Politics is definitely about the opposition rubbing it in when the ruling regime is embarrassed by some tragic event involving human beings. When a bridge collapsed in Morbi in Gujarat in 2022, the Congress and the AAPlambasted the BJP government for the man-made tragedy. When a bridge collapsed in Bihar in 2023, the BJP lambasted the UPA government for the man-made act. That’s normal in politics. It’s perfectly all right for ideological partisans to do the same.
So called “liberals” and “intellectuals” went to town over the Gujarat bridge collapse but mostly kept quiet when it happened in Bihar. Ditto for the “right wing” in reverse order. But I find it deeply troubling when this level of polarisation dictates reactions to inhuman crimes like rape. And I find it even more horrifying when females chose ideological partisanship to decide which rape is more condemnable. While I find it repulsive, I do understand political parties and their spokespersons selectively picking and choosing to condemn rape and accuse the ruling regime of negligence and worse in cases of sexual assault. But what about so called thought leaders, intellectuals, academics and the like who claim to be above the political fray? This troubling realisation struck me as the news about a horrific rape unfolded on September 27, 2023.
Very disturbing images emerged from Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh where a 12 year old girl was caught on CCTV roaming the streets of the city begging for help. The victim was visibly injured, bleeding and semi naked as her clothes had been torn. In an extraordinary display of callousness and apathy, the girl gets no help from any household she approaches. In one such display captured on CCTV, a man standing outside his house can be seen shooing her away. According to media stories still unfolding, the girl eventually found her way to an Ashram from where she was taken to a local hospital and the police joined the investigation. According to early reports, medical tests have confirmed rape and the girl seems to be from Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh though she was incoherent with shock and trauma. Such cases of barbaric sexual assaults are becoming all too frequent across India.
But as I sated earlier, even more disturbing is the fact that our reactions to such horrific crimes are being dictated by our ideological and political leanings. In the latest case in Ujjain, Congress and its leaders have come out all guns blazing at the Shivraj Singh Chauhan led BJP government. While Randeep Singh Surjewala proclaimed with faux empathy that girls and women were no longer safe in the BJP ruled Madhya Pradesh, the Congress chief minister candidate in the state Kamal Nath demanded that the government pay Rs 1 crore in compensation to the girl. A small galaxy of liberals and intellectuals have, predictably, come down heavily on the BJP government. There can be no doubt that the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh deserves flak. But are we expressing any genuine empathy with sexual assault and rape survivors by indulging in ideological wars? Are we not even bigger monsters than the criminals who perpetrate such acts?
In the month of September, there have been horrific cases of sexual assault and rape in the state of Rajasthan. According to a story published in the digital edition of India Today on September 10, 2023, a woman was abducted and gang raped in Bhilwara by two people, one of them known to the survivor. In a chilling replay of what happened recently in Ujjain, the woman in Bhilwara managed to escape without her clothes and roamed the streets of Bhilwara for hours begging for help. All the people and households she approached for help dismissed her as a lunatic before some kind soul eventually covered her and informed the police after learning about her ordeal. In this case, the liberals and intellectuals were mute and it is the BJP and its “right wing” ideological warriors that proclaimed how women and girls were not safe in Congress ruled Rajasthan.
Every political party and virtually all commentators are becoming monsters of this kind of selective double speak. After news emerged of the horrific gang rape of a girl in Hathras in Uttar Pradesh a few years ago, a group of MPs from the Trinamool Congress marched to the place, created a lot of drama and proclaimed Yogi Adityanath, chief minister of the state is a heartless ruler. The liberals loudly echoed the sentiments. Some time after that, a teenage girl was allegedly raped and killed by the son of a local TMC leader in Nadia in West Bengal. No TMC went there and Mamata Bannerjee is on record saying that the 14 year old victim could be having an affair and could have been pregnant. The BJP and its “ecosystem” lambasted Mamata Bannerjee for the gratuitously misogynistic statements that defamed a dead rape victim. The liberals kept quiet.
By all means pick and choose your targets based on your ideology or politics. But please confine it to policy issues. By trivialising even barbaric crimes like rape, the rival ecosystems are demonstrating they are no less than monsters themselves.
(Author has been a media professional for over 3 decades. He is now Executive Director, C Voter Foundation. Views are Personal)