Violence Against Women: We Need a Transnational Analytic of Care

Protesters in Kolkata, India, decry violence against women following the death of a twenty-three-year-old woman who was gang-raped and beaten on a bus in New Delhi. Activists in India later criticized U.S. feminists for reproducing colonial discourse in their responses to the attack. Credit: AP Photo/Bikas Das.

When gender-based violence occurs in the Global South, how should feminists in the Global North respond? Sometimes feminists in Europe and the United States say nothing, fearful that their attempts to speak out about gender violence in South Asia, Africa, Latin America, or other formerly colonized regions will reproduce colonial dynamics. At other times they do speak, and their language echoes imperial narratives about needing to “rescue” downtrodden women from “backward” cultural traditions. To move to a more constructive place, we need to foster a transnational analytic of care: one that is not defensive, reactionary, or silencing. We need an analytic of care that is cognizant of the local and global processes that create conditions of vulnerability for women and form the asymmetrical planes in which cross-cultural alliances and solidarity practices must happen.

The urgency of our need for more constructive forms of transnational feminist solidarity became particularly apparent in December 2012, when feminists across the globe took to the pen and the streets in response to the gruesome gang rape of a young woman in New Delhi, the capital of India. The twenty-three-year-old woman was returning home after watching the film The Life of Pi with a male friend in a shopping mall in South Delhi. She and her companion that night tried to hail public buses and auto-rickshaws to no avail. Eventually, a private chartered bus stopped to picked them up. There were six men on the bus, including the driver, his younger brother (who posed as the conductor), and four others who worked in various low-skilled jobs in the city and were economic migrants from neighboring states. The bus did not have a permit to be on the roads after-hours; investigations later revealed that the traffic police had been bribed in order for it to pass through security checkpoints. The men on the bus, apparently on a “joyride,” beat the young woman and her friend. When the woman and her friend resisted, they dragged her to the back of the bus and took turns raping her. The assault lasted several hours as the bus plowed through the city streets, and involved the insertion of a metal rod into the woman’s body, which caused her intestines to spill out. Afterward, the couple was stripped naked and thrown off the bus. The driver tried to run over the woman, but her friend managed to pull her out of the way.

The young woman’s ordeal did not stop there: for nearly half an hour, passersby ignored the pair’s cries for help. When the police finally arrived, instead of transporting the woman and her friend immediately to the nearest hospital, they argued over jurisdiction. The woman fought for her life for two weeks and finally succumbed to her injuries in a hospital in Singapore. Even though the government ostensibly flew her to Singapore for better care, many in India were critical of the move as her condition was too fragile—they saw the move as a gesture by the government to dampen the public outrage and massive protests in Delhi and all over India.

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