US President Trump’s declaration that his administration recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and plans to shift the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a bid to confer legitimacy on Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine. This decision has rightly received condemnation from around the world, including from several member countries of the United Nations Security Council who condemned the decision at an emergency meeting of the UNSC. Continue reading
The Rohingya people of Myanmar are facing a genocide and ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Myanmar Army. The Rohingya (the majority of whom are Muslim) have lived in the Rakhine State (Arakan) in Myanmar for the past several centuries. But a racist Citizenship Law enacted by Myanmar in 1982 denies the Rohingya people citizenship by refusing to recognise the Rohingya as one of the “national races.” The Rohingya have been subjected to several rounds of genocidal violence that have forced them to flee to Bangladesh and India. Continue reading
8 March 2017- International Women’s Day
Identifying the Foundations of Women’s Oppression, Charting the Course of Struggles for Liberation
8 March – International Women’s Day – was born in the struggles that women factory workers in their thousands waged against bondage a century ago.
Women workers in garment and other factories in the USA in 1909 first observed ‘Women’s Day’ with huge demonstrations to demand labour laws (including the 8-hour working day) and the right to vote for women. In 1910, the Second International Conference of Working Women at Copenhagen accepted German socialist leader Clara Zetkin’s proposal that International Women’s Day be celebrated every year demanding rights for working women, including labour laws for women, the right to vote, and peace. In keeping with that decision, communists organised International Women’s Day the next year in many countries, and in Germany, 30000 women workers participated in processions, defying police repression. Since 1913, International Women’s Day has been celebrated every year on 8 March as a day of women’s assertion of their commitment to liberation and to the struggle for a world free of every kind of oppression.
Ironically, the powers-that-be and the advertisements all across try to hide the real legacy of Women’s Day and seek to establish a different narrative. They try to tell us that International Women’s Day (IWD) is an occasion when husbands are supposed to buy women washing machines and kitchen gadgets, when boyfriends are supposed to buy them flowers, and governments are supposed to make promises for ‘women empowerment’. So, as we approach the IWD 2017, it is important for us to collectively reassert the fighting legacy of the international women’s day and draw lessons for the tasks and challenges at hand.
The Present Context:
On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2017 let us reiterate some key concerns of the women’s movement in India. Women’s oppression is not ‘natural’ – it came into being in the course of human history. Marxism helps us to identify the material circumstances in which such oppression was born and in which it is sustained. In the most early human societies, women were not oppressed, and there was no rigid ‘gender division of labour.’ That is, women could hunt and gather food just as men did. Women were revered for their ability to give birth, and pregnant women or nursing mothers might stay away from hunts. But as such, there was no concept of gender inequality.
Engels, in his book “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”, shows us that institutions like ‘family’ and monogamous marriage are historic institutions – i.e. they came into being at a certain juncture in history, coinciding with the rise of private property and class conflict.
Engels looks are historic evidence of how early human societies – and surviving indigenous (adivasi) societies – do not have systematic gender or class inequality and oppression. The knowledge of who is the father of a child is not considered important. Families trace their lineage from mother to daughter.
With the domestication of animals and with agriculture, humans were able to create and preserve a surplus – over and above the bare minimum needed to survive. Class-divisions emerged in society as a section of humans began to control the surplus and treat it as ‘private property’ or private wealth. Coinciding with the emergence of class society, we find the rise of inequality between men and women.
The family and monogamous marriage are institutions that help to ensure that property can be inherited from father to son – and to ensure a legitimate son, women’s sexuality must be controlled and monogamy ensured. Engels shows how throughout the history of monogamy, monogamy has been enforced only on women while men have been free to have sexual relations outside of marriage. We can add here that the ideological privileging of heterosexual monogamy was also accompanied in some societies by the criminalisation of homosexuality and other sexual orientations and identities. Just as there is nothing ‘natural’ about women’s oppression, there is nothing ‘unnatural’ about homosexuality.
With the rise of private property, production moved outside the household and was controlled by men – while tasks of ‘reproduction’ – not only bearing children but the work of ‘reproducing’ society and the next generation, i.e. cooking, cleaning, caring for children, the elderly etc. were were relegated to the ‘private’ sphere (the family) and allotted to women. The gender division of labour was born. Engels observed that
“With the patriarchal family, and still more with the single monogamous family, a change came. Household management lost its public character. It no longer concerned society. It became a private service; the wife became the head servant, excluded from all participation in social production.”
What happens to the family institution under capitalism? Capitalism requires women and even children to be drawn into the workforce as paid labour. But it also requires women to continue to bear the burden of unpaid care work inside the household. Let us understand this problem a little better.
Capitalism Needs Domestic Labour
Marx identified labour power as the source of surplus value. What is surplus value? It is value produced by the worker in excess of the minimum value required to sustain and regenerate the worker and replenish his or her labour power. The capitalist seeks to push down this minimum value as low as possible, so as to increase the surplus value. That is, it seeks to pay the worker as little as possible.
To understand this better, let’s look at a poster.
The poster shows workers entering a factory gate in the morning and coming out in the evening. What happens between that entry and exit? How do the workers who exit the workplace exhausted each evening – their labour power depleted – make it to work again the next morning with their labour power replenished? The answer is: the workers’ labour power is replenished by those who cook meals for them, provide various kinds of comfort and care inside the home. And the bulk of such work is done by women.
The capitalist knows that workers need meals, a roof over the head, a bed, sleep – so as to be available for work the next day. Plus, the capitalist also needs the workforce of the future to be reproduced – i.e. children to be born. And it needs future workers (children of workers) to be cared for. It also needs the unemployed – members of the reserve army of labour – to be cared for. Moreover there is the problem of past workers – retired workers, aged and elderly people etc. But the capitalist does not wish to have to bear the burden of this cooking and care, because if either the individual capitalist or the State pays for this burden, it decreases the surplus value produced by the worker. Much of this (unpaid) labour of cooking, cleaning, caring for children and the elderly, providing loving human communication and care is done by people within households, families and communities – and the bulk of this labour is done by women.
