Tapas Pal and his ilk must go

West Bengal actor-turned-politician Tapas Pal must resign from the Lok Sabha, or be forced to do so. His remarks exhorting Trinamool Congress workers to kill and rape indicate a mindset that should have no place in politics. The reaction of his boss and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is in itself horrifying as she was first silent, then called it a “major blunder” and then went on to say what more was she expected to do—sending out a clear and loud message that she was not totally against the sentiments expressed by the TMC MP in such a brutal and vulgar fashion.

In other words, the cult of violence in West Bengal will continue, where CPI(M) women are targeted as potential victims of rape, and communist cadres attacked and killed, in a frenzy of hate unleashed by insecure and shortsighted politicians. Thus, no action will be taken by the party against Pal, as he was merely expressing a matter of current TMC ‘policy?’

Unfortunately, the Pal kind of comments are coming in from all sides from senior political leaders and their goons. The country was still trying to cope with Pal’s words, when Shiv Sena MLA Prakash Bala Sawant was reported to have told a woman that he would strip and beat her over some row concerning a housing society. Not much has been done against him, although months ago, two young women were arrested for doing little more than posting a comment criticising the Shiv Sena on Facebook. Warped justice?

Moral policing seems to have become part of the political culture, with women constantly attacked by all kinds of organisations like Pramod Muthalik’s Rashtriya Hindu Sene, for drinking in pubs, sitting with boys, or just wearing jeans and skirts. A senior minister in Goa’s BJP government, Sudin Dhavalikar, has joined the anti-women bandwagon with his thoughts, that women should not wear short dresses as it does not fit in with “our culture.”

This increasing verbal and physical assault on women clearly demonstrates that ours has been a faulty upbringing. As a nation, we have not been able to deal with the gender issue, and instead of moving forward in getting equality for women, we seem—at times like this—to be sliding back into a primitive society and polity where we hesitate to condemn the violence and even the verbal abuse.

 If society and the state had taken pains to bring in gender equality and empowerment into the national consciousness through education, laws, justice by establishing principled accountability, the story might have been quite different.  Instead the reverse has been encouraged, with society applauding the woman who gives birth to a son that then opens the door for discrimination and violence.

Men like Pal should know better, but then the political culture that he represents looks at violence as a necessary weapon, and women as necessary victims of this ugly mindset. Similarly, those attacking women for not dressing according to their perceptions, are seeking to enforce control over one half of the population, to add to their authority and patriarchal domination.

The opposition to the Women’s Bill seeking to reserve one-third of the seats in the legislatures for women comes from the same kind of thought processes, the inability of such men to look upon women as equal and hence to give up a 33 per cent share of the seats across the country.

Women remain the biggest victims in India. They are killed before they are born, they are maltreated after they are born, they are denied equality and freedoms that are basic to humanity, they are married when they are too young, they suffer at the hands of their husbands and families, if they work, they are victims of sexual harassment and low pay, and on the streets, they remain every man’s game. There is a growing awareness of their rights, but even so, this is heavily laced with insecurity and a certain diffidence that expresses itself only on occasion.

Political inaction against erring men like Pal compounds the problem, as it sends the message across that those elected to protect and empower women cannot be depended upon. And that the worst crime of rape is justified by political leaders as a means of subjugation, to silence political rivals, and at the same time, establish male supremacy.

An example should be made of Pal, because he is an MP. An FIR has been registered, but given levels of politicisation, it remains to be seen whether the law will be allowed to follow its own course and that too, speedily.  Politicians who can encourage sexual assault of women certainly should have no place in our polity, and while the Indian system has been kind to elected leaders on this issue, there has to be a collective shout from across India: Stop, No More!

Women’s organisations and the saner sections of Indian society who see the dangers in such threats need to build pressure against such political leaders and an anti-woman system as well. Police do not register FIRs easily when the crime is against women, as the Badaun case showed. Despite the brutal hanging of two Dalit women, the police were not keen to register a case initially. This is so everywhere. Crime against women remains a low priority item on the government and administrative agenda, with the victims, their families, and supporters having to assert themselves before getting even minimalist recourse to justice.

The National Commission for Women is a useless body, and has always been so. It is more politicised in that sense than even the police, and extremely insensitive to women, as its responses have shown time and again over the years. All governments in power insist otherwise, but a term in office always passes by without basic rights for women being secured.

India remains a scary country for women. Delhi is scarier than most cities, and the north Indian states the worst defaulters of justice, equality and empowerment.

 Seema Mustafa

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