Three Years After India’s Horrific Bus Gang Rape, Politicians Are Still Saying Terrible Things About Women
While there has been some progress on India's rape culture, it's hard to see in the rhetoric of many male (and some female) politicians.
Since the horrific gang rape of a 23-year-old woman aboard a moving bus in Delhi in 2012, India has come under global scrutiny for what's been dubbed as a "rape epidemic."
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 24,923 rape cases were registered in India in 2012. That may not seem like much in a country with a population of over 1.2 billion, but as Human Rights Watch points out, the number of unreported cases are significantly higher. Delhi's topped the list, developing a reputation as the "rape capital" of India. Since the 2012 gang rape, rapes have increased three times in Delhi. The Telegraph reports that last year one in every 4,185 out of a population of over 7 million females were raped in the city. Just this year, an average of six rapes have been reported in Delhi every day.
The 2012 gang rape was in no way an isolated incident, but it triggered massive protests and brought the issues of sexual assault and women's rights to the forefront across the country. Indians demanded answers and better governance from the leadership.
2012 was in many ways a crucial year for civil society in India. Earlier that year, the government was plagued with inefficiency and endless corruption allegations leading to protests and the rise of a massive anti-corruption crusade.
"The Indian movement was so strong and so unprecedented in 2012. Men and women of different ages and backgrounds were coming together and saying 'Enough, this is not OK," says Karuna Nundy, a Supreme Court of India lawyer.
"There was a certain amount of impatience and idealism in the air. Delhi had gone through a churning where a lot of middle class people were coming out to protest against corruption," Nundy told VICE.
Jyoti Singh, the victim of the Delhi gang rape, was "built to be the every woman," Nundy says. Yesterday, on the third anniversary of the incident, Singh's mother publicly revealed her name for the first time. Indian law prohibits publicly naming rape victims, and the Indian media had previously given her the pseudonym Nirbhaya, or fearless.
"She had a heroic story. Her parents wanted to spend money on her education instead of dowry," Nundy said. "She seemed hardworking and ambitious in the face of difficult odds. A lot of people identified with her and there was a sense across the country that this has to end."
One of the rapists from the Delhi gang rape was a minor at the time of the rape and therefore tried separately than the other five accused. He was sentenced to three years in a correctional facility—the maximum sentence for juvenile offenders. Since then, a revised bill has been proposed that will allow 16–18-year-olds to be treated as adults for crimes such as rape and murder.
The convicted minor is scheduled to be released this month and his release has divided opinions among Indians. But amidst the discussion of rape and sexual harassment in the country and the need for change, India's politicians seem tone deaf and aren't helping. Some have made it a habit of glorifying rape and blaming it on the victim, as well as on things like the rise of cellphones, Chinese food, and Bollywood movies.
Here is but a small collection of terrible things Indian politicians have said about rape over the last three years:
Only last month, after a woman was allegedly raped by two men at night near a tennis club in the southern state of Karnataka, the state's newly-appointed home minister responsible for law and order asked "Why should a woman go to play tennis at 9:30 in the night?"
In October, his predecessor infamously wondered after a 22-year-old woman was raped by two men "how is it a gang rape if two people rape? Shouldn't there be at least three or four people for it to be called gang rape?"
Atul Anjan of the Communist Party of India reacted to a condom ad starring Bollywood actress Sunny Leone: "This advertisement develops sexually infected mindset and finishes off your sensibility. If such advertisements will continue to be shown on television there will certainly be an increase in rape cases."
Ramsevak Paikra of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and a minister responsible for law and order in the Indian state of Chattisgarh: "Such incidents [rapes] do not happen deliberately. These kind of incidents happen accidentally."
Veteran politician Mulayam Singh Yadav is notorious for his sexist and daft comments.
-Yadav on how gang rape is... impractical: "Four people are named for rape, can it be possible? It is not practical."
-Yadav on how boys will be boys: "Should rape cases be punished with hanging? They are boys, they make mistakes."
-Yadav, the misogynistic gift that keeps on giving: "First, girls and boys become friends. Then, when differences occur between them, the girls accuse boys of rape."
Yadav's son, Akhilesh, the chief minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh follows in his father's patriarchal footsteps. Last year, when journalists asked him about the rise of rape and violence against women under his leadership, he shot back with "it's not as if you faced any danger."
Commenting on the Delhi gang rape, Abu Azmi, senior leader of the Samajwadi Party (headed by the Yadav father-son duo) said: "Women should not venture out with men who are not relatives. What is the need for roaming at night with men who are not relatives? This should be stopped. Such incidents (like the Delhi gang rape) happen due to influence of western culture."
Babulal Gaur, the minister responsible for the security of the state of Madhya Pradesh, said "It is not possible for any government to ensure that rape is not committed. Action can be taken only after the act is done. It is a social crime which depends on the man and the woman. It is sometimes right and sometimes wrong. Unless a complaint is filed, nothing happens."
Mamata Banerjee, a female and Chief Minister of West Bengal, on why rapes are on the rise:
Manohar Lal Khattar, a BJP politician and now chief minister of Haryana, blamed rape on who else, but women?
What these politicians should have said is: a woman does not dress to please a man, she does not invite rape, she can dress however she wants, go wherever the fuck she wants with whomever she wants. Acquaintance rape is a real issue and we should stop pretending like it isn't. We should collectively stop blaming the victim for a crime that was done to her and stop propagating slut-shaming rhetoric. We must acknowledge that women are not sexual objects and have rights. Finally, as politicians we should be held accountable for failing to do our job to protect the constitutional and fundamental rights of a woman.
The answer may seem very basic and obvious, but in a country with deep-rooted patriarchy, it's important to reiterate it.
"Like patriarchy, victim blaming is in the air we breathe," Nundy told VICE. "If you look at our language, for instance, we say Mary was raped by John. We don't say John raped Mary. The reason we don't is because that would inevitably shine a light on the man and the problem would be with the man."
But what's with all the victim blaming by Indian politicians?
"In some instances, politicians do this to disclaim state responsibility, to shrug off their jobs to ensure that women's rights to freedom are protected by their government," Nundy said.
According to Nundy, some of the reasons politicians make misogynistic comments are because of internalized patriarchy and "also to put the responsibility and the onus for being raped... on the woman herself."
We asked Nundy how such misogynist, bigoted attitudes can be countered.
"Ideally by voting people out of power. It's about power and making sure that women have power."
Some of Nundy's other suggestions for smashing the patriarchy include: directed behavioral change programs and messaging for both children and adults; changing service rules for public officials to make sure that rise in a cadre or being fired from it depends in part on their gender performance; and apart from inspired leadership, making sure there's affirmative action to combat patriarchy.
During his first Independence Day speech after becoming Prime Minister last year, Narendra Modi acknowledged the concerns around women's rights and sexual assault in the country. He accepted the need for gender equality and urged parents to hold their sons accountable instead of putting the blame on daughters. Earlier this year, he also launched "Beti Bachao Beti Padhao" (save the girl child, educate the girl child), a national campaign to counter female foeticide and a declining sex ratio. While public speeches and public campaigns are a step in the right direction, Modi must hold his ministers who make bigoted remarks accountable. When he launched the campaign, he was sharing the stage with Manohar Lal Khattar, Chief Minister of Haryana, a state with the most dismal sex ratio in India. The same guy who said, "If a girl is dressed decently, a boy will not look at her in the wrong way. If they want freedom, why don't they just roam around naked? Freedom has to be limited."
VICE has reached out to Khattar for comment but hasn't heard back.
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