayana tales in the whole of Indosphere, even beyond Indian subcontinent like in the islands of Indonesia or lands as distant as Cambodia.

      The text educates that Ramayana has many local variants and it is a truly a tale of all Indic region with amazingly deep cultural penetration that has sway in shaping even an atheist, leave alone some orthodox Vaishnav Hindu.

      After oHindu politicians stroke trouble objecting to this long-standing course material the talibanized RSS goons of ABVP - the terrorist wing of BJP - got offended to this whiff of knowledge.

      Their argument (or more accurately non-argument) was that Valmiki Ramayana is the accurate one.
    • Swami Vivekananda replies...
      You have to emphasize the fact that there were variants, or people tend to assume that there was only one version of the story or that that was the definitive version.
      Engagement with many Ramayanas requires two things that have disappeared.

      The first is shraddha (badly translated as reverence). Where do we get an idea of a basic trust in the world that allows us a mode of being less anxiety driven?

      The second is what Tulsidas describes as his motive for writing. It is not about spreading a message or conveying the truth. He says he is writing entirely for “self-satisfaction”.

      Perhaps we are squabbling so much because what gives true self-satisfaction is the question we want to avoid most.
      The way those of us of the intellectual class, academics, artists, writers and activists, who inhabit the South Asian and the transnational public sphere, talk about religion today appears to have far less purchase on the cultural mainstream of India than the alleged oHindu vandals and goons claiming to act in the defense of Hinduism.
      India’s intellectual elite is one of the few oppressed castes left in the country today.

      Who’s Afraid Of Nobodaddies?
      Of a weak-kneed Congress and the manufactured dissent of clerics
      By SABA NAQVI | Outlook India, 30 Jan 2012

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