Let us look at another poster from the workers’ struggle for the 8-hour day. The poster declares that the 24-hour day must be divided into three parts: 8 hours each for work, rest, and ‘what we will’ (whatever we like or enjoy). Of course, the capitalist wants to increase the ‘work’ part of the day as much as possible, and shrink the ‘rest’ and ‘leisure’ part of the day as much as possible. But think about this 24-hour day from the point of view of a woman.
If a woman is not a paid worker, she is actually working 24 hours a day – because domestic labour has no fixed working hours: if a baby cries in the night or wets itself, it must be attended to immediately. If she is a paid worker, she is doing a double shift, because after a hard day at work, she still has to come home and cook and care for others. She does not have 8 hours for rest and 8 hours for ‘what you will’ (which can include leisure, enjoyment as well as something like attending meetings of unions and women’s organisations.) She has a much harder struggle than men to make time for these activities.
Think about it – this domestic labour is endless. It involves collecting fuel and water as well as the actual process of cooking. It involves playing with children, wiping the tears of a crying child, waking up in the middle of the night to care for a sick child or adult.
Now some will say – how great women are, they do this wonderful work uncomplainingly, because that is the nature of women. Women’s Day is an occasion to salute such women, give them our respect. But we say that such ‘praise’ is an ideological ploy – a way of justifying and glorifying oppression. The women’s movement as well as revolutionary Marxists all over the world have challenged the ideology that claims that such unpaid, unrecognised labour of social reproduction is ‘natural’ to women and is ‘women’s work.’ They have said that a) men must share this domestic labour and b) the employer and the State must be made to bear greater burdens of social reproduction, by providing welfare measures, water, fuel, food, messes or canteens providing cooked food, pensions for the elderly, healthcare, maternity benefits, education and child care etc.
Women, as we have already noted, bear the bulk of the burden of domestic labour, which is part of the labour of ‘social reproduction.’ Capitalism needs labour power to be reproduced – and women bear the burden of this reproduction. The tasks of social reproduction do not only comprise unpaid work done inside the home: they also comprise paid domestic work, sanitation work, cooking mid-day meals in schools, teaching, healthcare work and so on. In India such work is often contractualised and extremely underpaid. It is no coincidence that much of this underpaid work of social reproduction is also done by women. And also, Dalits and Dalit women do a disproportionate share of the forms of social reproductive labour that are considered ‘dirty.’
Social reproduction also involves the reproduction of the entire structure of oppressive social relationships of class, caste, gender, race – day after day, generation after generation. In India, controlling women’s reproduction and sexuality is required not only to maintain the patriarchal transfer of private property but also to ensure the reproduction of the caste system. It is in large measure through the institutions of family/household that control of women’s reproduction and sexuality is achieved and women’s unpaid domestic labour is made possible.
Challenging the Patriarchal Commonsense of ‘Private/Public’, ‘Home/World’ Binary
A Marxist approach to the women’s movement helps us to look at the entire structure of society – and the role of women’s inequality and oppression – whole rather than through the binaries of ‘ghare’ and ‘baire’, ‘family’ and ‘workplace,’ ‘private’ and ‘public.’
In the dominant discourse, we find that on the one hand it is argued that women are ‘safe’ within families and face ‘danger’ when ‘forced’ to go ‘outside’ (to work, to defecate, to study etc). On the other hand, gender and caste discrimination, oppression and violence is defined as a problem of ‘culture’ – basically a problem of the sphere of the ‘family’ or ‘community,’ and so the ‘private’ problem of individuals and families or the ‘cultural’ problem of communities rather than the problem and responsibility of the State and public institutions. How do we challenge this dominant discourse?
We can see very clearly how the family/household institution disciplines and schools women in unpaid care work duties; teaches men entitlement over women’s labour, sexuality and reproduction; defines domestic violence as the “chastisement” of women for failure to do her “duties”; and helps to reproduce the ideologies and hierarchies of caste and gender, generation after generation.
In India, National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2005-06 data, as well as data gathered by the Indian Human Development Survey (IHDS) 2012 establish how denial of autonomy is itself a form of violence and discrimination faced by Indian women. It is important to emphasise this point, because State policies as well as patriarchal common sense often prescribe and impose restrictions on women’s autonomy and mobility in the name of keeping them ‘safe’ from violence.
- Only 5% of women in India have sole control over choosing their husbands – IHDS 2012
- 79.88% of women need permission to visit a health centre – IHDS 2012
NFHS 2005-06 data shows that the patriarchal sense of entitlement to women’s domestic services, helps legitimise domestic violence. Between 34-62 percent of men and women – ranging from educated to illiterate – believe that domestic violence is justified for one reason or another. Both category of respondents, men and women, tended to justify wife beating on the following ‘grounds’ – if wives argue with the husband, fail to show proper respect to in-laws, neglect the house or children, or go out without telling the husband. Women are tied by very widespread domestic violence to the social reproductive domestic roles ‘fixed’ for them – but patriarchal hegemony ensures that a large percentage of women accept such violence as the norm.
Even rape statistics in India reveal a high level of disguised violence against women’s autonomy. In her article ‘Rape, Rhetoric and Reality’, (The Hindu, December 19, 2014), Rukmini S points out that no less than 40% of “what is classified as rape (in Delhi police files) is actually parental criminalisation of consensual sexual relationships, often when it comes to inter-caste and inter-religious couples.” Each of the women in these ‘rape’ cases, then, are victims not of rape, but of coercion and violence by their own parents, families, and communities in their own homes. But this violence remains an open secret, in which even the police is complicit, and such violence now enjoys political sanction and encouragement from political forces patronised by ruling parties.
