Swearing by patriarchy

Apr 16, 2014, 07:43 IST | Ranjona Banerji

Abu Asim Azmi of the Samajwadi Party’s interview to this newspaper took us right back to the horrors of patriarchy that women and men have to face in the country. The fact that Abu Asim Azmi lives in Mumbai, considered by most to be India’s most women-friendly city, makes his comments all the more unpalatable. Azmi said that women who get raped should also be punished. He then later amended that — after considerable outrage, including from his son and daughter-in-law. Azmi however stuck to his idea that women who have sex outside marriage deserved death. He then used Islam as an excuse and a defence — an ingenious way to try and claim victimhood while playing a devious, ‘if you attack me you are anti-Muslim and anti-secular’ game at the same time. Clever perhaps, but not all that clever. Anyone can see through it.

Hard to digest: The fact that Abu Azmi lives in Mumbai, considered by most to be India’s most women-friendly city, makes his comments all the more unpalatable. File Pic

The leader of Azmi’s party Mulayam Singh Yadav had already stated that death was too harsh a penalty for rapists and that boys make ‘mistakes’ and that is why rapes happen. So death, according to the Samajwadi Party, is unacceptable when it comes to rape but is all right when it is handed as a punishment to women who have sex with a man they’re not married to? It is hard to believe that this is the 21st century we’re living in when you hear remarks like this.

The death penalty for rape is not common in India and only gained traction after the gang rape in Delhi 2012 which made us relook at rape laws. Yadav and Azmi made their remarks just after death was handed out as a punishment for those convicted of gang rape in Mumbai’s Shakti Mills Compound last year. The implication seems to be that rapists are part of the Samajwadi Party’s core vote bank.

Surely that is unfair. But who were Yadav and Azmi talking to? That’s an easy question to answer — those who swear by patriarchy. The Samajwadi Party may claim that it is against women’s reservations in politics only because it wants even more reservations but its arguments are disingenuous. Basically, like the khap panchayats, it dislikes those women who challenge the status quo.

How regressive we want our politicians to be is our prerogative. When it comes to women’s empowerment, we hear a lot of talk but the ground reality remains bleak. That is why no political dispensation really came out and said anything about the khap panchayats and their unconstitutional diktats against women. Political parties think that men and women who do not want change — or women’s empowerment, liberation, equality, call it what you will — are in the majority.

Subramanian Swamy, the maverick with severe foot in the mouth disease, has said of Rajiv Gandhi’s daughter, Priyanka Gandhi: “She is very unpopular. She drinks too much alcohol and she has a bad name”. The line of thought is predictable and blatant — women who drink too much are bad. Luckily, he has not said they deserve the death penalty.

Lest anyone think we are talking about an ‘us versus them, urban versus rural, India versus Bharat, religious versus secular’ problem here, let us look at the defence of an urban, urbane man accused of rape. Tarun Tejpal and his team have done everything they can so far to discredit his accuser’s testimony based on the fact that she goes to parties, drinks, is a ‘modern’ woman and so on. The implication is obvious here as well — such women cannot complain that they have been sexually assaulted. This is patriarchy in capital letters, plain and simple.
There’s that old chestnut that is frequently pulled out at times like this about women being women’s worst enemies.

It is true to the extent that women are also guilty of falling into the patriarchy trap. But it is also true that not all men buy the patriarchy argument and many dislike the way patriarchy slots them into pigeon holes.

Funnily enough, it is not hard to break free. All you have to do is look at the Constitution of India. And put patriarchy in its place. In a museum.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona

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