Monday, 29 July 2013

India Imagined

From a distance, India exudes all that is ‘progressive’ about a developing country: technology, democracy, and an alliance with western powers. It boasts big dams and development projects, and impressive figures about economic growth.
Look a little closer, however, and the mirage dissolves. The illusion that is India gives way to the dismal realities of a people drowning under the weight of their government, the Indian National Congress (INC) and the often devastating postures of the opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Both are guilty of neglecting their obligation to their people in the name of their country, of putting economic growth ahead of human development; or worse, of confusing the two. Women are among the many groups in India who have paid the price of the state’s dogged, unstoppable pursuit for wealth, regional domination, and recognition. The fantasy of the elites is of an India whose population consists only of useful people. 'Untouchables' no longer exist. It is this fantasy of an India wiped clean of most of its people that has motivated many, if not most, of the state-conducted crimes against women in India to date.
The BJP’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan, chief minister for Madhya Pradesh, announced in May that 50% of the candidates standing for election in November will be women. Half of the election tickets will be distributed to women after a law was introduced in 2009 to ensure greater political representation by women. As with most commitments made by politicians, this pledge is disingenuous. Anti-incumbency votes against male Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA's) has weakened the BJP. These MLA's will be able to take advantage of the 50% policy by putting female family members forward as candidates in their place, thus ensuring the BJP maintains at least some power:
Not exactly a progressive move towards gender equality. The BJP have, historically, shown that they think little of women. They think little of most people.
Despite professing an equal respect for all faiths, the BJP version of Hindutva (the dominant version) discriminates against non-Hindu religious communities. Hindutva philosophy maintains that India is a Hindu state. Inevitably, this concoction of religion and nationalism leads, and has lead, not only to mere flag-waving, but to massacres and large scale atrocities. Senior BJP members have been accused of participating in some of the bloodiest attacks on communities and in the tearing down of Mosques. Women, in particular Muslim and Dalit women, pay the highest price of these right-wing ideologies. Ramesh Bais, a BJP MP, claimed that the rape of women was understandable, and that it is a crime only to rape children. Another ranted that mobile phones and jeans should be banned for women. Indian politicians (particularly from right wing parties/organisations like the BJP) have shown themselves publically, time and time again, to be victim blamers:
The recent case of the gang rape of a young woman on a bus in December 2012 only highlighted a much bigger problem in India: discrimination by class. The young woman, who died soon after the attack, was middle class. Women from the lower classes are raped, killed, and assaulted at horrifying rates, and yet these incidents do not receive the same global media attention as the aforementioned incident. These women are not seen to be as valuable as others. 'They' are not like 'us'.
It is the distinction between 'us' and 'them', and how we decide who belongs to which group that is also responsible for the atrocities India sees. For groups like the BJP, 'they' are the enemies of the Hindu state. They are responsible for holding India back. They are non-Hindus, lower castes, women, Naxalites, Adivasi people, liberals, writers, journalists, western culture and those who promote it. They are not only disposable- it is the active duty of those who love their country to dispose of them. As is the case with most state-allowed, state-encouraged, or state-conducted 'cleansing' operations, women often suffer the greatest harm to their lives or livelihoods. This is even more critical when one considers that the social position of the women being targeted puts them in a vulnerable position to begin with; and that emergency services, relief and aid, and legal advice are not readily available to them (having said that, there are laws which prohibit the reporting of a crime committed by ministers, judges and so on. In other words, one can be arrested and charged with sedition, defamation, or something of that nature for reporting a crime committed by the state).
In 2007, India's first female President, Pratibha Patil of the INC, was elected. During her time in office, nationwide crime against women increased dramatically:  Many have argued that the police and courts are ineffective, and that because perpetrators are rarely tried and sentenced (and, if they are, the sentence is very light) the state is complicit in the continuation of rape-culture in India. It does not acknowledge that an assault on a woman is a serious crime.
Manmohan Singh, the first Sikh Prime Minister of India (INC), created a committee to deal with issues of sexual crime against women in the wake of the publicity storm following the attack of the New Delhi student last year. He also promised harsher punishments for the perpetrators. How much of his commitment is just for show is hard to tell, and it may take some time before we see a significant improvement in the situation. However, between a largely ineffective government and a right wing, inherently discriminatory opposition with, at a minimum, a willingness to use violence against its own people, for many women in India every day is a dark day.
By Sawsan Bastawy

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