Because women’s rights are human rights

There exist no scales on which the sexual brutality of gangrape, accompanied by extreme physical assault, may be measured. Even so, the recent violence against a young medical student in Delhi still struggling for survival is surely amongst the worst episodes of brazen sexual violence. The spontaneous events of public prayer in all cosmopolitan Indian cities for her survival are simply unprecedented; so is the renewal of critical social solidarity against all forms of sexual violence.

The unfolding events of popular protest reiterate

some familiar demands — conscientious police investigation, speedy trials, harsh punishments and efficacious law reform. With the exception of the demand for capital punishment for all rapists, these demands carry universal agreement. What is new is the sense of urgency, cascading public indignation and a wider call for responsive and reflexive law and governance. Translation of the current wave of protests into an enduring social movement entails a serious-minded addressal of flourishing rape cultures in state and civil society, going beyond the practices of exposé politics, the abrasive bravado of leading 24x7 TV anchors, and the opportunistic practices of competitive party politics.

Rape cultures abound in civil society, illustrated cruelly in dowry murders and female foeticide, and the sex-based malnutrition of the girl child. Paedophilia, on all available evidence, is widespread. Visual rape in public spaces is an everyday predation. Conscription into sexual slavery through trafficking of women and girls stands archived in literature and the memories of those affected. Marital rape all too often defines the abjection of married women. Caste/ biradari/ khap panchayats, as well as fatwa cultures, continue to flourish under the patronage of politics. The "shadow" reports by women's movement groups to the UN CEDAW provide a poignant counter-archive.

Political rape cultures are vividly foregrounded in "counter-insurgency" operations; no reminder beyond a recall of Manorama's epic struggles should be necessary. The practices of insurgent, armed opposition groups fare no better. Further, degenerate forms of doing competitive "liberal politics" continue even today, seeking to "justify" unnameable violence against women in situations of regime-sponsored or tolerated "communal" and "ethnic" violence.

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