Amid rape fiasco, India’s leaders keep up insensitive remarks

January 4, 2013

Amid unprecedented anger against rising incidents of rape and molestation of women, one would expect that there would be a greater awareness about what to say and what not to. But India’s political leaders and opinion-makers -- both men and women -- continue to rub salt on the wounds by their insensitive and offensive remarks.  

Here is a sample of their statements since the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year old woman in New Delhi on Dec. 16, and her eventual death on Dec. 28. These have not only enraged women here but also exposed the depth of the social malaise: 

1. Kailash Vijayvargiya, a minister in the Madhya Pradesh government in central India, quoted a metaphor from a Hindu epic to say that women should not cross limits. 

“There is only one phrase for this and that is 'moral limit'; there is a lakshman rekha [a line] for every person, when that is crossed then the demon-king Raavan will abduct Goddess Sita,” he said, quoting from the Ramayana. His party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), condemned the statement after huge media and online outrage Friday morning, and Vijayvargiya apologized.

2. Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mothership of India’s main opposition party, the BJP, said at a public meeting in eastern India on Tuesday that rape was an urban phenomenon, a claim that is statistically untrue.

"You go to villages and forests of the country and there will be no such incidents of gang-rape or sex crimes. They are prevalent in some urban belts,” Bhagwat said, as some in the audience could be heard laughing in the television footage. He also criticized the Western lifestyle prevalent in cities.

3. One elected member of a legislative assembly in West Bengal state, Anisur Rahman, recently criticized the female chief minister of the state, Mamata Bannerjee, for announcing monetary compensation for rape survivors.  

“We ask, Didimoni, what is your fee? How much will you take for getting raped?’’ Rahman said referring to Bannerjee by her popular moniker “didi” or sister. He apologized later for the comment.

4. Abhijit Mukherjee, a lawmaker and the son of India’s president, said the anti-rape protesters were “highly dented and painted” women, a reference to their make-up. He then added that the protesters go “from discos to demonstrations.”  He later apologized.

5. Botsa Satyanarayana, the transport minister in the Congress-ruled government in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, said women should not roam around at night just because India gained independence from British colonial rule at midnight.

"Do we roam in streets at midnight as we got Independence at midnight? It would have been better if the girl did not travel by a private bus at that time," Satyanarayana said. He later apologized and withdrew his remark.

6. Kakoli Ghose Dastidar, a female lawmaker from the political party Trinamool Congress, said that a rape incident that shook the state government in West Bengal in February was not rape at all, but described it as a deal gone wrong.

“That was a different case altogether. That was not at all a rape case,” Dastidar said. “It was a misunderstanding between two parties involved in professional dealings. Between the lady and her client."

7. Banwari Lal Singhal, an elected member of the legislative assembly in the northern state of Rajasthan, wrote a letter to the top bureaucrat in the state government that girls should be banned from wearing skirts to school.

“The intention of this demand is to keep girl students away from men’s lustful gazes and for their comfort in hot and cold weather conditions,” Singhal, a member of the BJP, told reporters. “It is not a Talibani type of thinking or restriction on girls’ freedom or right but a concern for their safety.”

8. During a parliament debate on the gang-rape incident, Sushma Swaraj, a female BJP lawmaker called the rape victim, who was battling for her life in the hospital at that time, a “living corpse.” This angered many activists and rape survivors.

"Accused in such cases should be hanged," said Swaraj in the Lower House. "Even if the 23-year-old survived she would be a living corpse, traumatized for life."

Rama Lakshmi has been with The Post's India bureau since 1990. She is a staff writer and India social media editor for Post World.
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Max Fisher · January 4, 2013