ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Rape Culture

We are outraged and deeply upset at the grotesque sexualised assault on the adivasi woman who was stripped and viciously beaten at a protest demon­ stration by adivasi and tea tribe communi­ ties seeking scheduled tribe status and other political rights by “local” youths in Guwahati on November 24, 2007, the latest in a series of attacks on the bodies of the poor and the disenfranchised, especially women.

The recent visual reporting of the political battles between different groups literally enacted on the bodies of women compounds this violence as the media reproduces it only as spectacle. We are troubled by both the brutality at which the adivasi protest was punished by “civil” society and the gratuitous circulation of images of such brutality.

Not only did most who witnessed this brutal assault in the Guwahati case not intervene to prevent the assault, they found the spectacle of humiliation useful as an image to be captured on their mobile phones. Although the photographs al­ lowed identification of the accused men, these images that voyeuristically cele­ brate sexual violence as spectacle repeat the violence.

We are appalled by the emerging political culture in which sexual violence plays a central role in establishing the dominance of one group over another – whether it be the army in Manipur, Hindu fundamentalists in Gujarat, Communist Party of India (Marxist) cadre in Nandi­ gram or “local” upper caste/middle class youth in Guwahati. This national rape cul­ ture uses sexualised violence as a central mode of stifling protest.

For political parties too, sexual violence has become a means of doing politics. And it is unfortunate that protest against such violence, when it takes place, remains confined to the courts or to women mainly in the metros and glosses over the repeated violence faced by women at the margins of our society.

In all the political violence that we have seen in independent India – and there have been many painful such instances – the rape and violation of women’s bodies has been routine. We have yet to see a single conviction for rape during riots and pogroms. Nor has there been an attempt to legislate against rape during collective violence. Women’s bodies continue to be seen a prime site and resource for assert­ ing hegemony of one kind or another.

It is not enough, for example, that the assaulting men in Guwahati have been arrested and the chief minister has an­ nounced a compensation of Rs one lakh to the survivor: Why is it that no party or in­ stitution has condemned the spate of recent acts of violence on women’s bodies, un­ equivocally, and in all cases, wherever and whenever such acts have occurred? Who will take the responsibility for this gro­tesque political culture?

New Delhi

Uma Chakravarti, Urvashi Butalia, Pratiksha Baxi, Xonzoi Barbora, Ashley Tellis, Anand Chakravarti, Mohinder Singh, N R Levin and Sarovar Zaidi