India's 11/26

Mumbaikers know about terror. They have lived through savage inter-religious violence, bombing campaigns and persistent threats of fresh outrage.

Their city’s criminal underworld has intricate links to terror groups, which the Indian government has persistently accused Pakistan’s intelligence services of backing—the sinister background to a town where India’s confident new elite lives tightly jammed up against its immiserated poor.

This week’s attacks on the iconic Taj hotel, the plush Trident Oberoi and the residential complex of Nariman house were assaults on the city’s most visible symbols of affluence, and of India’s new openness to the world. As such they were very different from the train bombings of 2006, designed to rattle not just ordinary Indians but to hit the foreigners, business people and politicians who concentrate at these urban oases.

The spectacle of grenade attacks, hostage-taking and gun battles with anti-terrorist police seemed designed for the global news channels, as well as for India’s numerous 24-hour satellite stations—the kind of scripted media outrage jihadi groups now specialise in.

This was not just an attack on the India that continues to face off with Pakistan over the future of Kashmir or with the Maharashtran Hindu chauvinists who have in the past orchestrated pogroms against Muslims. It was an attack on globalised India, which is to say an attack on the world we all live in now, a world where rich countries are increasingly dependent on goods and services produced in developing countries, where new flows of trade, capital and ideas are radically altering social relations, for better and for worse.

To see these attacks simply as products of India’s long war with Pakistan or its internal divisions would be a disastrous oversimplification. They are attacks on all of us. That realisation should not only deepen our anger and sadness, it should remind us too that the project of combating terrorism and its roots is not just for American imperialists, it is a global imperative that is desperately in need of new and more effective solutions.

Back to the future
It’s that time of year again when, amid much lunching and launching and ribbon-cutting, the country commits itself for 16 days at least—to combating violence against women and children. But despite this noble effort, which has enjoyed high-profile government support, South Africa remains a dangerous place for women and children. A recent study that tracked the progress of rape cases through the criminal justice system in Gauteng threw up some startling facts:

  • Almost half the rapes of women and teenage girls involved abduction;

  • 40% of rapes of women involved a weapon;

  • 43% of rapes of teenage girls were committed by a neighbour or acquaintance;

  • 28% of girls under 11 were raped in their homes;

  • Just half of rape cases reported to the police resulted in arrests. Only 42,8% of suspects went on to appear in court and fewer than one in five (17,3%) reports resulted in a trial;

  • Only one in 10 rape cases reported by girls under 12 resulted in a conviction, while for adult women, this number was just one in 20; and

  • Of 34 cases in which the perpetrators were eligible for a life sentence in terms of minimum sentencing legislation, only three were sentenced to life.

While the politicians rattle their sabres and trade insults of a simian and entomological nature ahead of the election, we should pay careful attention to what they aren’t saying and learn to read between the lines.

When the likely future president, Jacob Zuma, calls for obedience to the Bible and the ancestors, what does this mean for women’s equality? Is this a return to the patriarchal ideal of the omnipotent father who holds the power of life and death over his wife and children?

Does this mean an end to women’s right to make their own reproductive choices? When Zuma talks disparagingly about gays or women wearing miniskirts, what does this mean for a country in which rape is endemic and violence against lesbians is growing? And why do his plans for banishing pregnant teens not mention the men who impregnate them?
Will the next government move away from the rights-based culture enshrined in our Constitution and bow down to reactionary, populist elements in a bid to win votes?

In the coming months we should evaluate carefully the gender stance of any party asking for our vote and challenge the party to explain how it will make South Africa a safer place for its women and children.


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