Domestic violence as well as restrictions on women’s mobility then, are inflicted on women by the families and communities they are born in, in order to prevent them from posing a threat to the caste order. And once married, women are subjected to domestic violence to discipline them into performing social reproductive labour. In India marriage involves moving into the marital home, which is often far away from the woman’s natal home. One of the most common forms of domestic violence is to prevent the newly-wed woman from contacting her parents and friends. The bride is subjected to various forms of humiliation and shaming – a sort of ‘ragging’ that is supposed to break her into her new role. As a result, the newly-wed bride’s situation becomes comparable in vulnerability to that of migrant labour. This isolation and vulnerability of the new bride, a migrant in ‘her own home,’ mostly disguised and romanticised ideologically, becomes starkly visible in instances for example in Haryana where, thanks to the low sex ratio, brides are ‘imported’ and purchased from other states.
Disciplinary Methods Drawn From Caste and Household Systems
Not only households, even the State feel entitled to demand social reproductive labour from women: both unpaid labour inside the home as well as severely underpaid ‘voluntary’ labour from incentive- or honorarium-based workers. The State, then, has no interest in challenging the systematic denial of women’s autonomy or the ‘normalcy’ of domestic violence. This leads to a peculiar situation where state-led campaigns exhort society to allow girls to be born – so that they can grow up to fulfil social reproductive duties later! Beti Bachao campaign slogans such as Beti nahin bachaoge to bahu kahan se laoge – If you don’t save a daughter today how will you get a bride tomorrow – reflect the fact that such campaigns originated in Haryana with the ‘Unmarried Men’s Union’ (Avivahit Purush Sangathan) who declared that the low sex ratio was preventing them from getting the brides from the prescribed caste and community – brides they felt entitled to having. The Swacch Bharat campaign widely uses slogans and advertisements suggesting that toilets should be built so that daughters and daughter-in-law, who should be veiled and whose place is in the home, should never have to go outside the house.
Widespread restrictions on women’s mobility in India are one of the factors responsible for the low workforce participation rate of women. The state and capitalist forces want more women to be drawn into the labour force – but at the same time they want to prevent and curb the likely consequences of women joining the workforce: greater autonomy and mobility and control over their own lives.
In both production and social reproduction work, women workers are disciplined using tools and methods drawn from the social reproductive spheres of the household and the education system, as well as from the caste system. By doing so the Indian State and Indian Governments seek to offer a docile, disciplined and unlikely-to-revolt (or so they hope) female workforce as an incentive to global capital to ‘Make in India.’ So, young women garment workers (mostly Dalit) in Tamil Nadu factories producing for global brands, keep women under strict surveillance in hostels, prevent any social outing or mobility outside the hostel or factory premises; punish socialisation between female and male workers; ban mobile phones for women workers and mete out humiliating casteist punishments to them for violating these rules. The factory managements justify these restrictions (similar to restrictions in women’s hostels in education institutions) by claiming that the workers’ families demand them.
The social relationships of caste and gender together are also other means of disciplining workers. For instance, in rural Bihar or Andhra Pradesh, the upper caste landlord will assert a feudal sense of entitlement over not only the labour but the sexual being of Dalit women labourers. What happens when the women workers migrate to the city? One woman sanitation worker in Bangalore, a Dalit migrant woman from Andhra Pradesh, referring to the fact that the contractors contractors are also from Andhra Pradesh and inevitably from the dominant Reddy (Kapu) caste, put it this way, “We escaped our villages in Chittur, Nellore, Ananthpuram and other districts of Andhra and ran to Bangalore to escape the caste oppression at the hands of the Kapus and they have now followed us to the cities and force us to shed our sweat and blood for them to prosper!”
Communal Fascism and the Metaphor of ‘Family’
Communal fascists also exploit the widespread anxieties over women’s sexual autonomy as a threat to the caste system. They use the slogan of love jihad to foment communal hatred and violence directed at real and imagined inter-faith love.
It is significant that one of the central metaphors of the Sangh’s ‘social harmony’ rhetoric is that of the ‘home’ – ‘Ghar,’ and its sister-term ‘family’ – ‘parivar.’ This metaphor is evoked to valorize the patriarchal family and subjugation of women – even to the extent of justifying wife-beating as necessary chastisement of erring wives. (‘Holier Than Cow: Wisdom on women from a Rashtra Sevika Sangh camp,’ Neha Dixit, Outlook, 28 January 2013) The RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat describes the RSS as ‘familyist not feminist;’ feminist assertions of women’s autonomy are painted as Western-inspired disruptions of the harmonious Indian family. Oppressive social practices and restrictions on women’s mobility are all rationalized as having evolved to ‘protect’ women from ‘rapacious Muslims’.
Hindu religion is described, moreover, as the ‘home’ for Dalits and Muslims, and to prescribe and order ‘ghar wapsi’ – ‘return home’ for these sections. The RSS and BJP recast relations between workers and bosses as harmonious relations within the ‘industry family,’ whereby justifying erosion and dilution of labour laws. To justify child labour and dilute the child labour abolition laws, in the name of allowing ‘family-based’ occupations to employ children.
The analogy of ‘family’ and ‘home’ are invoked not only to glamourise gender hierarchy but class and caste hierarchies. And communal violence in the name of curbing ‘love jehad’ are as hostile to women’s autonomy and equality as to the claims of Muslim and Dalit men to equality and dignity.
What are some of the conclusions that revolutionary Marxists and all those who want to fight patriarchy and structures of oppression can draw?
We cannot say that we must fight ‘cultural’ arena first, change mindsets, and that the task of challenging structures of production can come ‘later.’
Neither can we say that we must fight ‘economic’ oppression first and that the questions of violence and discrimination and attacks on women’s autonomy inside households can come ‘later.’
We can’t say we will fight communal fascism first, women’s rights and equality can come ‘later.’
We can’t say we will fight to annihilate caste first, and questions of gender and women’s freedom can come ‘later.’
We have to fight on all these fronts together – seeing how essential each such fight is to other fights.
