Women: Women in India bear brunt of widening wealth gap

The fundamental emancipation of women lies in the achievement of a classless society.

In the recent period India is attracting attention for its high growth. Economic analysts roll out development figures unabated. But the objective reality is that India has a back-log in terms of unfulfilled ‘democratic’ social tasks. A cursory glance of how the women in India live gives ample evidence that all is not well in the so-called booming country.

On August 2002, 17-year-old Shruthi was on her daily routine of going to her school. As she was getting down from her school bus, Shruthi’s acquaintance, Rajesh, suddenly attacked her with a splash of acid on her head. Because of this attack one of Shruthi’s eyes and half of her body are charred beyond recognition. Shruthi has not seen school since that day. With about 20 surgical treatments she is still in an unrecovered state. Such ghastly experiences not only physically shake you, but could even kill your spirit to struggle to survive.

The crime of acid attacks against women in India is becoming more and more common. In the last decade, the state of Karnataka alone has seen 37 such cases; many more have gone unreported. Many a time it is the threat to life made by the attackers that means these cases are suppressed. An acid attack speaks volumes of the injustice and inequality meted out against women in India. Such cruelty depicts the criminal mind at work, which not only wants the victim to suffer the grievous possible harm but also forces her not to enjoy her life in the future. Acid attacks hold a mirror as to how the capitalist and the landlordist system treats women in society.

In the aftermath of the attack even the judiciary treats the victim as a culprit and is judgemental on the character and conduct of the victim herself.

In such crimes against women it is always the case that these incidents are either localised or individualised. But it must be noted, it is the pathetic status of women that is perpetuated by the system that is responsible for such evils. In India, like in most countries, women are treated as second class citizens and are never given the opportunity to assert themselves by refusing the so-called love proposals and advances. Tacit submission is the only course that is open to her.

Though superficially this problem of acid throwing looks as if it is simply hostility between two non-consenting adults, in actual fact it is deep-rooted gender inequality which is the problem. The responsibility for such attacks in a broader sense must be borne by the capitalist system. Such an attack, when viewed from a class angle, speaks about the lop-sided politics of inequality that is practiced by the system.

In 1999, 20 year-old Hasina Hussein of Bangalore was viciously attacked by acid throwing which resulted in the complete loss of her eyesight, a permanent hole in the head and a deformed face. After 5 years, Hasina has spent 600,000 rupees and got 18 surgical treatments done. But she has to live the rest of her life as a blind person. The case became famous and a court finally decided in Hasina’s favour for compensation. But the irony is, by the time the judgement was given, the culprit who did the attack had already served his sentence (5 years 3 months) and was free. And even though the expense for Hasina’s treatement was 6 lakhs (10,000), she was only awarded 3 lakhs compensation, and was left with a huge debt.

Capitalist ‘values’

This case proves that the bourgeois courts are inadequate to provide justice in such cases – either by administrative measures or by financial compensation. Under capitalism, such ghastly crimes cannot be eradicated.

In a system where the prime motive is profit, the judicial parameters and all the facilities awarded in the constitution are guided by and within the greedy capitalist system which looks on women as second class citizens. It is impossible to get real justice and create an exploitation-free society under capitalism. Yes, the culprit must be punished severely. But such crimes and oppression cannot be viewed in terms of just winning one legal case. It is only when such cases lead to mass struggle that any tangible results can be gained.

It is the attitude and the practice of the ruling system that creates such a despicable existence for women in society. Her status in the family, the financial development of the family, private property, personal relationships and sexuality – all these factors ‘commodify’ women.

It is the attitude that the control of women is the prerogative right of men-folk in all spheres that creates such situations and leads to visible and invisible crimes against women. Even in this modern world today, all the contradictions created by capitalism, such as class inequality and power structures, manifest themselves in a more blatant way in inter-personal relations and family units.

In India today, a girl child is still seen as a bad omen, a burden and an unwanted commodity. This leads to foeticide or killings of new-born female babies. According to the UNICEF report, of the 32 states in India, in 27 states the practice of killing girl children is still widely prevalent. This has lead to an alarming reduction of the population ratio between women and men. By the time of the 2001 census there were only 927 women for every 1,000 men.

Crimes against women

According to another report in India, there is one instance of sexual harassment every 7 minutes, rape every 56 minutes and a dowry killing every 90 minutes. The list of crimes against women is an unending saga, and is astark reminder of the blood-chilling realities of this unequal, class dominated system.

Crimes such as acid throwing on women puts them in an extremely vulnerable situation on a day today basis. Society, for the fear of such attacks, will put pressure on women to stay indoors. It is already the case that the families have instructed young girls and women to return home early in the evening. Many families, whose wards have been attacked, have taken to extreme measures such as suicide.

In a situation like that in India where religion plays a dominant role, such crimes drive women into a deeper abyss of religious practices. In fact the Burkha (the full, face-covering veil), amongst Muslim women, has got a new impetus because of acid attacks.

Growth in economy creates further inequalities

The prime reason for such attacks on women is the failure of the capitalist system to develop society. So many ‘advances’ that accompanied the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Europe – referred to by Trotsky and others as the ‘democratic tasks’ – are pressing for completion. Even to-day, human resources have by no means been fully utilised.

Governments have not utilised young people and their talents. There are crores (millions) of unemployed who are wandering around without jobs. Because of globalisation, the gap between rich and poor has increased. Living costs for a few have decreased but for the vast armies of poor and unemployed, they have gone up.

Multinational corporations (MNCs), with their neo-liberal approach, are treating women as commodities. They have redefined the concept of beauty. Obscene and near-pornographic advertisements are stereotyping women in society. The media is propagating the idea that women are objects for sexual satisfaction. The entertainment industry is cashing in on backwardness and medieval social behaviour by bringing in ‘dialogs’ which are obscene wall posters with porn photos. These irresponsible acts lead young people to think in a perverted way about women, love and sex.

Without oppression-free society, no end to women’s oppression

Economic empowerment and educational advancement alone cannot create equality for women. It certainly will not bring down oppression and violence. As long as the greedy capitalist system, and the laws, culture, religion and caste system perpetuated by it, seeks to keep women in the frame-work of private property, as long as this outlook continues, women, however economically advanced, will face inequality in society.

The fundamental emancipation of women lies in the achievement of a classless society. Only when women participate in leading the class struggle can they eradicate male domination and write the prelude for an equal and oppression-free future. Women will have to get to the forefront of the fight for socialism; only in such a struggle can they achieve a fundamental change in society.

The fight for emancipation of women should become an integral part of the class struggle itself. To prepare such ground inside existing organisations of workers, youth and poor, class fighters must support these points:

  • Discussion and debate on the issues of sexual harassment, crimes against women and domestic violence must be on the regular agenda of the trade unions.
  • In places where women are a minority, the trade union and its leadership must be pro-active in increasing the self-assurance of women to come forward in the struggle.
  • Acid attack victims must get lifelong and full compensation including surgical and medical expenses. This should be borne by both the government and the perpetrator of the crime.
  • To rehabilitate acid attack victims completely, all the most modern surgical and medical treatment must be made available to all the victims. The governments, which are indirectly responsible for these crimes, should bear all the expenses.
  • An end to all direct and indirect sexual harassment.
  • Trade unions must consciously set about including women workers in leading the fight against the bosses and the capitalist system. Without them, the fight cannot be won!

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March 2007