The silent feminism

Girl gagged with blue scarfThe brutal sexual assault on the 23 year old physiotherapist in one of the posh areas of Delhi has left many of us traumatised and speechless.  The assault left her abdomen severely damaged and she has had her entire intestines surgically removed. Social media is rife with comments and updates. For a change, even some Indian men have come forward to reflect on their upbringing and the roots of patriarchy while media has been relentlessly pursuing this case, reporting all the protests and anger in Delhi and the latest developments. From my Australian home, I have seen the major news outlets in Australia  cover this horrific news and yet have noted, with disappointment, the silence of my Western feminist colleagues and friends on this issue (please see Note [1]).  I have not seen any international petitions generated from this site condemning this act of brutality and the Indian government’s failure to protect its women citizens. I have not seen debates in the social/media in which Western feminists have said much.  Those who are quick to condemn their governments who kill women and children in drone attacks in Afghanistan or Pakistan, or who are quick to point out that Western policies have endangered lives of civilians in many parts of the world, find no words to speak out against violence that women in the Global South face repeatedly and everyday. Violence against women that is routinely normalised in certain cultures, in certain societies, in certain countries, and violence that cannot be traced to Western militarism or Western foreign policy does not find easy critics. That would not be politically correct nor would it reflect commitment to anti-racism, perhaps.

Not long ago when Adele Wilde-Blavatsky wrote an article on why she abhors the burqa and thinks it is oppressive towards women in general, it irked many Western feminists and Muslim-feminists alike. An intense personal attack and slander followed in the social media and on the website where the article was published,  accusing the author of simplifying the issue, of being a white middle class racist who could not look beyond her own privilege. How dare she have an opinion on an issue that she did not understand in her Islamophobic and racist mind?  Following the backlash her article was withdrawn from the feminist wire website and a signature campaign was launched by Western feminists (mostly US based academics) to discredit her argument and point out its flaws.  Instead of engaging the author in a respectful manner, feminists chose to censor what they perceived as an inappropriate attack on the Muslim community. Some of us who tried to argue for reason to prevail and debate to continue were hailed as ‘white supremacists’ in disguise. The argument was reduced to mere skin colour of its propounder. Silence and censorship became feminist tools.

The brutal rape in Delhi and for that matter series of rapes including of little girls as young as two years old, complete apathy of the government, the skewed sex ratio and unabated female foeticide and infanticide, high levels of domestic violence against women in India, none of this is significant enough for an international signature campaign or for any media release that can condemn this incident.  I am convinced that news about this in the media must elicit predictable responses, of the bias and prejudices of the Western media that sensationalises any news about violence in ethnic communities and violence against women in the Global South. The ostrich approach helps, as I have written elsewhere.

Third wave feminism clearly suggested to us that the global sisterhood is a myth and the concerns of women in different parts of the world are different. More importantly, we were powerfully reminded that feminists in the Global North cannot speak for women in the South nor assume any emancipatory role to ‘liberate’ their sisters in the South.  However, when (patriarchal) cultures, traditions become categories to defend rather than women, feminist commitment appears on rather shaky grounds, plagued by its own contradictions. One would have thought recognising ‘cultures’ as a category of oppression rather than something that must be preserved in the name of identity politics would come naturally to feminism. Not so these days, for, critics of culture are lampooned and chastised severely for being insensitive, ignorant and racist. When Egyptian feminist, Mona Eltahawy says something about the misogyny in the Middle East it seems to outrage feminists far and wide. Petitions, media articles, interviews, social media updates all work together to discredit her views without engaging her. The same feminists have nothing to say on specific cases of violence against women in the Global South for that would be racist. Interestingly they had no complaints when Robert Fisk argued along similar lines as Eltahawy.  Bizarre logic, this.

Many of us (from the Global South) journeyed long and hard and embraced homelessness to make sense of our lives which would otherwise have been policed under strict patriarchal norms. Patriarchy would have denied us the most valuable and empowering tool we have today, education, with which we express ourselves and craft our own destinies. I live in Australia and earn my living here and yet I know that the gang rape survivor in Delhi could have been me or anyone I know. The banality of this crime is the reason why this case has touched a raw nerve for most of us, not the fact that the raped girl is from the middle class, as Arundhati Roy would have us believe. It finds resonance in the stories some of us have wilfully forgotten in our quest for a life of dignity and self-respect. It reminds us of our past world when the daily struggle was not about wages or getting an education but dealing with flashing penises and groping hands, violating our bodies with impunity. Hence, the anger, the rage at this brutal aggression on the woman who today battles for life in Delhi. Hence, the protests for justice not just for this one woman but many others who have to live under misogyny.

Abuse has been the ‘normal’ part of many of our lives, not an exception but the rule. I know I am not alone as I recall moments of abuse and assault from near ones and strangers. I am not alone as I recall the shame I was made to feel every time a man looked lecherously; I am not alone as I recall how I was made to hide my body and cover it in layers for it would attract undue attention; I am not alone as I recall lewd comments and masturbating men in the dark alleys of Delhi; I am not alone as I recall the nightmare of getting into a DTC or blue line bus in Delhi, being groped by a dozen hands;  I am not alone as I recall avoiding the aisle seat in the bus for fear of a male crotch shoved at me or rubbing on my shoulders; and I am not alone as I recall being told several times by the conscience keepers of society that I should not ‘provoke’ bad behaviour in men.  Buried deep in the subconscious mind are those moments of rage and agony, of complete helplessness when you complained and yelled while everyone around you thought it was good tamasha (entertainment). A million such indignities suffered daily, at home and in the public space, where there was neither security nor respect. Perhaps that is why homelessness comes easy to women, for ‘home’ we are told is
where we should feel secure.

