Hall of Shame
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
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.