Nothing captures the gravity of India’s rape crisis better than the string of accusations against leaders of its ruling party.
As soon as rape allegations against one Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader fades from the headlines, a fresh one emerges. The situation is worsened by the party’s refusal to acknowledge the problem within its ranks. It is often accused of being slow to act against the accused and, worse, it has often tried to protect alleged rapists.
However, it is not just the optics of it all. Numbers paint a sordid picture, too. The BJP had at least 12 incumbent lawmakers (in central or state legislatures) charged crimes against women, the highest for any Indian political outfit, according to a 2018 study by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).
This does not bode well for a country ranked the most dangerous for women last year. In 2016, India reported 106 rape cases a day, and this figure does not account for low reporting.
Ascetic in power
On Aug. 24, a law student in Shahjahanpur district of Uttar Pradesh put out a video on social media accusing BJP leader Chinmayananda, also a religious guru, of sexually harassing many women including herself. It is common for people to disappear when they are accused of a heinous crime, but in this case it was the victim who fled, fearing for her life. The UP police found her after more than two weeks.
“Modi ji, please help me, he (Chinmayananda) is… threatening that the police, DM (district magistrate) and everyone else is on his side and no one can harm him,” she had appealed to the prime minister in a video, alleging the police had not registered even a complaint against Chinmayananda despite her repeated pleas.
The police finally arrested the monk only after the video went viral, and there was media pressure. It also filed an extortion case against the young woman. Unconfirmed reports suggest the victim has been arrested, although her arrest was stayed by a local court.
The victim had good reasons to believe the BJP-run Uttar Pradesh government was on Chinmayananda’s side. He is a former minister of state for home affairs and was facing charges in a rape case filed in 2011. When the BJP came to power in UP in 2017, the Yogi Adityanath government withdrew the case against him. The victim’s letters to the president of India and other authorities, were of no avail.
Such complicity in sexual violence belies the BJP’s claims that it is concerned about rape. In the 2014 general election, amid the backdrop of large-scale anti-rape protests in India, one of the BJP’s election slogans was aimed at addressing the matter. When Narendra Modi became prime minister, he came up with a programme, “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Protect our daughters, educate our daughters).”
This has now become a joke on social media: “BJP se beti bachao” (Save our daughters from the BJP).
Protecting the rapists
The UP law student’s case is not an isolated one. The BJP, in power at the centre and in many states, has often actively tried to save rape-accused leaders. Given that it has reportedly become the world’s largest party, it may not be surprising that many criminal politicians are now found in the BJP.
In January 2018, in Kathua district of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), an eight-year-old girl was raped and murdered inside a Hindu temple. When the accused were arrested, Hindu organisations supported by the BJP took out protest marches in their defence. Two sitting BJP ministers of the J&K government even attended one such protest. Lawyers associated with the party even tried to prevent the police from filing charges against the accused in the case. It was only after a national uproar that the BJP made the two ministers resign.
Around the same time, the BJP was busy trying to save a state lawmaker in Uttar Pradesh in another case.
Rape victims are often murdered so they may not be able to identify the accused, as in Kathua. But when BJP lawmaker Kuldeep Singh Sengar and his friends gang-raped a 17-year-old girl in Unnao in 2017, Sengar did not try to kill her. Such was his impunity that he, instead, wiped her tears and promised her a job.
Once again, it was national outrage that made the BJP belatedly act against Sengar. Cornered and in jail, Sengar allegedly tried to get her killed in a staged road accident. The BJP then finally, and reluctantly, sacked him.
Earlier, the police did not register a case until the victim tried to immolate herself. And when they finally did, they also booked her father in an allegedly fake case, arrested him. Incredibly, he died in police custody under suspicious circumstances.
After this, she repeatedly informed the authorities—the state police and the chief justice of India—that she feared for her life. However, nobody is powerful enough in India today to come in the way of a rape-accused BJP lawmaker.
These are just the incidents that caught public attention. There are many more cases against BJP members.
This rape culture—and the impunity that breeds it—is reflected daily on social media. Pro-BJP trolls frequently threaten women they don’t like with rape. One such was arrested for threatening to rape the daughter of former Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi.
The sanction for this culture seems to come from the very top. “Not even Lord Ram can stop rapes,” a BJP lawmaker in Uttar Pradesh said last year. Even the BJP’s women leaders don’t question it.
Kirron Kher, the party’s member of parliament from Chandigarh, said in 2017 that it is the rape victim who should have been more cautious.
Kher was only reflecting the views of Mohan Bhagwat, head of the BJP’s parent organisation, the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). In 2013, he said rape was an urban problem, and that it didn’t exist in rural India. He blamed “western influence” for it and went on to advise women to be good housewives.
The patriarchy-rape culture link can’t get more obvious than that.
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