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HindustanTimes Sat,19 Apr 2014
Don’t defend the indefensible
Namita Bhandare
October 12, 2012
First Published: 21:51 IST(12/10/2012)
Last Updated: 10:53 IST(13/10/2012)

When headlines shout rape, our ‘leaders’ will find solutions. Om Prakash Chautala’s remedy to the  rape cases in Haryana — 18 in 30 days, and that’s just the reported figures — is to endorse the khap panchayat’s suggestion that parents marry off their daughters at a young age. Presumably, child marriage will end the surge in sexual crimes.

The idiocy of the khap argument, seconded by INLD leader Chautala is obvious. Chautala has tried to backtrack saying it was up to the government to accept it. Still, just to dispel any ambiguity let it be stated:

Married women get raped, married men can rape. In Kaithal a five-month pregnant woman was raped by two men. In Hisar four of the accused rapists are married.

Rape has little to do with sexual desire (presumably early marriages will ensure sex-on-demand for testosterone-overloaded men). It has more to do with an assertion of power.

With 830 girls for 1,000 boys, where will Haryana’s men find enough wives? Politicians might want to campaign against female foeticide instead of regressing into the medieval ages by supporting illegal khaps who rule what women should wear or whether they can go to markets unescorted. 

Fifteen of the 18 reported rapes this month are of Dalit women. When Dalits are targeted for rape by upper caste men, it is to establish dominance and ‘humiliate’ a community. Married, single, widowed, doesn’t matter. 

Early marriage puts girls at risk of early childbirth, the leading cause of death for girls in the age group 15-19 in developing countries, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). Children are also more likely to experience domestic violence, including marital rape, finds HRW. Moreover, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 makes child marriage illegal.

Illogic is not the monopoly of any one party. Rising to Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Hooda’s defence, Congress spokeswoman Renuka Chowdhury says the state is working “discreetly to reassure families that they will be safe and they will not have to worry about the social support they need. It is not a very simple black-and-white law and order issue only.”

Err, discreetly? Not a law-and-order issue? Social support?

Two rapes were reported on the day Sonia Gandhi visited a Dalit family whose daughter had killed herself after being raped in Jind.

This is a red flag issue. Governance, action and exemplary steps are called for. But Haryana’s CM has been so discreet that until his party boss came to Jind, he hadn’t bothered to meet a single rape survivor. Not to forget, his state party unit head was blaming the rapes on a ‘political conspiracy’ while another partyman, Dharamvir Goyat stated that ‘90% rapes are consensual’.

It’s a rare politician who will take on the khap panchayats. It’s a rarer politician who has made women’s issues, including crimes against women, a personal crusade.

Mamata Banerjee dismissed the reporting of rape cases as a media conspiracy. Sheila Dikshit advised women to be ‘less adventurous’. And who can forget UP Congress chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi’s remarks that Mayawati should be raped in order to comprehend the plight of victims in her state?

A spate of rapes is not the occasion to score political brownie points. Was Sonia Gandhi’s visit to Jind an attempt to politicise the rapes as the BJP’s Balbir Punj, and even Chautala claim? It doesn’t matter. This is not about party politics. This is about asking: what are you doing to get a better deal for women? What are you doing to make the country safer for women? What are you doing to ensure dignity and right to life for untouchable women?

Instead of blaming women for crimes against them, maybe it’s time to start putting blame where it belongs.

Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal


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