Short-lived memory often leads to naked regret. This apprehension has been repeated time and again in the last fortnight in the light of the Delhi gangrape case.
While the passionate protests managed to percolate the public outrage deep into the crevices of the country, the nature of this wrath was also criticised as essentially middle class.
Amidst this criticism, The Weekend Leader dug out the picture of an adivasi woman, stripped naked, being kicked by a man on her private parts. This picture, when juxtaposed to the pictures of the indignant protests in Central Delhi, brings alive all the fears expressed in endorsing the Delhi protests as India’s own feminist movement in making.
There are similarities. In 2007, this adivasi girl, Laxmi Orang, travelled from Japowari Orang Basti in Sonitpuri to Guwahati as a member of the All Assam Adivasi Students’ Association. All of 17 then, Laxmi too believed that she has the right to protest and demand rights.
She and her supporters were demanding ST status for Adivasi people residing in Assam and enhancement of daily wages of tea garden labourers by Rs 70-200 by the small and major tea gardens in Assam. Like the Delhi protests, they too were tear-gassed and lathi-charged.
The commotion separated Laxmi from the rest of the crowd. A group of boys chased her, stripped her naked. While she was being brutally beaten up, the police chose to be its apathetic self and did not come to her rescue.
The next day, the media flashed her naked pictures leading to public outrage. Later, an enquiry commission was set up led by retired Justice Manisana Singh but not much came out of the report except that she was not given a proper hearing.
The fact that she still awaits justice, five years later, is a reminder that public wrath should not be spasmodic. Her case is also an epitome of the state’s nonchalance. It puts into perspective, Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s recent remark, “Tomorrow, if 100 adivasis are killed in Chhattisgarh or Gadchiroli, can the government go there?” It is people like Shinde who spread the malaise of trivialising issues of marginalised communities like the adivasis.
Laxmi, in the current context is not just representing the state atrocities on the working class but also on marginalised communities. The state’s and society’s collective injustice is manifested in their assault against her as a woman.
Earlier this year a girl was publicly assaulted and stripped outside a pub in Guwahati by a mob. Laxmi tried to meet the National Commission of Women members when they visited Guwahati to conduct an enquiry on the pub incident. A case that fizzled in the public memory hardly brings a pat on the back and in this light, the National Commission of Women Chairperson Mamta Sharma asked her to visit her in Delhi instead of taking some serious measures.
Laxmi is 22 now. Her case and the 95,000 pending cases in India are a cruel reminder why it is important to involve as many as her in the debate on rape and sexual assault. The state’s indifference towards the Shopian case in Kashmir, that of Manorama in the northeast, Soni Sori in Chhattisgarh and Laxmi Orang in Assam should not take the shape of the passivity of the masses.
It is incumbent upon the public to start discourse on the misogyny that spreads across states where the most potent weapon to teach a woman a lesson is to strip her, sexually abuse her. The sexual assault on Laxmi Orang is no different from the violence inflicted on a young protester last week when the police dragged her by her hair and slammed her head against the wall near Parliament house while she was protesting against the Delhi gang rape case. The police, like the mob who assaulted Laxmi are indoctrinated with systemic denigration of women. Where an independent woman, demanding her rights, asserting herself is always seen as a threat.
Laxmi has stopped working at the tea garden due to the stigma that followed after her public humiliation. It is this baggage we need to get rid of as a society that puts the woman in the dock instead of the culprits.
Laxmi was offered Rupees two lakhs as compensation which she refused. She is fighting hard to punish the guilty. It is this struggle of Laxmi Orang, who is not a ‘zinda laash (corpse)’ as the Minister of Opposition in Lok Sabha, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, described a rape victim, that needs to be merged with the gender movement the country is witnessing.
Where one sexual assault is not pitted against the other to gauge which deserves quicker justice. Where a demand for an equal society is made through reforms and not by easy modes of justice like death penalty and chemical castration. Where a man fears at the thought of sexually assaulting a man or a woman to assert his territory/ supremacy.
For the first time, the country has stood together on the issue of gender. Instead of dividing it on the basis of class and its superficiality, this is the time to engage and to carve a movement that is more inclusive.
To take under its wings women from across classes and castes to pull the ship in a progressive direction, to not douse the collective wrath in public dementia, to espouse Laxmi’s fight for justice as the fight of all beings who believe in an egalitarian society.
Published on December 4, 2013, theweekendleader.com