Mapping Patriarchal Patterns in Violence: Some Lessons for a Theology of Gender Justice

[1] I have now taught Gender/Women’s Studies/Theology at the United Theological College and Serampore College for about twenty years and have learned a bit more about the patterns and strategies followed by structures of power in order to continue their hegemony over the lives of people. The past years have helped me to discern the intricate linkages and phenomena of patriarchal modes and practices of power that are otherwise not elaborated in books on Gender or Patriarchy. I believe that it would be useful to share some of these experiences and insights about patriarchy and how it manifests itself when it gets cast and recast in multiple forms and intensities, across the globe. It is also important to be clear on how patriarchy is not only linked to caste, class, race, gender, colonialism, capitalism and Empire but how these “isms” and “issues” depend on each other and survive because they are premised on the same logic of power. This exercise would hopefully enable us to gain better clarity on societal analysis, theological coherence and articulation of the Christian faith. Though I have chosen case studies from the Indian context to explicate the patterns of patriarchy, we cannot deny the fact that patriarchal ideology and practice are global, and it follows a familiar language and pattern in specific contexts. It perpetuates the practice of over-valuing and devaluing of people and cultures, based on their social location.

[2] I have chosen to map the different intentions and motives involved in perpetuating violence against certain targeted categories such as women, the Poor, the Dalits in India, in order to show how the familiar pattern of violence emerges in the collusion of hegemonic powers, such as caste, class, race and gender with the State and the Global Market. While mapping the violence perpetuated against vulnerable people, there seems to be a legitimizing logic that is engineered and creatively imagined (!) to carry out the application of ideologies and practices of Power. The objective of this paper is to identify and highlight familiar patterns of patriarchal violence that happen in overt and covert forms, to exercise one’s power over the vulnerable. To help in this exercise, I have chosen to reflect on two moments/ incidents that shook the conscience of the world. They are: 1. The incident that happened on December 16th 2012 in Delhi, a gory incident of gang rape of a 23-year-old female paramedical student; 2. The experience of the People (especially women) who are part of the struggle against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, in Idinthakarai in Tamilnadu, India. These two case studies would not only reveal the familiarity of the pattern of patriarchy but also the intensity of the power of resistance to patriarchy. The case studies chosen show how hierarchical powers collude – irrespective of class, race, caste, region, religion and gender – and have the common basic ingredient of Power – lauded, laundered and loaded – at all times!

[3] While teaching gender issues in formal classes/ courses to students of theology as well as during informal gender sensitization seminars organised for women and men, I have noticed that there is a lot of anger bottled up in frustration in the minds of the younger male generation, against the gender issue and against women. I have found this quite surprising. After all, one could assume the younger generation to be those who were born when gadgets have come that make life cosier, that has made communication faster, and access to all sorts of information easier. In other words, this generation is one that was born with the world at its doorstep, challenged to accept a new and changing world with new values. I wonder if the resistance to gender equality and gender justice is because of the spirit of competition and antagonism that is muted between men and women making it seem that the girls have come to replace the boys in their rightful slots of opportunities and whether they would be able to meet the new standard that is set for achievements. In other words, there is a sense of fear and threat created within the boundary of a community where girls of the same age, are looked upon as potential threats to the boys. In Karnataka, there have been cases of violence reported where the younger generation would like to cull out new paths for human relationship and not allow the old barriers of religion and language to keep them apart. In such cases too, we have had the religious fundamentalist forces attacking the younger generation to pass on a clear message that the boundaries cannot/should not be forgotten. Both ways, the younger generation of women and men seem to be more vulnerable to violence when they conform to the values as well as challenge the values of patriarchy and religious fundamentalism. We cannot forget the fact that even in the case of the Delhi gang-rape incident that happened on the night of December 16th, it was the youngest of the six gang rapists – the sixteen year old – who was the most violent of them all! What I would like to do is to place these issues and experiences of violence on the table and to search for that familiar pattern followed in times of violence and discrimination.

Case Study 1 – The December 16th Gang Rape in Dehli

[4] The world woke up to hear about the ghastly incident of the rape of a 23 year old paramedical student, by a gang of six persons in a moving bus, in Delhi on December 16th, 2012. After the brutal incident, the woman and her friend were thrown out of the bus, almost naked, out into the freezing night! The rapists showed their power over the woman and at the same time, showed that they had no respect for the prevailing laws and Constitution! The impunity that the young rapists have witnessed in the past where rape and violence against women was almost becoming a culture was not countered as a serious crime that threatened the very fabric of a community. The fact that so many rape cases go unreported because of very few case convictions would have increased the sense of impunity for the six rapists. It is shocking that not even one of them turned aside from the violence and prevented others. This collusion in enjoying power over this woman has to be understood in its entirety. The male privilege granted by a patriarchal society made them go ahead with their gory plan to carry out the violence that was perpetrated against this woman and her friend. The rapists also seem to have used a metal rod to thrust into her body, to induce sadistic pleasure. The unprecedented turnout of the public to protest against the violence was probably because of the brutality of the violence committed against this woman.

