Organising against gender violence

Author: 
Hannah Thompson

Up to 800 people protested outside the Indian High Commission in London to demand justice for Jyoti Singh Pandey, the victim of a brutal gang rape in Delhi.

The protest was organised by Southall Black Sisters. Chants include “women’s tradition: struggle not submission!”, and “don’t blame women for rape!”

Rahila Gupta of Southall Black Sisters said: “We are here today to show solidarity with Indian women; their struggle is our struggle. We are here to shame the Indian government into taking action. Notions of shame and honour are used to control women’s behaviour; we’re here to say to the Indian government that you have done nothing about your unsafe cities, your streets and your homes where women are concerned.”

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There have also been protests against gender violence in Nepal. Shreya Paudel, a Nepali socialist who is president of Middlesex University Students’ Union, spoke to Solidarity.

“There have been protests in Nepal under the name ‘Occupy Baluwatar’ — Baluwatar is the area of Kathmandu where the prime minister’s residence is.

“The problem of gender violence and social injustice has always been there in South Asia, like elsewhere in the world. But now it has been taken up strongly by the media but also in the consciousness of ordinary people. That is certainly the case in Nepal, and as you can tell from the name of the protest this is a sort of global, internationalist consciousness too.

“Any woman or man, girl or boy, being raped is equally wrong.

“However, there are sometimes symbolic cases which rise to the surface. The main case that sparked the protests in Nepal was Sita Rai, a migrant worker returning from the Middle East, who after being held for a technical glitch at Tribhuwan International Airport was first robbed and then raped by a policeman with the help of government officials

“Many, many Nepali workers go to the Middle East to work and this is one reason her case has provoked widespread sympathy. It has also clashed with the bourgeois idea that the police are supposed to protect us all equally — people are shocked that she was attacked by public officials who were supposedly there to protect her.

“In November and December, there were also three other cases, all of which actually involved murder. Saraswati Subedi, a domestic worker, died under suspicious circumstances. Bindu Thakur and Shiwa Hashmi were burnt alive in what seem to be so-called honour killings. In all three cases the authorities are being highly obstructive.

“It’s true that in India the class element was the other way round — a middle-class woman attacked by working-class men — and this was a big factor in how it was taken up, particularly by the media. But there are similarities there too.

“One factor was that the attack was in Delhi: if it had happened in a poor rural area, we as internationalists would care, but probably no one much would have noticed. In Nepal too, Sita Rai was attacked near Kathmandu in Nepal’s only international airport. If it had been in a rural area it would have been a different story, or not a story at all.

“In Nepal, like in India, protests are often hijacked by political parties. That is not so much the case this time. The movement here is quite ‘organic’. In Nepal the protests are organised very much by young people, many of them students, with a lot of use of the internet and social media. In London, for sure, the other people organising with me are not particularly political. For sure these protests are creating a new generation of activists in Nepal, whlich is also evident in our solidarity protest here in London.

“Occupy Baluwatar is continuing. It’s good to make direct solidarity — activists in Britain can organise protests, hold meetings, send messages of support. But one important element of solidarity is organising our own struggle against gender and social injustice here too.”

• Vigil against gender violence in Nepal — 2pm, Friday 11 January at the Nepali embassy in London, 12a Kensington Palace Gardens, W8 4QU (Notting Hill Gate, Queensway or High Street Kensington Tube)

• Women’s Fightback meeting: “Domestic violence — a socialist feminist perspective?” Friday 1 February, 7.30pm, ULU, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HY