Desperate Victims Threaten Suicide, But For Azam Khan Rape is Politics!
NEW DELHI: The gangrape of a woman and daughter in Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr district has taken an unnecessary political turn, as UP minister and Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan made a bizarre statement suggesting that the rapes were the doing of an “opposition conspiracy.”
Seeking to absolve his government of all responsibility, Khan said, “We need to investigate whether this is a conspiracy by opponents who want to defame the government.”
The minister added, “For votes, people can stoop to any level. There can be a Muzaffarnagar, a Shamli and Kairana...why not this? For power, politicians can murder people, trigger riots, kill innocent people, so the truth has to be found out.”
Meanwhile, the family of the victims threatened suicide lest the attackers be brought to book within a period of three months. "We were looted, beaten up and we all know what they did to my daughter... These men need to be punished within three months, else I, my wife and daughter will commit suicide," the family said.
The gang rape has shaken the poll-bound state. On Friday, five men stopped a car travelling on the Ghaziabad-Aligarh highway, proceeding then to rob the family, tie up the men, and drag out a 35 year old woman and her 14 year old daughter. The men raped the woman and the teenage girl for over two hours, till police rescued them at about 5 30 AM.
The events that have followed depict the worst of Indian politics and law and order, as a blame game has ensued with several parties pointing fingers at each other. BSP supremo Mayawati lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, saying, “If you can't manage UP, then resign as chief minister on moral grounds.”
Sheila Dikshit -- the chief ministerial candidate of the Congress for next year’s election in UP -- also slammed the SP government and chief. "Keep aside what the UP chief minister Akhilesh has done, this incident is very sad, shameful and heinous because if the police cannot help in such cases it signals that the law and order situation in UP is in bad shape and the common people do not feel safe in the state," Dikshit said.
The National Commission of Women (NCW) chairperson took on the police over their handling of the incident, saying that the crucial (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) POCSO Act was missing from the FIR, which was a clear violation of the law. “From NCW, we are clear that this is police apathy and callousness. They are trying to cover up the matter," the NCW chief said, adding, “There is a huge difference between what they [the police] are saying in front of the media and what they are actually doing.” "May be due to elections next year, he (investigating officer Bhanwar Pal) is trying to cover up the issue.”
In this ensuing mess, Azam Khan’s statement stands out as it is reflective of the culture of impunity accorded to violent crimes, where blame is sought to be deflected and motives confounded.
In the immediate context of UP, the statement is located in the context of a poll-bound state where politics has come to trump humanity and human rights.
In the larger context, Khan’s statement is indicative of the position of gender rights and equality in India, where statements such as the one Khan made are tragically commonplace.
Take the case of the comments following the brutal gang rape and murder of two Dalit girls in Badaun UP. The BJP’s Babulal Gaur stoked controversy at the time 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 last year, 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".
And UP politicians are not alone when it comes to gender insensitive statements.
In neighbouring Haryana, for instance, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar made headlines when he blamed women in India for the country’s rising incidents of rape. “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.”
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, then 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. Then 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 are a reflection of a dominant discourse that pins the blame for violence on the woman - for her dress, conduct, interests and company. In turn, it perpetuates a culture of impunity that emboldens criminals and discourages victims from speaking up.
Azam Khan’s statement, albeit entirely condemnable, is located within this larger context.