Bengaluru protestors looking for deeper change

There has been outrage in the country after the recent Delhi gangrape case. The ripples have been felt in Bengaluru too. Different groups in the city, ranging from feminists, political parties, students and IT employees have been protesting.

There have been protests in the city earlier, on issues of violence against women with barely 20-30 activists participating. The number of male protesters would be negligible. The protest would often be seen as so irrelevant that the public would not give a second glance.

If there was no police permission given, there would be no gentle treatment from the police either. A group of people attempted to organise a ‘slut walk’ earlier this year; students who attended were chased and hit, and even detained by the police. ‘Slut walk’ was meant to make a statement — that women should not be sexually abused, irrespective of the clothes they wear.

Men, women and children protested at ‘Men against sexual violence, Men for gender justice’, on December 30th. Pic: Shamala Kittane

So what’s new now?

This time, the story is entirely different. Protests have been happening with or without police permission. Hundreds of people have been on the streets, and not just activists. Quite a few men are there too. On December 30th, a protest ‘Men against sexual violence, men for gender justice’ was held at Town Hall exclusively for men to pledge their support for women.

Overall, there are calls being made for death penalty and castration, but there are also those who say that gender equality is the solution. Many protests were vocal about different types of violence against women, including objectification in media. The protests are spread across different parts of the city, and at least a hundred are seen participating in each.

What could be the reason for the strong protests now? Protesters say that their anger is not only about the Delhi case, but about all such cases occurring everyday. One of the protesters Mubida Rahman, 26, says, “I have been sexually harassed before, and did not get help many times. We have reached a level where we can’t keep quiet anymore. Its already late, but it makes no sense being apathetic.” Mubida, who works in an NGO, was part of the ‘Freedom Miles’ walk from Basavangudi to Jayanagar 4th block on December 29th.

The walk was organised by political groups like Praja Rajya Vedike (PRV), and feminist/human rights organisations like Vimochana and Alternative Law Forum. Activists from sexual minority groups and garment workers’ union also participated. Most women opined that violence against women will end only when all forms of gender discrimination end. The protesters, men and women, were seen holding placards saying ‘I am a feminist’, ‘Stop objectification of women’ etc.

Zubair Siddique, a protester at Freedom Miles, said, “This is my first protest, and I feel bad about having taken so long to speak about this. Men’s mindset has to change, and it has to start from the family.” Siddique, 28, is a web analyst. He says that the most disturbing aspect is public apathy, and that he is protesting to create awareness among public that they should help women in distress.

Seasoned women’s right activists are positive about the public response. “Anger has been simmering for long. Working on rape cases, we see that laws are never enforced. With the Delhi incident, the anger just came out,” says Donna Fernandes of Vimochana.

In the Freedom Miles protest, many had come after seeing event notices in social media like Facebook. Many opined that the Delhi case might be getting huge response because of extensive coverage of it. TCS employee Shivani Sharma, 33, says that without social media, there were no channels to organise protests earlier either. “Earlier you could not do anything alone; you had to join a political party to do something. Now with social media, we can organise and act on our own,” she says.

Protesters at ‘Men against sexual violence, Men for gender justice’, on December 30th. Pic: Shamala Kittane

Many protests had been planned in very short time spans. ‘The Orange Revolution’, a movement started by Delhi-based student Sonakshi Samtani, managed to organise protests throughout the country only through Facebook. Sonakshi’s friends in Bangalore held a candlelight vigil and a developed an agenda on preventing attacks on women. Blank noise project had women taking the safe city pledge on January 1st at MG Road, Gandhi statue.

Discussions are still going strong online; many women are sharing their personal stories through blogs and social media. For instance, a Facebook group called ‘Society of Painted Dented Ladies of India’ was formed after Congress MP Abhijit Mukherjee’s infamous comment on women protesters. Started by Rashmi Vallabajyosula, a Bangalore based marketing consultant, it quickly hatched up more than 1000 members in a few hours.

