The Guardian’s video about women’s safety in India suffers from Class & Colonial bias

Such videos which claim to address the issue of ‘women’s safety’ post the 16th December 2012 rape are fantastic in their myopia, and deeply offensive, and need to be challenged. In this video, the juxtaposition of the narratives of primarily upper class and upper caste women with random shots of working-class men in public spaces is unacceptable and adds to reinforcing the construct of working-class men as the only and markedly, perpetrators of sexual violence. It is horrible how in this video, the narrative of privileged women’s experiences that include never daring “to take public transport at night” or talking about “backward mentality” and “patriarchy” are repeatedly counter-posed with random visuals of working-class men going about their daily lives, whether in the sabzi mandi or waiting for passengers in their e-rickshaws or travelling in the back of a truck together. The fathers, brothers and uncles who are supposed guardians of the women who speak in the video are never imagined as capable of violence and harassment. No random visuals of men in malls, five-star hotels, gated communities or other such spaces of socialization, which are supposedly “safe havens” are represented in the video.

The visuals of this video can make you believe that the only thing obstructing the aspirations of middle and upper-class women is the “backward mentality of society” embodied by working class and ‘lower’ caste lives, who are the relics of the ‘past’ coming in the way of the ‘forward’ march to ‘modernity’. There is no mention of violence perpetrated by the structures of the state, family or police, or of holding these institutions accountable. Instead, the only way in which any institutionalized mechanism of redressal is imagined is by the ‘protection of the male police and not just the women police force’. Completely obliterating custodial violence as a lived reality. Such a formulation then seems to tacitly suggest that there is a need for a ‘civilizing’ mission which will bring about a ‘change in mentality,’ en masse.
Such a diagnosis of the problem mistakes the wood for the trees, and focuses on behavioural change of the men and boys, as opposed to understanding the dynamic struggle against structures of power and oppression. In such an analysis, the women “who do not wear what Indian women are supposed to wear”, somehow become more vulnerable to violence, when in fact, it is one’s location of marginalisation with regard to caste, class, race, sexuality etc (despite your clothes!), that makes one vulnerable. This video has got nothing to do with feminism in India or the fight against sexual violence, but only reinforces the casteist and classist representation of a much-fetishized media narrative of ‘security.’ Such a depiction only undermines feminist effort to push for a better understanding of sexual violence.
It must also be pointed out how it is only ‘fearless’ women from a particular class and caste whose voice is provided with a platform in this video, working-class women are visible only in the background. They may be seen taking public transport at night, but their problems and experiences are completely invisibilised! All in all, this very attempt by Guardian and other such media houses/researchers of attempting to adopt women’s safety in Delhi as their pet project is clearly indicative of the fetishization of a reductive women’s’ safety narrative- which deliberately chooses to obliterate and render hyper-visible parts of the problem but not the problem itself.
It has been exhausting for us as well to constantly be inundated with requests from the media to perform a certain “Indian feminism”, wear ‘shorts’ and pose outside the hostel gate with a placard saying “I resist”, and other such visually appealing “acts of rebellion.” The media while being so fascinated with our ‘night marches’, has rarely bothered with our protests against hostel fee hike or for ICCs. The challenge then is to also simultaneously resist the dominant discourse on security through engagement with the media, which always already comes with a set framework on how it wants to represent the women’s question in the ‘Global South.’ There has been enough criticism of the documentary, “India’s daughter” or the Buzzfeed article about a photography project on ‘public space and harassment’, so the repetition of this narrative is rather disappointing, even if the video attempts to problematize “women’s empowerment through self-defence”.
The restructuring of public space and infrastructure, the gendered nature of public spaces is a reality and needs to be engaged with, but this conversation cannot be about reinforcing existing hierarchies or a battle that only ‘benefits’ a certain section of women, but a fight against all the institutions and structures of oppression that produce these inequalities, that exclude and marginalise.

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