Ajit Pawar, deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, believes he talks straight and tough. We are fortunate that such straight and tough-talk shows the man behind the otherwise inscrutable face. Remember his should we-urinate-in-dams comment in April this year in response to farmers protesting/fasting for water? Pawar, who cannot claim to have imbibed any of the progressive and liberal values of his larger political family, offered simple advice to end rape in society.
Cut the genitals of the rapist, he told his audience at a public meeting in Bhokardan village, Jalna district, on Monday. His words of gospel: “Such should be the inculcation of values that when looking at a woman, men should see them only as mothers and sisters. But there will also be some who will commit atrocities against women. Such men should be severely punished, given the death penalty. In fact, I had said we should do their ‘bandobast’… cut to pieces. We shouldn’t cut him to pieces; you must have understood what should be chopped…” (translated from Marathi).
Pawar was clearly advocating mob justice or collective-andinstant revenge. We could dismiss this as yet another gaffe by a habitual offender or be disgusted by the approach that Pawar has to issues of violence against women. But when he offers such advice, it becomes our problem. He is essentially saying: damn the justice system, let’s have khap-style retributive justice and dole out primitive punishments.
Equally worrying is the mind-set his lines reveal: the patriarchal and exasperatingly misogynistic one that casts the woman as a mother or sister, and refusing to accept her in any other role. It’s different to a degree but not starkly different from that crazed advice that Asaram, the self-styled godman, offered in the immediate aftermath of the Delhi gang-rape. The woman should have addressed her rapists as brothers and pleaded with folded hands for mercy, he brazenly said then.
Now in jail on charges of rape, he is hopefully counting the number of times young girls called him “bhaiyya”, despite which he went ahead with his sinister atrocities on them. Pawar’s colleague RR Patil, state home minister who functions more as a morals minister, has a few whacky ideas to “protect women”, especially those who stay out late on account of their work. They can request police protection and will be provided escorts to the nearest safe place such as bus stands or railway stations, he said. As HT has been reporting, based on studies done by women’s groups, busstands and railway stations top the list of places where women regularly face sexual harassment and assault.
The most fitting legacy to the memory of the Delhi victim would be a long and sustained central government funded project to change the mind-sets of people, wrote SC lawyer Karuna Nandy, when the convictions and sentences were handed out. “Only two things can bring (that) change: certain justice, brought by nuts and bolts improvements to the criminal justice system, and mass public education…. (which) has proven to be effective when it is evidence-based, well-targeted and resourced,” she wrote on an international media platform.
Public education to change mind-sets, it seems, has to begin with politicians and other sundry society leaders who, more often than not, have set the tone and terms of the public debate about violence against women. Pawar and Patil, and others who believe and talk this way too, should be the target group for such public service messages. Let gender sensitisation begin at the top of the socio-political pyramid.