This is not the first case of brutal rape in either India or South Asia. Rape as a political weapon to teach lessons to the ‘enemy’ has been very common. War time rape or rape of women in displacement/refugee camps has been seen in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Indian security forces have raped women in Kashmir and Northeast with impunity while women in poor villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan have been raped and exchanged to resolve clan/family disputes. Rape is also normalised in homes of the wealthy as a cultural weapon in the hands of patriarchy. Not to mention marital rape which doesn’t find any mention in public discourses. There are reports of one rape in every 20 minutes in India.  Rape does not distinguish women of classes, creed, religion, region, race. It is targeted at specific gendered bodies of females. Arundhati Roy has argued that the recent Delhi rape protests are an eruption of the middle class. This is a crass, insensitive comment from a thinker from the left tradition which has always chastised middle class women for upholding a patriarchal morality. Roy is no different from those Western feminist colleagues I am addressing here who are silent or less outraged today because the rapists are not ‘white’ men or soldiers oppressing the poor female of colour.

Rape is what it is and succeeds in its impact because it is not considered a ‘crime’ but a matter of great shame for women. Rape is supposed to not just physically harm the woman but is also considered an act that destroys her ‘honour’ and that of her family/community. As long as such tags of honour and shame continue to be attached to women’s bodies, rape or any violence against women will not stop.  The pain of the woman battling for her life in Delhi’s Safdarjung hospital reminds us of our pain too. It opens old wounds for many of us who experienced the indignity of assault and abuse on our bodies and chose to keep quiet, or fought in the midst of jeering crowds that loves a spirited woman or two for purposes of entertainment.  Sometimes we gave up not because we didn’t believe in the fight but because we were too tired and we decided to choose our fights in life. Feminism’s ‘tool box’, as an esteemed colleague and mentor always mentions, is useful and has everything for every occasion. Perhaps, we began to choose our tools very carefully.

As a feminist then, I wonder at this silence that I can hear so loud. The lack of self-reflection among feminists is profound these days. The inability to empathise is astounding and the mimicry of the mainstream is becoming the norm than exception. We are obsessed as feminist academics and activists about where we publish, how we are seen, what we speak and where we stand, who notices us and who we speak for. We are concerned about whether what we say looks good on our CVs or in our public persona, whether we are on the side of the ‘progressives’, whether our politics looks good and popular. Saying unpopular things or taking radical positions is no longer fashionable or desirable. The comfort of the’ ivory tower’ from where we preach is good enough. Our job is done as soon as we have made the judgement of where we want to be seen/to belong.  My disappointment grows by the day and I am not alone I know. Away from family and away from the troubling experiences, to tame my restless mind, I pursued education and learnt to ask questions of myself.  I sought a home among  like-minded colleagues and friends and in the moral/ethical framework of feminism, that would recognise differences and yet put women first; feminism that believed in debate and discourse and not a certain popular opinion as ‘progressive’; feminism that would not just think of diversity as tokenism but would truly strengthen its core foundations, above all feminism that would not just be an academic ‘ism’, but one which would stand for a better informed world and would open up terrains of knowledge, inquiry and experiences than fencing them.

That feminist ‘home’ has begun to look unfamiliar these days. Many of us agonise over the Delhi rape as it opens old wounds and we experience pain we had long supressed. It reminds us of how our own lives are as much a matter of chance given the patriarchal worlds we come from as it is of our hard work and opportunities that we embraced. The indifference of our feminist sisters and colleagues in times like these adds to that pain and grief. The silence of feminists is deafening, perhaps louder than the screams of every woman raped in every part of the world.

Dr. Swati Parashar is a lecturer in International Studies at the Faculty of Arts, University of Wollongong, Australia. Her research, publications and teaching focus on terrorism and security studies; feminist international relations; and women, gender and political violence in South Asia. She can be contacted at

UPDATE: A version of this essay was published under the same title on ABC’s ‘The Drum‘ (27/12/12).

[1] I want to acknowledge here that there is a dominant Western feminist discourse that is anti-imperialist and rooted in the left tradition. There have been diversity of views on feminist methods to be deployed but the emergence of the hegemonic Western feminism is a point to be noted. My problem with this hegemonic Western feminism is that it places all other categories:  race, class, culture, religion etc. before gender and has also stopped looking for hyphenated categories in the process. More importantly, this Western feminism ‘others’ women of the Global South by selectively addressing issues only linked to Western governments and patriarchal practices. There is a fierce ‘marking of territory’ in which the dominant concern relates to the questions of whose arguments are more authentic because of  how they are positioned.

40 responses to “The silent feminism”

  1. Marianna says:

    Such a powerful article, yet so unfortunately true. We’ve spent so much time focusing on other regions and issues while ignoring and turning our backs to the actual problems women of the global south face… We’ve praised and got so stuck to first and second wave feminism and thought that the struggles of western women can actually have a difference all over the world, yet we ignored the differences in cultures, religions, and societies. As a friend of mine said on twitter after I shared this article (and I’m quoting) “It is time we reconsider some of those impossible so-called truths about managing diversity within global spaces”

  2. Megan M says:

    Thank you Swati for articulating so well this call for both reflection and action. I agree that there are certain topics or events for which there seems little feminist vocabulary to speak of. The worries about political correctness can harness us into narrow dialogues. This event has left me stunned and I must admit that I have been watching-dumbfounded- as the protests and discussions unfold. I know how I FEEL but I don’t know exactly what to say. Thank you again for the kick/encouragement not to let silence be the only response.

