Not her fault


  • It takes a village: The recent atrocities at Badaun force us to ask hard questions of ourselves
    PTIIt takes a village: The recent atrocities at Badaun force us to ask hard questions of ourselves

Crimes against women tell of the larger issues of caste, communalism and economics

It has been just over a month since the new government came to power. Much has happened in this time: big political events, the appointment of ministers, the creation of a work culture, discussions about foreign policy, the unfortunate death of some party members, the prime minister’s first foreign trip.

But there are other issues that may not have come into mainstream reckoning. Protesters from Bhagana, a village not so far from Delhi, where four young Dalit women were abducted and raped (and where the police did not file complaints or take into account what the parents were saying), tried to bring their concerns to the State’s attention and were summarily removed. In Badaun, in Uttar Pradesh, two young OBC girls were hanged from a tree after being raped by upper caste Yadav men in the same village. Once again the police refused to file a complaint, indeed they were even complicit in the crime. In the same week, the media reported similar stories of sexual violation in Azamgarh, Etawah, Lakhimpur Kheri and Greater Noida.

Pictures of the hanged bodies of the two young women were picked up by the media and flashed all over the world. The UN Secretary General spoke up against sexual violence in India, the report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, which described sexual violence and impunity in India as something that needed urgent attention, was cited. But, for the longest time, our politicians remained silent.

Why should this come as a surprise to us? The truth is that many politicians in India — no matter which party they belong to — do not take sexual violence and violence against women seriously. Somewhere they believe, somewhere they subscribe to the notion that women deserve it, that they ask for rape, that they secretly desire it, that they have only themselves to blame. Any and every excuse is trotted out: they’re promiscuous, they had a relationship with the man, they were wearing the ‘wrong’ clothes, they were ‘out’ at the ‘wrong’ time. And every assaulter, every rapist is confident that those in power secretly believe this, a confidence that provides the solid bedrock on which his impunity is built.

What is surprising is that politicians continue to see rape and sexual violation as crimes that concern only women. And yet, as these recent incidents show us, the truth lies elsewhere, and sexual violation is only part of the story. In Bhagana, the abduction and rape of Dalit women was a way of paying back and silencing the Dalits from asserting their legitimate right to a piece of land they have been given, and to village facilities meant for everyone. It’s about property, and about caste, and about brute power and domination. In Badaun, the crucial issue of sanitation and women’s safety is added to this deadly cocktail, which takes its strength from the chief minister’s statement that boys will be boys, and which deliberately renders invisible the role of caste politics. In Rajasthan, it is about the failure of our services, the reluctance of the police to file cases, the support they provide to criminals. It’s about corruption. In Muzaffarnagar, it is about religion, about communalism, and about minorities.

Do these issues sound familiar? Some of them were crucial parts of the recent election campaign. Indeed, the Modi campaign explicitly stated that their government would be ‘for the poor, youth and women’. One of the most powerful slogans — janta maaf nahin karegi — had to do with women. The Congress Party’s prime ministerial candidate too, asserted his commitment to women. And yet, when it came to speaking out, their statements were too little, and too late.

I have often wondered what it would take for men — and women — in positions of power to come out and say yes, there is terrible violence towards women in my country, yes, I am ashamed of it, yes, we should do something about it and yes, this is what we need to do.

What would it take for our newly appointed minister of women and child development to make a strong statement, the kind of statement that needs to be made, instead of saying she was too busy to go ‘there’ but that she would establish one-stop crisis centres soon. When politicians are handing out sops like this, do they even know what they’re saying?

One-stop crisis centres are not simply physical locations, they’re places where you need to have trained workers, who need to have empathy, an understanding of the complexity of the problem, an understanding of the structures of power and systems need to be developed to deal with the various kinds of problems that will come in and so much more. This does not come in a month, as if by magic. Why make empty promises? Why not instead recognise the enormity of the problem, its gravity, why not start a process of trying to understand how this problem can be addressed at all levels?

All of us know that violence against women, in particular sexual violence, is not merely a problem that has to do with women but it is inextricably tied in with caste, with economics, with foreign policy and investments — for many investors have gender policies that need compliance, with social issues, with health and environmental issues and more. Isn’t it time that our politicians recognised this, and realised that when they choose to speak out on behalf of women, they are, in fact, speaking out on behalf of society?

(Urvashi Butalia is an editor, publisher and director of Zubaan)

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