Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression
Resolution adopted on April 28th, 2013 at Bengaluru
Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) emerged in November 2009 and has been active in addressing issues of sexual violence against women by state actors, police and military in the several parts of the country, especially in the so-called “insurgency affected” areas of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, the North-East and Kashmir.
At its National Convention held at ISI, Bangalore on 27th-28th April 2013, WSS took up issues of systemic institutional violence, arising from or perpetuated by the neoliberal policies of the state. The emphasis was on issues that impacted the marginalized communities. This was the first national convention of WSS in South India.
At this convention there was sharing of experiences by urban working-class women, dalit women, sex workers, trans-genders and women resisting institutional injustice. These presentations brought out forcefully the widespread prevalence of violence against women even in the so-called non-disturbed areas, of the violence routinely faced by several sections of working class women in urban areas at the hands of employers and state institutions.
1. Violence against women in urban slums
In the months of January-May 2013, several women and girls from economically weak sections (EWS) in Ejipura, Bengaluru have faced verbal abuse, threats of rape and sexual violence, both from police and gundas after being rendered homeless by the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagar Palike (BBMP-Bangalore Municipal Corporation). Despite being legal residents on government-sanctioned BBMP land for EWS housing with the requisite documentation, their homes, water sources and toilets were demolished by builders’ bulldozers. They were forcefully evicted from the site by BBMP aided by a brutal police force and paid gundas to make way for yet another mall to be built via a “public-private partnership.” Women and children residing on the pavements continue to be threatened by the police and gundas who force their way into their makeshift homes on the pavement and coerce them to accompany them at night
WSS stands with the EWS residents in demanding that they be rehabilitated on the same land from which they were displaced, be compensated for destruction of their property, and their loss of livelihoods. Their children’s right to education, which was disrupted by the eviction and displacement, must also be fully restored.
We believe caste-based segregation of dalits and other marginalized groups continues in urban spaces, which the system tries to invisibilize to hide the repetition of historical deprivation to dalit communities. Such segregation not only points to the continued marginalization of dalit communities in urban areas, it also makes it easier for the system to continue to maintain their deprivation from basic amenities and other entitlements –dalit settlements are not provided with even basic amenities of water, sanitation or other public infrastructure. Dalit communities are often multiply displaced in urban areas in the name of urban beautification and urban development, and this pattern is not unique to Chennai and Bangalore; we are seeing this in other major cities including Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkatta and also in several towns. At the convention, women from Chennai also spoke about similar displacement of dalit communities from various urban slums in Chennai to Kannaginagar and Semmencheri.
This process of displacement is aided partially by the state and the media colluding to label entire areas and communities as criminals.
2. Caste-based violence
The role of the state in Paramakudi, Tamil Nadu in September 2011, where police directly fired upon dalit protestors resulting in seven deaths, and also in Dharmapuri where mass looting and burning was permitted by state authorities, has been made clear. Instead of being an institution operating within Ambedkar’s constitutional vision of protectin dalits and other minorities, the state has directly perpetrated and abetted violence upon dalit communities.
WSS also condemns the incendiary speeches and propaganda campaign against inter-caste marriages by PMK leader Ramadoss and his allies, which provoked the mass looting and burning of houses and other property of dalits by a rampaging mob of caste Hindus in several villages in Dharmapuri district, Tamil Nadu, in November 2012.
We demand speedy trials in the above cases; also demand that the homes of the displaced people be fully reconstructed.
3. Moral policing and crimes of `honour killings’
There is an increasing trend of moral policing and horrific killings of young couples in name of family honour, in South India; we find that it is not just women from caste-Hindu families but also dalit boys who are becoming targets of such attacks by caste-Hindu families in the name of caste and family honour. In one case, a young dalit girl who was a common friend of an inter-caste couple was also brutalized and killed. Yet the perpetrators of this crime remain unpunished.
WSS stands by the rights of young people to choose their partners, regardless of their caste, religion, and gender, without apprehensions and fears of violence, family restriction or social ostracization.
4. Violence in the workplace against working-class women
Several garment workers and domestic workers from Karnataka spoke about the difficulties they faced as working class women, whenever they have attempted to file official complaints against sexual violence in the workplace, by virtue of the attitudes of police and management towards working class women.
