New Delhi: The horrific rape of minors in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir, and Unnao in Uttar Pradesh, has evoked widespread outrage from various sections of society. Yet, the Bharatiya Janata Party has openly said that it views this as an opposition plan to corner the government.
While the opposition may be cashing in on the public anger, the saffron party may do well to consider that much of this rage, reflected on the streets, is a result of, one, the brutality of the incidents – both the minors were held captive and assaulted repeatedly by several men over a week – and, two, the BJP leaders have either unambiguously stood in defence of the accused or have gone out of their way to prevaricate in both the cases.
In Kathua, the Hindu Ekta Manch, a saffron outfit, led multiple protests against the arrest of the accused persons. BJP ministers in the state cabinet addressed the agitations in support of the accused openly.
In Unnao, the BJP-led government took no action for more than a year against the accused, who is one of party’s own legislators, Kuldeep Singh Sengar, until the survivor tried to kill herself in front of the chief minister’s residence and her father, who was arrested subsequently, was allegedly tortured to death in custody.
Narendra Modi and Amit Shah
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had not addressed the issue so far despite great pressure from the public to do so, broke his silence today. In a first tweet at 7:37 pm, he wrote, “The incidents of the recent days are a challenge to social justice. The incidents which have been in public discussion the past two days would be considered shameful by any civilised society. As a society and as a country we should feel ashamed.”
In a second tweet, he said, “Incidents like this, wherever they occur in the country shock our sense of humanity. I would like to reassure the nation that none of the guilty persons will be spared. Justice will be done. All of us will have to work together to end this evil within our society.”
जिस तरह की घटनाएं हमने बीते दिनों में देखीं हैं, वो सामाजिक न्याय की अवधारणा को चुनौती देती हैं।
पिछले 2 दिनो से जो घटनाये चर्चा में है वो निश्चित रूप से किसी भी सभ्य समाज के लिये शर्मनाक है। एक समाज के रूप में, एक देश के रूप में हम सब इस के लिए शर्मसार है: PM
— PMO India (@PMOIndia) April 13, 2018
देश के किसी भी राज्य में, किसी भी क्षेत्र में होने वाली ऐसी वारदातें, हमारी मानवीय संवेदनाओं को झकझोर देती हैं।
मैं देश को विश्वास दिलाना चाहता हूँ की कोई अपराधी बचेगा नहीं, न्याय होगा और पूरा होगा।
हमारे समाज की इस आंतरिक बुराई को खत्म करने का काम, हम सभी को मिलकर करना होगा: PM
— PMO India (@PMOIndia) April 13, 2018
Just 20 minutes after making his promise of taking strict action, two BJP state cabinet ministers Chaudhary Lal Singh and Chander Parkash Ganga who had attended the march in favour of the accused in the Kathua case quit the J&K cabinet.
— Marya Shakil (@maryashakil) April 13, 2018
The Modi-Shah duo, said to be taking all the political decisions of the BJP currently, had so far been tight-lipped about the two incidents despite the fact that they are being hotly debated across India.
One can easily remember how Modi and his team were so forthright about women’s safety during his prime ministerial campaign. While in the government, however, no BJP leaders have, till now, condemned the incidents directly, leave aside talking about rightful justice to the survivors. The leadership has neither done anything to stop the communal polarisation that Hindu Ekta Manch has been fuelling in Kathua nor has it been able to contain Sengar’s dominance in Unnao.
Let’s recap what other BJP leaders have said over the last few days.
Nandkumar Singh Chouhan
The BJP state president of Madhya Pradesh, Chouhan, was participating in a protest against the parliamentary logjam during the budget session, when he said:
“The act (Kathua rape-murder) must have been committed by Pakistan’s agents to divide people by chanting Jai Shri Ram. If slogans of Jai Shri Ram were shouted on the rape of the girl, it must be the handiwork of Pakistan’s agents who want to create differences between us. Hindus are less than one per cent in Kashmir. They cannot even open their mouths, then how can they shout these slogans?”
In many previous instances, the BJP leaders have talked about the “Pakistani” hand in anything that puts their governments on a defensive foot. Chouhan, who made this proclamation yet again without an iota of evidence in the context of Kathua rape case, was no different. At least, he tried to make amends by calling the brutal rape, “ a blot on humanity”.
The MLA from Bairia in the Ballia district of UP, while defending Sengar, said, “I am speaking from psychological point of view; no one can rape a mother of three children. It is not possible, this is a conspiracy against him (Kuldeep Singh Sengar).”
“Yes, maybe her father was thrashed by some people but I refuse to believe rape charge,” he added, but refused to say what evidence or even hearsay information he had to believe so.
Although only a media cell member of the UP’s state unit of BJP, Bharadwaj had the gumption to take the Adityanath government head on.
“No one is greater than Amit Shah in BJP and that is why I thought I should inform him what has disgraced our party. This is a total failure of Uttar Pradesh Government because we fought for women’s respect but risked it just for saving image of an influential person,” she said.
