Can crime be communal or even political? In ‘India that is Bharat’ (as written in the Constitution of India), can a woman’s dignity be seen from the prism of communal or political thought? Does India, that is Bharat, promise to provide dignity, equality and legal protection to all her women citizens, or will it be selective in this commitment? Can gender rights be selective… based on religion, region, community or ideology? Have we allowed rapes and assaults to become issues of political convenience?
The horrific Manipur video has presented our collective conscience with a slew of fundamental questions. And the politicisation of a woman’s honour has exposed the non-serious attitude our political and pseudo-liberal class have towards gender issues.
The nation, especially our politicians, should have cut across party lines to not just condemn the sexual assault in Manipur but also the numerous rape cases in Rajasthan, the secret bathroom recordings of many girl students in a Karnataka college, the recent disrobing of tribal women in West Bengal, the horrible murder of a 16-year-old girl in Delhi’s Shahbad Dairy and so on… They should have been concerned that this list seems to be unending these days… and they should have put their heads together, beyond party/ideology affiliations, to work out a system that can ensure safety to India’s daughters.
“Why will I apologise, what was my fault? I did not say anything wrong. Atrocities against women are increasing in Rajasthan. I will answer in the House. We were not allowed to speak but now I am free. He asked me to apologise but I chose to fight ” –Rajendra Singh Gudha, Former Rajasthan Minister , who was sacked by CM Ashok Gehlot for speaking against rise in women-related crimes in Rajasthan
Just a few days after the Manipur video circulated on social media, details of a similar dreadful incident came to light on July 26. The victim, a native of Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, was gang-raped by Islamists after one of them lured her into a fake relationship and intoxicated her by deceit. The rapists also recorded her nude clips and shared them with her brother.
An FIR was registered by the victim’s mother at the Kithour police station. Based on the complaint the police arrested the accused, identified as Shakir, Alam, Pappu, Shoaib, Haider, and others. In the video, the woman can be heard begging them to let her put on her clothes.
The video of the said incident also went viral on social media, just like the Manipur video. But no political or ‘liberal’ voice was heard condemning the incident. The regular lamenters seemed to have gone to sleep. No ‘leader’ went to meet the victim or her family… complete silence! WHY? Can we, as a society, afford to be so selective on such a serious social issue? Every family, after all, has mothers, daughters and wives – this issue concerns them directly.
In a democracy, law and justice has a direct connection with the public view. When the Nirbhaya case jolted the public to pour out on to the streets, demand action in one voice… action happened, and happened fast. Fast track courts were set up, and four culprits were hanged to death within seven years.
Public voice is the most powerful. Unfortunately, representatives of the public seem to be establishing a trend of taking very selective stands. Beware. If selectivism is allowed to establish itself as the norm, the Frankenstein monster could turn towards any of us anytime.
The Constitution of India promises equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws. It means that the laws should apply in the same manner to all, regardless of a person’s status.
THE MANIPUR VIOLENCE CASE
The violence in Manipur started because the Meitei community asked for Scheduled Tribe status and Kuki tribals did not like it. On May 3, Kukis attacked Meitei villages and communities, burned houses, killed innocent people, forcing Meiteis to flee their homes to take shelter elsewhere. Violence obviously escalated when the Meitei community hit back.
In such a situation of violence and counter violence, women are the softest targets, on both sides. Sources tell us that initially eight Meitei women were sexually assaulted by miscreants allegedly from the Kuki community, though there seems to be no recorded evidence of this. An 80-year-old Meitei woman was locked inside her house and set on fire. Her family could only recover her skull later. The angered Meiteis retaliated.
None of it can be condoned. Neither an attack nor a retaliatory attack on a woman can be tolerated. Every man who tries to score points through physical assault on a woman should be severely punished, setting strong deterrent for future.
What is alarming is the selective outrage in the country over the issue. While some political parties have made it a BJP versus Opposition issue, the so-called liberal brigade are happy playing their usual partisan games of siding with one community and painting the other black.
The people who take the responsibility of setting narratives should have condemned each and every transgression in unequivocal terms. The political class and intellectual activists should have demanded that every such incident should be identified and every perpetrator arrested and punished, regardless of religion and community.
When DCW chairperson Swati Maliwal went to visit the Kuki girls who were the victims in the video, she should also have made an effort to find out if any Meitei girls had also suffered similar atrocities during the initial attacks by Kuki men? She should have visited the women in relief camps of both communities. Women are always the worst victims of violence, so how can a woman official take sides?
The Parliament of India, which should have given the nation a solution to the problem, has unfortunately turned into a theatre of disruptions and adjournments on this issue. The Opposition first demanded a discussion on Manipur. But when the government agreed to discuss, they changed tack and got stuck on the demand that only the Prime Minister should make a statement. When law and order comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs, why is the Opposition en block avoiding a discussion with the Home Minister? Home Minister Amit Shah has been appealing to every opposition party to come on the floor for a discussion, but no – the Opposition is happier changing the goal post every minute, rather than engaging in a productive discussion.