  3. Catia says:

    What a wake up call, Swati, what an indictment. As I read the paragraph on your experiences of abuse in India, my mind went back to Italy, where I grew up and where I experienced all of the instances of abuse and degrading acts you mention! And yet, I am guilty also of those feminist (and non-feminist) obsessions about fitting in the academia, the progressive community, about the “bella figura” we would say in Italian. Maybe those first experiences have also shaped our desire to fit in this way. Maybe we have just forgotten that, at the end, we do have those experiences in common and we are responsible for acting against those egregious injustices and also for failing to act.

    • Swati Parashar says:

      I want to thank those who have commented. I do think there is reason to extend solidaity to those braving water canons and tear gas and lathis in India to protest. I think we all must reflect with some urgency the state of the feminist movement in the West. Catia, Megan and Marianna have all raised important issues. I agree with all of you and Catia thanks esp for being so brave in spelling it out. Thats the point isn’t it that our struggles are also similar in many ways. More of us must speak out. Jane, Indian patriarchy is deep rooted in tradition, culture, religion, caste and in the discourse of ‘India shinning’, Indians doing well outside (see the number of Indian academics, for eg., worldwide!). Indian feminist movement itself is divided on many issues. Even someone like Arundhati Roy thinks these protests are ‘middle class’. Fact is this is the first time in my lifetime that I have seen people taking to the streets on an issue that affects ‘women’ as a category. thats why it is so important that differences be put aside (or debates continue on the side) and that Indian and Western and other feminists join forces to send a strong message to Indian patriarchy. Women are doing a fine job in India and all of us are only writing from the comforts of our offices and homes. But we must do our bit to say, we are with the protestors. Moreover these protests are not about the Delhi gangrape alone but against a society that has normalised violence against women. Patriarchy is never an intra country issue..(we can’t let it!)…and ‘people of India’ include women who are resisting in their own ways. They don’t need our help as such. All I am saying is that when we don’t support these protests or speak out (from our western contexts) what does it do to our own feminism? we cannot be selective in our critique or protests, no? thanks again to those who read and commented. more power to the protestors.

  4. I come from Asia and am Indian. I blogged some days ago about the patriarchy of the Indian culture but I get the impression that it is considered to be an intra-country issue by the people in India. When the Arab Spring happened there was a move made towards eliciting the help and support of feminists worldwide but it does not seem to be the case here. I may be wrong.

  5. LJS says:

    Full disclosure: I’m a white middle-class feminist educated in the UK, and my research focuses primarily on Western institutions of power (mostly but not exclusively the UN). I was also prompted by correspondence with Swati to begin commenting on the Delhi protests, rather than doing so unprompted, and I’m grateful for the prompt. I want to explain, however, why I waited for the prompt – to explain, not justify, as the two are quite different and I recognise that I should have spoken out in solidarity sooner.

    I didn’t speak or write because I was afraid of falling into the trap of thinking that linking to media coverage of the protests was equivalent to action, and I was then – and am still – unsure of what action would look like in this context. I cannot be in Delhi, standing with the protestors, and my fear of looking like a ‘clictivist’ silenced me. On the one hand, I recognise that this was wrong, and that speaking out in solidarity is an important political move. On the other hand, though, I am always aware that I speak out on much issues from a position of comfort and privilege, and sometimes I worry that this renders less real the articulation of support.

    So this is a long-winded way of saying, speaking out is the right thing to do, and I thank Swati for reminding me of this, but it would also be good to have a discussion about concrete actions that manifest solidarity beyond speaking. One of my colleagues, who is a leading researcher in the field of children’s advocacy, has a quote in her e-sig that resonates with me when I think about these issues of voice and ethics and positionality: ‘Rather than standing or speaking for children, we need to stand with children speaking for themselves’. My question, then, is if we cannot stand side-by-side with the protesters, where do we stand (what do we do) if we want to stand with protesters speaking for themselves?

    • Swati Parashar says:

      Great comments Laura and I agree. I am drafting another piece based on your points. I believe that there is much to be done. I am not in Delhi either but apathy cant be my way…We must speak up not with the intention that we have an obligation to ‘save’ our sisters, but because we must be true to our own politics. A public discourse is a good start…so much more can follow. Indian women are doing a fine job of resisting. They dont need ‘help’ as one The Age article suggested today. We need to be better informed to start with. More ideas in another piece soon.

  6. Dr. Anonymous says:

    I fully agree, the weapon used to supress women by patriachal society is very much that of divide and conquer. Each girl / woman is segregated not only starting from her own home, but within her class, her locality, her state, and last of all her country.
    Notwithstanding are the myriad levels of jurisdiction and red tape infiltrated with corruption at every level.

    It is no wonder that these stories are so shocking yet so familiar. Abuse has flourished under the carpet of “keeping face” to the point that the walls of every house and hut is creaking with suppressed screams and voices.

