[Content Note: Misogynist violence/sexual assault; infanticide; religious intolerance.]

Today is Independence Day in India, and the nation's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the occasion of his first Independence Day address to challenge his country to meaningfully address gendered violence:
Addressing the nation from the Red Fort citadel in Delhi, Modi called on Indian parents to take responsibility for the actions of their sons, rather than put the blame on their daughters. He said every Indian household should have a toilet within the next four years, and promised separate toilet facilities for girls in public schools.

"Our heads hang in shame when we hear about rapes," he said. "Why can't we prevent this? When a daughter steps out, parents demand to know where she's going. But when a son returns home, does anyone dare ask where he is coming from? He might have been with the wrong people, doing wrong things. After all, a person raping is someone's son. Why don't parents apply the same yardstick of good behaviour for their sons as for their daughters?"

..."The law will take its own course, but as a society every parent has a responsibility to teach their sons the difference between right and wrong," the prime minister said.

Modi's tone throughout his hour-long speech in Hindi was part beseeching, part admonishing, as he took up issues ranging from eradicating poverty and ending Maoist violence to reforming bureaucracy and ending Soviet-style central economic planning.

But he got the maximum applause when he spoke on gender-related issues. "Look at our sex ratio – 1,000 men to 940 women," he said. "Who is creating this imbalance in society? Not the Almighty. I appeal to doctors not to kill the girl child."

Modi called on politicians to ensure more toilets were built for girls and women. "Can't we just make arrangements for toilets for the dignity of our mothers and sisters?" he said.

In May two teenage girls were found hanged from a tree after being gang-raped while going to the toilet in the fields because – like around half of the country's population – there was no toilet at home.

"We are in the 21st century and yet there is still no dignity for women as they have to go out in the open to defecate and they have to wait for darkness to fall. Can you imagine the number of problems they have to face because of this?" Modi said.
Modi is not without his problems; one of the criticisms of his speech was that he glazed over recent inter-religious violence and "ended his address with slogans dear to Hindu nationalists," which is extremely problematic within the context of his role in and reaction to the 2002 Gujarat riots which targeted the Muslim minority. I don't want to give the impression I believe he is above criticism.

On the issue of gendered violence, however, and using this highly scrutinized occasion to speak about it so bluntly, he did very well indeed.

And while I'm sure there are people who will accuse Modi of opportunism, to use this event in order to "repair India's reputation" after a series of high-profile cases of gendered violence, that seems like a pretty cynical view—and one that depends on subscribing to a shitty narrative about how India is somehow unique in the world in its incidents of gendered violence.

To be honest, I frankly don't even care if that was part of his calculation. Because even if he was doing it for political reasons, he was still saying out loud before his nation and the world that rapists are responsible for rape and that misogynist violence needs to end.

I cannot even imagine a US president giving a national address on gendered violence, no less talking about it in such detail as to point out how misogyny affects women even right down to their toileting habits.

I hope that these words will inspire change. I hope that Modi will listen to the many amazing activist groups of women across India who have long been working on gendered violence, and invites them to be a part of developing policy to meaningfully address it.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus