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Saumya Gulati

Varieties of Feminist Theory


Professor Deicht
February 19
th
2014
Looking at the New Delhi Gang Rape
In December of 2012 a 23-year-old woman coming back from a movie with her
boyfriend was brutally gang raped in New Delhi, India. The barbaric attack left her in a
critical condition and after days of fighting the girl eventually died on 29
th
December. India
erupted into protests and riots, women and men of all ages flooded the streets demanding a
change in the perceptions of women and policy to decrease victimization. Being from New
Delhi, I was strongly affected by the incident. I come from a privileged background and have
always been empowered as women but the same cannot be said for many women in India.
Similar to how Bell hooks felt in her childhood, I constantly felt a problem with how women
were treated and perceived within Indian society. The event brought to light much of the
deep-rooted problems within India that promoted gender violence and inequality.
One would not think that a French womans book written in 1949 would not only hold
relevance today but also be applicable to India. Much of the theories touched upon within her
teachings uncover the reasoning why women face a high amount of violence. Simone De
Beauvoir constantly refers to the Woman as the other. In India and other countries this is the
primary reason for men constantly objectifying women. Seeing women as an other rather
than inclusive results in the notion that women are not human. Hence inflicting pain is not
seen as a crime as the rapists do not see their victims as people, but just objects for fun this is
an attitude seen within many men in Indian society. For many women in India their primary
role is caretaker or the vessel to birth sons, as Beauvoir puts Woman? Very simple, say the
fanciers of simple formulas; she is a womb, an ovary; she is a female- this word is sufficient
to define her (Beauvoir 3). With a strong preference for men within Indian society, women
are seen as vessels to birth sons and males within society to be groomed as breadwinners. As
the act of reproducing needs sex women are essentially seen as sex objects and that is it, that
is their simple use. It is a common practice for women within India to be completely defined
by the men in their lives they are moved from their fathers to husbands to sons. Women are
seen as children and completely in control of those around her humanity is male and man
defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous
being. Men can think of him without woman. She cannot think of herself without man
(Beauvoir xvi). The institutionalization of violence and inequality of women has proved a
very big barrier to bringing women together in the fight against oppression. Women are
restricted from public arenas, spheres and unfortunately much of the solutions that Beauvoir
offers are those that are seen as solutions to females of a much more advantageous
background.
The protests in India saw a change within society and a rise in women coming
forward protesting for freedom, rights and equality. Despite the impact of the protests they
eventually stopped and died down. So where does that leave the feminists of India today?
India continues to be leading in the Non-Governmental Organization sphere, attacking many
issues at a grassroots level, but what about the structuring and consolidating this movement.
As bell hooks has recognized within her piece, theory and practice must work together to
move forward,
When our lived experience of theorizing is fundamentally linked to processes of
self-recovery, of collective liberation, no gap exists between theory and practice.
Indeed, what such experience makes more evident is the bond between the two-
that ultimately reciprocal process wherein one enables the other. (hooks 61)
Until now issues that face women like eve teasing*, sexual harassment, rape and other issues
have constantly been brushed under the rug. India is a conservative society and although
developing it still remains tight-lipped about the way women are treated. Rape victims are
often blamed and told they brought it upon themselves for being out too late, for being with a
boy, wearing revealing clothing. These are opinions that are not only held but also voiced
by leaders within society. Bringing women together and starting to talk about the issues faced
on a daily basis will start to generate a movement. Bell hooks rightfully said that words are
action, I saw our words as an action, that our collective struggle to discuss issues of gender
without censorship was subversive practice (hooks 67). This is where Indian women need to
start looking towards theory for a solution. Currently there is a fragmented environment
concerning womens rights organizations. There is no unifying structure or foundation;
theory can contribute this to Indian woman. It can be a tool to which people use to talk about
the issues they face and find the shared experiences faced by Indian women. bell hooks is
able to identify that new theory must be generated with the idea of practice and framework in
mind. The accessibility of theory needs to become clearer and more apparent, my decisions
about writing style, about not using conventional academic formats are political decisions
motivated by the desire to be inclusive, to reach as many readers as possible in as many
different locations (hooks 71). India is a very diverse country with over 100 languages,
people of all regions, castes, and socio-economic status, yet despite the background as a
woman in India all have faced violence and oppression. Theory is pertinent to consolidating