    The tide is turning I feel, but can also be very easily smothered, while these early movements of feminist revolt are starting they will just as easily ebb behind the scenes of everyday life if the marches and protests are not converted to meaningful action on the ground.

    It is not as simple in India as just waiting for the next government change, that is only changing the icing on top of a multilayered cake of corruption, it makes no difference on the ground. No, the response has to be at the ground level, petitions, mass sit in, visual and vocal harassment of all those in positions of power and purporting to be the voice of the people. The pressure has to come from within and from the outside, all those visiting in the name of Business, teaching, academia, and learning have to use every opportunity they have to highlight and discuss these issues.
    Indeed all those within our own Australian government and business have a moral obligation that not only to their own expats for their safety, but also advocating and ensuring they are dealing with a country with its own ethical framework and reforming agenda.

    • Swati Parashar says:

      Thanks for your comments. I think there is already much debate about whether feminism should look at women as a category or as hyphenated…My problem is not with hyphens but when gender really takes a back seat. When it comes to VAW, gender is more important than other categories. I think an upper caste woman is as vulnerable to rape as a dalit woman…feminists need to rethink solidarity. I agree about more action at the ground level and there’s much we can do. Petitions would be a good start but most importantly being better informed so we can debate further. Afterall we did do a lot more with the Arab Spring. Look, this is an opportunity in India. Never before have I seen protests on an issue that affects women…Its’ a good start and we must capitalise to push further.

  7. Mary says:

    Thank you for this article. ABC has closed the comment section so I had to google the title of your article to leave a comment. I was transferred to Australia a year ago from New York. I work for one of the big four accounting firms and if anyone thought society had made strides with regard to sexism and misogyny, think again! However, my disappointment is not in the world I work in, which my women colleagues and I are constantly battling with, but with some women who call themselves feminists. This is why: I moved to Queens from North Carolina as an undergraduate. My first summer there I was shocked by the level of street harassment I experienced both during day and night. It became so bad that I started to question myself, from the way I dressed to the make-up I wore to the way I walked. While at the same time I was angry, constantly thinking of how to get back at the men who were making it miserable for me to step out of my house. That fall I decided to sign up for a class on “introduction to Feminist Theory”. I was a math student with no idea about social sciences but I thought if anyone could make me feel better this class would be it. During one of the classes the subject of street harassment came up and I proceeded to tell them my story. After I had finished, my professor stated, “these Protestant, rich, white men think they can get away with anything.”I joked saying I lived in Queens and people with that description are hard to find in a predominately working class area with minorities and immigrants . That is when things got nasty. My professor accused me of being racist and that the only reason why I was offended and angry was because I was being harassed by minorities and working class men. She concluded saying if it was “rich man from the correct background”, I would not experience this sort of anger. I was shocked and offended. My classmates agreed. Till then I hadn’t thought about class or race. I thought of them as men harassing women. I started to question myself after that, was I classicist or a racist and hadn’t realized it? How would I react if a white male made unwanted pass at me? I finished the class feeling more troubled than before. However, in my years as an undergrad and since I have realized that class and race don’t make a difference to me. Most of the men who I work with fit into the description of my professor. But they too make me angry, when during a conversation they look at my breast instead of my face, or when a colleague suggested that my “tight skirt” was what led to the signing of a new client, ( I started taking kick boxing after that comment and every time I punch the bag I think of him) or when a white middle aged senior executive old enough to be a grandfather checks out a summer intern barely in her teens. In some strange ways it makes me feel better that I have the same reaction to misogyny or sexism and that class and race had nothing to do with this. But I cannot help but continue to feel disappointed with the people in that class. I took that class because I wanted to share my experience with them, for someone to tell me it was okay, that it was not me it was them. Instead I faced a hostile environment where because I was not harassed by the “right sort of men” I was branded a racist and classicist. I also suspect that if I was a minority myself maybe the reaction would have been different; a white female accusing minorities of harassment doesn’t fit the description of who I should be fighting against. But my experience hasn’t deterred me from fighting against the power imbalances in the business world. But I don’t want to be a part of any “feminist” movement that is so wrapped up in its rigid definitions and political correctness that it stifles real debate and solutions to problems facing women. However, reading your article gave me hope that the self imposed boundaries are being broken and once again the issue is about women fighting for their rights despite their race, class or country of origin. Keep up your good work and I hope to read more of your opinion pieces in the future.

  8. jills says:

    Thank you, Swati. Your comment struck a chord with me. When and how might (did?) a feminism grounded in-I think- a genuine desire to understand and respect differences mutate into an unreflective political quietism in the face of stark-often brutal-injustices against women?

    I have never read third wave feminism-or at least ‘Third World’ feminism (or whatever label is attached to feminisms in the global South) -as embracing an unreflective relativism or eschewing any and all efforts to build transnational feminist solidarities. Rather I have taken the message to be a demand-that Western feminists listen, think and critically reflect before making arrogant judgments on the situation of ‘othered’ women and to make serious efforts to understand the complexities of political realities on the ground and think more strategically before wading in with prescriptions based on ill-founded assumption that the Western way is inherently the best way; a stance that can do a great deal of harm to the cause of feminist and women activists on the ground, even as this was not-necessarily- intended. But I think you are right that somewhere along the line the nuance in the message has been lost and we are now too often silent when we should be shouting-and loudly.