[5] Some of the infamous statements that were made by religious and political heads actually added to the violence committed against this woman. One of them said, “She should have simply surrendered herself without offering any resistance; at least she would have saved her life! She should have recited the name of God even at that time and probably she would have been saved! What will she do now? Even if she survives this rape, her life is as good as dead!” This and other statements clearly show that we have a long way to go for every citizen to gain gender sensitivity. The debates also circled around whether her name should be disclosed or not, and how it is a crime according to the Indian Penal Code to disclose the name of the victim. The narration of violence against women taking the case of the Delhi student cannot begin and end with what happened on December 16th, 2013, because violence against women has a long history both before and after the incident. The loud silence of the majority to the incidents of rape, the poor statistics of justice rendered to the rape victims and the continued acts of violence against women – all these form the backdrop for our analysis of the case study.

[6] What added to the intensity of violence committed against the body of the woman is the way the Indian government chose to move the girl, who was in a coma, for further medical attention to a reputed hospital in Singapore, with some of her family members in tow. That act did not convince the larger civil society of the “concern” shown towards the girl. Rather it pointed to an ugly case of passing the buck so that there were and are divided opinions about the issue. Despite several applications based on the Right to Information Act that were filed by the public to discover whose decision it was to shift the girl to Singapore, it drew a response of “Not me” and the game of pointing fingers to another continued. When the girl passed away in Singapore on December 29th, 2012, the secrecy adopted in getting things done to do the final funeral rites for the woman was unimaginable.[1]

Case Study 2 – The Struggle against the Kudankulam Nuclear Plant in Idinthakarai

[7] I had the great privilege of meeting two women – Sundari and Milred – who are part of one of the greatest movements for peace and justice in history, namely the Kudankulam movement in Tamilnadu, striving against nuclear energy. While one of them has only a 5th grade education, the other has only an 8th grade education. These women are part of the larger movement of women, men and children who yearn as one body to get the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant to close down as they have become aware of the danger of anything nuclear, especially after the Fukushima melt down disaster in Japan following the tsunami in March 2011. The people are derided as those “uneducated masses who are led astray by enthusiastic NGOs and select individuals with vested interests who are against the development of the country! They are viewed as those who collude with and are supported financially by foreign sponsors to plot against the country!” None of these accusations or allegations, not even freezing of the accounts of select NGOs, stopped the people in the movement from crying out for freedom and hope. The language of liberation and justice that these two women friends spoke are incomparable in depth to the theologies articulated by eminent “systematic theologians” of our times.

[8] Where did these women get such courage? Where did they find the source and resource to replenish their hope and strength to combat structures of power, even the greatest of Pharaohic structures? The women described the language of Development and Science that was used by select intellectuals handpicked by the Government who spoke about the pros and cons of Nuclear Energy. The women spoke of how these scientific explanations sounded hollow even to their own ears! For example it was said: “Tsunami will not strike in this region, as this is not in a seismic zone! The nuclear plants that need a constant supply of water are on the shores of the sea and one of the things that happens when a tsunami strikes is a quick receding of water deep into the sea. If there is no water supply to the nuclear reactors for even a few seconds/minutes, it would be disastrous. This being the case, the people of Idinthakarai were/are told that a tsunami will not strike! What hurts the people is that these words are uttered by the government that has 400 houses for the people to replace those that were devastated in the tsunami that struck in December 2004! A second point of contention is that international requirements for preliminary safeguards to set up nuclear power plants require that people should not reside within a radius of five kilometres from a nuclear power plant. Yet the two women were living just 500 meters away from the huge reactors! The women’s question was, “Are we not human? Do we not have a right to live and work for our livelihoods? Is it not a case of pretending as if we do not exist?” What has resulted in the course of the struggle is the experience of physical violence, mental and psychological violence in addition to the fabrication of false charges against thousands of people. Loads of lies, falsehood, fabrication of charges, (even sedition charges on children!) absolute distrust and denial of peoplehood, is the reality.

