Thursday, January 03, 2013

'Long Way to Go, I Was Groped at Protest' for Indian Rape Victim

Times of India
Rukmini Shrinivasan
December 30, 2012.

This is not for a moment to distract from Nirbhaya. It is only to say that we have a long, long way to go before women feel safe in India. I was groped while covering the protests at Jantar Mantar on Saturday.

I reached Jantar Mantar around 1pm. There were three large camps of more organized protesters, and then dozens of scattered ones. There were female college students, some older women and a few families, but overall, the crowd was overwhelmingly male. I went from group to group taking pictures and talking to some protesters.

Around 2pm, there was a commotion near the barricades and I saw Sheila Dikshit come in. Immediately, more than 100 protesters - almost all of them male - rushed towards her, booing and heckling her. Protesters formed a ring around the police who were shielding her, and journalists rushed in. It was a mad scramble, but of the sort journalists are used to. I raised my camera above my head and started taking pictures.

Within a few seconds, I felt a hand on my behind. I tried to give the person the benefit of doubt by elbowing his arm and twisting around to dislodge his hand, while still taking pictures. But when I knew I was unmistakably being groped, I caught the guy by the arm.

He looked around 25 and had no camera, placards or banners with him. I hit him on the arm a couple of times and gave him a shove, asking him what he was doing and telling him to get away from me. He pretended not to hear and stared straight ahead. I yelled at him some more, hit him on the arm again and a few men in front of me turned around. He slunk off.

The whirlwind around Sheila Dikshit moved closer to the barricades, I took some more photos, and she left. I moved away from the protesters and told a friend, another female journalist, what had happened. I described him to her and we looked around at the crowd but couldn't spot him. I didn't think it was a big enough incident to make a police complaint.

I tweeted about the episode and was inundated with support, which I appreciate. Yet, there were a few men who suggested that I must have enjoyed it, and several others who thought I was doing it for "publicity" or to help one party or the other. I'm not saying all the protesters at Jantar Mantar behaved badly because they didn't. But I will say that we have a lot of work to do in creating a culture of gender equality, which is the only real protection against street sexual harassment of this sort. 
Comment: Watching the street protests on television made me wonder why it seemed that that vast majority of protesters were men, young men in particular.

This article (December 31) in Slate says that even though there were men at these marchers who were sincere about their intentions many women still remain scared to participate because they fear sexual abuse.

And, that fear is not misplaced as is evidenced by the reporter's experience above (also linked in the Slate article).

Men protesting rape but how safe is a crowd like this for any woman in India?  (Picture Credit)
The article also cites a female activist who complained that male protesters were taking over (appropriating) the protests and in so doing they were silencing women protesters and pressing patriarchal values about protecting woman in particular:
“I’m really happy about men protesting,” said Ritupurnah Borah, a queer feminist activist who has helped organize the Citizen’s Collective Against Sexual Assault. The collective has been coordinating women’s safety protests every month for the past year. She said those protests were attended by virtually no men. Like many women’s activists and groups in India, Borah opposes the capital punishment that so many of the protesting men seek. She said capital punishment is not a deterrent against crimes such as rape and that profound social changes are instead needed to protect women in India.
“But recently, because men’s voices are more audible, they take over many of the protests. It’s really sad because we don’t want goons—we want people who are really concerned about violence against women to come out on the streets. We’ve been requesting the men to slop sloganeering and let the women slogan, but it’s not happening. They say, ‘Oh, come on, we’re coming out and helping you.’ ”

Some of the anti-rape protests during the past two weeks have been dominated by men, as was the case on Sunday; others have been roughly half women and half men. While men shout and hold brash signs calling for capital punishment, the women tend to light candles. They sit with sad faces. They silently hold signs that call for an end to violence against women, for peace after death for the victim, and for systemic changes in government and in society. For them, this is just the latest chapter in a drawn-out fight that for these women has lasted decades and enjoyed little progress. ”We want women dignity back [sic],“ read a sign held by two young women as they stood mournfully at the periphery of the circle of angrily chanting men.

Some male protesters appeared steadfastly sincere about their desire to send a message to the government that crimes against women must end. But many more seemed to be interested in protecting women in the more old-fashioned, oppressive way.