It means the asserting the right to autonomy in households and family – women’s azaadi inside homes from their own parents, brothers, husbands, control over her own life, decisions, sexuality and reproduction – as central to struggles to annihilate caste, resist communalism, organise working class struggles. It means working class struggles can’t be organised only on factory floors or workplaces – but everywhere, including in the communities where workers live. In those areas, it will mean demanding state support for social reproductive tasks (homes, running water, fuel, public toilets, food rations, children’s education, health, maternity entitlements, pensions for all etc). It will mean asserting women’s right to toilet breaks, food, workplace safety, healthcare etc – as well as equal wages and committees against sexual harassment at the workplace. It will mean asserting that Dalit men and women will no longer do the work of cleaning human or animal excreta or animal carcasses. It will mean challenging the feudal-style caste hierarchies between maalik (boss) and mazdoor (worker) that are found in rural India but often reproduced in cities. It means fighting for women’s fullest freedom in those communities and in the process confronting caste and communal divisions directly and breaking down these divisions. It will mean asserting the right of all women to leisure and pleasure, liberty and equality.
An AISA – AIPWA Publication.
SYRIA: STOP THE ATROCITIES IN ALEPPO
Ensure protection and safety of civilian population
The battle in Aleppo has reached in its final stage with government forces able to limit and circle the anti-government militias to a small area in the eastern part of the city. The war in Syria, which began in 2012 and considered to be the deadliest in the 21st century has already claimed millions of lives and another 7 million displaced from their homes. Most the housing infrastructure in Aleppo and other frontline cities have been totally destroyed due to heavy bombing in the civilian areas by all the parties to the conflict. Civilians were the major victim of this war, with thousands being killed in brutal premeditated massacres by extremist groups like Islamic State (IS) on one hand, and on the other, many becoming targets of deliberate killings and bombings by government forces (supported by Russia) and ‘moderate’ anti-government militias (supported by US and its allies). Amidst the rubble of destroyed houses in Aleppo, thousands of civilians still are trapped between the two warring sides. As the government forces advance towards the east of Aleppo capturing the rebel held areas, there are disturbing reports of brutal summary executions and reprisal killings of men, women and children committed by both government and anti government militias.
We, call upon all the parties to the conflict in Syria to immediately end all forms of atrocities and coercion against the civilian population, and ensure complete protection and safety to civilians trapped in conflict zone. We strongly condemn all and any form of brutalities unleashed by both government and anti government forces against civilian population in the on going battle. Also, we call upon parties to the conflict to ensure the sanctity of established humanitarian corridor, and availability of aid and assistance to unarmed men, women, children, elderly and the wounded.
The murder of three young Muslims in the US (in Chapel Hill), the brutal violence by US police on an aged Indian man, Sureshbhai Patel (in Alabama) were followed by vandalisation of the Hindu temple in Seattle and the arson of a mosque. These incidents have once again put the spotlight on deeply entrenched racism and politics of hate in the USA. It has been reported that the vandalism of the Hindu temple in Seattle and the arson of a mosque in Houston during last weekend was preceded by a spate of anti-Hindu attacks across the US in recent months. In last August a statue of a deity at a Hindu temple in Georgia state was desecrated with black paint. The phone lines of the temple in Monroe, near Georgia, were cut and graffiti with hate messages were written on it. Also in Bothell, a government-run school was also defaced with a swastika and the words, “Muslims Get Out,” according to a Q13 Fox report.
In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a Muslim man Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Mohammed Abu-Salha were gunned down in their home by a white neighbor. The killer had been reportedly been expressing prejudice and hatred for the hijab worn by Yusor Abu-Salha, and had picked fights before with the Muslim family.
In a familiar pattern, the US police are trying to portray the killings as the consequence of a ‘parking dispute’ rather than an Islamophobic hate crime. This is reminiscent of the Delhi Police chief trying to portray targeted vandalization and desecration of churches in India’s national capital as a ‘robbery’, comparable to ‘robberies’ of temples.
The US media also largely ignored and trivialized the murders, thereby reflecting their own unwillingness to recognize and challenge Islamophobia. But local people, including neighbours, co-workers, and fellow students of the three victims, came out in large numbers to protest the hate crime. On social media also, outrage over the killings spilt over with the ‘Muslim Lives Matter’ hashtag, striking a chord with ongoing protests against racist murders that had used the ‘Black Lives Matter’ hashtag.
Soon after, in Alabama, police officers slammed an old Indian man on the ground, breaking his neck and partially paralyzing him. Sureshbhai Patel was visiting his son’s family to help take care of his baby grandson. Seeing Sureshbhai on a walk in the neighbourhood, a neighbor reported to the police that a “skinny black guy” was wandering about, leading him to fear about his wife’s safety. Sureshbhai communicated to the police that he was from India and could not speak English. But the senior police officer threw Sunilbhai on the ground, grievously injuring him.
Initially the Alabama police put out a press release justifying the police brutality and blaming Sureshbhai for disobeying the police. It was only after media outrage that the police officer has been sacked and arrested.
It would be a mistake to assume that the police behaviour against Sureshbhai Patel was an aberration. The attack on Sureshbhai is part of a pattern of similar incidents involving police high-handedness and killings of Black and Latina people in the US. In fact, the senior police officer who attacked Sureshbhai was giving the younger trainee officer a lesson in routine racist high-handedness and brutality. Aware that his actions and words were being recorded, he kept up a commentary falsely implying that Sureshbhai was being non-cooperative and violent. And in incident after incident of killings of Black and Latina men, the US police have literally got away with murder. They would have got away in Sureshbhai’s case too, were it not for the diplomatic issues involved.
Indian civil liberties activists in the US have pointed out that it is not enough to respond to the attack on Sureshbhai by ‘educating’ US police officers to distinguish Indian Hindus from Blacks, or from Araband South Asian Muslims. Instead, the effort must be to forge solidarity between Black and Arab communities as well as South Asians of all faiths, to resist the fresh surge in racism in the US.
