The national secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), Kavita Krishnan, who was among the leading voices in the public protests that erupted following the gang-rape of 23-year-old student in Delhi has questioned the authority of the US Government in handing out international awards to women fighting against sexual violence.
Krishnan’s reaction is in response to the US government’s announcement on March 4, naming the Delhi gang-rape victim as one of the ten awardees of the International Women of Courage Award for this year.
On March 8, celebrated as International Women’s Day, US Secretary of State John Kerry, joined by US First Lady Michele Obama, will present the awards. As per an official statement by US State department, the award was set up in 2007 and has awarded 67 women from 45 different countries since. On the list of awardees for 2013 are women activists and pioneers from countries such as Afghanistan, Egypt, Somalia, Tibet and Nigeria. (See biographies of the awardees here)
Firstpost spoke to Krishnan on whether this kind of international recognition was welcome and on whether bracketing India with countries that are perceived to have far worse records when it comes to women’s rights was problematic.
Your initial reaction to the US government decision to award the gang-rape victim. To quote from the US State department website: “For millions of Indian women, her personal ordeal, perseverance to fight for justice, and her family’s continued bravery is helping to lift the stigma and vulnerability that drive violence against women.” Do you agree?
The achievements of Delhi’s brave-heart can’t be doubted. All that I fully endorse, it is absolutely true.
But I would like ask the US government that if they have the right to hand out awards of courage, then they should also respect the courage of women fighting rape in several other circumstances, which include sexual violence by US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are multiple instances of this, well-documented too. In no case has the US done any justice.
On the question of rape, on the question of sexual violence, who is the US government to hand out international awards? Our women who are fighting with courage, we don’t need citations and awards from the US government, neither do we need it from our own government.
The unity between the women in America fighting against sexual violence in America and by American troops, their solidarity with the Indian women on the streets, I think that is a valuable thing. And a lot of that has happened. A lot of American groups have reached out in solidarity and that is the really important thing for me. We collectively stand in solidarity with the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Palestinians who are also fighting sexual violence.
Do you find the bracketing of India with countries on the list problematic?
I don’t understand what this listing is all about. There are women inside America who are suffering sexual violence. It is not as if Nigeria, Somalia or India is only place where sexual violence is a problem. The sexual violence in America is terrible. Their rate of conviction in sexual crimes is even less than India’s.
Who are they to make these lists and hand out awards? Their leaders have gone around making horrendous remarks against women that shows that our Mohan Bhagwats and Abhijit Mukherjees are not alone. Prominent leaders in America have made equally terrible remarks.
Bracketing India with these other countries is not a problem for me. The question of sexual violence is bad enough, whether it is in America, South Africa or India. And I don’t see any government doing anything serious about it.
Are you satisfied with the Indian government’s response to the crisis of sexual violence against women?
The government’s efforts are an absolute sham. It is a shame. They have not done the barest minimum they should have done. They set up a Justice Verma Committee, which made some recommendations. And the government has just made a mockery of these recommendations by adopting a very tiny portion of it. The basic thrust of the recommendations has been turned on its head. They have not accepted or adopted any of the key recommendations of the Committee.
And the Bill they have brought in, far from accepting the recommendations, has done the exact opposite. For instance, they are making the law against rape gender-neutral, where the accused is concerned. This means women can now be accused of rape. Now when we were struggling on the streets, was this what we were asking for? Is it a problem is society that women are going around raping men?
The urgent need was that we get rid of words like ‘modesty’ from the law, that we recognize marital rape so that we do not give license to certain kinds of rape. We don’t have protective shields against sexual violence by public servants, army officers and husbands. So the government has continued with all those shields and they have found it an urgent need to be able to accuse women of rape.
What is priority for the women’s movement now?
This is the Budget session. The Standing Committee has given a poor report on the Criminal Law Amendment Bill. We are still demanding that a new bill should be tabled, one that respects the suggestions made by the Justice Verma Committee. That remains our focus now.
The International Women’s Day is approaching. On March 8, there is going to be big march by all those who have been fighting on the streets. During that march we will raise these questions. We are going to demand that the government should respond.