Statements of Radical Socialist

Radical magazine's leaflet on 28 March Programme on Sexual Assault and Violence in West Bengal

Sexual Assault: How Unique was the Assault on Rinku Das and the Murder of Rajib Das?

Discussion organized by Radical magazine

What, one might wonder, is left of women’s empowerment in a country where a woman is the President, a woman is the leader of the ruling party, a woman is the speaker of the Lok Sabha, and in a province where a woman is the leading oppisition politician, tipped by the media to be the incoming Chief Minister? But in that country, in that province, Rinku Das was sought to be sexually assaulted and for protesting that, her sixteen year old brother Rajib Das was brutally murdered. And shortly after that, the CPI daily Kalantar, an organ of a ruling front partner, announced through an article in its weekly Women’s World page, that women are more insecure in Delhi than in Kolkata, and women protest more in Kolkata. But what is the reality behind such comparative assessment aiming to trivialise the issue and claiming that sexual harassment is rare in West Bengal?

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, data for 2009-10 shows that whereas West Bengal had 7.6 per cent of the country’s population, the state’s share of crimes against women was over 11 per cent. A significant part of these crimes were sexual assault and rape. Citing comparative statistics that prove that assault on women are slightly lower in India than perhaps in some other country, or that the situation in West Bengal is slightly better, according to NCRB, than in Andhra Pradesh, hardly bring solace to the assaulted women.

Beyond such general comments, specific questions remain. Who was responsible for the assault on Rinku Das and the murder of Rajib? Of course certain criminals. But why could they act with impunity? The first answer is, the inaction of the state. Even those ardent devotees of neoliberalism who stress that the state must spend no money on welfare measures, at least insist that law and order maintenance is the responsibility of the state. No law code says that the duties of the state with respect to ensuring public security will remain adjourned from 10 PM to 6 AM. Then why has the state virtually abdicated its responsibility in such matters? Class analysis alone provides a meaningful answer. The state spends billions for Operation Green Hunt. It does so, not because Maoists indulge in “politics of violence”, but because in the name of hunting Maoists, the state can silence all forms of adivasi protest while it aids big corporations such as Vedanta to loot mineral wealth at extremely low cost. It must be kept in mind that till 2004, P. Chidambaram was actually a Director of the Vedanta group. In other words – billions for the security of capitalist profit, not a paisa for the security of Rinku and Rajib Das. And the state as well as central government, the UPA as well as the Left Front, accept this policy.
But it is not the state alone that is guilty. The “civil” elements of the self proclaimed civil society of West Bengal, with their patriarchal values, are also responsible. Otherwise, why did the Home Secrretary dare to announce to the media that Rinku Das is a divorcee? So, she was not a “proper, decent lady”, and hence a little sexual assault would not be amiss.

Another question to be answered is, why should Rinku, and so many women like her, have to return home at such late hours? The answer lies in globalization and the changing structure of world capitalism. With call centres and other places keeping time to the clocks in New York, Chicago or San Francisco, people work odd hours in Kolkata, Bangalore or other Indian cities. This new working class gets neither security nor job security.

We said that this incident was not unique. Assaults occur frequently and on all sorts of women – the aged and the young. And then they are routinely blamed by the patriarchal rulers and dominant groups. Why was she not thoroughly covered? Why was she out so late? Why was she out walking alone?

And though the actual murder of a Rajib Das, a Sergeant Bapi Sen, may not happen every day, violence is ever present as an adjunct of sexual harassment and rape. People who protest routinely get beaten up. Sexual assaults have been committed by the police, by para-military forces, by so-called community panchayats in the name of protecting the prestige of the community, by any number of people. So each incident, like the assault on Rinku Das, is unique, but each is also part of a connected narrative of violence. From Bantola to Barasat to Sankrail, electopral parties have revealed themselves to be people who do not resist the core issues but merely point fingers at the other parties for electoral gain. That is why, the Trinamul Congress shouts at the CPI(M), but TMC municipal chairperson of Barasat declares that death was written on Rajib’s forehead.

•    Ensure exemplary punishment for Rajib Das’ killers
•    Punish the guilty of all sexual assault cases
•    Provide security for those who complain about sexual assault
•    In the proposed Sexual Assault Bill, scrap the provision for punishing the accuser if the charge cannot be proved
•    Include domestic workers in the proposed Sexual Assault Bill
•    Create an atmosphere that makes it possible for women to walk in public places without fear at any time
•    Preventing sexual assaults is the duty of the state. So punish law keepers, bureaucrats, at all levels, if they fail to do their duty

Venue: Buddhadeb Bose Sabhaghar

Date: 28 March                                                                Time: 2-30 PM

Speakers: Representatives of student organisations

Moderator: Soma Marik

Issued by Mihir Bhosale for Radical