The recent protests in BHU against the attitude of the administration towards sexual harassment and women’s safety issues have become a media spectacle. Another issue that is at the centre of this debate is that of protest itself. I have heard more people than I can count discussing the futility of protests, especially this protest, and even more people trying to discredit it by citing the counter-violence by the protestors in response to the police. Blaming ‘both sides’ has become something of a trend. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice.” And so we see today. More and more voices are raised when the silent grow tired and angry and retaliate.
When you’re at the receiving end of violence for as long as many of us have been, to retort with violence is not merely an act of aggression, but it is an act of assertion. It is taking on power at its root and declaring we can give back what you’ve been giving us. Better than I could ever explain to you, Angela Davis, in a 1972 interview, talks about violence and how it can become ‘constitutive of a revolution’.
What I am attempting is not a justification. To me, this act does not require justifying. On one hand, you have a battalion of armed men with guns and lathis, and on another, you have students who have been sitting for days on the lawns waiting for an ‘overtly-dignified’ Vice-Chancellor to listen to their issues. Tell me, what damage could those students have done? These are also the same administration officials and policemen who refuse to act upon the complaints of these students. So really, who is the one with the capacity and history of perpetrating violence? That there were no female constables among these policemen is yet another problematic element which I will leave you to think about. But I would like to ask you this – their guns and lathis, or the stones and pebbles these students managed to find on the road: what do you think is capable of more violence?
If you are someone who believes violence for violence leads to nothing, and that all forms of violence are just as bad and illegitimate, surely you must not be able to distinguish between the violence perpetrated by the colonial administration and the counter-violence of the Indian ‘freedom fighters’? If you can spot the difference there, you do realise, the difference is very real.
The question is, who are we fighting against? Well, we are fighting against all of you. All of us. We are a society that structurally makes it difficult for women to access educational (among most other) institutions, and if they somehow manage to, we bring in a patriarchal set-up within universities to hamper their growth. In most places, the sheer demographic makes it difficult for women to access these spaces. In others, it is the atmosphere. If somehow, they manage to get married and have children and want to work, there too, it’s their job to compete with a man who has only his career to focus on, while another woman somewhere else is cooking and cleaning and feeding their kids for him. But somehow, as if this isn’t enough, we have the added incentive of being locked inside our rooms after sundown, for our protection of course. Certainly, it doesn’t occur to anyone that we might also like certain rights like freedom of movement, which most men seem to enjoy. I mean, why would we want to read a book at night? Or, an even crazier thought would be wanting to get something to eat. It is almost as if the authorities have forgotten that it is their duty to protect us and safeguard our rights. It is as if women are not equal beneficiaries of the victory of those ‘freedom fighters’ and all those hard-fought reforms.
Your fight for freedom might be over. But ours certainly isn’t. Activist groups like Pinjra Tod and many others have to still constantly organize to demand something we should have had since 1947. You do not get to lock us up because men in this society cease to remember our status as human beings. It is they who need the reminder. You do not get to shut us up because you weren’t able to speak up when violence was perpetrated on the bodies of those female students. And you most certainly do not get to defend your violence by citing the reaction to it. You have unleashed direct and indirect violence on female students for too long now. For too long you have been putting the blame on us. For too long you have conveniently forgotten to do your duty and resorted to restricting, blaming and humiliating us instead.
Each and every space of this country belongs, as it should, belong to every citizen of this country. It is absolutely heartbreaking that for so long we have been denied our rights, and our mobility and opportunities have been curbed, to make up for the inability of our governments and administrations to keep a hold on crime and criminals. We must not let them drown our voices. How can India be free, if India’s daughters aren’t? We must demand freedom, and if they resort to violence, and we respond with the same, so be it. You will not get away with this anymore. In times like this, we must be willing to be on the wrong side of authority to be on the right side of history.