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Never far from the surface

Remarks by politicians about the Suryanelli rape victim reveal their patriarchal biases.

india Updated: Feb 19, 2013 21:19 IST

Old (patriarchal) habits die hard. At a press conference in Muscat on Monday, Congress Member of Parliament PK Sudhakaran reportedly called the Suryanelli rape survivor a “prostitute” and added quite emphatically that the charges against Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien in the sexual assault case are baseless. How Mr Sudhakaran knows about Mr Kurien’s involvement, or rather non-involvement in this controversial case, is not clear but his remarks about the girl, who was brutally raped by 42 men over 45 days 17 years ago, is, to put it mildly, crude and unwarranted. Saying that the girl had enough opportunities to escape, the MP said that she knew what she was doing and that the “difference between rape and prostitution” has to be defined clearly.

His remark came only a few months after another politician Abhijit Mukherjee referred to women protesters, who took to the streets after the December 16 Delhi gang rape case, as “dented and painted” and the recent sexist remarks by Mr Sudhakaran’s party colleague Union minister Vayalar Ravi against a woman journalist when he was asked about Mr Kurien’s role in Suryanelli case. Thanks to public pressure later both Mr Mukherjee and Mr Ravi had to apologise, but the question that must be asked here is this: can society allow such politicians to get away with making such comments with just an apology?

What is more alarming is the fact that even at a time when the country is discussing questions of gender parity and gender sensitivity, we still have lawmakers, entrusted to make laws that are gender sensitive, who treat women as second-class citizens and think that any physical or verbal attack on them is par for the course. Moreover, isn’t it a pity that the discourse has reached such unacceptable levels in two states that have above-average literacy levels in the country? In fact, the girl, who was a teenager when the rape incidents happened, has unfortunately become a pawn in Kerala politics: while the Left, which lost power to the Congress in the last assembly elections, wants to rake up the issue for political gains and has demanded Mr Kurien’s resignation, the Congress is doing all that it can to stop this political bomb from exploding in its face. The rape victim may now approach the high court and demand a further probe into the role of Mr Kurien in the case.

While the Kerala government has repeatedly stalled demands for a re-investigation into the case, it is in the best interest of everyone that it is done. If Mr Kurien is innocent, he will get a chance to clear his name. Painful though this may be for him, a re-investigation seems the only way to shake off this taint if he is indeed blameless. But to get to the bottom of the case, the probe has to be fair and impartial.