Monday, May 22, 2017
NEW DELHI: Haryana has a new Chief Minister, the BJP’s Manohar Lal Khattar. Ten days ago, before it became evident that the BJP had swept the October 15 Haryana polls, during the election campaign Khattar had made a comment blaming women for India’s rising number of rapes.
“If a girl is dressed decently, a boy will not look at her in the wrong way," Khattar had said. Responding to a question on whether young people should have freedom of choice, the BJP politician said, “If you want freedom, why don't they just roam around naked? Freedom has to be limited. These short clothes are western influences. Our country's tradition asks girls to dress decently.”
Further, in reference to a question about Khap Panchayats -- which have faced criticism for harsh rulings -- Khattar said, “Khaps maintain the tradition of a girl and boy being brother and sister. They are just making sure that a girl and boy do not see each other in the wrong way. These rulings help prevent rapes too."
Khattar went on to dismiss premarital sex, calling it 'ulti seedhi cheezein'. "Pre-marital sex is a blot. Sex after marriage is acceptable. Pre-marital sex happens as the minds of the girls and boys are not on the right track.”
Khattar’s comments may sound regressive, but India’s political elite doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to gender sensitivity.
A few months ago, when the country was reeling from the news of the two dalit girls who were gangraped and murdered in Badaun, Madhya Pradesh Home Minister, the BJP’s Babulal Gaur stoked a controversy when he said, “It [rape] is a social crime which depends on the man and the woman. It is sometimes right and sometimes wrong.”
The statement coincided with remarks made by UP Public Works Department (PWD) minister Shivpal Singh Yadav who said, “Uttar Pradesh is a big state but when compared, the incidents of crime and rape in other states is more, than here, but the incidents taking place here are blown up by the media.”
Joining the fray, UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav made the headlines when he responded to a reporter who asked for a comment on the Badaun case with a shocking, “you are safe, why do you worry?”
To make matters worse, Akhilesh’s father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, while addressing a rally in Moradabad on April 10, said " Rape accused should not be hanged. Boys make mistakes." " Citing the example of Shakti Mills gang rape, where three rapists were arrested, he said " …efforts will be made to change such a law, so that those misusing it are punished. Those filing false reports will also be taken to task."
On April 11, a day after the remarks made by Mulayam Singh Yadav, SP State president Abu Azmi said, " If a woman is caught ( in a rape case ), then both she and the boy should be punished. In India, there is death penalty for rape, but when there's consensual sex outside marriage, there's no death penalty against women".
Azmi’s statements created an uproar on twitter and other social networking sites. Later, Azmi offered a foot-in-mouth clarification saying that his comments were not in reference to the Shakti Mills case. "I never said that the photojournalist who was raped at the Shakti Mills should be hanged too. Here, she was not the culprit, but in many cases where sex happens by consent and then the girl complains of rape, both men and women should be punished".
These recent statements have led to a debate on the culture of impunity, where political dismissal of crimes against women encourages perpetrators and discourages victims from speaking out.
The UP and Haryana politicians, are of course, not alone in their gender insensitivity. In January 2009, after the Mangalore pub attack on women, then Chief Minister of Karnataka, B.S. Yeddyurappa created a stir when instead of unequivocally condemning the attack, he said that he wanted to "end the culture of boys and girls roaming around in malls holding hands".
Ashok Gehlot then said that the pub and mall culture in India should be banned. He said "Because of liquor culture, over 6000 rape cases were reported in Rajasthan when the BJP was in power. We don't want this to happen."
On July 28 2012, the Hindu Jagarane Vedike, a right-wing group, on a home stay in Mangalore where a birthday party was taking place, perpetuated a violent attack. 12 boys and 5 girls were stripped, beaten and molested. The group’s activists claimed that the youngsters were drinking alcohol and were involved in "indecent activities".
Later, the State Women's Commission Chairperson Pramila Nesargi said " If you see the larger picture, those who beat up the girls were not entirely at fault. If you see a woman trying to jump into the well, you will not have time to think whether she was clad or not. This was a similar case. Won't you beat a child if she does a mistake ? Necessity knows no law." She also demanded that the alcohol consumption at parties be banned.
Nesargi’s comments received flak additionally for her role as the Women’s Commission Chairperson, but others in similar positions have echoed Nesargi’s position. The NCW ( National Commission for Women ) Chairperson Mamta Sharma on July 17, 2012, pinning the blame for crimes against women on women’s dress and mannerisms, said " Be comfortable, but at the same time be careful about how you dress… Aping the West blindly is eroding our culture and causing such crimes to happen ".
Another prominent member of a body meant to serve women, NCP leader and Maharashtra Women’s Commission member Asha Mirge in reference to the December New Delhi gang rape, questioned why the girl was out with a friend late at night. Mirge went on to warn women to remain careful about the way they dress, lest they invite such incidents.
Women’s dress and conduct has been a unifying theme in a large number of statements regarding violence and discrimination against women. On July 21, 2012, The then Madhya Pradesh Industries minister Kailash Vijavargiya said "Women's fashion, lifestyle and conduct should be in accordance with Indian culture… women should not wear clothes that provoke others ( to misbehave with them )." Referring to the Guwahati molestation case he also said " Women should dress in such a way that they invoke respect in others. However, unfortunately women are dressing provocatively which is leading to deviation in society."
It’s not just the politicians who reflect this discriminatory mind-set. A sting operation carried out by Tehelka was done on Delhi NCR police officials over two weeks asking about their opinions on rape victims. One police official by the name of Dharamveer Singh who is the SHO of Indrapuram said " It's very rare that a girl is forcefully picked up by 10 boys. A girl who gets into a car with boys is never innocent. If she does, she definitely has a relationship with at least one of them". Sunil Kumar, Inspector of the Delhi Police said " If a girl living in Delhi does not want this trauma, she will not encourage it. No rape in Delhi can happen without the girl's provocation.
On July 10, 2011, the former Delhi Police Commissioner, B.K. Gupta said " You cannot drive alone at 2am on Delhi's roads and then claim that the Capital is unsafe. Then you need to take someone along." He believed that women who travel with a companion would be safe, proved wrong by the December 2012 Delhi rape in addition to numerous other less publicised but equally condemnable incidents. Further, India’s judiciary has also demonstrated the same patriarchal disposition. On January 10, 2006, a labourer by the name of Ramkishan Harijan sodomised a 10 month old child. On January 1, 2008, The Bombay High Court reduced his sentence of 10 years to 7 years on the ground that he " lost control over himself as he was living away from his family. "
These comments, a reflection of a dominant discourse that pins the blame for violence on the woman - for her dress, conduct, interests and company, has led to criticism for perpetuating a culture of impunity that emboldens criminals and discourages victims from speaking up.