Kathua is now off the front page. And Maya Kodnani off the hook. This is when the women of India need to step up. Recall our anger from just days ago, and remind ourselves that what happened to an eight-year-old in Kathua happened also in Naroda Patiya, just on a much bigger scale. Of the 97 massacred – 36 were women and 35 were innocent Indian children – stabbed, butchered, and burnt. Many raped before being set ablaze. As members of a fact-finding team into the Gujarat carnage, we met Kodnani in Ahmedabad on March 29, 2002. Then a BJP legislator, Kodnani flatly denied not just responsibility for this massacre of 97 citizens, but also the very occurrence of these mass rapes. (Our account of that meeting can be read on pages 56-57 of The Survivors Speak, the report we published at the time) By 2007, she had been inducted into chief minister Modi’s ministry, for guess what? Women and Child Development.
Nothing will change in India, unless we do.
Kodnani told us, “ISI bhi involved thi” – blaming the ubiquitous ‘foreign hand’ for stoking hatred in Gujarat 2002. Fast forward to Kathua 2018. “The act must have been committed by Pakistan’s agents to divide people by chanting Jai Shri Ram,” said Madhya Pradesh BJP president Nandkumar Singh Chouhan.
Forget criminal responsibility, how do we – in 2018 – continue to allow politicians to trot out this stuff, insulting the intelligence of citizens, every time a new rape case hits the headline? From deflection to denial to the volte-face promise. Post Kathua, it all happened on the same calendar day:
- Meenakshi Lekhi (April 13, 2018): “You see their 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.”
- Maneka Gandhi (April 13, 2018): “Aap log [media] chaahte hain ki 2 minute mein karyavahi ho jaye, action is being taken by state govts. Also, we are contemplating an amendment in law which awards death penalty to rapists of minors below 12 years of age.” (Source: ANI tweet). What she really meant was: ‘We won’t act fast, if at all. But we will change the law, yet again, and introduce the death penalty, even though we know it will do nothing to prevent any crime.’ Yes, let us lower the rate of conviction for rape even more from the one in four of recent years, which dipped to a low of 18.9 % in 2016. Plus we get to hang poor people and many more Muslims and Dalits than any other demographic in India.
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi (April 13, 2018): “Main desh ko vishwas dilana chahta hoon ki koi apradhi bachega nahi. Nyaya hoga aur poora hoga.” [I want to assure the country that no guilty person will be spared. Full justice will be done.] (Oh my lord! Could you possibly sound more insincere!)
Nobody believes you awful politicians anymore! Not even your own daughters. I just read Nandini Sundar’s recent piece. You should read it too. A tale about being raped in Bastar and being idiot enough to seek justice. Then read about Bilkis Bano’s 15 year journey to hell and back in the land of Gandhi. Gujarat to Delhi to Gujarat to Delhi to Mumbai to Gujarat to Mumbai to Gujarat to Mumbai to Delhi. I lost count. There were more trips. And never mind the number of investigation agencies and courts that hopped on and off this roller coaster, sick-making ride to widely-hailed justice-success. Kavita Srivastava could write yet another saga about Bhanwari Devi’s on-going quarter century marathon in Rajasthan. So, Unnao, Kathua, Surat – all newly raped and/or dead women and children, please stand and await your turn. India has a long tradition of the separate ‘ladies queue’. Even for justice.
The world’s largest democracy. Laws? Yes. Constitution? Hell yes! We worship it, and dust off imperious, lofty quotes from it on a daily basis. But rule of law for all citizens? Equality for women? Justice for sexual violence? God, no. Why? Because, truth be told, we’re large and bursting at the seams, but not much of a democracy, except for the ritualistic election we enact every five years. And the foreign press then dutifully tells us how fabulous and colourful we are. Yeah. Like a loud bandana on a bald head. Then we go right back to our rat-infested institutions (rats in the foundation brought down an entire building recently), mocking our Constitution, raping women, waving the tricolour and whistling patriotic tunes as we do it, and every rapist it seems is sitting in close proximity to some politician in a place where the sun don’t shine. And it stinks.
The Association for Democratic Reforms tells us that we crazy citizens routinely elect criminals and scoundrels, who then proceed to make laws for us for the next five years. Naturally, the chances of them being sympathetic to rapists and scoundrels like themselves are pretty high. Before I am accused of tarnishing all good politicians with the same brush, let me hastily add, the ones who don’t have criminal records probably don’t because they followed the Unnao playbook. Deny the rape charge, strut about freely like a peacock in the rain, and kill the father.
