Draftsmen of the various political parties who headed for a showdown in Delhi on 7 February probably asked themselves, “what do women in Delhi want?” and perhaps in their narrow lanes of query the answers were, “more surveillance, more police, and therefore more control.” The representation of women in Delhi’s political campaigns, election manifestos and the news is dominated by an unapologetic narrative of victimization and helplessness. This idea has germinated campaigns where parties compete over who will push for a more policed Delhi, a more ‘disciplined’ Delhi.
On these issues, the Delhi voter had a Hobson’s choice. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) offer very similar solutions in their visions and manifestos to the gender question. AAP’s manifesto and the BJP’s public statements reveal their exclusive reliance on this victim rhetoric, which is debilitating and limiting. The parties are busy competing, about not who can promote more freedom but who can be more ‘protective’. BJP promises speedy trials, security forces and CCTVs while the former breaks it down as ‘providing conditions’ where women can be assured harassment-free strolls in the streets of the city. Those who argue that a policed society will eventually lead to a safer city are eclipsed from the observation that a protectionist mindset is entirely based on a perception of gender-specific superiority, and only breeds more fear, threat and alienation in society.
Bharatiya Janata Party
The party’s chief ministerial candidate is a case of delicious irony. She is a woman herself, but seems to lack any sense of legislative imagination that goes beyond disciplining and policing. She promises a Special Women’s Security Force, community policing, “widely publicised” punishments, CCTVs, more patrolling, ‘safety kits’ complete with whistles and pepper sprays, escorts on buses, self-defence training, and quick registration of FIRs.
Aam Aadmi Party
All references to women in their 70-point AAP manifesto are based on this above-mentioned notion. Delhi Dialogue, the new incarnation of the Mohalla Sabha, will decide the action plan for a ‘safer’ city. AAP promises better street lighting because their line of logic dictates that since unlit streets become scenes of crimes, they are the festering cesspools of gender based crime. The BJP and AAP are now locked in a petulant competition as to who will install more CCTV cameras. They promise to establish fast-track courts meant to arbitrate swiftly on cases of sexual assault and other crimes against women. These courts will be “running in two shifts” and a special Women’s Security Force, “Mahila Suraksha Dal”, consisting of Home Guard and bus marshals will be set up.
One appreciates the fact that these manifestos have at least recognized the glaring lacuna of women safety in the city, but beyond gratitude, a more nuanced introspection is needed. The debate must centre on freedom rather than repression. Positive liberties need to replace negative liberties. Positive liberty implies the chance of acting autonomously and taking control of one’s life. Approaching a politics of positive liberties will require a moving away from the victimization discourse into an alternate one.
Sexual violence is commonly mistaken as an expression of desire, and rarely as an expression of power. Desire is a more layered, ontological entity that operates above basal desires such as open expression of power. Political vision tempered with such sensitivity based on a notion of positive liberty will be far more fruitful than that of the ‘women-victimization’ forever seeking protection and oversight.
Vivek Bhattacharya majored in Electronics Engineering, and is a Foreign Policy and International Relations enthusiast. He was formerly associated with Non-Traditional Security Research Centre (NTS-RC) at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), and Observer Research Foundation, besides having written extensively to The Hindu and the Indian Express on similar issues. Other interests include constitutional and international law, socio-political issues and literature. He believes human stupidity is a far bigger threat to mankind than ISIS, and can be reached at https://www.facebook.com/