They emphasized that unions should establish and run Committees against Sexual Harassment (CASH), based on the newly promulgated Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013. Since factory or management-led CASH processes have never delivered justice for the workers, the CASH system run by a genuine union would be able to better pursue justice around sexual harassment and violence by managers and/or co-workers.
Sex workers and others recommended that laws dealing with Sexual harassment at workplace should also be extended to and implemented in the workplaces of the unorganized sector workers such as homes where domestic work is done, sex work zones, constructions sites, agricultural areas, etc.
Women performing domestic work or sex work strongly flagged the need for recognizing their labor as a legitimate form of work. Domestic workers and sex workers especially felt that since each worker privately negotiates their working conditions and does work which falls under the ambit of “duties under marriage”, this relegation of their work to the private realm is used to violate labor laws with impunity. Society and the state benefit from their labor, but fail to provide adequate living wage, social security benefits, protection or redressal from sexual violence and exploitation. In addition, many reported that employers filed false cases of theft against domestic workers who complained of rape or sexual harassment. In this context, workers also resisted being forced to register with the police, which is an attempt by employers to keep them always under suspicion for any local crimes.
In this regard, an important suggestion that emerged was that informal sector workers wished to be registered with the labor department, where clear terms and conditions of work and employer-employee relations, conditions of work, amount of work, minimum wages and working hours specified. This was preferred to the existing feudal forms, where domestic and sex workers are expected to behave like “servants” and perform endless unpaid work for their “masters” in order to retain their jobs. This step would enable them to get redressal and protection from all kinds of workplace harassment, including sexual harassment
WSS believes that non-implementation combined with inadequacies in existing labour laws create opportunities for sexual exploitation and sexual violence at workplaces, especially for workers in the casual and unorganized sectors. By its sheer indifference on this front, the state is complicit in the systemic and systematic exploitation of workers by employers of all sizes. WSS demands that workers’ rights guaranteed by the labour laws be recognized and fully implemented by the employers. In this regard, it is the duty and responsibility of the state to ensure that existing labour laws are appropriately amended and strictly implemented. We call upon the state to end its complicity and demonstrate its sincerity towards preventing violence against women workers by taking measures to implement the labour laws.
5. Violence against sex workers and transgenders
It is well known that tribal communities, such as the Pardhis from MP- Maharashtra border, continue to be socially ostracized as well as persecuted by state agencies as criminals. The Muslim community also faces persecution by the state which has foisted innumerable false cases upon Muslims. Of late other groups such as transgender, especially sex workers, are also de facto being criminalized by the Karnataka Police Act.
Sex workers and trans-genders who participated in the two day Convention expressed no hope of redressal or justice around the sexual violence that they faced on a daily basis. Whenever they have attempted to report heinous crimes against them to the police, at best they were verbally abused and humiliated, or at worst they were subjected once again to rape, sexual assaults with objects, beatings, and torture in police lock-up.
Sex workers asserted that their choice of work should not be criminalized or criticized. They pointed out that patronizing attempts to “rehabilitate” sex workers by giving them sewing machines was a mockery of their work, and failed to consider the type of difficulties faced by self-employed garment workers in eking out a decent living.
In the context of sex work, the objectification of women in material promoting tourism was highlighted. It was noted that tourism was being projected and glorified by the state and private promoters with the claim that it opens up employment opportunities for women. Such claims are countered by the fact that in reality, tourism has become an industry that sexually and culturally exploits women; it has also adversely affected local livelihoods by taking away land and other natural resources from the local people.
WSS asserts that the notion of consent in our laws on sexual assault should be clearly defined as verbal agreement, which can be withdrawn at any point during sexual activity. Initiation of sex is not a reason for specific un-consented acts to not be considered violative, and sex workers should have a right to redressal for any sex acts not agreed upon in the commercial negotiation. We recognize and support the rights of sex workers and strongly condemn violence meted out to sex workers.