In contrast, one of the most-prominent BJP leaders and union minister, Irani could only see the opposition “attempts to politicise” the incidents, the brutality of which has moved most citizens.
Although she said she was “deeply, deeply disturbed”, she went on to say, “The law and the administration will work according to the constitution. There are some people who want to politicise such incidents and that is expected too. But as a woman, I would request that victim shaming should not be done.”
She was responding to Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s call for a midnight candle march on April 12. However, what escapes understanding is that she thought it fit to comment about the rapes, which are making news over the last one week, only in the context of a political party’s protest.
Even if one thinks that she may not be aware of the full facts of the Unnao case and that the rape victim ran around for more than a year to even get an FIR registered, Irani’s statement about “law and administration” taking its own course is admirable.
During her visit to Amethi, where she contested against Gandhi in 2014 parliamentary polls and plans to take on Gandhi again in 2019, Irani had chosen to speak about “politicisation of the rapes”. It was also an opportunity for her to take a political dig at her opposition. “Those who asked for votes for Gayatri Prajapati (Samajwadi Party MLA and a rape-accused) are protesting today. People know the reality,” she said.
It is not for the first time that the BJP high command left it to its women leaders to do the firefighting in cases of gender injustices, even as many other leaders keep blurting out their opinions, which only exposed their gender-insensitive minds.
Lekhi, the national spokesperson, on April 13, finally came out and became the first leader to talk about both the cases directly. She said that the party did not shy away from “condemning” the assaults.
“A fair probe was done in the matter, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) was formed and six-seven people were arrested. The incident took place 10 months ago and the victim had not mentioned the name of the BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar when the police took the statement before the magistrate. It was later that the woman in a letter to PM Modi and CM Adityanath accused the MLA of rape and the investigations began,” she said about the Unnao case.
What she failed to address is the fact that the survivor could not even get a FIR lodged for more than one year because of the police-MLA nexus in Unnao.
Only when the teenager tried to commit suicide, and her father died after custodial torture, did the UP administration started moving. It was then when the MLA Sengar’s name was openly discussed as an accused. Though the SIT was constituted soon after and six-seven people were arrested, but it took a huge media campaign to get Atul Sengar, who continued to issue threats to the survivor’s family until April 11, arrested, and to get the case transferred to the CBI. On April 12, the Allahabad high court directed the CBI to arrest and not just detain Kuldeep Sengar on the basis of the FIR that had been filed against him.
Speaking about the Kathua case in the press conference, she accepted the BJP ministers in J&K were, indeed, part of the Hindu Ekta Manch protests against the arrests of the accused but thought they were “misled and that it should be a lesson for the ministers to not to believe one side or the other and let the law take its own course”.
If interpreted, it seems that she attempted to say that the BJP ministers had been given the wrong information by the Hindu Ekta Manch. Even if we believe that BJP ministers acted with naivety, who is to answer for BJP workers who have openly supported the rape accused – one of whom has reportedly said in his deposition to the police that the group planned the kidnapping and rape of the eight-year-old only because she had been born into a Muslim Bakerwal family?
Like all BJP spokespersons, Lekhi, too, tried to change the course of the debate by blaming the opposition through usual whataboutery.
“You see their (opposition) plan, first shout ‘minority, minority’, then ‘Dalit, Dalit’, and now ‘women, women’ and then try to somehow fix blame of state issues on the Centre. All this while ignoring the strict action being taken by state governments,” she said, in a tenor similar to Irani.
The Union cabinet Minister for Women & Child Development thinks that the rapes called for decisive punishment, which for her is nothing less than death penalty – tit for tat.
“I have been deeply, deeply disturbed by the rape case in Kathua and all the recent rape cases that have happened on children. I and the (women and child development) ministry intend to bring an amendment to the POCSO Act asking for death penalty for rape of children below 12 years” this is what she said.
But, again, she stopped short of condemning the brutal assaults, thus pushing the question of her partymen’s involvement under the carpet.
“We have failed [the eight-year-old] as humans but she will not be denied justice,” the minister of state for external affairs and former chief of army staff tweeted, without outrightly condemning the incidents.
The chief minister of UP said nothing for more than a week after the Unnao rape case started flashing. Finally, on April 13, the same day as the prime minister broke his silence, did he appear before the media. But even then, he stuck to using evasion tactics, and talking of ‘zero tolerance’ without naming names.
“The government took immediate action to set up SIT after learning about the case. We referred the matter to CBI. They must have arrested the accused MLA. Our government has adopted a zero tolerance towards such crimes. There will be no compromise, whosoever the person is,” he said with as much administrative surety he could, but refused to take further questions on the matter.
The former Mumbai police commissioner and currently a minister of state for human resource development in Narendra Modi’s cabinet treated the Unnao rape case as yet another of such criminal acts, notwithstanding that the primary accused is one of the BJP’s legislators in Uttar Pradesh, his home state. Here is what he said:
“The SIT has submitted its report; strict action will be taken against the guilty. I don’t know how much Kuldeep Singh Sengar is involved in the case, sometimes allegations are proven wrong also.”