The slogan of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is ‘Beti bacaho, beti padhao’—Save daughters, educate daughters’. Let us assume that even after scoring a brute majority in Parliament, the BJP is being sincere about this slogan about women. After all, women represent almost half the population and comprise a sizable vote bank.
For a moment, let us examine what happened to the woman who alleged rape against a BJP legislator, Kuldeep Singh Sengar in Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh in 2018. The police neglected to name the accused in the FIR. She complained about this and finally wrote to the Chief Judicial Magistrate. Then, her father was brutally beaten up. Desperate, the victim wrote as many as 35 complaints stating that she and her family were living in fear. In fact, her family was compelled to move out of their home in Makhi village in Unnao. Still, none of her complaints got a response. The Unnao Superintendent of Police MP Verma stated that the complaints were “unfounded”.
Then a truck has an “accident” with the car she is travelling in and the rape victim and her lawyer are critically injured. Two of her aunts are killed and she is now battling for life.
While the Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, had earlier sought a report on the issue based on a letter written by her, in which she had alleged that she and her family were being threatened by the accused, why was no action taken? Also, if the senior police officials claim that this was an accident then why will their subordinates even care to examine whether this was a conspiracy to intimidate and indeed eliminate her family? Her father and two aunts are dead and she is now on the brink of life or death.
Tell me, gentle reader, does this happen in any civilised country, particularly in any country that boasts of an ancient civilisation and of being the largest democracy in the world?
The BJP now claims that it had suspended Sengar earlier—after all, the legislator is now a liability. Yet, if indeed it had done so, why was this not made public and why is it that the head of the disciplinary committee of the BJP was unaware of this exercise? Discipline is a symbolic form of communication to make men in power aware that misdemeanour—in this case the heinous crime of rape—will not be tolerated.
Why are women being raped and why are all women being taught a lesson, thereby, to be silent? Is this going to be the ruling party’s style of dispensation to assume that a phallic, macho muscle-flexing will be the way to suppress dissent and dispense with justice?
While recording her oral testimony, freedom fighter Veerbalaben Nagarwadia, who had witnessed the Dandi March led by Mahatma Gandhi, had told me that women who used to picket against foreign cloth and liquor shops were picked up by the police, locked up then released late in the night. When I asked her if they did not fear rape or sexual assault she had said, “We all had so much courage” and besides, such things were never heard of at the time.
Women are valuable for their votes but when it comes to rape, how is it that the accused Kuldeep Sengar was not suspended earlier and his suspension was not made public? Men in power can do what they want, including rape, as 43% of our present parliamentarians have criminal charges pending against them.
Does this augur well for democracy?
Today women are being subjected to unspeakable levels of physical and psychological violence and the men in power are enabling it. On the Unnao rape issue the BJP MLA from Baria, Surendra Singh, said in 2018 to ANI, “I am speaking from a psychological point of view. No one can rape a mother of three children. It is not possible, this is a conspiracy against him (the accused, Kuldeep Singh Sengar).”
Trolling women and journalists who speak up is another vicious exercise. When a woman journalist recently complained to an Aam Aadmi Party legislator about being trolled and rebuked by his WhatsApp administrator for not writing ‘MLA’ in capital letters, he replied, “It is between you and him”.
Indeed, it is now a national hobby for men in power to troll, abuse and rape women while they look the other way. In this way they facilitate the violence.
Susan Brownmiller, in her monumental book Men, Women and Rape has documented how rape was used as a tool by American GI soldiers to stop the insurgency during the war in Vietnam, we are now in the degrading position of Indian women being raped by Indian men in power while officials look the other way.
In Pararia in the Santhal Parganas, there was a gang rape of women. The police, wearing their uniforms, broke into their homes at the dead of night. As I walked around the village, I stumbled across a large site of ground dug up and heavy machinery lying unused. After inquiring, I learned that a dam was being built in the area and Pararia was one of the villages that was to go under water. There was a movement against it by the villagers and at the time no one had received compensation for the loss of land and livelihood. Perhaps, the gangrape of the Pararia women was a symbolic form of communication; a tool used by police to smash the psychological basis of the movement against the dam.
Today it is our own men who rape our own women and if this government wants to claim it is serious about women, it had better stop the rapes, now!
The Unnao case is a dangerous precursor of times to come. While there is every attempt to make India into a $5 trillion economy there will be an equal resistance from the poor and the marginalised to defend their own hearth and home. Rape is a tool that is being used to intimidate a people so that they leave.
In the Sabarimala case, while the Supreme Court ruled that women of menstruating age had a right to enter the temple, every attempt was made in the recent Lok Sabha elections to make this an issue of faith over reason. This, despite an Election Commission order forbidding it.
This is a dangerous trend because all temples can become as emotive an issue as the Ayodhya temple and religious fervour cannot be allowed to be whipped up for political benefits. The saffron surge relies on just that: ‘Garv se kaho, tum hindu ho’—say with pride that you are a Hindu. But unemployment, social security and plain and simple security are no longer on the front burner.
Women will have to organise and vote where their honour, safety, self-worth and economic and social wellbeing lies.
Finally, the personal is political and women do hold up half the sky. Together, we can break the shackles and deflate the macho tendency to take our country over.
Sagari Chhabra is an award-winning author and filmmaker