The left group AIDWA (All India Democratic Women’s Association) had organised five protests in the city on the issue. The organisation already works with colleges on gender issues, and many college students came forward for the protests, says K S Vimala, Karnataka state Vice President of  AIDWA. “Protests help draw the attention of society, not just government. It also helps make students and youth aware,” she says.

Beyond law, it is society’s attitude

Donna says that law is just one dimension of women’s safety, and that others should be addressed. Opining that violent attacks could be a backlash to women’s growing independence, she says, “Now a days women are going out and fighting for their rights. Rape is a weapon of power upon women.”

Deepthi R, a 29-year-old tech professional working in Electronic City, is part of the IT women employees’ collective named ITHI. She has been part of a protest and a condolence meet organised by ITHI and its sister organisation ITEC (IT/ITES Employees Centre). The protest recognised rape as a form of discrimination against women, and called to end all gender discrimination. Even among her colleagues, Deepthi says, the mindset is backward.

“The men who work with us say that they are for gender equality. Then they go home and beat their wives, or force them to compromise their career to look after the family. On the road if I just overtake a man’s bike, he cannot even handle that; he will come after me.” For Deepthi, in addition to the Delhi rape incident, the statements made by some politicians later blaming women for rapes, was a trigger to protest. Recent press reports on the lax attitude of police in taking action against rapes, high number of reported cases in Bangalore etc, made the issue more serious for her.

Shubha Chacko of Aneka, an NGO that works with sexual minorities, says, “Our idea is to reclaim the city. Violence is a message for women to go back, we are saying that we won’t go back.”

What do they demand?

Though there is general agreement that there should be change socially and also in justice system, the focus is different for different groups. Many feminist and human rights groups have denounced extreme punishments including death penalty. Instead they demand speedy justice, and also review and implementation of two bills – Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2012, and The Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment At Workplace Bill, 2010.

Freedom Miles, at Jayanagar. Pic: Meera K

The demands of the organisers of Freedom Miles included having fast track courts, independent investigation into how police/state government responds to sexual violence cases etc. Manohar Elavarthi of Praja Rajya Vedike and an organiser of the walk, says, “We should look at deeper issues. Some campaigns are hate campaigns and go back to showing protectionism towards women, instead of treating them as equals.”

On the other extreme is groups like Youth For Nation (YNF), a collective of students and youth, present in six states, who demand death penalty, bobbitisation, chemical castration etc. YNF has held three protests so far. “Death penalty is needed, because in India people do not get scared until there is a law,” says Sahil Khosla, 20, State Secretary of YNF. Khosla believes that social change is not happening fast enough, and hence justice system should change.

YNF has demanded police protection and humane approach in prosecution for victims and witnesses in rape cases. They also say that non-bailable arrest warrants should be issued against accused, and that the President should not consider mercy petitions of convicted rapists.

You were not born in my house

As you breathe your last
Why am I gasping for breath?
You were not born in my house
As my daughter
I did not rock you in my arms
When you were a child
I did not hear your shrieks of joy
Reverberate in my heart…
But
how come your shrieks of pain
Reach me from thousands of miles away…
As you go quiet
and silent…

as millions of voices speaking out your pain

You would not have been killed by Ram Singh and gang
But for failure of those
Who were duty bound to protect you, but did not
Who were responsible to see that Supreme Court orders are complied with
(Buses should not have black films or tinted glass)
who should have acted on complaint of man robbed by same gang few minutes back!
but did not!
You were not born in my house
I did not rock you in my arms
I did not hear your shrieks of joy
Reverberate in my heart…
When you were a child

Yet I grieve for you my child
And many more like you
As a father would…

– Dr. Mukul Saxena is a columnist.

Vimala K S of AIDWA, says that death penalty can be given only in the rarest of rare cases. “Death penalty is not a deterrent, and there could be cases where the wrong person is caught, considering our police system.” AIDWA has a long set of demands including making police gender-sensitive, more policewomen and police patrolling, strict punishment for all forms of sexual harassment etc.

