Uttar Pradesh minister Azam Khan landed in yet another controversy on Friday after allegedly telling a rape survivor not to try and find “popularity in such a thing of infamy and shame”, drawing sharp criticism from political rivals and rights activists.
The comments by Khan is the latest in a series of similar remarks by leaders – from different parties – which activists say underlined the insensitivity and patriarchal mindset of the country’s political class.
The minority affair minister had earlier blamed mobile phones for rising rape cases in India.
The woman, accompanied by a dozen lawyers, insisted on giving her memorandum to the minister in the middle of an event at Lucknow’s Sarsaiya Ghat on Thursday. Khan told her twice that he would take her memorandum once the event was over and help her, but the victim and the lawyers didn’t pay heed.
When she tried to get onto the dais, he is alleged to have said: “Agar aap badnami ko itni shohrat dengi, toh zamane ko apni shakl kaise dikhayengi? (If you rake up such a shameful matter, how will you have a face to live in the society?).”
The woman was allegedly raped in a moving car four months ago and had approached the minister to submit a memorandum regarding the slow pace of the police investigation.
“Azam Khan did not help us, instead he started making untoward statements. Now I can’t go to him. Being a minister he should not have said such thing. He should have helped us instead,” ANI quoted the survivor as saying later.
Khan’s comment drew widespread criticism on social media on Friday.
Delhi women commission’s chairperson Swati Maliwal said she was shocked with the minister’s remarks.
“Politicians should exercise caution on such sensitive issues and should think of their mothers and sisters before showing insensitivity,” Maliwal tweeted.
Maliwal added, “How can he tell a rape victim that her struggle is publicity stunt which will bring her disgrace and she’ll not be able to show her face!”
How can Azam Khan tell a rape victim dat her struggle is publicity stunt which'll bring her disgrace & she'll not b abl 2 show her face! 2/4— Swati Maliwal (@SwatiJaiHind) November 20, 2015
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also lashed out at the minister for his behaviour and demanded that chief minister Akhilesh Yadav sack him.
“Throughout his political career, Azam Khan has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. It is high time that the Samajwadi Party leadership takes action against his irresponsible remarks,” BJP’s state spokesperson Vijay Bahadur Pathak said.
Khan’s comments mirrored earlier remarks by other SP leaders including party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav who had once said, “Boys will be boys…they commit mistakes (galtiyaan ho jaati hain).”
Another party leader and Mulayam’s son Ram Gopal Yadav too had blamed television for bringing vulgarity to homes and “polluting young minds”.
According to statistics released by the National Crime Records Bureau for 2014, at least 93 women are raped in the country every day though police say that the high number of incidents was a result of more cases being registered nowadays.
India introduced stringent legislations to tackle sexual violence following the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapist on a moving bus in the Capital three years ago that had triggered street protests and nationwide outrage.
Activists, however, say that the laws have failed to act as a deterrent in a highly patriarchal society where people’s representatives get away with insensitive comments on sexual assaults.
(with agency inputs)