At the same time, our outrage over the prejudice and violence meted out to Sureshbhai Patel in the US, must also serve to make us introspect about xenophobia and anti-Black racism in India. When Black people are subjected to mob violence in India, the politicians and police here, too, tend to blame such violence on ‘criminal activities’ by ‘foreign nationals’ rather than on racist prejudice. When people from North Eastern states are attacked in Indian cities, the police try to claim that the incidents are random rather than racist. Violence against Muslim economic migrants and refugees alike tends to be justified, celebrated and promoted as action against ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’.
Communal hatred and violence, at the hands of Hindu majoritarian groups as well as by police, against religious minorities in India has been systematic and state-sponsored. The BJP continues to systematically use anti-minority hatred and violence to expand its presence across India. Following President Obama’s remarks on the need to curb religious intolerance and by the scathing call by New York Times for Modi to break his silence, the Indian Prime Minister has finally declared his Government’s commitment to uphold religious freedom of all Indians. But these vague statements are mere lip service, given that no action has been taken against members of Modi’s own Cabinet and his team of MPs who have been at the forefront of the hate-mongering. Further, his words ring hollow in the face of the systematic persecution of activists who have been striving to pursue cases of communal violence, and the systematic impunity to the BJP President and police officers who staged fake encounters of Muslim men and women in Gujarat on Modi’s own watch.
The Chapel Hill murders, the assault on Sureshbhai Patel and the cases of temple vandalisation have reminded us all that racist and xenophobic prejudice and violence are no less a problem in the US than in India. The way forward is for movements against communalism, Islamophobia and racism in India, the US, UK and other countries to join hands with each other in closer solidarity and united struggle.
8 March – International Women’s Day – was born in the struggles that women factory workers in their thousands waged against bondage a century ago. Those women workers – in Chicago, in European countries, in Russia – protested against the exploitative conditions in which they worked. They were also the frontrunners of the movement for women’s suffrage: battling against the denial of political equality and citizenship for women.
In 2014, the legacy of those century-old struggles is as relevant as ever. Women workers continue to labour in exploitative and unsafe conditions – but the theatres of such exploitation have shifted from the US and Europe to Asian and African countries. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 that consumed the lives of women workers in New York City, is being re-enacted as fires and collapses in garment factories in Bangladesh a century later. In India too women are employed, overwhelmingly, in the 3D (Dirty, Dangerous, Demeaning) jobs. And just as they are expected to do unpaid housework as a ‘selfless service’ in the home, the Government too asks them to work without a salary (for instance as ASHA workers) as a ‘selfless service’.
Moreover, women in India are still denied political equality and citizenship. They are grossly under-represented in Assemblies and Parliament, and it has become clear that India’s ruling parties are committed to delaying and denying 33% reservation for women. But the denial of rights as equal citizens goes beyond this.
What is most shameful is that our representative bodies, our Governments, our ruling political parties, and even our Courts are unwilling to uphold our freedom to love or marry a partner of our choice. A Kerala Court has recently decreed that a woman’s right to marry a person of her choice is not absolute, and that parents have a say in their daughter’s marriage. Justifying a father’s action of detaining his daughter when she, a woman doctor, wished to marry a fellow doctor, the judge said, “the liberties guaranteed to citizens could not be stretched beyond limits and should not be used as a weapon to destroy social establishments.” The Supreme Court itself recently recriminalized homosexuality by rehabilitating Section 377. The conclusion is inescapable: judges tend to see themselves as custodians of the ‘social establishments’ – of family, caste, community, homophobic and patriarchal morality – rather than of the Constitutional liberties.
Governments and ruling political parties are much the same. They are happy to talk of ‘women’s empowerment’ and ‘protection’ for women. But they are as a rule supremely unwilling to defend women’s freedom from patriarchal diktats. Last year, women protesters demanded azaadi – freedom – from ‘khaps, fathers, brothers.’ The recent statements by a range of political leaders defending khaps, shows that they have shut their ears – and their minds – to such demands. That slogan showed that for young protesters, ‘khaps’ did not just stand for ‘honour killings’. They were a metaphor for patriarchal and oppressive structures of caste, class, and community. They identified the ‘khaps’ in the daily restrictions imposed by parents and hostel administrations, in the pressure to obey caste/community restrictions in marriage, in the violence inflicted on dalit or Muslim men who love women of dominant communities, in Section 377, in moral policing by cops and outfits like Ram Sene and Bajrang Dal.
Yet, we have seen leaders of Congress, BJP, and AAP, tell us that khaps are valuable social institutions, though these parties hasten to assure us that they will not defend acts of coercion or violence ‘if any’. When political parties act as advocates and apologists of khaps, they are telling us that the freedom and dignity of women and dalits really do not have much place in their vision of politics. On the contrary, patriarchal restrictions on women’s freedom have many political uses, especially to justify violence against vulnerable communities. We have seen the BJP use khaps to fan up anti-Muslim violence in Muzaffarnagar, in the name of ‘saving our women’ from ‘love jehad.’ Khaps have always branded women’s consensual love with dalit men as ‘rape’ and unleashed violence on dalit communities in the name of avenging hurt ‘honour’: this time Muslims were the target. The Congress too has long enjoyed the political support of the khaps, turning a blind eye to the violence they mete out to women and dalits. AAP justified violence against African women in the name of ‘protecting’ Indian women.
The Kerala judge isn’t alone in legitimising the patriarchal idea that daughter’s Constitutional rights are not absolute, and that these can be violated by her father in order to ‘protect’ her from undesirable relationships. The BJP invoked the same idea when they faced with evidence that their Prime Ministerial candidate had deployed state machinery to stalk a woman.
Every year on 8 March, we hear some lip service paid by Governments towards women. But women continue to be denied the simplest needs and services. This year, with Lok Sabha elections soon to take place, we need to bring women’s rights and needs onto the political agenda.
We want no rhetoric about women’s greatness nor promises of ‘protection.’ We instead demand that Governments recognise their duty to ensure free toilets, medical care, education, and safe, regular public transport for women. We expect Governments to provide one-stop crisis centres and compensation and rehabilitation for survivors of gender violence. Children routinely face sexual abuse: is it not the Government’s job to provide safe child-care, especially in poor working class settlements? Why do Governments promote liquor addiction, with disastrous consequences for women? Liquor licences in residential areas should require the consent of the majority of local women.
