Hall of Shame

Southasia - - FRONT PAGE - By Semu Bhatt

In 1995, in the north­ern In­dian state of Ut­tar Pradesh, a mob con­sist­ing of mem­bers of the Sa­ma­jwadi Party at­tacked a guest house where the chief of the Bahu­jan Sa­ma­jwadi Party, Mayawati, was stay­ing. She locked her­self in a room fear­ing rape. The chief of the SP Mu­layam Singh Ya­dav in­fa­mously re­torted, "Is she so beau­ti­ful that any­one should want to rape her?" Two decades later, this April, Mu­layam showed that he is not a changed man when he triv­i­al­ized rape by say­ing, "Boys will be boys. Mis­takes hap­pen."

As if to prove right the say­ing ‘like fa­ther, like son', Mu­layam's son Akhilesh Ya­dav, the cur­rent Chief Min­is­ter of the north­ern state of UP, showed a ca­sual ap­proach to the hor­rific gang rape of two mi­nor girls. The girls, aged 12 and 14, were raped and hanged from a tree on May 29 in the Ba­dayun district of UP. The young CM al­leged that the families of the vic­tims were in­flu­enced by a ri­val po­lit­i­cal party. When a fe­male jour­nal­ist in­quired about the rise in sex­ual crimes in the state, Akhilesh snapped at her, "You haven't been harmed, have you?" His un­cle, Shiv­pal Singh Ya­dav, who is also a min­is­ter in the UP gov­ern­ment, blamed the me­dia for blow­ing the story out of pro­por­tion.

In re­sponse to the com­ments made by SP lead­ers on the Ba­dayun rape case, a Congress party leader Ni­tish Rane tweeted, "All po­ten­tial rapists, please con­tact Sa­ma­jwadi Party fe­male mem­bers and fam­ily mem­bers as it’s

The solutions of­fered to con­trol sex crimes are equally bizarre. For in­stance, the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Gur­gaon, a town close to New Delhi, asked women not to ven­ture out of home af­ter 8pm to en­sure their safety.

ok to rape them. En­joy." He deleted the tweet later, but jus­ti­fied it by tweet­ing that SP lead­ers should be spo­ken to in a lan­guage they un­der­stand.

The Ba­dayun rape case and the con­tro­ver­sial com­ments made by a string of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, in­clud­ing those of the Bharatiya Janata Party, forced Naren­dra Modi to urge the law­mak­ers to stop psy­cho­an­a­lyz­ing the rea­sons be­hind sex crimes. In his first ad­dress to the Par­lia­ment af­ter be­com­ing the prime min­is­ter of In­dia, Modi said, "We are play­ing with the dig­nity of women. Re­spect for women, their se­cu­rity should be the pri­or­ity for all 1.2 bil­lion peo­ple."

Sex­ual vi­o­lence has been a hotly de­bated topic in In­dia since the bru­tal gang rape and mur­der of a young phys­io­ther­apy stu­dent in New Delhi in De­cem­ber 2012. The in­ci­dent sparked na­tion­wide out­rage and prompted the gov­ern­ment to im­pose tougher laws against sex crimes. The pro­tes­tors braved lathi charge, wa­ter can­nons and tear gas shells in Delhi win­ter to de­mand women's safety. The suc­cess of mass protests in the Delhi gang-rape case in­spired demon­stra­tors in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pak­istan and Bangladesh to join the move­ment against sex­ual vi­o­lence and call for le­gal re­forms and an over­haul of at­ti­tudes to­wards women in th­ese coun­tries.

Un­for­tu­nately, even harsher pun­ish­ments and re­newed protests from time to time have failed to cause a de­cline in sex crimes or to de­velop a po­lit­i­cal cul­ture of in­tol­er­ance to sex­ual vi­o­lence. In a na­tion where a rape hap­pens ev­ery hour, and where al­most 90 per­cent of the rapes go un­re­ported, po­lit­i­cal in­dif­fer­ence to vi­o­lence against women is en­demic. Misog­yny, sex­ism, gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion and ap­a­thy along with the foot in the mouth syn­drome per­me­ate the po­lit­i­cal class of In­dia.

Those en­trusted with law­mak­ing and safety of women hold a deroga­tory at­ti­tude to­wards women, make thought­less ref­er­ences about rapes, stig­ma­tize rape sur­vivors, re­in­force stereo­types and treat sex­ual vi­o­lence against women in a flimsy man­ner. On the one hand, they ig­nore vil­lage coun­cils or­der­ing re­tribu­tive rapes and force­ful mar­riages to rapists; on the other hand, they use rape sur­vivors as po­lit­i­cal tools for mud­sling­ing and set­tling po­lit­i­cal scores.

Sick­en­ing re­marks like 'un­der­stand­able crimes', 'un­in­ten­tional', 'rapes do not hap­pen on pur­pose', etc. emerge and go unchecked. Many times, sym­pa­thy too comes in an in­ap­pro­pri­ately worded fash­ion, like BJP's Sushma Swaraj's com­par­i­son of the Delhi gang rape vic­tim with a liv­ing corpse.

