June 18, 2012

Appeal to collectively strategise against sexual violence

Dear fellow feminists,

I am part of a group called “Citizens’ Collective against Sexual Assault (CCSA)”. We are a group of individuals who came together in the wake of the most recent spate of rapes in the Delhi NCR region early this year. The Collective is ‘informed by a feminist politics that believes in every individual’s right to a life free of sexual harassment, irrespective of their sexuality, dress, gender or age’. Our objective was to demand justice for the survivors and put pressure on the police and administration to ensure that the city becomes safer for women. Also to attempt to challenge the widely-held belief and mentality that women are somewhere responsible for being raped or sexually assaulted. However, as we began working we kept hearing atleast one case of sexual assault a day. And the cases continue…

To publicise the issue we organised spontaneous but smaller protests at CP, Saket leading to a bigger protest on May 5 from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar. Our initial plan was to March from Mandi House to ITO to the Police Commissioners Office to submit a memo. But the irony was that to organise the large protest we needed police permission! The police ofcourse thought we as protesters would be threat and traffic nuisance and said “madam aap log apni baat Jantar Mantar mein baith kar discuss kijiye, aage piche mat jaaiye- hum aapke saath hain” (Madam please sit at Jantar Mantar and discuss between yourself, don’t move around much. We are there to support you”). After a long struggle with the Police and our failure to explain to them the reason for the protest was defied if we sat at Jantar Mantar and that our purpose was make public police inaction in the sexual assault and rape cases. Resolved to not change our route we took out the protest and were gladly surprised by 300 persons turning up! Energized by the support we received, we have been informally meeting to strategise variously on how to take our efforts further and planning long term rather than single sporadic protests.

However, we have been unable to think and plan long term and the cases each day outdo our efforts.  Herein, a couple of weeks back, Ashely Tellis wrote a post asking feminists to not be reactive and re-think strategies to combat sexual violence and that too continuously and not when ‘something terrible happens’. His piece reinforced our understanding that sexual violence cuts across gender and age and includes “Hijras, homosexuals, sex workers, women across caste and class”. He called feminists to build alliances and work collectively to contest sexual violence. I am reproducing his post below with his permission. Alongwith this is an appeal to you as readers and as feminists to help strategise and give suggestions on how do we combat the increasing cases, help survivors, beat the mentality of police for blaming the victim, share inspirational incidents/stories etc.



The debate on the question of sexual violence continues to remain reactive and static and may require some serious re-thinking. Recently, a bunch of women’s groups held a rally in Delhi protesting against what a self-appointedly radical rag pointed out in a ‘sting’ operation: that most of Delhi’s police think women are asking to be raped and even enjoy it. A little earlier, a national feminist campaign on the question of sexual violence against women had a day-long workshop on the issue and came up again against the demand to broaden the idea of sexual violence to include subjects other than women. In the first instance, the protest was reactive; in the second the thinking on the issue static.

In a city like Delhi, when the newspapers every day report several rapes and sexual assaults on women, men, children one really can’t afford to be reactive around building a culture of resistance to it. One needs a proactive and daily set of resistances and vigilances to counter this rampant and brutal culture of sexual hatred. Yet we seem to have protests only when something terrible happens. Even at such moments, hardly any people turn up (this rally had a few hundred, the last one with similar groups late last year after the rape of a Manipuri girl had barely fifty) and perhaps we need to –rethink organizational politics. This rally was largely organised on facebook and despite several real-time real-place meetings, not many groups were invited to participate. For example, why were hijra groups not contacted? They are subjects who face the most violence at the hands of the police and customers on the streets of Delhi. Why were sex worker groups not invited or sex workers asked to join? After all, they also face systematic violence. Where were the famous intersectional queer groups who are happy to seek feminist support for their court cases but do not turn up to support feminists and themselves in such a rally? After all, aren’t hijras and MSM their constituency and haven’t they been trying to convince the Supreme Court recently (and in their famous judgement) that these subjects are in grave danger? A disabled group was part of it but much more advocacy among women in the city, in the many Universities in the city, in schools is needed.
Why was the most appalling theatre group Asmita (who mistake shouting and screaming aggressively for theatre) part of the proceedings when half our energies were spent trying to correct their deeply sexist views in their mostly reprehensible plays Dastak? Who needs enemies with friends like Arvind Gaur? Weren’t there many women’s groups with plays of their own? Especially if the focus of the rally was on sexual violence against women? Which leads me to my next question: why was the focus only on women?
The national campaign has focused only on sexual violence against women when we know that men are constantly abused by the army and paramilitary forces, especially in “disturbed areas.” Gopal Menon’s Naga Story speaks of Naga men in the Manipuri hills being sodomised by army officials, Basharat Peer has written about how Kashmiri men’s genitals are attacked and damaged first by the Army. Indeed, Kashmir became the bone of the contention at the meeting because Kashmiri Khawateen-e-Markaz activist Anjum Zamarud Hasan pointed out that most victims of sexual violence in Kashmir are men. No one really took up that question seriously just like the question of ‘India’ being a part of any effort which was the other point Hasan was making.