We want Governments to stop behaving like patriarchal families, and stop asking women workers to work for an ‘honorarium’ instead of a salary. We want to know if Governments will commit to guaranteeing that women workers get equal pay for equal work, that minimum wages are raised, that ASHA and anganwadi workers get their full recognition and rights as government employees, that every work place has toilets, safe and healthy work conditions, and mechanisms against sexual harassment?
We have had enough of Governments encouraging police to do moral policing and crackdowns on consensual couples in the name of women’s protection. Instead, we expect Governments to ensure the accountability of the police, and to ensure strict action against police personnel who fail to do their duty. We also want Governments to stop protecting politicians, police and Army personnel who are accused of rape, and perpetrators of caste and communal rapes. From Chhattisgarh to Manipur to Kashmir, the impunity enjoyed by rapists in uniform, and the continued systematic rapes of dalit women all over rural India, the denial of justice to women raped in caste and communal massacres, exposes the reality of the politicians’ anti-rape rhetoric.
We want to know if Governments will scrap Section 377; enact laws against honour crimes and moral policing, and ensure state-run support centres for inter-caste and same-sex couples?
From International Women’s Day, let’s foreground the above questions as a charter of gender justice, and issue a resounding call that in this year’s Lok Sabha elections, we’ll strive to elect those forces who are champions of this charter of struggle, and reject those political forces who continue to be custodians of patriarchal values.
Originally published in : ML Update, Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 10/2014
On 23 February, 1991, an entire village was
raped. And truth and justice have been throttled. The rapists haven’t been tried or punished. Instead the complaint of rape was never even investigated! Kunan Poshpora is a festering wound – and it is no aberration. Kunan Poshpora reminds us of the reality of Kashmir, where India’s Army systematically terrorises the people in the name of protecting ‘the rest of India’ and the ‘country’s integrity’.
On 23rd February, the 68th Brigade of the Fourth Rajputana Rifles surrounded Kunan Poshpora for a ‘cordon and search operation’. As Abhijit Dutta writes, “Such operations – also known as ‘crackdowns’ – were a common enough occurrence in the first decade of the conflict in Kashmir. They were also, without exception, an utterly dehumanising experience for the Kashmiri, who was literally and figuratively kicked around by the jackboots of the Indian army. The purpose of inflicting such a terrorising experience on the local population was not only the discovery of arms and militants, but also to make it clear that the Indian army was in complete control and the Kashmiri lived his or her life at its mercy. The standard procedure for these operations involved yanking men, including teenage boys, out into a gathering space (usually a nearby field) where they were generally made to wait in the freezing cold while the Army searched their homes. Women and very young children would cower into corners as these men stomped around the frail wooden houses, turning everything upside down with brutish callousness. Most operations took place in the night, beginning around 10 or 11 pm and lasting till 4 or 5 am in the morning; the idea was to maximise discomfort.”
The men who had been separated from the women, were also subjected to brutal torture including torture and mutilation of the genitals.
The 2011 judgment by the J&K State Human Rights Commission (JKSHRC) on ‘Complaints regarding Kunan Poshpora atrocities lodged by victims and inhabitants of the Village V/s J&K State and Others,’ described the testimonies of rape of “at least 36women” including girls as young as 8 years old, during the night of 23rd and 24th February 1991. It was noted that a policeman who tried to sound the alarm was killed. And that subsequently, the police failed to conduct an identification parade to allow the women to identify the rapists.
In March 1991, a confidential letter sent by the District Magistrate of Kupwara was leaked to the press, in which the DM, having visited Kunan a week after the mass rape, wrote that “the armed forces had turned violent and behaved like beasts”. The Ministry of Defence denied the whole thing.
The then Divisional Commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah led a team comprising of a colonel from Army HQ, a commandant of the Border Security Force, the Deputy Commissioner of Kupwara district and the Superintendent of Police, Kupwara. After gathering statements from 41 women, he decided that there was sufficient cause for a more detailed enquiry and recommended this in his report to the Governor. When the state government published his report, they deleted this recommendation. A former Chief Justice of the J&K High Court, Mufti Bahauddin Farooqi, who also led an independent fact finding mission to Kunan Poshpora in March, concluded that “he had never seen a case in which normal investigative procedures were ignored as they were in this one”.
The normal investigations never took place! But the Army ‘requested’ an ‘investigation’ by two Press Council representatives, who obligingly declared the mass rape story to be a “massive hoax, orchestrated by militant groups and their sympathizers and mentors in Kashmir.”
However, the truth refused to be buried and the survivors continued their struggle to have the truth acknowledged. The 2011 JKSHRC judgment, which was primarily dealing with specific petitions made to it by a few victims, reported that the then Director General of Police (DGP) of J&K, the ‘top cop’ of the State who had initially “tried to brush aside this serious matter with just a casual approach”, later came forward “with a little bit of truth and tried to open the closed doors of investigation”.
The DGP had in fact, in a report dated 22-05-2010, “affirmed that during the intervening night of 23/24 of Feb-1991 Army personnel cordoned village Kunan Poshpora,” and that men were dragged out of their houses, women interrogated. Crucially, the DGP’s report also acknowledges that the petitioner’s medical report “has proved the allegations of torture and ‘rape’ to be correct”. However, the report also took the standard stonewalling line of defence, arguing that “as no identification parade of the army personnel was made, the investigation of the case was finally closed as ‘untraced’.” The judgment asks, “…can for God’s sake the police chief of the state answer a simple question as to why in such a serious and heinous case the identification parade was not held? Who was responsible for this intentional dereliction of duty and what action the DGP J&K has taken against the erring officials?”
