Analysis: Rape has been weaponised by our political class

Analysis: Rape has been weaponised by our political class

The violence, trauma and pain associated with sexual crimes has been completely subsumed by a government interested in using it as a tool to score narrow political victories

Rashme SehgalUpdated: Wednesday, March 13, 2024, 06:21 PM IST
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Representative Image | File

The most horrific of crimes that can leave a woman scarred for life has been weaponised. The violence, trauma and pain associated with sexual crimes has been completely subsumed by a government interested in using it as a tool to score narrow political victories.

This is not an attempt to gloss over the horror that the women of Sandeshkhali in West Bengal have suffered at the hands of Trinamool Congress (TMC) strongman Sheikh Shahjahan and his henchmen. Many of these women living in an island in Sunderbans have accused these TMC leaders of gangrape and psychological and sexual torture.

However, there is little doubt that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been looking for a chink in the TMC’s armour and Sandeshkhali has provided it with a golden opportunity. They have used it to the hilt rushing National Commission of Women chairperson Rekha Sharma and the National Commission of Scheduled Castes chairperson Arun Halder to the spot, with both of them demanding the resignation of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the imposition of President’s rule in the state. Eighteen women submitted written complaints to them from which two complained of rape.

While expressions of concern for the victims by our political class is gratifying, the moot question is why is such concern is not shown for rape victims in BJP-ruled states.

The most recent example of this has been the gangrape of a Spanish vlogger, who along with her husband, decided to camp in the forests of Dumka in Jharkhand on the evening of March 1. Here she was threatened with a dagger, kicked, punched and raped by seven men during an incident that lasted for a terrifying two-and-a-half hours.

Here again, the BJP used this as an opportunity to attack the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-led alliance in Jharkhand. Sharma, instead of offering solace to the couple, showed a complete lack of concern and get into a verbal spat with an American travel writer who had tweeted about his experiences regarding women being molested in India. Sharma accused him of being “an irresponsible person” hell bent on “defaming the whole country”.

The NCW chairperson should know that actual events on the ground tell a different story. On February 28, two girls aged 14 years and 16 years committed suicide by hanging themselves from a tree with the help of their dupattas. The two worked in a brick kiln with their parents and belonged to a village in Kanpur district. The owner of the brick-kiln, along with his son and nephew, reportedly forced them to consume alcohol and then gangraped them, making a video of this gruesome act. Three days ago, the father of the two girls also committed suicide because the cops insisted that he enter into a compromise with the accused.

Rapists have become so emboldened that they do not hesitate to take videos of the rape that they then post online. In August 2023, a 15-year-old girl from Kaushambhi district in Uttar Pradesh committed suicide after the clip of her being raped went viral. A similar video went viral when three boys reportedly belonging to the BJP IT cell in Varanasi gangraped a BTech Indian Institute of Technology student at the Benaras Hindu University in November 2023. No action was taken against the three accused though their identity was widely known in BHU. Pressure from the student community forced the police to act. However, when they did so, an FIR was filed under a weaker Section 354 in which criminal force is used with the intent to outrage a woman’s modesty.

Finally, it was the BTech student who showed great courage and appeared before a local magistrate on November 8 and recounted before him what had transpired. The magistrate ordered the police to add the additional charge of gangrape to the FIR.

However, the Varanasi police retaliated against the BHU student community who had been organising dharnas against their inaction by filing FIRs against 18 student leaders. One of these was activist Akansha Azad who pointed out that the three accused of gangrape should have been put in judicial custody and not police remand where they would have been available for questioning by the police.

Why does the police fail to take action in BJP-ruled states given that the National Crime Records Bureau records show that Uttar Pradesh has topped all our states in crimes against women, including rape, kidnapping, murder after rape and gangrape. It recorded 65,743 such cases in Uttar Pradesh alone against 56,083 in 2021 and 49,385 in 2020.

University campuses across many BJP-ruled states have seen an increase in sexual crimes. Gujarat, the home state of the prime minister, is no exception. The Gujarat High Court came down strongly on the Gujarat National Law University administration in February 2024 for suppressing the findings of a fact-finding team that highlighted how a girl had been molested and raped on the campus. The report also pointed to two cases of sexual molestation and of homophobia with the fact finding team submitting the report directly to the Gujarat High Court.

Violence against women is not restricted to Uttar Pradesh alone. In mid-February this year, a woman in the eighth month of her pregnancy was gangraped and burnt alive in the town of Morena in Madhya Pradesh. The child died in the womb, while the woman is struggling for life at a hospital in Gwalior. This woman’s husband had allegedly raped another woman and the pregnant woman was trying to mediate with her while three men proceeded to gangrape her and then poured petrol on her and set her on fire.

This is not a one-off case in Madhya Pradesh, which has had a BJP government since 2003, except for a short period when Kamal Nath of the Congress was the chief minister. The graph against sexual crimes against women — whether it is rape, molestation and kidnapping — has shown a steady rise. NCRB data shows a woman is being raped every 18 minutes in India.

Worse, four of these are Dalit women. Two horrifying cases of Dalit women being raped took place in Uttar Pradesh last year. One was reported from Lal Kheda village in Unnao district where a group of men led by two rape accused set fire to the house of a minor Dalit girl who had been raped by them the previous year. The Dalit girl had become pregnant and her six-month old infant along with another infant were thrown into the flames that engulfed the house. In June 2023, a 17-year Dalit girl from Barabanki district committed suicide after her family was forced to enter into a compromise with the men who had gangraped her.

One of the most horrific gangrapes unmatched in its brutality was of the 17-year-old girl of the Valmiki caste in a village in Hathras district. The alleged rapists left the girl battered and bleeding with a broken spine and a huge gash on her tongue so that she would be unable to give the names of the rapists who had treated her in this horrendous manner. Despite the outrage the case evoked, the court let off the three accused and sentenced only one. No voices of sympathy have been heard for the victims from the Ministry of Women and Children or from the National Commission of Women or from the politicians in these states.

Till the time the Congress was in power, the BJP-led opposition went hammer and tongs against the government especially in cases of crime against women. Now that it is ruled by the BJP, there is an attempt to push rape cases under the carpet.

A horrific incident recently surfaced, which is no less ghastly than Sandeshkhali where a former commissioner and the chairperson of the Sirohi Municipal Corporation Council have been accused of gang raping 20 women under the guise of providing them with employment in anganwadis.

Close on its heels has been the gangrape of a minor girl on February 10 by fellow students she first contacted over social media in the coaching city of Kota.

During the last six years, NCRB data points to how crimes under POSCO against children, especially girls, has increased 95 per cent. In Uttar Pradesh alone, sexual crimes against girls have gone up from 8,000 to 60,000 in just one year.

It is no surprise that India has been dubbed the rape capital of the world where the culprits are protected with impunity. For a party that boasts of “Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao’, not only must we ensure that women and our daughters are educated but also that they are given a safe, crime-free environment in which to live.

Rashme Sehgal is an author and an independent journalist

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