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The underlying image of the woman as ‘victim’ in the Delhi election campaigns has led to parties competing over who will push for a more policed and disciplined city

If the Freudian question “what women want?” were posed to the parties contesting the Delhi polls, their responses would be: “more police, more surveillance, more suspicion and control.” The underlying representation of women in Delhi’s electoral campaigns, election manifestos and the news is dominated by a talk of victimisation and helplessness. It is this underlying image of the ‘victim’ that has spurred campaigns where parties compete over who will push for a more policed Delhi, a more oppressively disciplined Delhi, a city perpetually threatened by and suspicious of crime. Following Professor Ratna Kapur, let us call this representation the “victim subject.”
Similar solutions
On issues of gender and sexuality, the Delhi voter does not, in fact, have a genuine choice at all. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) offer very similar solutions in their visions and manifestos to the gender question. A quick perusal of the AAP manifesto and the BJP’s public statements reveals their exclusive reliance on this victim rhetoric, which can ultimately be debilitating and limiting. Yet the parties are busy competing, not about who can promote more freedom but, rather, who can be more protective. The metonym of the latter is of speedy trials, security forces and CCTVs while the former is as simple as being able to take a peaceful midnight stroll in the streets of the city. One may argue that a policed society will eventually lead to a freer city but this is far from true. A protectionist imagination is entirely based on a perception of masculine superiority, and only breeds more fear, threat and alienation in society.
Political visions and manifestos

All the references to women in the 70-point AAP manifesto are based on this above-mentioned protectionist-victim rhetoric. The controversial Mohalla Sabha replaced by the Delhi Dialogue will now decide the action plan for a city “safe for women.” Because “unlit streets become scenes of crimes, particularly against women,” the AAP promises adequate street lighting. The AAP and the BJP are competing about who will install more CCTV cameras and the number is now in lakhs. They promise to set up fast-track courts dedicated to handling cases of sexual assault and other crimes against women, with courts “running in two shifts” and a special Women’s Security Force (“Mahila Suraksha Dal”) consisting of a 10,000 strong Home Guard and 5,000 bus marshals. Even Wi-Fi in Delhi is meant to “tie in with women’s safety initiatives.”
A protectionist imagination is entirely based on a perception of masculine superiority, and only breeds more fear, threat and alienation in society
Similarly, with regard to the BJP’s candidate, you can take Kiran Bedi out of the police, but not the police out of Kiran Bedi. She seems to lack any sense of imagination that goes beyond disciplining, policing and militarising the environment. Her 25-point blueprint promises community policing, increased patrolling, CCTVs, home guards, civil defence escorts on buses and ladies’ special buses. Not to forget self-defence training, safety kits with sprays and whistles, “widely publicised” punishments, quick FIRs, Special Women’s Security Force… the list just goes on. She then tweeted, “I look fwd2 [forward to] working w/[with] each of u [you] to make this 25-point program successful in keeping our women safe.”
Freedom and positive liberties

Of course, one can genuinely appreciate the fact that these campaigns have at least been gender-centric in their approach as compared to the blatantly violent campaigns in other parts of the country. But beyond appreciation, a more nuanced public debate is much needed. Our discussions must include a politics of freedom rather than a repressive politics that is threatened by any expression of desire and sexuality in the public sphere. A politics of freedom would not be obsessed with Ms Bedi’s 6-P’s (prisons, prosecution, outreach to people, parents, improving policing, including community policing, and the press.) or with C’s (crime, controls, CCTVs and courts). Such an imagination of a city can be suffocating and repressive. We need to discuss not protectionist measures or even negative liberties, but positive liberties. Positive liberty is the possibility of acting in autonomous ways and taking control of one’s life, as opposed to negative liberties, which is more about absence of constraints.
Approaching a politics of positive liberties will require a move away from a subjectivity that is exclusively of the “victim subject” into an alternative one. Following several prominent queer theorists, this alternative subjectivity needs to be a subject that can appreciate and accommodate a strong notion of desire. One finds an instance of this subjectivity, grounded in freedom and desire, in the prescient and progressive judgment of the Supreme Court in National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India & Ors. (2014).
The judges in this case suggested that “gender identity refers to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body which may involve a freely chosen, medication of bodily appearances or functions by medical, surgical or other means and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech and mannerisms.” As per the Supreme Court, gender identity therefore refers to “an individual’s self-identification as a man, woman, transgender or other identified category.”
Sexual violence is not an expression of desire, but an expression of power. Desire is a far more layered, ontological category that the logo-centric liberalism does not adequately understand. A politics grounded in such a ‘desiring subjectivity’ based on a notion of positive liberty will be far more fruitful than that of the ‘victim subject’ forever seeking protection and paternal oversight. Only a truly democratic and plural city will allow for the discourse to shift from the latter to the former.

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