© Copyright 2019 The Rakshin Project By Sakshi
(DISCLAIMER: The purpose of these essays is not to provide solutions but to shed light on perspectives that go largely unnoticed and/or ignored. I encourage that you do not read to seek answers, but to understand the loop holes or gaps in arguments that try to legitimise violence against women, and to offer you reasonable and very serious explanations that can fill those gaps.)
There is a lot of tension to the term “terrorism”. For starters — it comes with huge racial and religious connotations i.e., the brown Muslim is usually seen as a terrorist, which is primarily defined by white supremacist and imperialist actors (persons or governments).
My argument is not about the democratisation of the term “terrorist” but rather an unpacking of the term — which usually results in the discovery that the term “terrorist” is used to propagandise against certain groups of people who are subjected to systemic racism and discrimination — and to calibrate the term in order to apply it in a manner that is actually useful.
There is a weight to the term “terror”. It captures the debilitating and paralysing fear that one experiences when faced with unconscionable violence. Furthermore, the terrifying nature of how so-called systems of accountability — such as the police or social services — continue to fail those who experience violence at home is staggering. It is terrifying because there is simply no accountability and because there are no other alternative systems of accountability (other than pockets of communities who do the arduous work of transformative and restorative justice), there is a helpless reliance on failing systems to provide accountability. It is genuinely terrifying that we are at the mercy of the State to provide justice when the State does not acknowledge many of the patriarchal forms of violence against women and children as violence — this makes the State an unreliable arbiter of justice.
Here is the part where even I struggle with — despite writing three previous essays highlighting how violence against women and children should qualify as terrorism, I have reached an impasse when it comes to utilising the term “terrorism” when talking about violence against women and children (despite personally using it when with other feminists).
As I stated a few lines above — I do not want the democratisation of the word “terrorist”, I want it to first be unpacked because the term “terrorism” invokes images of brown Muslim “terrorists”. And this is extremely charged considering there is an Islamophobic narrative that brown people, particularly Muslims, are uniquely misogynist or the only ones who have agendas to disturb and harm the arbitrary notions of peace. This is not and never has been the case. Misogyny is a social and systemic evil that exists in all cultures and manifests accordingly. For example, the phenomena of “honour killings” that is applied to brown people is seen as a particularly hideous form of gendered violence (and also linked to terrorist groups in the Middle East) that brown people do, and yet when Western men who murder their wives or girlfriends out of anger, jealousy, entitlement and/or fury, it is simply seen as “murder”. This is deliberate because it seeks to make brown people — specifically Muslims — as the Other, a concept that Edward Said defines in his book Orientalism — wherein the Occident (the West) sees the Orient (the East) as psychologically weak, irrational, uncivilised as opposed to the West, where it is seen psychologically strong, masculine and rational — therefore must be seen as incapable of committing such brutal acts of violence against women. Put simply — “terrorism” is an unbelievably racist term that is charged and driven by xenophobia.
Why is it important to highlight the xenophobic traces to the word “terrorism”? Because there is decades worth of history of labelling people who are not “white” as terrorists, including and especially of the violence enacted against women and women of colour. Take for example when the United States introduced the Countering Violent Extremism program — this was a program that started to unfairly surveil and target brown people, migrants and poor communities because “terrorism” was something that was disproportionately attributed to Black and brown folks. “Terrorism” is a term that legitimises the language of criminalisation when in reality, what is actually needed are more efforts to address white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism that are the driving forces of racist and misogynist violence.
To be clear, I am problematizing my own argument that violence against women should be considered “terrorism”. There is a screeching loud question that needs to be asked when discussing misogyny as an act of terrorism: Are we, as a society, ready to reckon with the acts of violence and terror committed by men of all races against women with the urgency and severity that it deserves? Are we actually ready to unpack the racist and xenophobic ramifications of labelling misogyny as terrorism?
The hopeful part of me believes that we are capable of doing this but as it is right now, there is an unwillingness to do it. The unwillingness stems from the fact that there is a patriarchal society that punishes men and women who try and overturn the patriarchal narratives that is baked into our culture. There is simply no incentive — no real rewards — to fight against violence against women and children because to do so would mean to be seen as someone who is trying to overthrow heteronormative hegemony (including the notion of the family unit). Furthermore, there is a culture of Islamophobia that attributes misogyny as solely a “brown culture” trait rather than a worldwide systemic social problem. The United States, for example, invaded Afghanistan in an attempt “liberate oppressed Muslim women” and yet it was nothing but an attempt to continue and embolden the racist War on Terror. This is what is seen and understood as “embedded feminism” wherein which the State employs and co-opts feminist theory and discourses in order to invade and intervene the Global South, thus furthering and strengthening the machinations of imperialism.
Looking at this, it all feels excruciatingly bleak. How on earth does one visualise and imagine solutions where none seem to be viable?
The truth of the matter is: we are not ready to believe that misogyny is terrifying to those who suffer it nor are we ready to deal with racist consequences of labelling misogyny as terrorism.
From an interpersonal perspective, I believe the ways in which men terrorise women and children in the domestic sphere is worth examining. I believe that it is accurate to deem violence against women and children as objectively terrifying. And yet, “terrorism” is such a hideously charged term — charged with racism and xenophobia — that it is perhaps too early, that it is too soon, for our collective conscious to be able to simultaneously deal with terrorism as a racist term but also a term that carries the weight to describe what women and children experience at the hands of men.
This is not to say that misogyny has to be placed on the back burner — what I am arguing is that there is a need to consider these points before being able to recalibrate the term “terrorism” to be applied against the actions of men who harm women and children. The point of this essay series is to understand the inherently political nature of violence against women and children in the private sphere, and that domestic/sexual violence against women and children is not an accident and is not done in moments of rage, but that there is a social system that enables this violence all the time. We can speak about the inherent terror felt in the hearts and minds of those who suffer domestic and sexual violence in the home — but are we as a society ready to unlearn our current understanding of terrorism — but more importantly, are we ready to move away from language that seeks to create further criminalisation and instead, call for accountability of men who harm women and children whilst simultaneously discarding the term terrorism that is unfairly applied to brown and Black people? Regardless of whether we are ready or not, this is an effort that needs to be brought to the forefront because neither issue trumps the other, nor is either issue lesser than the other.
The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports has given a directive to our NGO – Sakshi to design, customize and deliver Workshops on Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 (POCSOA 2012) for the NSS Students of 40,000 Colleges across India. Workshops started in 2018.