On Rape

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One of the things I miss most about Beirut is the women of Nasawiya.  I miss their spirit and energy. I miss the way they run their organization in a grassroots fashion in the purest sense of the word. Anyone who has a project or an issue they want to work on they do it.  From the Anti-Racism Movement (which has a special focus on migrant domestic workers) to supporting refugees, Palestinian Syrian, and Sudanese, to standing in solidarity with Spinney’s workers on strike. There is such breadth in the way they connect feminism to other causes, something generally lacking in American feminist organizing.

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Yesterday the women of Nasawiya were on my mind as I attended my first protest in India. There has been a lot in the media locally and internationally about rape here and I received an email from Vimochana, a local feminist organization that there would be a demonstration against sexual assault and to demand a change in the way the legal system handles rape cases. The initial impetus for this protest was the outrage many people in India feel about the gang rape of a twenty-three-year old student in Delhi who was gang raped for almost an hour on a bus before being thrown onto the road and left to die. This was last week. This week a fifteen-year-old girl was raped in a grocery store near her home here in Bangalore.

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In the announcement for the protest these statistics about rape in Bangalore were shared:

97 cases were the registered rape cases in 2011 in Bangalore city which means 7 women victims each month. If the hundreds of cases of molestation, abductions of women, child sexual abuse, harassment and abuse on the streets/ auto rickshaws / buses or other public spaces in the city are counted then by any standard, living and working in the city is truly a daily hazard for women and children.  The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics for 2011 said Bangalore ranks fourth among cities of the country in recorded rape cases.

The numbers seem low by American standards, or even global standards. But the situation here seems shocking and most people are talking about it. Of course as is always the case with rape, it is underreported so statistics can only tell so much of the story. Regardless of the numbers, the stories, the fact that it happens at all and afterwards when women usually blamed, exacerbates and enflames the situation even for those not directly involved in the sexual assault.

I arrived at the protest a bit early and it seemed that a different organization, Women’s Voice, already had a protest underway. This consisted of women speaking to an audience of, largely women, sitting down and listening and at times called to chant in response. Since they were all speaking in Kannada I don’t know what they were saying, but a journalist near me, who was waiting for the second protest like me, mentioned that this was a bit orchestrated. She said that the organization bussed in women to put on a show. I’m not sure whether this is the case or not. But their protest was certainly lively, including the burning of a scarecrow-rapist in effigy.

The second protest began under the banner of Women in Black India and it seems that this group had various people involved, including a lot of students. In both cases the demands are similar wanting to change the legal system, sensitize the police force, stop the rape examination (which involves a woman being subjected to a doctor placing two fingers into her vagina to see whether or not she is used to sexual intercourse) among other things.

Here are some more essays/editorials on the Indian rape cases:

From Madness to Civilization

Change Hearts, Not Laws

Fight We Must

India: Hundreds of Men Accused of Sexual Assault Stand for Election

And here is a report on the Delhi protest the other day:

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