Take ac­tion against of­fi­cials who make in­sen­si­tive com­ments about women

India Today - - OPINION - Brinda Karat is a CPI(M) leader

The CBI di­rec­tor’s ab­so­lutely bizarre anal­ogy that the de­mand for le­gal­i­sa­tion of gam­bling is like say­ing if you can’t stop rape, en­joy it, shows how misog­y­nist many men in high of­fice are. It is bad enough that his dic­tionary of proverbs in­cludes one as sex­ist and in­sult­ing to rape sur­vivors as this one, if such a proverb ex­ists at all any­where out­side his own mind. What is worse is his half­baked apol­ogy of ifs and buts. If I have hurt any­one’s feel­ings, I am sorry or I was mis­quoted, are words that have been spouted by men such as him ev­ery time they are held ac­count­able for un­ac­cept­able, in­sen­si­tive and sex­ist re­marks.

Some peo­ple ac­cuse women ac­tivists of mak­ing too much of such state­ments. Af­ter all, say such crit­ics, th­ese are just words which are bet­ter ig­nored. Fol­low­ing the CBI di­rec­tor’s so-called clar­i­fi­ca­tion there were those who said, af­ter all he has “apol­o­gised”, why press the is­sue.

In this par­tic­u­lar case, it goes be­yond the use of un­ac­cept­able lan­guage by an in­di­vid­ual. Ran­jit Sinha heads an agency which, at the very mo­ment he was mak­ing his com­ments, was in­ves­ti­gat­ing hun­dreds of cases of sex­ual as­sault and vi­o­lence against women which were re­ferred to it pre­cisely be­cause the po­lice in the var­i­ous states where the crime may have oc­curred failed to de­liver jus­tice. Th­ese in­clude cases where there may have been con­nivance be­tween the law en­force­ment agen­cies and the crim­i­nals. If the head of such an agency speaks a lan­guage and dis­plays an ap­proach that triv­i­alises the crime of rape, there is an ex­tremely neg­a­tive mes­sage sent to the rest of the force.

Triv­i­al­i­sa­tion of rape crimes is one of the rea­sons why con­vic­tion rates in In­dia are so poor. Pri­or­ity for in­ves­ti­ga­tion and fol­low-up to the case have no pri­or­ity what­so­ever even though rape is the fastest grow­ing crime in In­dia. There are over one lakh cases of rape and other cases of sex­ual vi­o­lence against women pend­ing in var­i­ous courts. But the ur­gency to re­form the le­gal sys­tem to en­sure quick jus­tice through the courts is ab­sent even af­ter the prom­ises made by the Gov­ern­ment and other agen­cies fol­low­ing the hor­rific Delhi gang-rape case last De­cem­ber. The CBI di­rec­tor’s state­ment strength­ens the cal­lous at­ti­tude among the forces charged with bring­ing jus­tice to vic­tims.

Such state­ments from peo­ple in po­si­tions of power also tend to add to the pre­vail­ing en­vi­ron­ment that men will be men and boys, boys, and they should be given a cer­tain lee­way in their use of lan­guage or ges­ture or gaze to­wards women and girls and too much should not be made of it. For a woman, it is an en­croach­ment on her demo­cratic space. Re­spect for the bod­ily in­tegrity of a woman and her pres­ence, wher­ever she may be, at work, on the street, on a bus or at home, is an in­di­ca­tion of the level of demo­cratic prac­tice in any so­ci­ety. By this bench­mark, In­dia’s model of democ­racy, as In­dia’s women will tes­tify, with its in-your-face son pref­er­ence and ag­gres­sive cul­ture, has a great deal of re­form­ing to do.

With the in­creas­ing num­ber of women-re­lated ob­jec­tion­able state­ments com­ing from elected lead­ers, top of­fi­cials or men in po­si­tions of power who in­sult and de­grade women, it is time that they are made to pay and held legally ac­count­able. For the for­mer, there should be a code of con­duct recog­nised by Par­lia­ment and state As­sem­blies which would pub­licly name and shame such elected mem­bers through the adop­tion of a dis­ap­proval res­o­lu­tion within the House, lead­ing to sus­pen­sion for a par­tic­u­lar pe­riod if it is re­peated.

Ser­vice rules for of­fi­cials need to be changed to pun­ish them for such com­ments on the ground of pro­fes­sional mis­con­duct. It is only when they feel that their ca­reers are jeop­ar­dised that such in­di­vid­u­als will think twice be­fore mak­ing such com­ments.

The de­mand to hold the CBI di­rec­tor ac­count­able has to be made by the courts. It cer­tainly can­not be made by the Gov­ern­ment which is tak­ing a com­pletely ad­ver­sar­ial po­si­tion to the CBI be­cause of its in­ves­ti­ga­tions into cor­rup­tion cases. Con­se­quent to the Supreme Court stay on the judg­ment of the Gauhati High Court ques­tion­ing the le­gal­ity of the very ex­is­tence of the CBI, mat­ters con­cern­ing the CBI are be­fore the Supreme Court. It would be there­fore most ap­pro­pri­ate if it is the courts which in­ter­vene on this is­sue. The All In­dia Demo­cratic Women’s As­so­ci­a­tion has made such an ap­peal to the court ask­ing for its in­ter­ven­tion. GUEST COL­UMN





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