India, through a gendered lens today, reveals itself as an arena of gender-based violence, inequalities, and exclusions. Structural issues (social, political and economical) that manifest in the form of inequalities and exclusions and the tussle between the progressive and regressive forces in the society needs to be understood in its entirety. This awareness is essential to prevail over the issues at hand, and also to mould the nation into an egalitarian one.
The Crime Records Bureau reports that in 2016 rapes account for 12% of all the crimes against women. Although rural women report greater domestic and workplace harassment, urban homes, urban work/public spaces are not any better. Sexual and emotional violence from intimate partners and others, and harassments in private and public spheres are on the rise. Rape threats, hate speech and abuse of women and other non-conforming genders, who are vocal about the issues, are on the rise in online as well as offline spaces. Scholars have identified various reasons for such increased violence. However, the information remains scattered and are not adequately discussed. Discussions and debates at present hover around victim blaming, and upon the shortcomings of law enforcement mechanisms. Politicians across the spectrum contradict themselves on issues related to gender and their positions are often indifferent. Discourses on what men can and should do to reduce the crimes against women and other gendered minorities are shockingly absent in the current social milieu. The apparent lack of initiatives from men in online/offline spaces, while being sympathetic to the gender issues, is very much evident. Also, neither the struggle against gender-based violence nor the initiatives taken to address these issues get adequate media representation.
The rise of the far-right is another critical factor that curbs the gender progressive initiatives in society. In terms of the visibility of the genders, in public as well as workspaces, there definitely has been an improvement. However, under the current regime, we witness a retraction that discredits the progressive gender struggles. In the right-wing narratives, the ones fighting for gender justice are the “others”; the “others” who constantly unsettle the cultural sanctity of the country, the ones who need to be tamed. An alarming peculiarity of the right-wing is that they resort to preserve the culture through women and by women. Rather than being just victims of patriarchy having no agency, the women in right-wing are but one set of intervention from the right-wing. These militant foot soldiers of the far-right are there not because they are forced, but because they chose to exert their freedom and agency in this particular way. These women acknowledge the violence against women, but at the same time accept the perceived weakness of their body and seek the help of men to protect their body and country from undesirable elements. Meanwhile, they regard men from religious minorities as threats and resort to a two-pronged strategy to protect their body and culture. On the one hand they undertake physical training from organizations such as Durga Vahini, and on the other hand, use the physical and intellectual resources that middle-class women have access to. Many women are attracted to such right-wing platforms. A large number of these men and women in these online platforms use these new communication services to discredit any progress the society has made in terms of inclusion and equality, through years of struggles.
Often, even the progressive fractions of the society fall prey to these conservative narratives and are seen making contradictory statements on issues of violence against women and other sexual minorities. In addition to the patriarchal social structure, this may also be because gender issues are considered a subset of the larger class struggle. However, in a society where the intersections of class, caste, and gender are complexly intertwined, we need to engage critically and carefully. To sustain the progress made by the society through years of relentless struggles from across the spectra and communities, and to fight the conservative forces in a concerted way, we need to channelize our energies.
Swathanthra is a platform to collect, store, discuss and deliberate upon gender issues. Our immediate social and political context is India, but our engagements won’t be limited. We will read and analyze the gender struggles across the globe. The portal will also engage in and publish on issues that are important to larger politics. The contents will be curated for the inclusion of articles from the progressive side of the political spectrum.