National Sections of the L5I:

Rape and the abuse of women in India and Pakistan: For a working class women's movement to fight oppression!

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The rape and murder of a young female student on a bus in Delhi in December 2012 has sparked a mass movement across India. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, joined the protests against the daily abuse of women, the widespread sexist and patriarchal structure and behaviour throughout society and the complicity, if not worse, by the political authorities, the police, the bosses and big landlords.

Rape and women's oppression in India

The young woman was raped on her way home, after she and her boy friend had been to see a film and had boarded the bus in the Munirka area of Delhi, intending to travel to Dwarka in the south west of the city. The six men began taunting the women for being out at night with a man and then decided to “teach her a lesson”. She was raped for nearly an hour and both she and her friend were beaten with iron bars and thrown out of the moving bus and into the street. This eventually led to her death two weeks later.

India has highest incidence of rapes in the world; even the official statistics have revealed that a woman is raped every 20 minutes in India and every 18 hours in the capital city. In Delhi, 660 cases of rape were reported in 2012 and the situation on the national level is even worse. However, it is generally known that the ratio and the actual number of rapes is much higher than the actually reported figures. Only 1 out of 5 cases, and perhaps even less, are reported, since women fear social stigma from their family and communities.

Also, the police and judicial system are institutionally discriminatory against the women. But that is not confined to India. Pakistan faces the same problem but in an even worse form – here, there are regressive laws against women’s equality in the name of Sharia and culture in Pakistan.

One of the worst things – both in India and Pakistan - is that women victims of rape are accused of being guilty themselves, on the grounds that the way they dress is “provocative” or that they should not be “out at night”.

This not only stigmatises women, but also creates a powerful reactionary pressure to enforce their exclusion from political and public life. It results in massive, unbelievable restrictions on women and their mobility, even on what they can wear for their own “safety”. It is “normal” that women are subjected to rape and then required to prove that they were “not guilty” or do not have a “problematic’’ past.

For example, in the case of Mukhtar Mai and some other gang rapes in Pakistan, the then president of Pakistan, General Musharraf, who was a close ally of American imperialism, accused the raped women of trying to make money by publicising their rape.

Mass movement in India

This latest shocking incident mobilised the people in India about the conditions surrounding rape and other assaults on women. Thousands of angry demonstrators came out and demanded justice for victims and more safety and protection for women. In particular, large numbers of women protested against a culture that justifies rape and blames women for “provoking men to rape”. One placard said: “Do not teach me how to dress, teach your sons not to rape.”

The argument that these protests happened just because the victim came from a middle class background is simply wrong. In fact, the young women was not “middle class”. She was a daughter of an airport worker on a monthly salary of 7,000 rupees and she worked nights to support her education as a student of physiotherapy. But that is not the point - usually, even the abuse of middle class women does not lead to such a public outcry.

Certainly, the fact that such a brutal gang rape happened in the national capital of India, helped to trigger the protests, but the situation in the countryside is even worse. There, women from the oppressed “lower” castes, religious minorities, adivasi, oppressed nationalities and working class women face an even more brutal situation. The reports of different gang rape cases show that the state and the capitalist class use it to ensure their control over people who resist the policies of neo-liberalism, oppression and exploitation by capitalists and large land-owners or who fight against their national oppression, like in Kashmir.

The protests and movements are generated by the combination of several sharpening contradictions. Certainly they grew in such proportions because of the failure of state to protect women even in the capital, but they also express a wider anger against the position of women in society. As in other countries, the burden of the economic crisis; rising prices, declining social services, poor housing, all impact on women first.

These protests are a ray of hope not only in the fight against sexual attacks and the terrible situation facing Indian women. They also offer a ray of hope that now the Pakistani working class movement will face up to the question of women's oppression and take up these issues as class issues and launch a fight again them.

Way forward

The mass movement in India demonstrates that millions of women are not prepared to accept the “normality” of their daily oppression in society anymore. This movement has been sparked by the example of such a brutal assault, certainly, but the reason why women have come out on the streets in such numbers is a result of the contradictions of capitalist development in a semi-colonial capitalism like India or for that matter also Pakistan, its combined and uneven development.

In India, millions of women have been thrown into the workforce, have become part of the proletariat in highly exploited conditions. This not only applies to the dynamic capitalist development in India. In Pakistan, too, women were also integrated into capitalist production in the years of feverish development before the great capitalist crisis.

At the same time, both countries – and many others of Asia's “developing capitalisms” - are marked by pre-capitalist features such as feudal forms of exploitation and the caste systems. All too often, women have not even achieved formal equal democratic rights.

The role of the police, the use of rape as a weapon against oppressed nationalities (like in Kashmir) and lower castes, the use of intimidation and abuse by the bosses in manufacturing are daily examples which demonstrate that no justice for women can be expected from the ruling class and its state institutions. Even if the six rapists may be severely punished, nobody should be under any illusion about the patriarchal character of the state institutions and their complicity, if not direct involvement, with the worst forms of oppression.

As revolutionaries, we fight against women's oppression in all its forms. This means that we need to fight for full and equal democratic rights. But we also need to ensure that those guilty of oppression, violence or rape against women and young girls are brought to justice not before an unelected judiciary of rich men, but in courts elected by the mass of the population, the poor, the working class, the peasantry, the lower castes and the nationally oppressed. At least half of such elected courts need to be women.

Against oppression and abuse, we need to fight consistently against all form of sexism in public life, in the work places and the family. We demand public funds for women's refuges and the lifting of all restrictions on the right to divorce. Training in self-defence should be available for women.

But of course, encouraging women's self-confidence and democratic equality is not enough. To enable women to play a full role in society, in the work places, in politics and in the working class movement, we need to fight for equal pay, for state provision of child care, for decent housing and for a minimum income for the unemployed, for divorced women with little or no income and for pensioners – a minimum income sufficient to sustain a living standard set by the working class movement and indexed against price rises.

To enforce such a programme, women also need to be in the forefront of all social and political struggles. This includes a struggle against the widespread chauvinism and sexism inside the labour movement itself and in the movements of the oppressed. In order to be able to do this, women need to have the right to caucus.

Women's oppression in India and Pakistan – as in all capitalist countries – is closely linked to capitalist exploitation itself, where women are treated like commodities or house slaves. There will be no end to women's oppression in its totality, without overthrowing capitalism, without socialist revolution. In order to link these struggles, and to put women in their forefront, however, we also need a mass movement of the women of the most exploited, a mass working class women's movement.