Borah says her group recognized several men among recent protesters who had attacked members of her collective with misogynistic threats during quieter demonstrations that preceded the infamous gang rape. “They told us we had no right to protest there, and if we wear indecent clothes they will molest us.”

The presence of some men that Borah characterized as “thugs” has helped to create an atmosphere during some of the recent protests that has been outwardly hostile toward women. Women have been subjected to the same type of groping and ogling by some of the men at these protests that the protesting women have long fought to eradicate from Indian society.

In India this is known as “Eve teasing”—the natural consequence for a woman who, like the medical student, rides a public bus. To protect themselves from attack and harassment, women in India are often warned to dress modestly and travel with a man after dark. Most of the crimes against women in India are inflicted against poor, uneducated women in rural areas, and they often go unreported.
The article concluded with a thought provoking position on women's empowerment as it relates to sexual violence and patriarchy: 
“We may benefit from some of the [men],” said Rachana Johri, an associate professor at Ambedkar University in Delhi who specializes in women’s studies. “But we may also, in the long run, realize that some of them come from positions that do not fit in well with the perspective of women’s movements.”
The optimistic way of framing the problem is, as these women’s groups continue in their long-fought battle for meaningful changes in India’s darkly patriarchal society, they have to figure out how to welcome men into their movement without getting overwhelmed by them. Which won’t be easy so long as misogynistic foes of their campaign move in their midst.


Pstonie said...

Groped? Oh my starbucks! Quick!

Over a hundred thousand civilians dead in Iraq alone thanks to a resource war based on spurious facts that no one talks about, but this woman got groped.

What exactly would they propose as a solution to prevent this horrific violation, I wonder?

Whenever a global media campaign suddenly brings an issue to the forefront of everyone's minds, everywhere, it gets me raising my eyebrow, wondering what they're trying to accomplish.

Some examples are: Immigration, rhino poaching, school shootings, and now sexual harassment of women.

Is it a coincidence that the obvious "solution" to all of these is more police with wider jurisdiction and more power, which translates to less rights for civilians?

Problem -> reaction -> solution

Ridwan said...

Thanks for your comment Pstonie.

I think it helps to separate the two points and I do see the argument you are making.

The pressing of the state and elite groupings of power to deal with this issue (any issue) is not a panacea and, in more instances than not, it is the problem.

That does however not make irrelevant the problem of patriarchy and related socio/political and cultural attitudes that make groping women and sexually abusing them irrelevant.

I think the reporter in this case was pointing to the problem as pervasive and also to show that just because men take to the street does not mean they are all committed to ending abuse.

The further point is that even among those who are committed there is the tendency to engage patriarchal or male centered agendas - in so doing women are made marginal.

So the question is how to engage men without being silenced (an extension of abusive really).

It is true that other rape cases go virtually unnoticed in the mainstream media and it is even more true that women have been raped since this terrible incident.

Recognizing this fact however still does not subsume the need to deal more openly with violence against women (everywhere).

But where your argument carries weight is when too many folks expect the state and elites to reach forward and 'solve' the issue(s).

For this reason there are many civil society organizations very busy with the work related to addressing the complexities of violence against women (many of these are active in Dalit movements and among poor folks and marginal communities.

Perhaps what is needed is to focus our energies and attention there and away from the state and its agencies.

Thanks for raising these issues.


Pstonie said...

I was really using your post to rant on a somewhat tangential subject, being this week's sudden global media panic, even though I agreed with you and the author of this article.

Ridwan said...

Yeah the media picks and chooses and is in the business of selling (and thereby constructing what is news worthy or even what is just news).

More often than not it is an outright manipulation.

A case and point was a story carried by Salon and AlterNet this week that reported on an influential Imam in Saudi who declared a fatwah that allowed anti-Assad fighters in Syria to gang rape women via mini marriages that lasted long enough to meet their sexual urges.

Neither Salon not Alternet fact checked but you can bet they drew tons of hits - selling is the business of drawing hits.

Alternet had to withdraw the story after it was found to be nothing but a baseless hoax.

The withdrawal even drew hits.

PressTv ran the story too.

See here for more if interested:


Pstonie said...

Thanks for that link. The insight in heir second article almost makes up for the snafu.

Reminds me of brevik's assault, where a british newspaper (may have been the sun) immediately released a headline about it being an attack by Islamic terrorists.