    There are some ‘universals’ that can provide a foundation for feminist politics; brutal sexual assaults on women are always wrong in every context and no child should be shot in the head for standing up for her right to an education. I doubt than the majority-women and men- in any culture/society would disagree with this, nor fail to see through the self-serving rationalizations of powerful patriarchs and misogynists who cynically play the ‘culture card.’ But there are very many instances where things are not so clear cut. Maybe instead of asking the question ‘how does class, race, ethnicity- and so on-cut across gender?’, we should be asking ‘why and how should we/do we foreground the vital gender issue here, while thinking through the complexities of how this issue will play out in this cultural/social/political context and how does/should that inform our strategies?’

    The question for me -and to you- is how do we go forward without losing what has been of real value in this period of Western feminist introspection (if I might call it that), namely some important lessons learnt ? I am not sure, but I do think there are many instances where Western feminists still need to listen and reflect first and act second; to use the privilege that we have to be helpful followers and supporters rather than leaders, repeating many of the same mistakes.

  9. Dalit says:

    Rape is the worst form of criminality on earth as it is an attack on the future of humanity (reproduction). I condemn this sex attack on a student.
    But my observations tells me it is a mistaken identity. The woman and the man victims are definitely high caste Indians who generally does not behave in this manner or are not expected to. They appear to be an unmarried couple. The perperators of the crime are low caste bus driver and his associates. So in India the worst crime has happened. Lowcaste manual workers raping and injuring a high caste woman and her unmarried lover. The underlying cause for the protests by high caste Indians got nothing to do with rape and forced sex on good looking low caste women and girls. It is the norm for the high caste Indian ment of all ages to force sex on good looking dalit women and girls and other low castes. The temples have Dewa Dasis (temple sex slaves) and are sex objects from the time they are little girls. The world famous Indian Brahmin, Mohandsas Karamchand Gangdhi slept with very young girls. He says he did not have sex with them, but anything can happen under the cover of four square yards of cotton clothing ofcourse hand woven. The reason is in India they beleive having sex with young girls make the men young and live longer. The high caste never marry low caste women (see bollywood films) but the high caste men have the right to take the virginity of low caste girls. In fact parents take the girls to high caste masters to be de-flowered for favours and money. The theory is simple it is the Karma of the good looking young giril to be born to a low caste family. She may be re- born to a high caste family having had sex with a high caste. The same applies to Dewa Dasis and good looking widows who end up in Temple Ashrams.
    The writer is trying to put on a western dress on an event that happened in New Delhi, the Capital of India.

    • GM says:

      To: Dalit,

      It seems you have magnificently missed the point of this issue and this article here. Firstly it is not known what the name of the girl is at the centre of this tragedy, let alone her caste, and that is important so, because it is irrelevant.

      All we know is that she is female, 23, and living in New Delhi.

      Secondly you have demonstrated the classic divisive and destructive theories that have been propagated and continue to be peddled by those who have made it impossible for any women of any caste or religion to be taken seriously after such a crime. Merely placing labels on the two sides of the crime according to caste, religion or socioeconomic background and crying foul is to do a disservice to the momentum gained behind this tragedy. Yes there are still crimes being committed in acceptable numbers but merely pointing the finger of “caste” as the only fuel for such violence fails to see the true underlying cause of global violence against women.

      This girl’s case is pivotal, NOT because of her background or caste, but because she is the tip of a burgeoning iceberg that has been heaving within India itself; of complicity and acceptance of violence and abuse of women at every level. How many times have we heard our mothers/sisters/aunts/grandmothers sigh heavily at yet another story of heartbreak and utter the words “It is a woman’s lot”.

      It is clear that the upcoming generations are no longer willing to do so, and certainly they do not provide their own support in a narrow focus. It has been heartening to see, that despite your comments Dalit, there are men, women and even children in all corners of India, demonstrating at the marches and calling for justice.
      If you wish to see change then it is time to join the protests and raise your voice in recognition of the humanity that is within every woman.

      • Dalit says:

        Thanks GM fo your comments, My heart felt condolenses goes to the family. The only issue you raise is the caste issue. But you know as I know the victims are high caste. Abhijit Mukerji, member of parliament and son of Indian President and Anita Shukla a Indian women empowerment leader ask the question what this unmarried two doing at 10 pm my themselves. (Note they have withdrawn their comments since). This the first time ever in India a high csste women has been gang raped by low caste. That is the cause of this writers ( Dr. Swati Parashar) complaint about the Western womens’ lack of support. What was she doing in April 2011 when the Indian Army raped and murdred young girls and women in a remote village in Kashmir. Their crime was living in the same village where an Indian sldier was killed.

        The only change this crime will bring be, the poissible hanging of the low caste criminals involved. The protestors are highcaste people and their simple message is to the low caste criminals is, do not rape our women and you will be hung. Gang rape and sex without consent are the sole property of the high caste.
        The worst of this high caste right to sex from lower castes have spread to Indian colonies like Kashmir and Mauritius.
        Finally I thank the people who runs this web site for not deleting my comments.

        • Swati Parashar says:

          Dalit, you have messed up many facts here. Firstly Mohandas Gandhi was NOT a world famous ‘Brahmin’. If you want to argue caste please atleast research it well. Do not make assumptions.

          You are the first one I have come across who professes to ‘know’ the caste of this girl. maybe you have some insider knowledge which no one in the media has? So far all we know is that she came from a humble background and worked very hard to support her education.

