The more things change, the more they remain the same — and some politicians never change their spots. In a supremely insensitive statement, Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Mulayam Singh Yadav on Friday said that it was wrong to give capital punishment to rapists. Referring to the recent court ruling in the Mumbai's Shakti Mills rape cases. Mr Yadav defended the convicts, saying that boys made such mistakes but that did not mean that they should be sent to the gallows. He promised to change the anti-rape law if the SP came to power, adding that women often misused such stringent laws. A few hours later, the SP's Maharashtra chief Abu Azmi added fuel to the fire by saying that women who were raped should be punished.
While Mr Yadav is not exactly known to be a torchbearer for women's rights — the SP has consistently opposed the Women's Reservation Bill — his rabid comment took many by surprise as he was critical of rape cases during the BSP regime in the state. However, if one goes by how the election campaigning has progressed till now, his comments should not surprise anyone, there is indeed a method in his madness. His and Mr Azmi's patriarchal opinions are an attempt to polarise the electorate. That it was a constituency-sensitive political gimmick becomes clear if you read how Abu Azmi's son Farhan, the party's candidate from Mumbai North-Central parliamentary constituency, reacted to the comments. He tweeted: "Hang a rapist a 100 times and give me the duty to do so". Obviously, in Mumbai's North-Central — unlike in Moradabad — such bizarre defence of rapists would not wash down well with the electorate.
Yet one cannot only accuse Mr Yadav and Mr Azmi of being supremely insensitive; politicians across parties are known to make such comments. Just after the December 16, 2012 gang rape, Congress MP Abhijeet Mukherjee made his infamous "painted and dented" comment. Then there was RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat who seemed to be naive enough to believe that rapes happened in India but not in Bharat. Similarly, the BJP's Kailash Vijayvargiya was at the centre of a controversy over his remark that women must not cross the 'lakshman rekha' to avoid unwanted consequences, prompting an embarrassed BJP to disassociate itself from the comment. While Mr Yadav and Mr Azmi's utterances could have had a long-term political motive, their comments and those of others in the political class show that gender discrimination runs deep in this patriarchal society. In such a scenario, these utterances are like rubbing salt into wounds.