The Silence and the Storm: Narratives of Violence Against Women in India is an addition to the existing corpus of literature on gender politics. Working as a journalist for four decades, the author Kalpana Sharma has drawn the trajectory of women’s struggles in India through multiple monocles in the book. She does not stick to one particular theme, as do the masterpieces of Bina Agarwal, Uma Chakravarti, Susan E Chaplin, Karin Kapadia and Ritu Menon; rather her work is very broad and comprehensive using valuable theoretical references from works of the above-mentioned scholars. The author’s inspiration comes for the book from a regular column ‘The Other Half’ which she wrote for The Indian Express concerning women’s issues and perspectives. The book can be considered a primer for major issues, cases, and developments concerning the lives of women in India. The author also emphasizes the need to examine the larger reality of the daily demons that women encounter.
Sharma’s book runs into eight chapters highlighting the meta-democratic waves in the country from 1985 to 2018, with other influencing factors like the rise of telephone, cable TV, mobile phones and the Internet. The significant metamorphoses in the process have been the transformation in India’s political and economic landscape where some women have devised strategies to work with the state while others work through dissent focusing on the personal and the particular.
In the first chapter, the author talks about movements like the Narmada Bachao Andolan, Bhopal gas tragedy, Shah Bano Case, repeated cases of dowry and Sati deaths most prominently during the 1980s. She also hints at the contradiction India faced during the decade of the 1990s, at the time of economic liberalization which gave youth myriad choices of employment with a ‘false’ sense of modernity paralleling with ‘bien-pensant’ and divisive ‘Rath Yatra’ politics of LK Advani and others. This Hindutva politics further deepened the cleavages in society and led to the emergence of groups like Sri Ram Sena and Anti Romeo Squad (anti-modernity) along with the two major ‘pogroms’* of Mumbai, 1993 and Gujarat 2002. This period also marked the transition phase of the print media to the rise in the ‘click-bait’ sensational digital platforms. The journey from the government-controlled ‘intoned’ Doordarshan to the privately owned ‘shouting’ electronic media houses have had both positive and negative impacts on the lives of the women through their coverage. The author describes in great detail how the media is also sometimes biased in marketing selective stories while ruling out others.
The next chapter undertakes the debate on capital punishment in cases of particularly brutal rapes, a questionable addition according to the author, in the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013 by the government, which was indeed considered a ‘regressive’ step in the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee (2013). The author argues that state politics and the party in power determine the handling of women’s issues, and also the nature of concerned laws. She exemplifies it by the rape of a Dalit girl in Khairlanji, Maharashtra where the rape case was tried simply as a murder case rather than the caste-related sexual atrocity. The same debate is dealt with in depth also in books like Public Secrets of Law, 2014 by Pratixa Baxi and Gendering Caste: Revised edition, 2018 by Uma Chakravarti.