          “This the first time ever in India a high caste women has been gang raped by low caste.” Again you have some unique database that you would like to share. Not to even mention that you have messed up caste with class. The perpetrators in this case were from a low class, yes but low caste? please spend some time on research.

          As for speaking out on kashmir…you need to get out of your identity politics capsule and understand how much we have all protested. I think while we were protesting, you were busy identifying caste demography.

          You say the protestors are high caste people…please go to jantar mantar, India gate, read what people are saying, read a few articles on Kafila (left enough?) and you will find your mythical world crumbling.

          Gang rape and sex without consent are the sole property of the high caste” Where in the world do you get your facts/assumptions from? have your heard of patriarchy?

          When you decide to step out of your ‘caste obsession and vocabulary’ you will find it liberating. You will be able to extend solidarity to the protestors and will become an agent of change. Please rethink your ‘caste’ politics and your prejudices.

          GM: thanks for your valuable insight. In solidarity.

          • Swati Parashar says:

            and one more reference, if it helps your research. Please revisit the Aruna Shanbaug rape case.

        • Dr. Anonymous says:

          Dalit, please continue shadow-boxing with your misguided loyalties and assumptions on these issues, because as you do so the world is sailing past you and they are marching together and raising there voices for ALL women.
          I am shocked to see that your sympathies lie with the rapists of this case based purely on the assumptions of their class and caste, you fail to see the underlying issues of misogyny and patriarchy that pervade every level of Indian society.
          Open your eyes and realise that we are here because we are supporting all these women, past and present, and last of all please do some research before writing such comments.

          • Sarai says:

            Swati and Dalit,

            Thank you both for this open exchange. As a woman who grew up in an oriental home I had learned a lot about silence and shame. Later on I also experienced silencing and policing within the most precious spaces of the Israeli feminist movement. Yes, it was always becasue certain forms of oppression where at times perceived as more ‘universal’ (thus, more important) than others.
            What I take from your provoking piece, Swati, is the sense of emergency. And yes, I agree that it IS urgent that we think (once again) not only about how to prioritize ‘universal’ versus ‘particular’ claims about women’s rights, security and participation- but also to find more ways to engage in meaningful forms of dialogue.
            I truly believe that it is through conversation and listening that we can understand better how to create cross/trans/international feminist coalitions in our current world.
            But listening is not easy at all. This is why what Dalit is saying to us deserves a real answer. She deserves to know how will local groups in India make sure that the most vulnerable women will also benefit from any legal reform or new governmental policy towards sexual violence. She desreves to know if she can trust middle class women to speak with Dalit women (not only ‘for them’).
            Yes, it is very complicated indeed. But a true challenge.
            Meanwhile, today I heard that in a southern neighborhood in Tel Aviv, where many African refugees have settled, a group of local women are organizing a rally. This is a local response to a brutal rape of an 83 year old woman last week. These local women are lower-class, oriental Jewish women who feel totally neglected by the state and police. What amazed was that on the Facebook page, calling for women to join the demo, was a recent image of Indian women protesters…

  10. Gunhild says:

    Dear Swati, Thanks for a really thoughtful post. i have been slow to respond. It is not easy to respond actually because in my case, my helplessness becomes ever so much more obvious to me. Not that I will not try to work against it.
    What I read in your post are two messages that weave in together. The first is the lack of response (silence) from western feminism to the atrocities of rape and more broadly violence against women in India. The second a reflection about the western feminist academy. We have discussed some of these things fleetingly together on fb, at least regarding the nature and status of dominant feminist (western) practices in the academy.
    To the first, and central issue – I am also one of the silent on this issue, and my silence is a result of really one main thing in my case – lack of knowledge (as you write above – we need to know more, and in fact we really do – in my case need to know more specifically about which practices and rhetoric support violence against women in India, who in India is working against these practices already, what they and others have already done, what they need for support, what sort of meaningful role I could have given all of the above) – beyond posting an article or two on a facebook feed (which demonstrates I have been made aware of an issue, but little else). I am slowly undergoing the above processes regarding women in Afghanistan where violence against women is just an enormous issue in my view – finding out who is doing what to support women there, and what I could possibly do to support them. I am pretty ignorant in this, and feel I need to tread carefully, as it is not for me to start leading or guiding but more so to listen and to provide what I can when I can, when wanted by those that are leading. It makes my role very small and invisible though (which is just as well – it is not my place to be “up front”). And doing so does confront and challenge the demands of the academy, which is more impressed by our theoretical pronouncements in leading journals which may or may not have any bearing whatsoever on the efforts “on the ground”, by women practicing the fight for rights.
    The academy does not foster solidarity (as we have touched on in our discussions together), and in my view, feminism has not won over the academy. One still has to operate as if in the mad men’s world where production is all that counts, damn the costs (family, personal issues, causes, etc). Success is still based on churning out as much as possible (and all of it can be very good! But the process leaves little time for solidarity), and working the system (active in the “right” places – usually academically powerful organizations etc). And the academy demands the opposite of solidarity. It demands competition against one another. Feminists have not been immune to this, and understandably so, as it is still what is required to get ahead, to make a name. . . . . . But it is a practice that flies in the face of many feminist preachings regarding solidarity and support. And it (the demands of the academy) requires a distancing from the “personal is political”. This issue requires some difficult introspection in and of itself, and a self-reflective honesty than might be difficult to bring out into the open.
    At this moment I still know so little about the circumstances in India that has fostered an environment that you describe above (from daily groping to murderous rape), but I can support with what I have (probably through linkages with issues in Afghanistan, since that has become a focus for me). Do you (and I ask you as you have more insight here than I do I think) have ideas/recommendations about what you would like to see us/others do, in addition to learning more (working on that)?
    There are two levels of action that I read here – the one on the more theoretical level (introspection, strategizing) and the other on the practical (doing something – to put it simply). Working with feminists in India (and other countries) is necessary for both I think.
    Thanks for your courage to just say it like you see it.