The JKSHRC further accuses that “it prima facie appears that all the officers from top to bottom were in a hurry and wanted to scuttle the investigation of the case and they have succeeded in their evil design but in a very bad and crude way. The main complainant in the lead case has clearly and unequivocally mentioned that she is and was in a position to identify the offenders, but investigating officer(s) and their high-ups were not in a mood to proceed with the investigation of the case in a fair and impartial manner.” It similarly chastises the Director Prosecution responsible for the case for scuttling the investigation of the case and for playing “a pivotal role in this whole incident where by due to his intentional omissions/commissions and negligent approach he has deterred the investigating agency from taking due action as warranted under law and thereby has been responsible for violation of human rights.”
In its conclusion, the JKSHRC bench recommended that proceedings for prosecution be initiated against the Director Prosecution under section 19 (1) of the J&K Prevention of Human Rights Act 1997; that a minimum Rs. 2 lakhs each be paid to all victims; and that, most importantly, the FIR lodged at the time of the incident be re-opened and re-investigated through a special investigative team not below the rank of an SSP and that “the investigation must be taken to its logical end without any further delay and hiccups within a specific time bound period.”
In June 2013, the Chief Judicial Magistrate Kupwara dismissed the closure report of Jammu and Kashmir police in the Kunan Poshpora case, and asked the police to “further investigate to unravel the identity of those who happen to be perpetrators.”
Kunan Poshpora was no aberration, nor the last rape. From Kunan Poshpora to Shopiyan, rape is a recurring reality in Kashmir under Army jackboots.
23 years after the Kunan Poshpora mass rape, we support the call for Kashmiri Women’s Resistance Day. Justice for Kunan Poshpora and for Kashmir’s women is inextricably linked with the struggle of the Kashmiri people to be free from Army suppression, to have control over their own lives and their own future.
US Attorney Preet Bharara states that Devyani was not hand-cuffed or arrested in the view of her children, but he does admit that a strip search and cavity search were conducted. But this is-neither here nor there. The question is – would the US Government have treated a diplomat from a non-‘Third World’ country, charged with the same offences, in the same manner? Again, this is not to undermine the seriousness of the charges brought against Ms. Khobragade. Rather, the question is, are the rules somehow different where US diplomats are concerned? When CIA operative Raymond Davis was charged with killing two men in Lahore in broad daylight in 2011, the US quickly claimed diplomatic immunity for him, even though he was not officially a diplomat. It is really this double standard that is the primary factor behind the anger that many Indians feel at the treatment meted out to Ms. Khobragade. It is difficult to evade the conclusion that imperialist high-handedness, and the structural racism of the US criminal justice and prison system, played a part in allowing the US Government to forget diplomatic conventions that it would expect as its due for its own diplomats. Of course, the US was no doubt encouraged in its high-handedness by the fact that the Indian Government never made an issue of the US’ refusal to extradite David Headley or Warren Anderson, of the shooting of an Indian fisherman by a US warship in 2012, or of repeated instances of frisking of senior Indian Government representatives in US airports.
What about the Indian Government’s response to the ongoing episode involving Khobragade and Richards? When the issue surfaced several months ago, India’s Ministry of External Affairs took no measures to prevent the matter from escalating. The MEA is well aware of the fact that Indian diplomats regularly employ and under-pay domestic help, drivers, gardeners etc from India. The infamous ‘double contract’ is an open secret – where there is one contract that complies with the US regulations and another ‘real’ contract that actually governs pay and other conditions. In the past couple of years, there have been other cases involving Indian diplomats accused of employing ‘bonded’ or ‘slave’ labour. The diplomats’ complaint has been that the MEA does not pay them enough to employ workers at US rates. This cannot, of course, be an excuse for underpaying workers – the point is that the MEA was well aware of the issue and did nothing to resolve it.
Further, the Indian Government seems to think it owes no duty to the other Indian citizen in the matter: Sangeeta Richards, the domestic worker. Instead, they have endorsed the action initiated by Khobragade against Richards, including charges of blackmail, fraud, theft; making insinuations that Richards was attempting to facilitate illegal immigration of her husband and child; and revoking Richards’s passport. Richards attempted to legally raise her grievances, terminate her employment by Khobragade, seek a fresh passport and visa so that she might work elsewhere, and sought a payment of $10,000 since she claimed to have worked 19 hours a day. The Indian Government seems to have decided that for a worker to raise such grievances against an Indian diplomat, amounts to betrayal of the Indian State and Indian nationalism! Disturbingly, the Indian Government seems to ignore the indications that Khobragade’s conduct towards Richards (and perhaps of other Indian diplomats towards their employees) amounts to human trafficking.
The discourse of much of the media and most political parties in India is equally disturbing. Richards’s actions are being described as a conspiracy. BJP leader Yashwant Sinha talks of how it’s common for servants to get ‘star-struck’ by the ‘glittering lights’ of the US, and to want to illegally immigrate and feel dissatisfied with their lot! People have said to me that the domestic worker should be happy with her wages because she would make less in India. Would these same people agree that an Indian who works in Microsoft in Seattle should make the same as an Indian who works in Infosys in Bangalore?
The Delhi High Court injunction of September 20 restraining Richards from moving court against Khobragade outside India, says: “It is pertinent to mention here that the plaintiff and her family treated defendant No. 1 [Sangeeta Richards] as a member of their own family…The (plaintiff’s) house is equipped with all modern domestic gadgets. Defendant No. 1 was being given leave/off on Sundays when she used to visit a beauty parlour, church and her friends.” In India, the most common euphemism for exploitative domestic labour and even child labour is “we treat them like family.” “Like family” justifies every feudal relationship with the domestic worker, suggesting that a formal work contract regulated by the law would somehow corrupt the “family relationship.” Similarly, of course, any attempt by women to invoke laws regarding dowry harassment or domestic violence inside the household, is painted as a violation of the sacred “family ties.” Domestic workers in India face exploitative work conditions, with no norms of work hours, pay, leave, and vulnerable to sexual violence and even bondage and torture. India is yet to ratify the ILO Convention on domestic workers’ rights.