WSS stands by the large transgender community in South India, which faces severe sexual violence from several quarters as a form of punishment for their gender expression. People from marginalized sexualities and genders face ‘correction rapes’ with the intention of making them ‘normal’. The state has denied transgenders citizenship and the implementation of right to reservation in jobs and education, effectively enabling society to exclude them from all forms of livelihood.
The current laws around sexual assault exclude trans-genders as survivors of sexual assault; while the exemption to marital rape denies lesbians and trans-men the right to recourse around sexual assault in forced marriages. Sexual assault occurring within homes/families upon transgender people need to be addressed under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005. The kinds of sexual violence perpetrated against transgender people like mutilating the genitals, forcibly cutting the hair of trans women, forcibly imposing a dress code which is different from the chosen gender, confinement, rape by insertion of objects, stripping etc are similar in their specificity to the crimes against minority communities. These cases must be treated as aggravated sexual assault, and an atrocities act should be in place to address violence against transgender people along the pattern of the SC/ST atrocities act.
WSS recognizes and condemns the severe and systematic violence meted out to trans-gender people. We demand that they be handled by women police officers and not male police officers. The rules regarding arresting and detaining women at night should also strictly apply to transgender people and sex workers.
WSS stands by the struggles of dalit, transgender and other marginalized communities in resisting the pervasive, hierarchical institutions of caste and gender.
In January 2013 a large number of recommendations around sexual assault law were submitted to the Justice Verma Committee by women’s groups from across the country. To our dismay, many of the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee were disregarded in the formation of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill that has been recently made into a law. Of particular concern is the setting aside of the recommendations pertaining to sexual violence by the army and other para-military forces, such as re-considering imposition of AFSPA for long periods, and sanction for criminal prosecution in cases of rape.
Our experience over the past few years shows that women across the country are facing violence, including sexual violence, in several direct and not so direct ways. For several years now and even decades, women in the conflict-affected tribal areas of Central India (Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha), in Assam, Manipur, and Kashmir, have been targets of violence due to constant presence of military and para-military forces. Several horrific cases of violence against women in these states have been well documented and brought to the attention of various national and international agencies, but they continue to remain unaddressed. We also condemn the routine structural violence in many urban areas against working class women, dalit women, sex workers, and trans-people. WSS views such violence as a continuum of the violence that is being faced by all those communities that are struggling, resisting, challenging, questioning, the policies of the state, and the norms and the hegemony of dominant sections of society.
This use of rape as an expression of state power has also been seen in the case of a 23-year old woman in Bangalore who was raped in September 2012, allegedly by the son of a member of the Indian National Congress party in Karnataka. WSS condemns the continued harassment of the survivor by the accused who allegedly distributed visuals and videos of the young woman via the Internet. We also condemn the attempt to murder her on 27th April 2013 and also the police personnel for their insensitive behaviour towards the survivor and their misrepresentation of the facts in the FIR. We demand that speedy justice be delivered to the survivor and that the accused be rearrested, tried and punished quickly.
WSS stands by each one of the large number of survivors of rape, sexual assault and other forms of gender violence, their families and supporters, across the country. We condemn the harassment of such survivors by the police, judiciary, government hospitals and other institutions of the state, when they come into contact with while reporting an incident of rape, sexual assault or for any other assistance. We demand that all public officials and servants, at all levels, should be sensitive to the pervasiveness of sexual violence and rape. They should also be aware of all relevant procedures, and extend assistance in a just and satisfactory manner, with sensitivity to barriers placed before survivors based on their caste, class, gender, special needs, physical and mental abilities.
In the current scenario of increasing violence, especially against women and the girl child, we find the wave of protests in many parts of the country against sexual violence to be an encouraging ray of hope. We hope that this movement against sexual violence grows and enlarges its scope to make visible, to address the above described issues of the violence against working class, dalit and adivasi women, sex workers, and trans-genders, in areas away from the more privileged areas of the metropolises, i.e. in the urban slums, in towns, in the rural areas, and also in remote forest villages.
Lastly, as progressive individuals working for change, we feel that we also need to introspect our own lives and in our groups, to recognize deep-rooted biases and prejudices that we may hold regarding caste, class and gender issues. Often, the lives that we all lead perpetuate the deep structural inequalities of caste, class and gender that the state and market thrive on.