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From The Socialist newspaper, 18 March 2015

Review: India's daughter

Fight gender, caste and class oppression!

Isai Priya, a Tamil activist and Socialist Party member, reviews BBC documentary India's Daughter

This powerful programme looked at the infamous rape case in 2012 where 23 year old student Jyoti Singh was gang-raped on a bus in India's capital, Delhi. The case sparked huge protests in India and internationally.

Students, women and men, came out in numbers demanding justice and received big support. They chanted 'long live women's freedom - give justice!' This forced the Indian government to set up a special team to investigate and file the case within 17 days (usually it would take 90).

From day one of the protest it stopped being about Jyoti's individual case and took up the oppression of women generally. The documentary shows some of the brutal methods used by the state against peaceful protesters. Freedom of speech and the right to protest were seriously attacked.

There are more than 92 rapes every day in India. So why was it this particular case that initiated this reaction? There has been a growing anger towards the crimes that take place against women. The fact that an ordinary woman coming home from a movie with a friend at 8pm was attacked in such a way, hit home the message that it could happen to anyone.

The Indian state banned India's Daughter from being shown, arguing that excerpts "appear to encourage and incite violence against women."

One of the convicted rapists was interviewed in the programme. Some of the things he says are sickening and he expresses no guilt. But in reality, it was banned because the government feared the potential reaction.

Victim blaming

Many rapes are not reported by the victims. This can be because of fear of the police, pressure from family and fear of being blamed. Victims are likely to be asked 'what were you wearing', 'what did you say,' etc. Justification of rape because of the clothes a woman was wearing or the time she was out on the street is absolutely disgraceful. There is also a strong culture of shame and the need to protect the 'dignity' of the family.

Women are treated as property and objects. Marital rape is legal in India. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, states: "Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape".

India boasts the fourth largest economy in the world. At least 30% of the population live in dire poverty but the country is also home to five (dollar) billionaires who were ranked among the 100 richest people in the world - such is the huge divide between the super-rich and super-poor.

Impoverished social conditions and a backward cultural system in general maintain the male hierarchy and acute oppression against women. The Delhi rapist came from the most deprived background - he had no education, he had seen beatings and sexual abuse within the family and was familiar with prostitution.

This doesn't justify the behaviour but shows that the issues can't be discussed without questioning the state's failure to its people. There is enormous wealth in India that could create a better society if it were planned to serve the masses instead of letting a few billionaires plunder it.

In the current society it would be unrealistic to argue that women and men are equal. A history of patriarchy, propaganda and so-called cultural values are embedded into the minds of men and women. Social change is not going to take place overnight.

The Delhi incident was a storm that came and went but unless the state is able to provide the needs of the masses it will not be the only storm. This type of attack takes place on a regular basis.

Safety?

Women are forced to work in terrible conditions, for long hours and low pay. Economic constraints force them to put their safety at risk. Equal opportunities, equal rights and equal wages, as well as better working conditions, will improve some aspects of women's lives. However these will not just be given, they have to be demanded.

In south Asia women are oppressed in numerous ways - religion, culture, caste and gender. All of these make it harder to raise their voices. They are forced to find safety in family from the attacks they face in the workplace and on the streets. They are in a way forced to find safety in prison.

Those of us living elsewhere want to help these women find their voice. To do that they need the confidence that they can fight back. For us, the best way to work towards this is to fight back ourselves - by breaking our chains, we will be able to give hope to the women back home.

Young Tamil women living in Britain and elsewhere are faced with oppression which is often ignored. In order to preserve their identity and to preserve their culture, families are keeping these girls from doing what they want to do. In the name of keeping them safe, girls are shut off from the rest of the world.

We have to remember the words of Rosa Luxemburg: "those that do not move; do not know they are chained."

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