[9] The two women Sundari and Milred do bear the marks of violence meted out to them while protesting but they do not see these as mere scars of violence meted out against them. They see them as marks of faith, standing for the cause of justice. The theology they utter is not only God is life, but life is God! They see a continuity in affirming the sea, the land, their own lives and that of the environment around them. The two women also spoke about the way people of different faiths congregate together and are able to worship together – bringing their own understanding of God – from the same spot – affirming their faith in God of Justice and God of Life! The church premises, which happens to be the Church of Lourde Matha is the site where people of different faiths congregate at the Samara pandal, a tent that has been erected with their own money by the people. Once again, I am not going to elaborate on all the details of the struggle of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) in Kudankulam because details of the struggle are shared through songs, letters and pleas to the general public to raise their voices of support! I would like to choose these two case stories/experiences to map the familiar patterns of patriarchy that help us to gain better clarity on how structures of power collude and on how the Church also participates in and contributes to such instances of violence by remaining silent! The women shared two more details about the movement that I think are crucial for our understanding of the strength of the movement as the potential of the Church to be and become the One Body of Christ in this world!

[10] Sundari, one of the two women shared, “Till two years ago, before Fukushima happened, I was not much bothered about the Nuclear power plant. I had no time to listen to any kudankulam issue even though there were voices of protest raised even from the 1980s. I was just a simple woman, who was satisfied watching the tele-serials and leading a life with my husband and two children. However, once we saw the chaos that happened after the tsunami in Japan and what happened to Fukushima, we all rose up in one accord to raise our voice against that danger that was there in our own backyard. There was no turning back in our commitment to struggle against nuclear energy. We were aghast when the government, instead of protecting us, started compiling stories after stories against us and for the nuclear power plant, just to silence us. There can be no true relationship without love and trust. When lies and falsehoods becomes a habit and necessary for the administration and politics, we do not know where to go. But we will fight, till our last breath!”

[11] While Sundari was still speaking passionately about the struggle of the people in Idinthakarai, her mobile phone rang. As she switched it on, the interactive voice said: “Call this number for a special hello tune, or a special song!” Milred, who was sitting beside her immediately said: “Ask them to compose a song that will communicate the message loud and clear, to get those #### pots of nuclear reactors out from our place! Ask them for such a song!”

[12] When Milred and Sundari spoke about their experience of struggle, they did not do so to recall the pain of the people. The sheer hope and faith in the movement and in their people shines in their eyes. One of them has more than sixty cases, including sedition, slapped against her. Six months of being in jail has not robbed Sundari’s spirit. They talked about the three conditions that were initially laid out by Udayakumar and Pushparayan, who decided to lead the people in their movement. They were 1) That the women should lead the movement and come out in large numbers, 2) That the people will not fight one another in the name of caste, class or religion, and 3) That they will not opt for violence as a means to achieve their end in the course of the struggle for justice. It is this bond for commonality and oneness that is converted into the living blood, tissues and bones for their common body bound as ONE with their life grounded in trust, love and relationship.

[13] It is difficult not to say more about the spirit of the Kudankulam Movement, but it has given me enough to ponder, to realize the commonality and familiarity of the pattern of patriarchy. It has also shown me that the spirit of resistance can also be mapped in all these struggles. I would like to pick up certain experiences of being crushed under the powers of patriarchy in both these case studies to show that there is a particular rhythm, pattern, language and strategy that patriarchal violence shows when the vulnerable communities are targeted. Let me list some of them below.

Patterns of Patriarchal Violence

1. Creating Babel: The dominant/ domineering powers have a skill in disseminating conflicting messages about Truth, producing produce half-truths and passing on untruths as information. This has to be noted not as an accident but as very much intended as part of the game plan, to confuse responses of the common people. “Babels” are engineered by powers in order that truth and elements of truth get hidden, diluted, and scattered so that it becomes more and more elusive as the whole truth at any given time. Using familiar language of the people in order to communicate the message of patriarchy should also be noted as a familiar strategy. For example, the uses of words such as “Mission”, People Friendly environment, government etc., have become jargons that have been robbed of their true meaning.

2. Name calling, Labelling, and imaginatively creating a “negative other”: When protesters flowed onto the streets, there were powers that were analysing this as a knee jerk reaction of a few, social movements and their power in the 21st century etc. There were a number of comparisons made between the crowd that came to the streets when Anna Hazare called the people of India to fight corruption and after the December 16th incident. Some got distracted by the issue of whether the rape victim could be named? Should we name her Damini, (lightning) Nirbhaya (fearless one), Jagruthi (awareness), Amanat (Treasure) or Delhi Braveheart.[2] These discussions would consume a lot of time and energy but will not help us to go closer to the reality of justice for the abused woman. Distracting people from the main issue and making them spend their time and energy on issues of “lesser priority” can also be named as a strategy of patriarchy. People coming together to demand a change is looked upon with fear, and not as a welcome sign of change and transformation in society.