Vimala says that moral science in school syllabus should be replaced with gender sensitisation. “There is enough morality already, telling women how to walk, talk and behave like Seetha-Savithri. Instead of all this, we should teach students that women should be treated as equals.”

What next?

Though many protesters were doubtful about the future of the movement, many of them seemed to have their own plans to take it forward. Most groups are sending suggestions to the Justice J S Verma committee. The Central Government had formed the committee after the Delhi incident, to recommend stricter laws so as to prevent violence against women.

Many groups are planning further discussions to keep the issue alive or to create support systems for women. The Freedom Miles coalition, for instance, is planning to have a walk once every week in a different area in Bangalore. There are plans to follow up on 5-6 rape cases, and efforts to start a helpline for women.

ITHI/ITEC plans to have discussions online on sexual assault bill and workplace harassment bill, and on what more can be done on these.

Sahil Khosla says YNF will hold a hunger strike until death penalty is made mandatory for rapists. YNF has started a missed call system to get more people to volunteer for them on the issue of crimes against women. Khosla claims that about 1.2 lakh people have reached out to YNF so far. The group is also planning to organise more self-defence workshops for girls in schools and colleges.

Then there are smaller groups starting off their own work. Mubida Rahman, as part of her group of 4-5 friends, is planning to hold events highlighting the issue. The group has been working on different social issues for the last few months. Many protesters said that they would take part in further protests. Some others, like Shivani Sharma, who works at an Indian tech-MNC, said that it was difficult to continuously work for the cause, because of other responsibilities.

ITHI/ITEC held a protest on December 31st at Brigade Road saying that this New Year was no occasion to celebrate. There are also further protests by different groups in the next few days.

Veteran activists say they cannot predict whether this would become a long term movement or would fizzle out soon, but are happy that at least the government is taking notice. Donna says, “I hope the issue is not forgotten soon, but every issue has its limitations. I think there are going to be sporadic protests until government wakes up. As elections are nearing, political parties may react and government may amend the law. But the struggle is far bigger than this.”

About Navya P K 243 Articles

Navya P K is a former senior staff journalist at Citizen Matters, and a freelance journalist based in Kerala.

1 Comment

  1. Read >
    December 28, 2012
    BL
    Collapse of the rule of law

    http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/columns/p-v-indiresan/collapse-of-the-rule-of-law/article4249422.ece

    The ongoing debate on the punishment to be meted out to rapists should not overlook a basic point – justice delayed is justice denied. »

    Sadly musing / Reflecting >

    The learned writer, in one’s perception, seems to believe and imply that had there been ‘fear’ of the law, the’ rule of law’ may not have collapsed. If looked at from a different perspective , however, the root cause of the malady is traceable to , not just the lacking fear of ’law’, but the individual’s own wish and will, or absence of it, to obey the law. The rule (s) law , if intelligently analysed, may be realised not necessarily connote simply those of the man-made law.
    To re-quote what a great visionary of our times once spake:
    “The defences of our democracy may be impregnable from without, but they are vulnerable from within. Let us never forget the dictum of Pogo, the cartoonist, “We have met the enemy and it is we”.
    (Palkhivala’s published lecture , -“Meeting the enemy”(year 1973)).
    Again, in the words undeniably rich in wisdom, of the same great visionary, more so the greatest thinker of our times:
    “I should like to reaffirm my firm conviction that it is not the Constitution which has failed the people but it is our chosen representatives who have failed the constitution”
    (His published article, – “Has the Constitution failed” (year 1979))
    “It is important that citizens must obey the law. It is even more important that citizens must obey the high standards of decency which are not enforced by the law but are the hallmark of a truly civilized and mature democracy”
    (One of his several Convocation Addresses, – “Obedience to the unenforceable” (year 1980))

    One may find it makes for an illuminating and inspiring experience to read many more in the Book – WE, THE PEOPLE

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