Guest Post by PRATIKSHA BAXI
Following the terrible gang-rape of a Danish woman in Delhi, Chief Minister Mr Kejriwal castigating the police for dereliction of duty pronounced his theory about how rape tendencies form. We are told that rape tendencies flow from drug and sex rackets; and when police corruption sustains these rackets, rates of gangrape are bound to escalate. Rape in this formulation is not an expression of sexualized power or preferred and targetted male violence against women. Rather it is linked to a series of vices located in certain geographies, circuits, substances and bodies, which produce a specific form of sexual venality. And, the technique of “raid” is a privileged form of sexual governance.
To sustain the technique of raid (or sting operations) as the privileged form of governance to stem sexual violence, a certificatory genealogy is instituted. A leader of AAP recites his gender credentials by tracing raid governance to the “damini” protests and experiences of state violence during these anti–rape protests. Mallika Sarabhai’s gender credentials are now interrogated by citing her purported absence from the “damini” protests. Some of us who did not experience police violence during the protests are now vulnerable to the charge of faking our commitment to the anti–rape movement, since certification comes from one kind of participation in the “damini” protests. However, can the badge of being invested in the kind of transformative politics required to challenge rape culture be so easily earned? When men participate in anti–rape protests, we are expected to applaud them and not feel offended when they deride women like Mallika Sarabhai who risked their being to speak against rightist manifestations of sexual impunity and immunity in Gujarat.
While the anti–rape protests carried within it several kinds of political impulses; feminist ideas about right to bodily integrity, sexual autonomy, dignity, citizenship and freedom from sexual violence were popularized. The idea that men rape women in the home and within intimate relationships far more frequently than stranger rape was powerfully asserted. Voices were heard against marital rape, emergency laws and custodial torture at the same time. Voices were raised to demand the rights of sex workers. The histories of the Mathura agitation and thereafter, found recitation, and scores of women were saluted. After all it is the sexual violence they survived and the stories they tell that births anti–rape movements. These protests did not privilege the raid as the preferred form of sexual governance.
Mr Kejriwal cannot be mistaken to belong to our generation, now in our forties, which inherited the legacies of the Mathura Open Letter and the autonomous women’s movement. Mr Kejriwal did not register the location of the language of reform (legislative, judicial and procedural) derived from the Constitution, for when raid is a technique of governance, rape is a metaphor. It is a word that indexes social vices (sex/drug rackets), signifies moral or sexual panic or acts as an analogy for ways of doing politics. For example, on his recent political standoff with Mr Shinde, Mr Kejriwal to make the point that there cannot be a middle road (lit) instead said, ‘should there be half gangrape of a woman, not full?’ (crude translation, link below). When confronted about the offense packed as a punch in his statement, he clarified elegantly that he had not prescribed ‘half rape for the women of Delhi’. Instead, he meant that taking the middle path is akin to advocating that ‘men should gangrape women half’ (instead of full). At this point we hear male laughter as a woman journalist tries to point out that such a metaphor itself trivializes rape.
Who does Mr Kejriwal address when he introduces a new political vocabulary of full or half rape? The men who greet his words with raucous laughter? Or does he inaugurate a new language of doing participatory politics spiced with sexual affect? Mr Kejriwal does not know that “half” rape is now “full” rape in the law, for the meaning of balatkar changed while he was working on the new modalities of governance that must find his party. Surely he does not think that his statements will amuse the women in whose name he sits on dharna against the Delhi police? But then it takes a khaas aadmi to understand why women may be offended by the use of rape in political repartees or as a joke. Language matters.
These statements followed the so-called “raid” of African women by the law minister and his compatriots in the intervening night of 15-16 January 2014. The spokesperson of AAP was unfazed after hearing painful personal accounts of what happened to African women that shameful night, now recorded before a Magistrate, identifying the law minister as leading the mob which chased and detained them. The narratives of violence report being chased, rounded up, humiliated, assaulted, and targetted amount to several offences including trespassing, illegal search, detention, sexual harassment, and outraging modesty. Humiliating bodily examination and cavity searches, which raised huge protests when American cops similarly treated an Indian diplomat, now seem justifiable to the new common man party.
The point is that AAP has not protested against the plentiful misuse of trafficking laws to harass women suspected of being prostitutes, sex workers or consenting adults in socially transgressive relationships. On the contrary, it entrenches these practices by giving it a new form—a midnight riot led by a law minister. Mark the language used by the leaders of AAP—the regulators of sexual corruption do not dignify prostitutes (vaishyas) as sex workers. They also obfuscate the fact that prostitution per se is not a crime in India. Walking or driving back home at midnight does not by any stretch of imagination amount to soliciting prostitution or practising prostitution in a public place. Preventing women from entering their home and detaining them because they look like sex workers (i.e., black women) itself is racial and sexual profiling—for which at the very least an apology could have been tendered, judicial enquiry notwithstanding.
The word raid belongs to a series of police procedures around trafficking. As trafficking it is often coupled with the rescue used in the context of police crackdowns on brothels, hotels or other similar places. Furthermore, there is an established jurisprudence of what constitutes a legal and illegal raid in many realms of law including tax law. The seizure of drugs during a raid inhabits a discursive and material world of documents such as the seizure memo or the raid report. In practice, these laws have been used to target Africans as a suspect population and hardly any public concern has been demonstrated towards the rights of African accused. It is not an issue now either.
