Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Conference Report (Bombay, December 13-19, 1993, Violence against Women: Women against Violence): Campaigns against Gender Violence, 1977-1993

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Conference Report (Bombay, December 13-19, 1993, Violence against Women: Women against Violence): Campaigns against Gender Violence, 1977-1993

Article excerpt

In the early 1980s, the women's movement in India launched various campaigns against rape, domestic violence, sexism in advertising, and state repression. Before that, during the period of 1977-1980, small groups of women's rights activists in Hyderabad, Bombay, Delhi and Madras had started taking up individual cases of custodial rape, deaths of housewives under mysterious circumstances and excesses by the state enforcement machinery during caste/communal riots which had increased in number and intensity of violence. The mass of poor women involved in the struggles of the tribal people, the industrial working classes and the Dalit movement, faced misogyny towards the members of their own organization, social ostracism and violence perpetrated by the police, military and para-military forces. With these kinds of experiences of individual, institutional and systemic violence, newly emerging women's groups felt the need to put violence against women on the political agenda. While building up campaigns in different socio-cultural contexts and among women of different economic backgrounds and political contexts, they had to evolve day-to-day tactics to be effective, and long-term strategies to carve out more space for women to gain gender justice within the system.

Evolution of the Campaign Culture

The decade of the 1980s was marked by a "campaign culture" in which women's groups with different priorities and ideological positions had to evolve a network amongst themselves to combat powerful patriarchal forces operating within the institution of family, state and civil society. Among the political groups and civil liberties groups, violence against women became a hotly debated issue. Violence committed by the authorities against the thousands of women political prisoners taken into custody after the caste/communal riots had generated new awareness about the question of gender violence. The democratic rights organizations had begun to highlight rapes of poor and helpless women by the policemen in Delhi, Ludhiana and Hyderabad. Detailed reports based on first-hand information collected by the investigation teams instituted by the democratic rights and civil liberties organizations in Delhi, Bombay, Hyderabad and Calcutta resulted in petitions and public interest litigations against violence against women by powerful forces. Newly emerging women's groups learnt a lot from these organizations, but at the same time found them inadequate because they refused to highlight violence against women perpetrated by men of the oppressed community, the oppressed caste and the working class. The issue of domestic violence created a major rift between the male-dominated progressive groups who refused to accept it as a public issue and the women's groups who operated on the assumption that the "personal is political." While the progressive groups talked of world peace, the women's groups retorted with "peace begins at home."

Campaigns Against Systemic Violence

Clarity in perspective was essential to build up campaigns against systemic violence. Issue-based study circles, circulation of handwritten or typed copies of papers, and small-group discussions all resulted in various trends of thinking on gender violence along the following lines:

For the liberal activists in the civil liberties groups, sanctity of the individual was an issue of prime concern. Any citizen who was violated had recourse to constitutional means of redressal for justice through the existing judicial system.

The democratic rights organizations represented the views of the far left groups and gave a call for direct actions which confronted the state.

The religious and puritanical groups were perturbed by the violation of "chastity" and the "purity" of women.

The feminists saw violence against women as an outcome of the subordination of women--a weapon to terrorize, intimidate and humiliate women.

On an issue-to-issue basis, proponents of these four trends either came together or campaigned from their own platforms. …

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