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One ‘gain’: focus off victim clothes

New Delhi, Dec. 16: The December 16 gang-rape protests have brought about some positive changes in attitude but there has also been a “patriarchal backlash”, often from those in powerful positions, a leading figure in the protests said.

“We have seen that questions are no longer raised about a woman’s clothing or her conduct after any incident of sexual assault on her,” Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the CPM-affiliated All India Progressive Women’s Association, told The Telegraph. Excerpts from the interview:

Why did the December 16, 2012, incident produce protests of such a magnitude?

It was the accumulated anger of the people — not just against rape but also against the unfair restrictions placed on women in the name of their safety. Also, the brutality of the incident was unimaginable. And the victim was someone Delhi could identify with.

Why could no similar incident in the past galvanise people?

The media played a huge role in disseminating information about the incident and also the outrage. In other cases like — say, for example, the incident of rape by the army in Manipur — we did not see a similar backlash as the media themselves were silent.

If a few people carry out a candlelight march in Delhi, it is widely covered.

(A group of middle-aged Manipuri women held a naked protest march in Imphal in July 2004 after the alleged rape and murder of a woman, Thangjam Manorama, following her arrest by the army-commanded paramilitary force, Assam Rifles.)

Has the protest brought about any attitudinal changes?

Protests alone cannot stop rape but it has definitely brought about a positive change. If a woman journalist confides first in her male colleagues about a sexual assault (as alleged in the Tarun Tejpal case), then it is a remarkable change. We welcome it.

We were not just protesting against rape; our protests were also (intended to convey) that women should not be blamed for it. We have seen that questions are no longer raised about a woman’s clothing or her conduct after any incident of sexual assault on her.

Has the response of the government and the administration been satisfactory?

There has been abysmal response from the government. Other than passing the law (criminal law amendment bill), it seems they have not understood the essence of the protest. There has to be a sea change in the way politicians and police perceive women, which has not happened.

If there is a rise in molestation complaints, then we hear remarks such as “Oh, it is best not to hire women” (a reference to a comment by Union minister Farooq Abdullah), or National Commission of Women chairperson Mamta Sharma’s comment that urbanisation leads to rape. After a photojournalist is gang-raped, the Mumbai police commissioner says that people are kissing openly in public, which is contributing to rape.

These are attempts to fan a patriarchal backlash like never before. These are not insensitive comments by a beat constable — these are coming from above.