Although one of the most respected AAP intellectuals maintained prostitutes are victims (read: khas women), however the conflation between trafficking and prostitution is inexplicable. Moreover, the violence underlying the procedural violence of raid–rescue–rehabilitation does not interrupt these narratives, and certainly does not hurt the law minister. Rather raid governance builds on the architecture of violence that erects the jurisprudence of raid.
This horrible attachment to the language of raid hurts so much because the fact is that no woman can be legally subjected to a such spectacle of raid under Indian law where a mob chases, grabs, assaults and detains her—prima facie this is the inscription of a new spectacle of raid governance. And this includes a foreign subject who is protected by fundamental rights of due process and equality. False imprisonment, illegal detention, assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress are violations of fundamental rights. We do not need to view the evidence of footage to know that the apparatus of raid hurts women.
It is not surprising that AAP does not recognize that such a “raid” is a riot, which created a zone of sexual emergency for women. The fact that a group of more than five men used force or violence when they chased women, detained them without search warrants, to conduct a raid describes “common object” of an “unlawful assembly”. This describes the offence of a riot under s. 146 of the IPC. And some may even argue that the vicarious liability of the state stands fully invoked.
The critics of this modality of governance do not entirely succeed in displacing the pernicious language of raid. The policeman who refused to relinquish his legal monopoly to raid now occupies a heroic status for those who were rescued, while the law minister is heroic for those who want to share the power to raid. Although it may seem that the AAP narrative falters when it is confronted with the question of according dignity to African women, actually the AAP agitation consolidates the participation of local collectives in raid governance, in the name of women’s security.
Pending judicial enquiry, the spokesperson for AAP continues to insist that the midnight “raid” was not a racist attack, rather it was a response to lack of police action despite complaints from a neighbourhood fearful of the security of their women. Yet practices of policing embedded in the local must distinguish between articulations of sexual and moral panic and criminal activity. AAP leadership felt compelled to address the racialized sexual panic in the multi racial and ethnic neighbourhood, reminiscent of colonial scripts of the ‘Black peril’ during the Mutiny in India. Now the moral panic of ‘drugs’, ‘sex work’ or ‘naked dance’ rests in the dangerous racialized outsider.Unsurprisingly, the pernicious politics of colour is enacted in our name, in the name of women. No wonder the law minister is inclined to believe that “Nigerians girls and men all indulge in prostitution and drug trafficking”, and threaten “local ma, behen, beti.”
All African women (khas women) are now made unsafe in the city of Delhi in the name of providing security to local women (aam women). For us, all women—white, black, brown, local, foreign, khas or aam—it is unacceptable that a law minister would sacrifice the rights of one class of women for another. The spectacle of the gendered race riot has sent a message to all women in the city: in the name of our security, we can all be stripped of our dignity. The “joke” that an AAP raid is imminent if one is found drinking, smoking or loitering is part of conversations now. Under this regime, all of us are khas women as distinct from the aam women the law minister wishes to protect.
The party made for the aam aadmi does not address all women: it is a party made of those women whose identity as citizens is secondary to their primary identity as ma, behen or beti. The AAP leadership refers to us, the women of Delhi, as ma, behen or beti. We are not the fictive kin of any Minister. We are citizens of this country, whether or not we are anyone’s mother, sister, or daughter. And we want to be addressed as citizens, as autonomous beings, as voters, as sex workers, as leaders, as writers, as care givers, as politicians, as professionals, as workers, as students—our identity is autonomous of the men we love, or tolerate. Please do not address us your ma, behen or beti.
In fact, raid governance speaks to the crisis of masculinity men experience when rates of sexual violence stagger. It is good male political instinct to address the aam aadmi who cannot protect the honour of “his” women today. The excess of sexual violence, which makes men feel unsafe in public spaces with their women, is what raid governance the taps into. Did the only lesson, which the aam aadmi learnt in the aftermath of the Delhi gangrape, was the protectionist language, which calls upon men to defend women’s honour and make them feel secure about being able to protect their women? If this is the case, it is not surprising that AAP would want to institute committees in neighbourhoods and universities to protect women through the modalities of raid governance. It is not about making women feel secure, on the contrary the idea of neighbourhood uncles or bhaiyyas protecting us, makes us feel even more insecure.
Sometimes, when we are lucky, the police do not act on the complaints lodged by a bap, bhaiyya or beta who file criminal complaints against their women for marrying out of caste, for transgressing their sense of morality or escaping their violence. Police inaction or delay at times assists women to assert their constitutional rights. However, the apparatus of raid governance replaces the language of rights threatening experiments with sexual autonomy, and the exercise of right to choice. It finds easier alliances with non-state formations, including khap panchayats, which have perfected their own spectacles of sexual governance, where transgressive bodies are made vulnerable to unspeakable dehumanizing violence. Surely, it is one thing to persuade khap panchayats to respect women and dalits, and quite another to endorse their demand to convert male customs into national laws regulating marriage.
For AAP to be an alternative for khas women, it must quickly dismantle the apparatus of raid governance. AAP will become a true political alternative for women, when it absorbs how khas women imagine citizenship. The present AAP leaders do not belong to my generation, the generation, which protested against sexual violence when mainstream academics and politicians had not even noticed that sexual violence was tearing us apart. Ironically there are voices within the party, which could have advised the leadership against instituting raid governance. On the outside, for us, Indian politics has been a conversation between men, and the politics between them. Women’s bodies become the means by which men in mainstream politics forge solidarity with each other. We do not need aam aadmi committees in our universities or neighbourhoods—we will do the heart breaking work against violence ourselves, as we have been all these years, in laughter and tears with each other.
Pratiksha Baxi teaches at the Centre for Studies in Law and Governance, JNU