Politi­cians give out­ra­geous ex­pla­na­tions for the rise in sex­ual vi­o­lence in the coun­try. Woman's be­hav­ior, her clothes, her life­style, her stars, tele­vi­sion pro­grams, mo­bile phones, lin­gerie-clad man­nequins and even chowmein and meat get blamed for the rise in the ten­dency in men to launch sex­ual as­saults. Many ques­tion the pro­pri­ety of women wear­ing short skirts and go­ing out of the home late at night. Botsa Satya­narayana, a Congress party leader, said in 2012, "Just be­cause In­dia achieved free­dom at mid­night does not mean that women can ven­ture out af­ter dark." Ashoke Ghosh of the Tri­namool Congress crit­i­cized a Kolkata rape sur­vivor, claim­ing that no woman from an or­di­nary fam­ily is out in the streets af­ter two in the morn­ing. BJP leader Banwari Lal Sing­hal be­lieves that wear­ing skirts in schools leads to sex­ual ha­rass­ment. It hardly oc­curs to them that none of th­ese ex­cuses ex­plain the rape of chil­dren as young as two years old.

The solutions of­fered to con­trol sex crimes are equally bizarre. Om Prakash Chautala, the for­mer CM of Haryana, said that mar­ry­ing off girls at an early age will pre­vent rape. The ad­min­is­tra­tion of Gur­gaon, a town close to New Delhi, asked women not to ven­ture out of home af­ter 8pm to en­sure their safety. BSP leader Ra­j­pal Saini said, "There is no need to give phones to women and chil­dren. It dis­tracts them. Why do women need phones?" The An­ju­man Mus­lim Pan­chayat in a Ra­jasthan town pro­nounced that girls should not be al­lowed to use mo­bile phones in or­der to pre­vent them from get­ting in­volved with guys.

The ap­palling mindset of some male politi­cians is also ev­i­dent from the way they have tar­geted women in pol­i­tics. In 2012, Congress leader Sanjay Niru­pam called Sm­riti Irani, the then na­tional sec­re­tary of the BJP and cur­rently the hu­man re­sources devel­op­ment min­is­ter in the Modi gov­ern­ment, a

"thumke waali" (a deroga­tory term for a dancer). When Mayawati got her­self a short hair­cut, Mu­layam crassly called her "par kati au­rat" (woman with no wings). Congress Party's Digvi­jay Singh re­ferred to a fe­male MP of his own party as "tunch maal" (pure goods). In De­cem­ber 2012, Anisur Rah­man, a Com­mu­nist Party of In­dia (Marx­ist) MLA from West Ben­gal, mocked the TMC gov­ern­ment's rape-com­pen­sa­tion pol­icy by ask­ing how much CM Ma­mata Ban­er­jee would charge for get­ting raped. Re­cently, TMC's Tapas Pal threat­ened the women of a ri­val po­lit­i­cal party with rape.

Women politi­cians are no bet­ter. Ma­mata Ban­er­jee ini­tially dis­missed a 2012 gang rape in her state as a con­cocted in­ci­dent to tar­nish her gov­ern­ment’s im­age. Her party's MP, Kakoli Dasti­dar, termed the same in­ci­dent as a deal gone wrong between the woman and her client. Asha Mirge, a mem­ber of the Na­tion­al­ist Congress Party and the Ma­ha­rash­tra State Women's Com­mis­sion, said, "Rapes take place also be­cause of a woman's clothes, her be­hav­ior and her be­ing at

in­ap­pro­pri­ate places."

Rape apol­o­gists are not limited to the po­lit­i­cal class only and can be found even among those who claim to cham­pion the cause of women. This was ev­i­dent in the high pro­file case of Tarun Te­j­pal, a highly in­flu­en­tial and pow­er­ful ed­i­tor, who was ac­cused of rape by his young col­league last year. The well-wish­ers of Te­j­pal or­ches­trated a me­dia campaign that re­volved around char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion of the young jour­nal­ist.

The scru­tiny of sex­ual vi­o­lence in In­dia has grown since the Delhi gang rape and the peo­ple are in­creas­ingly get­ting im­pa­tient with the state’s lax at­ti­tude to­wards women's safety. Yet, there is a long way to go be­fore In­dia wit­nesses a dras­tic fall in sex crimes, as the men­ace needs to be ad­dressed on mul­ti­ple lev­els. Change in the po­lit­i­cal at­ti­tude, though a must, can­not be achieved with­out ad­dress­ing the un­der­ly­ing cul­tural and so­cial is­sues plagu­ing the na­tion, as politi­cians are also a part of the same so­ci­ety. How­ever, the huge pop­u­lar out­cry, es­pe­cially over the so­cial me­dia, en­sures that the po­lit­i­cal par­ties dis­tance from the views of their lead­ers and are forced to re­tract and apol­o­gize for their in­sen­si­tive com­ments. In a coun­try like In­dia, this is no mean achieve­ment.

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