Yashwant Sinha declared that India should retaliate to the arrest of Khobragade by arresting US diplomats with same-sex partners, since homosexuality is illegal in India. Flaunting homophobia as ‘national pride’ and implying that minimum wage and anti-trafficking laws are ‘foreign’ to India is condemnable and truly shames India as a democracy.
It also needs to be pointed out that while employing highly exploited domestic workers is of course more prevalent in the Indian middle class, it is also a major and growing phenomenon in the US among professionals and elites. In the US, large numbers of households employ Latina, Filipina and other migrant women as maids and nannies. Their work conditions are usually exploitative, and they are often profiled as ‘illegal’ and very vulnerable to harassment. Some years ago, these ‘undocumented’ workers participated in huge numbers in a series of massive protests against being branded as ‘illegal’ by US immigration laws, which, far from protecting such workers, render them much more vulnerable to exploitation. The draconian provisions of the US visa regime under which Khobragade was arrested are in fact primarily targeted at controlling and limiting the rights of these workers themselves.
Instead of muscle-flexing and grandstanding, India and the US must work on resolving the diplomatic impasse, without compromising either on India’s sovereignty and the dignity of its diplomats, or on the rights of Indian workers. India must work to end the exploitative practices and trafficking by diplomats and protect all Indian workers from such practices. And India and the US both need to protect the rights of domestic workers in keeping with the ILO Convention norms in their respective countries.
AISA strongly condemns the inhuman treatment of some Indian students in the US: shockingly, some Indian students in the Tri-Valley University of the US have been forced by US authorities to wear radio collars around their ankles, in addition to being victimized in several other ways. These students, mostly from Andhra Pradesh, have taken admission in this dubious university, and are now being punished for their ‘crime’ of wanting to study in the US.
Hundreds of Indian students (an estimated 1500) have been duped by a California-based “sham” university, are now frantically knocking at the doors of colleges begging for admission in their desperate attempt to save their academic careers and avoid deportation back home. The Tri Valley University has recently been shut down by the federal authorities in the US last week after investigations revealed massive fraud indulged by it. And now the students are being punished for the crimes of the university!
In some cases students are being asked for bond deposits running into thousands of dollars and a large number of them have been served with Notice to Appear (which is considered as the first step towards the start of deportation process). Some students have been subject to detention, and some have been released on bail.
The experience of students of Tri-Valley University highlights the crisis that the education sector is going through in the market-dominated economic model being aggressively promoted by the US as well as the UPA. This is the real face of the much touted ‘high-quality’ education in the US! This is also an indicator of what will happen when the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) passes the Foreign Universities Bill – it is anyone’s guess how many such spurious universities like Tri-valley will set up shop in India and dupe Indian students!
AISA demands that the UPA take immediate steps to end the horrific victimization of Indian students in the US for no fault of theirs.
“Without beating around the bush or postponing or playing us for fools and without more false promises, we, the people of Egypt, demand all of our long forgotten rights to be granted and this time there is no turning back….we have learned our lesson….we have finally broken free of all fears.” – a pamphlet issued by protestors in Egypt.
We are currently witnessing a remarkable popular movement which has spread over northern Africa and the Middle East: puppet regimes and dictatorships backed by the United States are now facing an unprecedented political challenge, as the working classes in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Jordon and Yemen take to the streets in huge numbers and oppose anti-people regimes and economic policies. Some political commentators in the Middle East have in fact called this remarkable movement a ‘political earthquake’.
In Egypt for instance, on 25th January, an estimated 50,000 people, predominantly young unemployed workers and students, defied the police dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak, routinely described as a “staunch ally of the US,” to demand his resignation and the lifting of emergency rule. It is to be noted that the legislative elections held in Egypt on 28th November 2010 were blatantly rigged in favour of Mubarak and his allies. The widespread anger against this scuttling of a democratic process found fresh energy when a mass movement in Tunisia suceeded in overthrowing the Tunisian President, General Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and today, Tunisian flags fly all over Egypt in solidarity.
Such a massive uprising has not happened in Egypt since 1977, when Cairo’s Tahrir Square was occupied to protest price hikes mandated by the International Monetary Fund. This movement is continuing to spill out on Egypt’s streets despite the Hosni Mubarak regime’s savage police repression — people are braving tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and truncheons every single day. The regime has also tried to quell the movement by shutting down internet services, a key organising tool of the protests.
The specific political and economic demands of the movement in Egypt include:
- salary and pension increases;
- financial aid for unemployed workers;
- canceling the law of emergency, empowering authorities to arrest people without warrants;
- demanding Mubarak’s ouster and his son, Gamal, prevented from succeeding him;
- dissolving Egypt’s fraudulently elected parliament;
- holding free democratic elections; and
- banning Egyptian exports to Israel, mainly its natural gas.
Recognising the strategic and geo-political importance of Egypt in its overall plans to maintain its dominance in the Middle East, the US is shamefully supporting Mubarak and his brutal crackdown on the protests. Egypt is the most populous and politically important of the Arab states and the recipient of tens of billions of dollars in US military aid. Egypt is also a key supporter of Israel in the US-Israel’s genocidal war against the Palestianian people.
At the same time, there are indications that the US and other imperialist forces are also trying to co-opt the opposition forces active in the movement. This remarkable ongoing mass movement in Tunisia and Egypt therefore has to ensure that not just the puppet rulers like Mubarak and Ben Ali, but the puppet-masters in the US, IMF and the World Bank are also decisively rebuffed. The real battle at stake is for these countries to ensure that their political and economic sovereignty is maintained, and protected against domination and manipulation by imperialist interests. Devastating neo-liberal policies, and the national missions of the IMF and the World Bank have to be kicked out: meaningful political change can only be ensured if the neoliberal economic policy agenda, and its domestic and foreign promoters are thrown out.
What we are witnessing in north Africa and Middle East has repercussions and lessons for the progressive and democratic movement all over the world. It is time we join the struggling masses in these countries in solidarity with their ongoing battle against authoritarian regimes and neo-liberal policies.