rape protests bangalore

“Mass Molestations” Show Why We Still Can’t Talk About Sexual Violence in India

With the onset of 2017 came a forceful reminder to women in India: we don’t belong in public spaces, and we will be punished for any attempt to inhabit them. A Bangalore Mirror story shocked the country with a report that a public New Year’s Eve party in the heart of the metropolitan, progressive city was invaded by “hooligans” who attacked and molested the women present at the gathering, while threatening and intimidating the men and children at the scene with them. Women reported being verbally harassed, molested, groped by a “huge group of unruly men,” and forced to escape the scene of the crime with their heels in their hands. The “brazen mass molestation” of women occurred despite the presence of over 1,500 policemen deployed in the area, who were either unwilling or unable to help the victims.

Police reported that they were outnumbered by the mob of drunk molesters – a truly terrifying reinforcement of patriarchal control over public spaces. Harrowing eyewitness accounts talk about the helplessness of witnessing police inaction and the refusal of the police to accept responsibility for the incident. To add lawless insult to the injury, no cases were filed against the assaulters, leading the incident to pass through the justice system without rectification or punishment.

The aftermath of the acts was both depressing and predictable. The Home Minister of Karnataka (the state that Bangalore is the capital of), G Parameshwara, blamed the incident on the “Western ways” and “Western dress” adopted by youngsters. Politician Abu Azmi of the Samajwadi Party also offered his own admonishment to the victims, claiming that “partying late night in half attire…has never been part of our culture.” Meanwhile, the men of India, as men all over the world are expert at doing, instantly took to Twitter to disclaim responsibility, with #NotAllMen (you can’t make this up!) the first hashtag to trend in India in response to the news of the attack.

The general response by the allegedly liberal English-speaking media in the country was hardly more conducive to a healthy conversation about rape culture in India. Conversation has primarily revolved around whether Bangalore was becoming the next Delhi, around a defense of westernization and against misogynistic victim blaming, and about the failure of “civilized” society to protect its women. Conversation on international news sites, meanwhile, has involved a reiteration of the same tired statistics and anecdotes about rape in India, without a deeper investigation into the cultural contexts at play in enabling the incident.

What’s left unsaid in all these discussions – the conversation that India refuses to have – is how much this patriarchal dominance over public spaces is directly associated with the rise of Hindu nationalism. Hindu nationalism, or “Hindutva,” is an ideology seeking to assert the hegemony of Hindus, and impose the Hindu way of life over all Indians in India. While it has always been popular in a country borne of a Hindu-Muslim partition and nearly 80% Hindu in composition, it has come even more to the fore under the watchful eye of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi rules as the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, a party that champions Hindutva as their official ideology. Modi is also former member of the “openly fascist” Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a violent paramilitary volunteer Hindu organization.

Gender violence is a crucial component of any sort of fundamentalist agenda to claim power, and Hindu nationalism is no different.  The RSS, for example, is known to openly support the perpetuation of violence against anyone who deviates from the idea of chaste, upper caste Hindu womanhood. Long before Azmi and Parameshwara, leaders of the RSS have parroted the lines that rape only happens to westernized women, and that non-Hindu woman must be raped, for they are ‘symbols of enemy cultures.’ The RSS’s “women’s wing,” meanwhile, has vocally supported wife-beating, while dissuading acting out against one’s husband and divorce.

Karnataka, the state where the attacks happened, is home to an 83% Hindu population, higher than the national average. It has previously seen such attacks from Hindu nationalists as well, when in 2009 the “Sri Ram Sena” brutally attacked young women and men in a lounge club, because “girls going to pubs is not acceptable.” The same group also threatened to attack any woman found to be dating on Valentine’s Day in the state. Such moral crusades are fundamental to Hindu nationalist ideology. While Bangalore’s misogynistic mob violence may be surprising to some because it’s not Delhi – home to the infamous 2012 gang-rape incident – it isn’t surprising in the context of its history of Hindu nationalist violence.

And yet now, there is a nationwide fear in whispering criticism against Hindu ideology, or naming it as the driving force behind rape culture. While the Indian media found itself up in arms less than a week ago about the Twitter harassment cricketer Mohammed Shami’s wife faced from Muslim fundamentalists over her clothing, with passionate critiques of patriarchy in Islam on every news channel, the same media remains reluctant to bemoan the embrace of horrific Hindutva fascism by the country’s central government. The blame for the incidents, instead, seems to be deflected to “lowlives,” and “rogue, weasel monsters,” which are coded classist and casteist insults that aim to distance the elites in power from the creation of the situation at hand.

If we are to protect the Indian woman in 2017, we must first and foremost be willing to speak truth to power and name the biggest threat that she faces: the rise and dominance of India’s Hindu right in an increasingly fascist world.

 

California

Meg is a law student in California. She's interested in law and politics, intersectional feminism, criminal justice, human rights, freedom of the press, the law and feminism, and the politics of South Asia.

Meg is a law student in California. She's interested in law and gender, race and criminal justice, human rights, cats, and sports.

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