  11. dhanalakshmi ayyer says:

    I speak as a typical educated, middle-class, comfortably situated sit at home housewife……

    While the violation of womanhood not just physically but in all other ways is endemic to all patriarchal societies, it is also a conundrum that all such violations are not looked at as such but in the context of the patriarchs value systems. It is in this that the entire construct of justice and punishment needs to be looked at. Perhaps what we need is a re-look in the value systems, value education, value induction where indictment is as much a part of the solution as it is a part of the problem.

    If the Global South demeans its women in one way the Global North does not elevate its women any better. The language is different, the expression is different but the text is the same.

    Somewhere, sometime, now perhaps, there has to begin a thorough, committed and effective sensitisation programme which centres on gender issues, value systems and self respect. It is the attitude concerns that need to be addressed. All the incidents are symptoms of a greater malaise, which the rule of law alone cannot deal with. It is societal, social, familial and personal responsibility which needs to be reinforced.

    Much of the practice that exist in the Global South is the detritus of cultures that have been the way they are, moulding minds and imprinting psyches for generations. While education and opportunity has, as you have rightly said, helped break that triptych and rework the stereotype, the evolution of the self has to come from within, from ourselves, for ourselves, to ourselves. There can be no imposition of isms and approaches. we have to have a re-look at ourselves as a people, as a society, and above all as individuals.

    Laws are for a society to live in cohesion. Practices have evolved for the same purpose. It is time that law and practice are looked at in conjunction and a change instituted keeping in mind the changing world of today where women are on an equal plane with men as far as education, employment and achievements are concerned. Translated, they are not confined to the home and the hearth any longer even while their biological and therefore their sociological positioning makes them doubly burdened. that is not a deterrent. They do it and have proved that they are equally adept, and efficient in both their roles, as homemaker and breadwinner with aplomb. It is this reality that men have to understand and comply with and therefore adjust and rework their roles. The sole breadwinner and therefore the lord and master is a thing of the past and this is a changed phenomenon that men have to come into terms with. Perhaps it is this reality thta men are unable to come to terms with and it is that expression of that angst, anger and even displacement thta expresses itself as powerplay in the violation of women as a class and as an individual, at home and outside.

    To make the society more responsible, issues of governance needs be addressed, at all levels. governance should be made more accountable, minimise and prevent crimes against women by initiating and enforcing police reforms, judicial accountability and public sensitisation.

    Yes, there are a few who use their gender for their advantage but should the rest of the class be subject to humiliation? That is subject for another discussion.

    As for the Global North and its women and feminists turning a Nelson’s eye to the violation of its Global South sisters, is not something that comes as a surprise to me personally. You have given the answers to the questions in the questions you have raised, yourself. Altruism is as much a truism as pipe-dreams go. Let us not cloud our judgement with illusions of intellectual grandeur and empathy that never existed. The circumstances of every incident of violation across the board need not be the same, but the empathy it deserves is definitely so. The Global North’s perceptions in every which way is quite way off, as they can seldom identify or recognise the mores that exist in other parts of the world.

    This is not a matter of concern for or of the feminists, the activists and the social service jhola-wallahs alone. It is a matter of concern for the law maker, the law enforcer, the guardians of the law and the people for whom the entire construct is designed. The needs to be a code of conduct, a code of honour and a code of mortal understanding without moral policing. It is a social, sociological and empathic need that has become a necessity and has to be addressed at the soonest. As a nation, we have been reactionary so long. It is time we are proactive, cohesive and concerned in action and seen to be so. thew policy maker…wake up.

    I rest my case.


  12. jills says:

    @ Sarai, I agree with what you say about the importance of listening and dialogue-a practice that must be employed even when we might not like what we hear. On your example of protest in Tel Aviv, there are others emerging elsewhere.This is one reasons why I think it is important that Indian women-and the men that are supporting them-lead and are seen to be leading events in India and also play a leading role in a reinvigorated global movement against gender violence; this action is likely to have an impact in the global South beyond that of Western led initiatives.
    We in the West can show solidarity, I think, by joining women and men in India in ensuring that the reforms that are now being demanded are not forgotten once the initial protests subside and the media packs up and goes home; using social media, blogging and more traditional forms of campainging and lobbying to monitor events and make sure that promises made are delivered. And by providing whatever resources we have at out disposals to support grass roots organisations and initiatives.

    • Swati Parashar says:

      I agree Jill. have drafted my second piece along these lines in terms of what we can do, what will seem reasonable as support from outside. Shoul publish soon. happy new year to you and to everyone here. a year of anger, fight and more victories.