In both these instances, we need to re-think the question of sexual violence and our responses to it. As an out gay man, I face sexual harassment on the streets of Delhi everyday and many of my biraadari face much worse. Many young boys are sodomised and often killed on the edges of the city (and sometimes at its centre) and appear only as stories on the edges of some newspapers. Wouldn’t it be stronger and larger as a protest if we all came together? Hijras, homosexuals, sex workers, women across caste and class. These alliances may be hard to build but we have to work at them every day and work at mechanisms of taking sexual violence on upfront and only then will this rampant culture of violence abate. Why do we think that sexual violence only happens to women when there is so much evidence to the contrary?
Why is our relationship to sexual violence always reactive? Something terrible happens, we protest, protest subsides, something terrible happens again. We need constant and consistent intervention into the creation of cultures of the sexual. This will happen only when we create healthy contexts in which people can speak about sexuality and what constitutes it and sexual violence. Working in the University for years around an issue like sexual harassment, one realises how difficult this is. There are cultures of suspicion from women, of aggression among men. Gross violence in many cases is not even seen as violence. Sexual harassment is not taken seriously by the establishment at all and neither by the students.

It is crucial that we build subjects who understand what the sexual is and what violence is and that can only come from a constant engagement with these questions, across genders and sexualities. Without that sexual violence against women will remain only a reactive consolation-based politics among women. Feminism must be led by women but the fight against sexual violence must work on building the necessary relationship that various other kinds of subjects must have with feminism. Some of us might be aware of the necessity (despite the impossibility) of this relationship, others might not be. But the fight against sexual violence has to be a collective fight for all of us. Sexual violence happens to all of us who are not middleclass, Hindu, heterosexual and mainstream men. And that is millions of us. Unless we fight it together, this culture of violence will not change.

Ashley Tellis is an academician and Gay rights activist. This post first appeared on IGITINK.

4 comments to Appeal to collectively strategise against sexual violence

  • Ritwika Mitra

    The article “Appeal to collectively strategise against sexual violence” and the following piece by Ashley Tellis compel rethinking of what our understanding of the term feminism is. If feminism be viewed in the parochial sense which excludes a major section of women who are oblivious of what the term means, then it would be better for us to operate without the term feminism. Many women find it extremely uncomfortable to associate with the word feminism and to operate under its banner. This is not only because feminism has been tried to be fit under stereotypical banners but also because it excludes the opportunity for like-minded people (irrespective of gender, the existence of alternative sex should also be kept in mind) working on the same issues fail to share the same platform when labels are created. In this context I agree with Ashley Tellis that if stopping sexual assault is the bone of contention then the eradication of it should be focussed on irrespective of which gender it is being practised on. A strategy needs to be chalked out which would help combat sexual violence for women, transgenders and men alike. Sex-workers, irrespective of being women, transgenders or MSMs are highly exposed to sexual violence. My engagement with them through a project has educated me on the atrocities of violence that they are subjected to. But, while discussing violence, we cannot exclude the fact that the nature of violence in each case is unique. While the violence on homosexuals is primarily because society considers them to be deviants (the violence under no circumstance can be justifed), the violence committed on women is because till this date they are looked upon as “the weaker sex” and considered vulnerable. Instead of focussing on creating labels, we should concentrate on drawing out strategies which would help cater to the problem faced by each group. We can engage in terms like women/men engaged in activism/redressing violence. I think modern day activism needs to focus more on the issue that they are addressing instead of focussing on its packaging. A broader platform needs to be created which would facilitate meaningful discussion. Participation of people who believe in the common ground of discussion needs to be more generous.

    • Aditi Malhotra

      Dear Ritwika,

      Totally agree with you where you say “Instead of focussing on creating labels, we should concentrate on drawing out strategies which would help cater to the problem faced by each group”. Talking from our experience, we have not consciously excluded any particular group but we do feel that each group may face a different kind of violence though broadly due to gender and sexual orientation. But yeah we are trying to create a platform and rope in different voices. For which we having a meeting on 30 June in Delhi from 4-6pm, would be great if you and others could at ultraviolet join in!

  • Renita Ghosh

    Hi Aditi, congratulations on this achievement. Even though, your initiative began on a small scale, it did catch momentum. It rolls out into a snowball and that is what where it matters. There is enough hatred in women about this issue…just that they need a guiding light…something like you have done and they will follow suit. When I was reading this post, something sprung up my mind…Vivel Active Fair Choo Lo Aasmaan Awards. This award is dedicated to the women who have made a difference in not only their lives, but others as well. Why don’t you nominate yourself or someone whom you think is that change? Do check this site at: http://www.facebook.com/itcvivel & http://www.facebook.com/itcvivel/app_208195102528120

  • Aditi Malhotra

    Dear Renita,

    Thanks for the encouragement. It would be great if in your own way you could start speaking to women/men and discussing the issue- then it wont need us. We need to channelize the hatred into energy to fight back and say NO to stereotyping women, blaming women for bringing harassment upon themselves by wearing non-conformative clothes, being out at night etc.

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