Labelling a person, should be seen as an essential stage in perpetrating violence against the vulnerable. Very often, the hierarchical powers feel the need to first of all label, set it/“them” aside and then continue with the process of “othering”! In the case of the people of Idinthakarai, they were often branded as movements that were supported by foreign funds. Such an attitude does not acknowledge that the poor, the women or the vulnerable have the potential to speak, to understand and take responsibility for their own future. Labelling is nothing but an attempt to frame people with crime and legitimize the punishment that is meted out to them. There is no place or space for dissent for this would be construed as engaging in unlawful activities. This is where it becomes so crucial for us to open our eyes to see the patterns of violence and powers that came upon Jesus and his ministry, on the way to the cross. They named him, labelled him with abusive titles, as Beelzebub, but these did not dissuade Jesus from his focus on Life for All.

3. Infuse suspicion within the territory that will break the voice of the movement: Any coming together of a community, or a movement for Justice is often looked upon as a potential threat to the powers. Divide and rule then becomes the logic. If/when this happens to the people in movements, where one of their own turns out to be a turn coat, it is very important for the movement not to crumble apart but understand that this is the strategy of the powers to divide and rule. Knowledge about how these powers work could give the movement a chance to recoup their spent energy and bounce back with greater spirit to fight the legion of mammon. In the case of Idinthakarai people struggling against the Kudankulam issue, they have persevered in the struggle for more than 400 days, even when the supply of food and water did not reach the people for days. One protestant bishop and leader of a large Protestant denomination categorically stated that the Church was not in support of the Kudankulam struggle, sending shock waves among those who were in the forefront of this struggle. Thankfully the National Council of Churches in India came out with a statement immediately noting that the bishop had only expressed his personal opinion and that it was not the official position of the church!

4. The Earth – the land, the Sea, the Oceans – and the Bodies of Women are treated as exploits for the Lust-filled and the Powerful. The sheer disdain with which the powers view those who raise their voices against the mining of the earth, the mountains, the land and the sea does not and should not come as a shock to common people because this power is also built into the power of patriarchy. I am sorry that I have to be crude in my articulation of this power exercised by the State. But the fact that it allows the mining of mountains and land, the selling of land to the multinationals or the production of nuclear energy (even if it means killing the womb from which you were born), means that the state can be compared to a “pimp” who exploits the bodies of women for its own selfish purposes. For it is the body of the earth that is given up, paraded, to be raped and gang raped by powerful forces of development! Saying yes to the unmindful mining by corporations, the selling of hundreds of hectares of land in Orissa, and saying yes to the Nuclear power plants right within the home region of the poor is nothing but prostituting the body of one (the Earth) for the sake of profit!. The Silence of the majority that is engineered is also part of the scheme. How does this mapping of the pattern of violence and patriarchy help us to move towards a theology of Gender Justice?

5. Divide and Rule: The most common method followed by powers, from time immemorial, in order to gain strength and power over another is to practice and implement the policy of divide and rule. Seldom do we recognize this as a method followed by the Oppressor and fall victim to the trap set by the powers and allow ourselves to be divided. It is certainly true that knowledge about how these systems, structures and ideologies work is quite different when it comes to our own situations. However, I would like to invoke the example of the Kudankulam community that has continued to struggle against the nuclear power plant. The covenant that they made with one another is that which will see them through their struggle because it is not a temporary covenant. It is bound up with their very life, connected to the sea, the land, the air and the whole environment around them. There is no boundary between these sites and spaces. They all form one body together. They are ready to be broken for the sake of justice, not broken apart as pieces of bread strewn for the birds of the air to devour! They have pledged with their “blood” of Trust that they will not let each other down. It is nothing but the ability to see in the face of another, the face of a brother and a sister, created in the image of God! It is the game plan of patriarchy to conjure up mythical enemies within your own territory, and once again, we learn that to remain as one Body of Christ is certainly the calling of the Church to be the Church today. The ability of the Empire, the Patriarchal state is also to conjure up a mythical “enemy” from outside” whom we are called to fight and prove our patriotic spirit. It is time for the people of God to discern between voices that are truly on the side of justice and those that are on the side of mammon!

