Resolution on Women’s Movement : Challenges and Tasks

6. Women’s assertion and resistance to patriarchy as it manifests itself within the family, household, community, work, public institutions and the State is a key arena for the battle for democracy and revolutionary social transformation in India today, and must be grasped as a key revolutionary task for the communist movement as a whole.

Violence Against Women

7. The popular upsurge in Delhi and all over the country in the wake of the brutal gang-rape of a young woman student on a moving bus in the national capital on December 16, 2012 has underlined how the question of sexual violence and women’s autonomy is indeed a crucial question of democracy and social transformation. Apart from the mass popular dimension of the movement, what was significant was the centrality that the slogan for women’s ‘azaadi’ (freedom) acquired, and the unleashing of popular protest against the pervasive tendency by public figures – police, politicians, ‘god-men, ‘administrative authorities and judges – to justify such violence by blaming the victim, invoking patriarchal codes of dress, behaviour, and ‘moral’ values. Our student, youth, women’s and cultural organizations played a significant role in sustaining the movement, keeping the issues of women’s autonomy and anti-patriarchal resistance at its core, and forcefully raising the issues of rapes committed during communal violence or dalit massacres, by the Army in the North East and Kashmir and against AFSPA that confers impunity on guilty Army personnel, custodial rapes like that of Soni Sori, rapes of women like Tapasi Malik during movements against land grab, and victimization and sexual violence against sexual minorities.

8. The Justice Verma committee constituted by the Government as a response to this movement came out with a comprehensive set of path-breaking recommendations that reflected the spirit of the movement by calling for changes in laws, policies and accountable governance that could safeguard women’s autonomy and freedom from violence. The movement managed to wrest from a reluctant Government and Parliament, some noteworthy and long-pending amendments in the laws on rape and sexual violence. Certain blatantly anti-women provisions that the Government tried to introduce – such as making the accused in the rape law ‘gender-neutral,’ and introducing a provision against ‘false complaints’ in the sexual violence laws – were successfully defeated. Among the notable changes achieved in the law are: fixing a minimum mandatory sentence for dereliction of duty by police officers in complaints of sexual violence; clarification that public servants charged with rape and sexual assault will not enjoy the protection of ‘prior sanction’ by the Government for prosecution; expanded definitions of rape and recognition of stalking, disrobing, voyeurism, and acid attacks as crimes, harsher punishment for rapes during communal and casteist violence and custodial rape, and mandatory free, prompt treatment of survivors of acid attacks and sexual violence. However, the age of consent was raised from 16 to 18, criminalizing consensual sexual contact between young people between the ages of 16-18. The protection of ‘prior consent’ has been retained for armed forces; the principle of command responsibility and amendment to AFSPA, and the recognition of marital rape, and the definition of the victim of rape as gender neutral as recommended by the Verma Committee, have been rejected.

9. The open display of rampant sexism and misogyny in Parliament during the debate on the anti-rape Bill, resulting in the dilution of several provisions, indicates how every advance in India’s sexual violence laws has been made in spite of, rather than as a result of, the ruling political forces. It is significant that a large percentage of MPs and MLAs are accused of rape and other crimes against women. The Verma Committee’s recommendation that anyone charge-sheeted for rape should be disbarred from contesting elections was relevant in this context, but Parliament predictably rejected this recommendation. The movement had also taken up the question of establishing fresh norms for medical examination and care for rape survivors. Specifically, the struggle continues to end sexist medico-legal practices that legitimize the focus on the past sexual history of the rape survivor.