      • Swati Parashar says:

        Sarai, thanks for your comments. Nothing pleases me more than to see the conversations here. My difference with dalit is that s/he is making such generalisations which are entirely inaccurate…to mak such blanket claim that only upper caste men rape and only lower caste women get raped is not only problematic but tells us the limits of identity politics that gets increasingly uncomfortable when the constituency expands….Such generalisations are all the more mythical if one sees the issues that have emerged in the protests and how dalit and adivasi women have also come forward. My problem with post colonial/identity politics is precisely this that their blanket genralisations and identity politics results in selective outrage, obfuscating the real issues of gender justice. Such selective outrage implies that it is okay for certain sections of women to be violated and raped. would dalit be willing to reflect on how lower caste women are oppressed by lower caste men? that was the point I was making in the piece as well… that Westren feminists feel uncomfortable admitting that men in the global south oppress the women there.

        I appreciate what you are saying, sarai and I agree with Jill’s reply. in solidarity.

  13. Dalit says:

    Thanks to Author for accepting the facts eventhough they are a bit messy. Yes Mohandas Karamchand was not a Brahamin but still a highcaste, a Waishya-Ksashtriya.
    I have hit the raw nerve of the Non Resident Indian and Persons of Indian Origin, that is Indians outside the Indian subcontinent. All Indians overseas are high caste like Mohandas Karamchand Gangdhi. I have only come accross a few in the West or in the Indian colonies, former British dominions.
    I do not think the protest by high caste Indians will make any v
    change to the plight of low caste women in India. It will only send a message to the low caste men. Dont deal with our women when you are not allowed to marry them.

    Please read the Indian matrimonials. Data bases.

    A low caste physiotherapy student in Delhi. I might have to wait till the sacred cows come home.

  14. swati parashar says:

    Dear Dalit, your generalisations keep getting worse by the day. And if you mean that Indians outside the Indian subcontinent should not have an opinion, or that they cannot be engaged, I wish you more tolerance.

    Please read the history of the Dalit movt in India and see the contributions made by so many upper caste men nad women. And please read babasaheb to start with. He married a Brahmin girl by the way and I wonder if you would have a problem with it.

    The reality of caste is changing in india and no body denies the injustices that exist…real gender justice needs a unified voice that condems all violence against women. Today in Delhi people are raising slogans against all kinds of inustices for adivasi women, for kashmiri women..please join that. Identity politics is making conversations more difficult as they fence terrains of knowledge than open spaces for engagement.

    • Dalit says:

      Please study and teach about former prime minister of India Lal Bhadhur Shastri. The gretest human being to be born in the Indian sub continent.

      He stood up for Dalits (untouchables, children of god, backward class) and went to legislate for quotas in universities, allow them to worship and enter Hindu temples and to be treated equal with others in India.
      He went outside India in liberationg victims of Indian imperialism and colonialism and wanted Indian colonists to be returned to India.
      For all his work he died under suspicious circumstances during a visit to Ukraine. Probably good work of the Third Eye the Indian intelligence service, the most secretive and rutheless in the globe.

  15. Silenced says:

    Thanks to the author and some of the commentators for speaking so passionately against street harassment. It’s something so rarely addressed (in this case in the Aus media). I’m not white, middle class etc, but I do live in a multicultural western environment where quite a few migrant women choose to wear modest clothing, like the hijab and in a few cases the burqa. At the same time, street harassment by men from those same migrant communities is rife, particularly against women who do not cover their hair, and especially if their hair happens to be blond. Is it a fair question to ask whether modestly dressed women are somehow ‘owning’ the onus for men’s bad behaviour? Shouldn’t the responsibility for street harassment sit entirely with the male perpetrators? Does the ‘culture of modest dressing’ let the perpetrators off the hook and perpetuate a victim-blaming culture? Why is it impossible to even raise these questions with both western and non-western feminists without being labelled racist (or even insane)?

    • Swati Parashar says:

      It is certainly time for an honest debate on these issues. I have always raised these uncomfortable questions and we need to have more conversations. Thank you for replying and I hope you will not be silenced and will speak when/where you can. We need to push the boundaries, we certainly need to engage with the idea of ‘difference’ that is beyond negotiation, difference that is too ‘difficult’ to manage. Thank you for taking the time to reply, Silenced.

      • Silenced says:

        Swati, in addition to your honesty about street harassment, thanks also for writing in a way that is accessible to ‘everywoman/man’, which is in contrast to (often) impenetrable writing on such topics by (other) feminist academics.

  16. Dalit says:

    Silent victims and silent attackers.

    In India next to the sexual assault on low caste women by hih caste men comes the attacks by high caste women on high caste women.

    Attacks by mother in laws on daughter in laws. The attacks takes place in the home. Burned to death, hacked to death, burning or hot oil thrown, Attacks with the help from the husband. No police complaints. No court cases. Just the ashes scattered.

  17. FWSA Blog says:

    […] the silence of my Western feminist colleagues and friends on this issue (please see Note [1]).  I have not seen any international petitions generated from this site condemning this act of […]

  18. […] the silence of my Western feminist colleagues and friends on this issue (please see Note [1]).  I have not seen any international petitions generated from this site condemning this act of […]

  19. jills says:

    In the light of our discussions, I thought members might be interested in this piece by Deniz Kandiyoti (the third in a series on the Arab Spring).

  20. […] There was an article in Gender in Global Governance Network by Swati Parashar arguing that feminism and feminist scholars are silenced with regards to the gang […]

  21. […] was an article in Gender in Global Governance Network by Swati Parashar arguing that feminism and feminist scholars are silenced with regards to the […]

  22. […] wrote this in a heart felt response to Swati Parashar. In her article on the silence of feminism the sense of abandonment was palpable, her despair and […]

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