6. Patriarchy weaves together a logic, to legitimize the reward- punishment theory! This is a practice so common and so inhuman that those who conform to the values and expectations of patriarchy and obey the laws are rewarded and commended while those who dissent are regarded as parasites of/for the world! The definition of what is good and bad is usually assumed to be the prerogative of the powerful and the dominant (in terms of caste, race, colour, gender, sex, sexuality, ethnicity, etc.). Even if a commonly accepted law and constitution or human rights charter is available as framework for the global community, there is a sense of power and identity constructed and a right to define what is good for whom and who should be whose friend, whose enemy. Common people seldom search for paradigms and patterns in violence or in the strategies followed by the powers in continuing the influence of such powers. This comes once again as a challenge to us to critically review the logic that is presented to reward the obedient and punish the guilty. The utter disdain for law and its practice with conscience especially in cases of violence against women is proven when we read that only one in five cases of rape is reported. It is also seen when most of the cases reported are still pending in courts and chances of justice are often delayed and denied to victims.

7. Profiling individuals and Communities and scaring them with a deluge of information about them: The Trend to collect information about people, scanning them with biometric data, body scans etc. is a way of intimidating people and has to be noted as a method that is well grounded in the ideology of patriarchy. What books do we carry? Is it on Islam? Is it on any movement such as the Naxalites? All these can be reasons for arrest and labelling as potential terrorists! Arun Fereira, a whistle-blower who dared to identify himself as a dissenting voice faced punishment for being a critical voice. In his elaboration of the struggle for justice on the net, he shares how Truth becomes the greatest victim because, it is truth on trial, that which is denied, distorted, misinterpreted and stretched beyond imagination as if power has to be exercised to define who has the truth and what is truth. It is so important for the community to reopen the labels and procedures that are followed in investigation and interrogation to show that several of these medical methods of bringing out the truth are rooted in retaining vested interests and positions of power.

8. Impunity that perpetrators of injustice and violence enjoy is a major pattern of patriarchal violence: Cases in the past are not indicative of the chance for truth and justice to survive. Much of the violence in society against the Dalits, Women, and the Tribals continues only because of the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of crime. A good example of this is the imposition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which has been in force in the North Eastern part of India. Even though voices have been raised from all over India, the act has not been repealed, causing more violence to take place. Shamila Irom is a symbol of resistance who declares that Immunity and impunity cannot and will not be tolerated as the last word in the event of violence against the people.

9. Denial and Trivialization of the issue are part of the process of conscientization: Mahatma Gandhi once said: “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you and then you win”! How very true it sounds when one tries to analyse the different outcomes of the struggle of the common people in Idinthakarai. Mahatma Gandhi was speaking about struggling against colonialism. The immense truth and relevance of his words when we consider the fight between the Government and its own people in Idinthakarai shows the extent to which one can become blind, deaf and dumb to the cries of justice around us.

10. Collusion, Connivance and Conspiracy are commonly adopted methods by patriarchal powers and this should not come as a shock to those in movements, those who are ready to be brave voices of critique in church and society. This is because collusion, connivance and conspiracy are intrinsic to the nature of patriarchy. Unless and until new alliances are formed to keep abreast of with the love for power and profit, one may lose the rhythm of patriarchy in the game of patriarchy!

[14] Conclusion: Gender Justice cannot be spoken of in the abstract. It is a language of faith that must be learned, internalized, spoken and lived out. The Church does not have the option of remaining aloof or of being a mute spectator. It must become the matrix and the site for people to participate in struggles for justice. The two cases of women’s individual and collective experience (I don’t want to call them case studies now, because I do not want to reduce them to an object level) surely helped in mapping the familiar patterns of patriarchal violence. There is nothing like personal violence, violence that happened or happens in your culture or my culture that has to be swept under the rug because we are ashamed of the intensity of violence. Violence anywhere, against any one, based on their social location or any other reason, is violence everywhere. Our struggle for justice and life can become sharper if we can only learn about the ways in which structures of power are alive today, in our specific contexts. The life of women/people in the kudangulam movement has shown us that we can come together, that the Church can come together to be the voice of critique, as prophetic voices and be that Body of Christ in the world that is ready to be broken for the sake of life, for the sake of justice. I do wish, hope and pray that these insights will enhance in us the much needed courage and strength to pursue our calling as children of God, created in God’s image, to work as partners in search of justice and abundant life for all. Amen!


[1] I have not elaborated on all the details of this case because the same is available on the net. Instead, I have chosen to factor in the experience that would help to map the patterns of patriarchal violence in society.

[2] Under Indian Penal Code section 228 A, mentioning the name of the rape victim can be a punishable offence. A criminal case was registered against the editor of a Delhi based tabloid that disclosed the name of the woman.

Evangeline Anderson-Rajkumar

Evangeline Anderson-Rajkumar is Dean of Doctoral Studies and Non-degree programs and a Professor in the Department of Women’s Studies at United Theological College, Bangalore, India.