Dev, a Trinamool Congress Lok Sabha candidate, who is also apparently a film actor in Bengal, made this comparison about the media attention on his entry into politics: “Enjoy ... it is just like being raped here, either you can enjoy it or can scream”.
Action and reaction: The seeds of strength that women got to demand their rights came from the reaction to Pramod Muthalik and his actions in 2009, after his organisation attacked young men and women in a pub in Mangalore
Pramod Muthalik of the Sri Ram Sene of Karnataka, who jumped into national prominence in 2009 when his organisation attacked young men and women in a pub in Mangalore, is welcomed into the Bharatiya Janata Party in Karnataka. Then, after public outrage he is removed from the party, within hours. Arun Jaitley of the BJP comments that the party’s Karnataka unit had not realised that India had changed.
The next day, Dinkar Shetty of the Sri Ram Sene, an accused in the same Mangalore pub attack case, is seen at a Congress function in Mangalore. Some say Shetty joined the Congress and then was removed after public anger; others say he just happened to be at the function. However no one denies that he was there and no reason is given as to why he was there at all. Perhaps the Congress unit in Mangalore did not know that India has changed either.
Indeed Jaitley’s comment is closer to the truth than he himself may have realised. Many parts of India and many Indian men in particular have not realised quite how India has changed.
So Dev thinks that it is okay to joke about rape mainly because it has been okay so far. Let us not even mention his own party’s supreme leader’s contention that every rape that happens in Bengal is some kind of a conspiracy against her.
But India has changed — or some parts of India have changed. And that is why, the guilty verdict for two brutal gang-rapes in Mumbai’s Shakti Mills area in the middle of last year is handed out in only seven months. And that is why the country’s laws are changed so that the appalling ‘two-finger test’ that rape victims are subjected to is scrapped. And that is why the prominent editor of a ‘fearless’ news magazine is still in jail on sexual molestation charges.
Much of the change happened of course after the horrifying gang-rape and death of that young woman in Delhi in December 2012. The women and the men of India owe her a great deal. Because in her death, she woke us up and forced us to confront our ugliest face. But somewhere before that, the seeds of the strength that women got to demand their rights came from the reaction to Muthalik and his actions.
The brilliant young women who started the ‘Pink Chaddi’ campaign on Facebook led to a most unique protest where through social media and word of mouth alone thousands of women across India sent Muthalik pink underwear. It was women removing mockery from the very things used to mock and control them by presenting them to the perpetrator.
It was women accepting that they are women and there is nothing to be ashamed of there.
The Muthaliks of the world use religion and tradition to justify their hatred of women and their fear of women being independent. The rapists of Delhi and Mumbai tried to use socio-economic status to justify their actions. Both arguments are specious and unacceptable. Both point to regressive patriarchy and the excuses that it is left with to support its dwindling powers.
The BJP and the Congress one supposes have to be thanked for deciding not to accept these two gentlemen from the Sri Ram Sene in spite of the political compulsions (winning elections) that brought them into their parties in the first place. And perhaps there is a slim chance that the Trinamool candidate might understand that being asked questions by the media is not quite the same as being sexually assaulted or indeed that rape victims, whether men or women, do not enjoy being attacked.
Somewhere though, the biggest victory is of those on social media who forced the BJP and Congress to dump Muthalik and Shetty, who came out in large numbers for women’s rights in 2012, who started the Pink Chaddi campaign against Muthalik. These voices have found their rightful strength and we have all benefitted.