this cause and fight for womens equality and changing perceptions within society, but even
more importantly theory can allow those who have suffered to find solace, closure and to
heal.
Gender based violence unfortunately is a reality for all Indian women but given the
vast population there are lots of other factors at play. The urban, middle class Indian woman
does not face the same daily violence that a young girl from a rural village does. A young 12-
year-old girl is more likely to face child marriage if she comes from a lower socio-economic
status family. Given the immense differences present it is no surprise that women are more
committed to their religion and caste rather than their gender. India has a high amount of
women politicians yet most of these women run on the platform based on their region or
caste and hardly ever promote womens rights. Untouchable women or women of
backwards classes in India are dehumanized even further and do not share the same
backgrounds as other women. Although Crenshaw only deals with women of color within the
United States or western world her concepts of intersectionality and anti-essentialism can be
applied to the various interest groups within India. Women face violence in different contexts
and environments, the concept of political intersectionality highlights the fact that women
(of color) are situated within at least two subordinated groups that frequently pursue
conflicting political agendas. The need to split one's political energies between two
sometimes opposing political agendas is a dimension of intersectional disempowerment
(Crenshaw 1246). Although one could argue that there is not a very comprehensive womens
movement in India it is very common for interests of ones religion and caste favor and
promote restrictions on womens freedom that then leave women no choice. When the 23-
year-old woman was gang raped in New Delhi it created much uproar but it also meant many
political parties jumped on the band wagon and used it as a way to gain voters and supporters
for the upcoming elections. The son of Indias current president released a statement where
he called the women protesting on the streets dented and painted, another religious leader
said that if the girl had called her rapists her brothers they would not have committed the
crime. The loud discourse about the rape and the victim trivialized the actual act of what had
happened. Crenshaw identifies that it is often that gender violence is The effort to politicize
violence against women will do little to address (Black and other minority women) if their
images are retained simply to magnify it rather than to humanize their experiences (1251).
Nirbhaya as the victim was named was the symbol for violence against women rather than an
individual. People raised the correct and accurate question that why was rape against women
not brought to the forefront before a middle class urban woman was gang raped? Little girls
face brutal attacks constantly within rural India but it goes without notice. This left a wedge
between women of higher and lowers socio-economic statuses.
The Delhi gang rape has resulted in an increase in foreign media attention of gang
rapes in India. This leads to the defensive nature that Crenshaw speaks of with minorities;
Indian people now feel that with the increased media attention stereotypes are being
perpetuated and promoted of a third world nation. This means that there is a higher motive
for police, and other state actors to keep rape cases silenced, people of color often must
weigh their interests in avoiding issues that might reinforce distorted public perceptions of
their communities against the need to acknowledge and address intra-community problems
(Crenshaw 1248). Another aspect of this has been the increase in media attention of white
tourists being subjected to gender violence within India. Often white women who are raped
by Indian men get more media attention than Indian women itself. This has created another
reason to defend India and to curb the reports of violence. The perception portrayed within
these stories is one of a racial stereotype of Indian men as animalistic and barbaric. As
Crenshaw describes, white women often are seen as women who are not supposed to
experience violence. Strategies for increasing awareness of domestic violence tend to begin
by citing the commonly shared assumption that battering is a problem located in the family of
the "other"-namely, poor and/or Minority families, in this case only Indian households. As
Crenshaw rightfully recognizes there must be an understanding that political identity is one of
cross intersections and perspectives. The more women are forced to conform to one or the
other the less successful achieving equality becomes.
Indian women cannot be defined in one parameter or stereotype. The prevalence of
gender violence and inequality cannot be denied and is faced by almost all women but the
extent, degree, environment, context, resources are all different. There are combinations of
things that must be addressed, the reason why men perceive women as objects, the ability to
create safe spaces and generate framework for voicing concerns, and finally the recognition
that women while similar are also different and are individuals.






Works Cited

Beauvoir, Simone , and H M. Parshley. The Second Sex. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1976.
Print.

Crenshaw, Kimberle . "Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and
Violence against Women of Color." Stanford Law Review 43.6 (1991): 1241-1299.
Print.

hooks, bell. Teaching to transgress: education as the practice of freedom. New York:
Routledge, 1994. Print.