Prime Minister Narendra Modi must be asked what action has been taken against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and former minister Swami Chinmayanand, after a 22-year-old law student of Swami Shukhdevanand Law College in Shahjahanpur pleaded on a Facebook post to rein him in.
The obviously terrorised young girl has accused the ‘holy man’ of harassing and threatening to kill her family members.
Swami Chinmayanad is the director of Swami Shukhdevananda Law College and was minister of state for internal affairs during the late Atal Bihari Vajpayaee’s term as prime minister. He was also three-time Member of Parliament (MP) from Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh (UP).
Agreed, Chinmayanad is an influential local chieftain, but the prime minister could have used the complaint against him as an opportunity to tick-off UP Chief Minister Adityanath. He could have asked Adityanath to explain why the rape and kidnapping case against Chinmayanand was withdrawn in August 2018. The charges were filed in 2011 by a woman who had lived in his ashram for many years.
Instead of clarity on the case and clear-cut legal action, the public has heard Chinmayanand’s attempts to deflect the wave of protests that erupted against him by claiming that a conspiracy was being hatched against him. He has accused the woman of being in league with four men to blackmail and extort him.
Had it not been for the intervention of the Supreme Court in response to a plea by young women lawyers, the woman who accused Chinmayanand—who had fled Shahjahanpur and was subsequently found in Dausa in Rajasthan—would have been brought back to Shahjahanpur by UP Police.
The fate of the 17-year-old girl, who had the gumption to levy a rape charge against sitting Member of Legislative Assembly in UP, Kuldeep Singh Sengar from Unnao, is well known. She lost her father and two aunts and escaped from the jaws of death. She was taken in a critical condition to King George’s Medical College in Lucknow and thereafter to AIIMS in Delhi for treatment after she and her lawyer, who remains in a critical condition, met with accident in which their Ambassador car was hit by a truck on the highway. The accident’s timing was such that foul play was widely suspected, especially since the police was providing her round-the-clock protection.
The Prime Minister needs to ask Chinmayanand why he claimed he was being falsely implicated; a claim that puts him in the same category as Sengar.
What allegedly happened to the law student is just a continuation of a rising graph of crimes against women being reported from UP. Adityanath, who holds the Home portfolio in the state, conceded as much when he gave a written reply in the Legislative Assembly on March 13, 2019 in which it is stated that there has been a 25% increase in rapes, 40% rise in incidents of ‘outraging modesty’, 35% jump in cases of kidnappings of women and a 50% increase in cases of ‘eve teasing’ between April 1, 2017, and January 31, 2018 as compared to 2016-17, when the previous government headed by chief minister Akhilesh Yadav was in power.
The exact number of rapes in UP have risen from 3,419 in 2016 to 4,246 in 2017. The official figures released by the state confirm that there were 3,704 rapes between April 1, 2017 and January 31, 2018, against 2,945 rapes during the corresponding period in 2016-17.
To compare the national crime figures with the figures from the states, it becomes evident that UP has the dubious distinction of twice the national average in terms of reported cases of rape.
On the whole, India recorded an increase of 65% in the number of reported cases of rape, from 22,172 in 2010 to 36,735 in 2014. However, the state recorded an increase of 121% from 2010 (or 1,563 cases) to 2014 (3,467 cases) over the same period, according to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data.
The same NCRB data shows that UP has witnessed a 400% rise in cases of child rape in 2016 with the graph only rising the next year. Many of cases of child rape end with the murder of the victim. Evidently, the perpetrators believe that by doing so they are destroying key evidence. Adityanath’s solution to the swelling violence against women is to talk about a proposal to the Centre to amend the law to make rape against a minor punishable by death.
When the UP Director-General of Police, OP Singh, was asked about the alarming rape graph, he vehemently denied it. He said that statistics showed an upward trend in these crimes up to 2017 but subsequently went down, during 2018-19.
Singh said over the phone, “Rape crime was on the rise up to 2017. There has been no escalation of rape crimes between 2018-19. On the contrary, they have gone down.” He did not quantify this with details of the number of rapes although his claims directly contradict what the chief minister has said in the Assembly on incidence of crimes against women. Instead, he felt that the anti-‘Romeo’ squads have proved useful in preventing crimes against women. People living in UP would not take this claim at face value.
Singh insists that rape and sexual assault are social pathologies that have to be dealt with not merely as crimes—that different methods are needed to tackle such crimes has been corroborated by sociologists and psychologists, he avers. These multi-pronged strategies would involve family, community, educational institutions and the criminal justice system as well.
Kanpur-based activist Vijay Chawla, however, believes serious crimes such as rape have accelerated because goondas have been given a “free run of the state”. Chawla feels that the caste colour of these crimes has also deepened. He believes that the social fabric of UP has changed vastly from when the Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati was in power. “Upper caste violence against dalit and women from other non-elite castes has grown tremendously,” he says.
One reason why dalit women are being targeted is to make members of the dalit community feel powerless and humiliated. The best way to combat this is to give children proper education but this woefully hard to find in schools. “The crime record trends show that 80% of rapes are directed against women who belong to the lower rungs of the traditional caste hierarchy,” he says. Unfortunately, no political party is working to mobilise the average man against this crime, he says.
Ranjana Kumari, director, Centre for Social Research, laments the decline of the women’s movement. Earlier the women’s movement raised issues that pressured governments to ensure a modicum of justice.
Kumari says, “Women’s institutions are silent about what is happening in UP. [Congress party general secretary] Priyanka Gandhi has tweeted in support of the girl student in Shahjahanpur but why are Congress leaders and workers in UP not raising this issue? Why is BJP Mahila Wing silent on atrocities against women and girl children. We are witnessing a conspiracy of silence from the prime minister down.”
Dr Pulkit Sharma, a psychologist and author who has worked with rape victims, believes that a part of the problem is in how boys are raised in Indian families, “feeling entitled” and therefore not conversant with the word “no” or the notion of consent. “This combines with the huge misconceptions they have about sexuality, especially female sexuality,” she says. Young boys and juveniles have often told her that they indulge in very violent sexual fantasies.
“Low tolerance levels and free access to pornography have hastened the crisis,” Sharma says.
In the Shahjahanpur case, the young woman was produced before the Supreme Court last Friday and has been ordered to stay in Delhi under police security. The Supreme Court has also requested the Allahabad High Court chief justice to constitute a bench to monitor the investigation in the two police cases lodged in this case.
The moot point is, will the girl receive justice or will her case also drag on as has happened in the case of the Unnao rape victim and thousands of other rape victims who continue to await justice for years on end?
Rashme Sehgal is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.