The Rajasthan irony – Minister sacked for speaking against own govt
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot was among the first ones to Tweet against the BJP-ruled state governments and PM Modi after the video was released. He lamented that Rajasthan’s pride was ‘hurt’ when the PM referred to women safety problems in the state. Yet he took no time to sack his own minister who spoke about the dismal record of Rajasthan government in terms of women safety.
On July 21, during a House debate on the Rajasthan Minimum Guaranteed Income Bill, as Congress MLAs stormed the well over the Manipur issue and raised placards, Minister of State Rajendra Gudha Gudha got up and said: “In Rajasthan, it is the truth that we have failed when it comes to women safety. The manner in which crimes against women have increased in Rajasthan, we should introspect rather than (talk on) Manipur.” The same evening, Gehlot summarily expelled Gudha for questioning his own government. Gudha, who has threatened to expose more gory details, went before the media on July 24 to say: “Around 50 people attacked me, punched me, kicked me and Congress leaders dragged me out of the Assembly. The Chairman of the Rajasthan Assembly did not even allow me to speak. There were allegations against me that I am with BJP. I want to know, what is my fault?”
Data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2019 had put Rajasthan at the top when it comes to rape or attempt to rape cases. Between 2018 and 2019, there was a drastic increase of 49.11 per cent in cases of crimes against women in Rajasthan. The NCRB report showed that Rajasthan ranked second after Uttar Pradesh in overall crimes against women in 2021 and reported the highest number of rape cases in the country at 6,337. This marked an annual increase of 19.34 per cent as 5,310 cases were reported in 2020.
Horrors of violence against women in West Bengal
West Bengal, where Ma Durga is celebrated with great faith and fervor, has become one of the most unsafe places for women – despite the fact that the state has a woman chief minister. During the recent panchayat elections, many cases of sexual assaults on women were reported from across the state – even women candidates were openly assaulted. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her state machinery maintained a strategic silence – because all the assaults were against workers and candidates who dared to stand against Trinamool Congress (TMC) candidates. Workers of the BJP, Left and others were not spared, and women suffered the worst.
“Bihar has witnessed 4,848 incidents of serious crime in the last seven months. The Bihar government led by Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav came to power in August 2022, since then the state has witnessed 2,070 murders, 345 cases of rape, 144 abductions and more than 700 cases of attempted murder. but the Nitish-Tejashwi led government has turned a deaf ear ”- Nityanand Rai, Minister of State for Home Affairs on April 2023
On July 20, a female candidate filed a police complaint against TMC workers alleging that they tore off her clothes, stripped her naked and paraded her in the entire village on July 8, the day of polling. “They molested me in front of everyone and even touched me inappropriately,” she claimed. Similar horrors were reported during and after earlier elections too. In many cases, the perpetrators were Muslim men who assaulted Hindu women and hurled religious abuses on them. In one case, in Barotola in Khejuri Vidhan Sabha, a Muslim man raped a woman his mother’s age. The lady managed to save her daughter-in-law from the goons for two days. “When they could not find her, they forced themselves on me. Usman then raped me. I kept pleading with him, saying I am like your mother. Don’t do this to me. All my pleading fell on deaf ears. That day I, a Hindu woman, lost my honour to a Muslim goon,” she told Organiser. The men then tried to poison her, but she survived. Her crime – she was a BJP supporter.
The horror has not stopped even after elections. Even as the Manipur video was being hotly discussed, it came to light on July 22 that two tribal women were stripped naked, tortured and beaten mercilessly, while police allegedly remained a mute spectator in Pakua Hat area of Bamangola police station, Malda. The incident took place on July 19. The women belonged to a socially marginalised community. No outrage. No one questioned the Mamata administration.
The BJP accuses CM Mamata Banerjee of doing nothing. Certainly, no action can be seen on the ground to stop women from falling prey to the lawlessness in the state.
The worst part is the convenient silence of other political parties. Only CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat has been constantly pulling up the Mamata government in Bengal for incidents of violence in the state, especially against women. When the opposition parties wanted another go at ‘unity’ at a meeting in Bengaluru on July 18, Mamata was reluctant to attend. So when Congress leader Sonia Gandhi called up Mamata, urging her to attend, it is said Mamata put certain conditions for agreeing. The conditions were met, and Mamata attended. What, one wonders, were the conditions? The central Congress leadership has never said a word condemning the innumerable incidents of violence against women in the state.
This lopsided idea of ‘unity’ for I.N.D.I.A. is incomprehensible. These are but a few instances of convenient selectivism exercised by political parties and pseudo liberals on an issue that has serious ramifications on the Indian society as a whole, now and in future.
Unfortunately, the more such crimes go unpunished, the more such incidents will happen. Unless the society truly unites to make this country a safe place for women, the future of generations to come can only be bleak.