So, for me, you lot can go to hell. You have no heart, you lie for a living and will do anything to politically survive. Including maintaining the loudest silence on sexual violence known to womankind, barring “Beti Bachaaaao!” Which frankly now sounds like something from a Bollywood rape-genre film I saw years ago. I am not your beti, bahu or behen. Try person. Try citizen. And lose the muscle and machismo, because you sound like – no, you are – useless empty vessels in an media-fed echo chamber. Woman body, girl body, baby body – cheap commodity in your putrid, patriarchal big bazaar. Rip them apart, gnaw at their innards – do it for fun, do it in groups like jackal packs, or singly like the wolverine (which looks like a bear, but is actually a weasel), do it because you can get away with it, do it in orgasmic orgies of communal hate, do it to score points over terrified Muslims, and adivasis and Dalits. Then throw the Bakarwals out of Jammu, burn villages in Bastar, boot Christians out from Kandhamal, Muslims from Gujarat and Muzaffarnagar and still unbelievably manage to win the next election.
Women’s security, girls autonomy, their right to not be sexually brutalised – all small change in your high-stakes game of grab-power-and-hold-it-down-for-as-long-as-you-can. All you intelligent politicians, I now firmly believe are misogynists deep down. You likely hate all womankind, and you secretly feel all these weeping, shrieking, charred, bloodied women and little girls – from Naroda Patiya to Kathua to Unnao to Surat to Delhi to Chennai (these rape sites are just from one morning newspaper) – had it coming. Oh especially, yes especially, the women in Bastar because they are either anti-national Maoists or wannabe anti-national Maoists, or anti-national Maoist sympathisers. Plus these adivasis, to you, are half-clad, half-human anyway.
So I give up on you. You will never give us justice. You rape and lynch and obstruct the law and don’t arrest your own party workers and MLAs and MPs when they do. And then you send an oily army of spokespersons to television studios to do whataboutery. Until this word was invented (thank you, language!), I could not fathom what was being done to us. Why all seemingly smart, sensible feminists and human rights activists, battling for justice and equality, were made to look guilty and cower defensively under televised arc lights, for not having saved the entire stinking world. Why did you not take up that rape in Assam? Why didn’t you speak out ten years ago on the other rape case? Why did you not condemn the lustful Allauddin Khilji of the 14th century? And, hey what about Shashi Tharoor?
Now, razor ready with knowledge of ‘whataboutery’, here’s what I say: So, bloody what? We will speak when we speak on what we wish to speak on. Our choice. Our selective outrage. Our candlelight march. No one elected us. You, on the other hand, begged for votes. So follow through on your chest-thumping job of running this country for all with some minimum decency. Making the country work for all citizens is your job, regardless of how much noise which group of noisy citizens chooses to make and when. ‘Minimum decency’ – my new standard of governance – means citizens (i.e. women and eight-year-olds) don’t like being stripped, mauled and gutted. Stop it, or punish the perps, and don’t dawdle. We know you like bullet trains. Great. So do I. So much, that I want ‘bullet train’ to be the new national standard for justice for women. Speedy justice. With full bullet train budget of Rs. 1,10,000 crore for women’s equality, safety and the ability to prosecute crimes against them (not the scrooge budget of Rs 22,095 crore for the women and child development ministry in 2017-18). Until then, here’s my lowest election ask – no jobs, no health, no education. Just no misogyny.
And these party spokespersons? What kind of low-life communication school do you come from? Bio-data to qualify for this greasy position – A++ in whataboutery, A++ in telling bald-faced lies, and A++ in shouting down others, even on your phlegmy bad throat days. You disgust me. Between party spokespersons and the venom-spewing-eyeball-chasing-combustion-engines disguised as television journalists, all we get evening after evening is smoke, mirrors, and belly aching diarrhoea. I henceforth demand narco tests, not just for the rapists, but for this lot of rape-spokesmen/defenders.
Politicians running the country today are a truly rotten bunch. Let’s boot them out. All of them. 2019 is not far away. Because I am finally convinced that the only deterrent to rape is not the wimpy hand of the mighty law. It is losing an election. Women matter. Let the next lot of scoundrels in power know this.
Farah Naqvi is an activist and writer who lives and works in Delhi.