There is much outrage over the series of ghastly crimes against women in Uttar Pradesh. Indeed, the horrific incidents that have been reported during the past week defy words of condemnation. How does one even begin to denounce something as monstrous as policemen, in collusion with thugs, raping two girls and then murdering them (they were found hanging from a tree), confident that they would get away with their grisly deed? Or a girl being raped and then forced to drink acid before the rapist decided to disfigure her face? Such are the tales that have been pouring out of Badaun and other places in India’s ‘socialist paradise’, where the Samajwadi Party rules with a massive majority and whose leader Mulayam Singh Yadav was the preferred choice of our Left-liberal intelligentsia for the Prime Minister’s job.
It would, however, be both unfair and incorrect to suggest that such crimes are of recent origin or that Uttar Pradesh has in the past not witnessed anything remotely similar. Let us not forget the terrible incidents that occurred when Mayawati was Chief Minister and the BSP was in power. A young girl was raped inside a police station and then strung up on a tree in the compound at Lakhimpur Kheri. In another incident, rapists sliced off the tongue of their victim to stop her from giving their description to the police. Another girl had her legs chopped off. It was also in Uttar Pradesh that a raped woman was told to embrace her rapist father-in-law as her husband and treat her husband as her son. Tragedies are compounded by absurdities, and a state that has abdicated responsibility and authority makes them intolerably worse.
Examples abound of men’s barbarity towards women and appalling cruelty is not limited to Uttar Pradesh. The furore that followed the gang rape of a young woman in a bus in Delhi — the victim later died of her injuries — is not yet forgotten. The brutalisation of a woman in a mill compound in Mumbai where she was raped by a group of goons could also be cited, along with stories from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and possibly every state of the Republic, to demonstrate women are not safe in India. There is, however, a difference that sets Uttar Pradesh apart from the rest: the sheer callousness of Lucknow’s political elite and the impunity with which criminals get away with their crimes on account of the State’s cynical identity politics. Soon after the Delhi incident of gang rape in Dec 2012 which brought tens of thousands of protesters to the streets, there was a move to amend the law dealing with rape. A committee headed by the former Chief Justice of India J S Verma and comprising illustrious legal brains like Leila Seth recommended sweeping changes, and the existing law was scrapped for a tough, some would say draconian, law. At that time, I had made bold to suggest that amending the law was more a palliative to assuage popular anger than a remedy to rid our society of rapists. I had also wondered whether law alone would help curb sexual crimes against women, only to be shouted down. A year later, it would not be incorrect to posit that there has been neither a decline in the incidence of rape, nor has punishment prescribed by the new law proved to be a deterrent.
This is not to argue against tough laws, but to underscore the futility of having laws on the statute book that are more honoured in the breach than in the observance, and whose violation is encouraged by our politicians through their deplorable public pronouncements. It would be in order to recall Mulayam Singh Yadav’s promise during this summer’s election campaign that if voted to power he would amend the law to remove tough penalties for rapists, adding, “Boys make mistakes”. As if his ‘boys will be boys’ comment exonerating rapists was not bad enough, his party colleague Abu Azmi wanted women to be punished for getting raped, ruing, “In India there is death penalty for rape, but when there’s consensual sex outside marriage, there’s no death penalty against women.”
Azmi may be a resident of Mumbai, but his world view reflects that which prevails in UP (and much of north India): Women are a sub-human species, to be treated with contempt and loathing. In gender-ratio screwed Haryana, buffaloes cost more than brides. In Uttar Pradesh, senior Minister Azam Khan’s buffaloes command greater police protection than women. Yet, we feel outraged when women are raped.
The writer is a journalist, political analyst and activist