Every time the women’s movement in India takes a step forward, when we think change is finally taking place, people are opening up their minds to new possibilities and we celebrate the incredible achievements of the country, we’re slapped in the face by a horrific crime. Our bubble of progress and ‘New India’ bursts as we become nauseatingly aware of the ground reality of the majority of India’s women – the large amount of our population that falls under the poverty line, and subsequently live under the rules and norms of a traditional, patriarchal societal setup with little awareness, education and even the will the change, really. This reality has been brought to our attention time and again, and each time we’re as horrified and angry; eventually, we go numb.
We waited, fuming, to see what our country’s leaders, our Prime Minister would have to say about the current Unnao case and the death and violation of eight-year-old Asifa – we also woke up today to the case of an 11-year-old girl’s week-long torture, assault and death in Gujarat. We are disappointed in our leaders. Their lack of condemnation, others that supported the rape accused, and those that remained silent on the case, distancing themselves from the ones in question as ‘bad eggs’ in the political party – we can’t be the only ones that found Ms Meenakshi Lekhi’s press conference extremely problematic.
The underbelly of Indian culture has always been laced with deep misogyny and patriarchy. The sudden awakening of our moral conscious about women’s rights in the past few years, however (if you can call public outrage via social media that dies out quicker than a matchstick flame that) has brought to focus the dark reality which would often stay on the fringes. Sadly, much of it has been fuelled by our own, ‘venerable’ political leaders.
These so-called pillar-bearers of our society seem to enjoy immense popularity, both among men and women, but very few seem to really want to do anything with the power that’s accorded to them through their position. From statues and money garlands to sometimes even temples, they are idolized to an unparalleled extent, which places their public behaviour under severe scrutiny and this is exactly why every word they say carries weight.
In that vein, Homegrown presents some of most sexist, misogynistic and problematic statements made by our political leaders in recent years. Some of the names on the list are habitual offenders while a few names might actually surprise you. These sentiments cross party boundaries, regions, class and gender. The sheer amount of negative statements and, moreover, just negative attitudes and mindsets makes us conclude that a long journey lies ahead for women’s rights in India.
I. Mulayam Singh Yadav, Chief of Samajwadi Party, on the strict Anti-Rape laws passed, 2014.
“Ladkiyan pehle dosti karti hain. Ladke-ladki mein matbhed ho jata hai. Matbhed hone key baad usey rape ka naam dey deti hain (First girls develop friendship with boys. They when differences occur, they level rape charges).
Yadav made these statements while addressing a rally in Moradabad back in 2014. If that wasn’t enough, he further added, “Ladko sey galti ho jati hai. Kya rape case mein phasi di jayegi? (Boys make mistakes. Will they be hanged for rape).”
The ‘boys will be boys’ mentality is never an excuse or a justification, especially when it comes to the assault and violation of another human being.
II. G Parameshwara, Indian National Congress, on the commonality of the Bengaluru mass-molestation incident over New Years Eve, 2017.
“Unfortunately, what is happening is that on days like New Years, Brigade Road, Commercial Street, or MG road, a large number of youngsters gather. And youngsters were almost like Westerners. They tried to copy the Westerners, not only in their mindset but even in their dressing. So some disturbance, some girls are harassed...these kind of things do happen.”
The ex-Home Minister of Karnataka (2015-2017) seems to be on the same deluded wave length as Azmi on this incident, highlighting the ‘western’ nature of the women’s attire and the adoption of ‘western culture’ that has driven these women to be out in the streets, so of course, such things can happen from time to time.
III. Abu Azmi, Samajwadi Party, on the need to punish women having sex outside of marriage – be it rape or consensual, 2014.
“Rape is punishable by hanging in Islam. But here, nothing happens to women, only to men. Even the woman is guilty...Solution is this: any woman if, whether married or unmarried, goes along with a man, with or without her consent, should be hanged. Both should be hanged. It shouldn’t be allowed even if a woman goes by consent.”
Azmi’s comments came in a 2014 interview with Mid-Day, and it wasn’t a one-off incident as he has time and again showcased his sexist nature.
IV. Asha Mirje, Indian National Congress, alleges that Nirbhaya (and other victims) is to be blamed her rape, 2014.
“Did Nirbhaya really have to go to watch a movie at 11 in the night with her friend? Take the Shakti Mills gang-rape case. Why did the victim go to such an isolated spot at 6 pm? We have to be careful. We have to ask ourselves, where am I going, with whom am I going, what am I going for, do I really need to go to that place.”
As a member of the Maharashtra State Women’s Commission, Mirje’s statements came as a shocker. She further extended the reason of someone being raped as threefold – what she was wearing, where she’s going and at what time, as well as how she behaves in those moments. Of course, it has nothing to do with the people perpetrating these crimes.
V. Mamata Banerjee, All India Trinamool Congress, sees India’s rising population and ‘modernisation’ as the cause of increasing violence against women, 2012.
“Earlier if men and women would hold hands, they would get caught by parents and reprimanded but now everything is so open. It’s like an open market with open options.”
Other than seeing the open interaction of all genders as a cause for the rising violence, Banerjee has often found herself in the headlines when she openly cited many rape cases as ‘fake’ and political ploys to bring her down.
VI. Dharamvir Goyat, Indian National Congress, on the consensual nature of rape, 2012.
“If we go into the details of rape cases and abductions, it is found that victims and accused in 90% of cases are runaway couples. So the cases are consensual. I don’t feel any hesitation in saying that 90 per cent of the girls want to have sex intentionally but they don’t know that they would be gang raped further as they find some lusty and pervasive people in the way ahead.”
VII. Babulal Gaur, Bharatiya Janata Party, on the (questionable) moral nature of rapes, 2014.
“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...It is not possible for any government to ensure that rape is not committed. Action can be taken only after the act is done.”
The controversial man has quite a few misappropriate conduct (and statement) allegations against him, but boys will be boys, right? Well, at least that’s what Mulayam Singh Yadav believes.
VIII. Om Prakash Chautala, Indian National Lok Dal, has the best remedy for rape, 2012.
“We should learn from the past... specially in Mughal era, people used to marry the girls to save them from Mughal atrocities and currently a similar situation is arising in the state. I think that’s the reason khap has taken such a decision and I support it.”
The former Haryana Chief Minister is referring to a Khap’s statement that child marriage is the ideal way to bring down violence against women, since, you know, marital rape is not a real thing.
IX. K J George, Indian National Congress, believes that it’s not gang rape if it’s only two men, 2015.
“How can you say gangrape? Gangrape means four-five people.”
The ex-Home Minister of Karnataka’s statement was in response to a question posed about the gang rape of a 22-year-old BPO employee in the country’s IT hub buy a driver and a cleaner of a van.
X. Vibha Rao, Bharatiya Janata Party, on the role of women when it comes to them being raped, 2013.
“Women display their bodies and indulge in various obscene activities. Women are unaware of the kind of message [their actions] generate.”
The Chair of Chhattisgarh State Women Commission had at that time basically remarked that women need to stop being so gullible and be so easily influenced – by Bollywood and by the West. She also added that it’s become more and more women now ignore the Hindu epics that teach values, deny themselves access to the Internet, and now there’s a breakdown of joint families. “Joint family system is disintegrating and hence cultural values are not inculcated in kids,” she added.