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Sunday, May 19, 2024
By Namita Bhandare

Did Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s aide, Bibhav Kumar assault Swati Maliwal as she has claimed? With charges and counter charges flying thick and fast, it’s hard to say. But one thing is clear, this might just be the dirtiest election ever fought. Read on…

     

The Big Story

Misbehaviour, misogyny and muddying the waters

Trading charges: Bibhav Kumar and Swati Maliwal

On Monday morning, Swati Maliwal, a Rajya Sabha member of Parliament for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), arrived at Flagstaff Road, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s official residence. Kejriwal had just made interim bail and had already plunged headlong into campaign mode.

As she waited to meet her party leader in his drawing room, who should arrive but his aide, Bibhav Kumar? According to Maliwal’s statement to the police made three days later on Thursday, Kumar slapped and kicked her multiple times on her face, chest, stomach and lower part of her body “without provocation”.

On Tuesday at a press conference, Sanjay Singh, another AAP Rajya Sabha member conceded that Kumar had ‘misbehaved’ with Maliwal. The chief minister was aware of the incident and would act, Singh said.

But on Wednesday evening, Kumar was photographed by his boss Kejriwal’s side at Lucknow airport. On Thursday, Kejriwal refused to answer a question on the incident while the Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav brushed it off saying there were other far more important issues.

It’s then that Maliwal recorded her statement to the police. Within a few hours, a 52-second video shot on a mobile phone went viral. In it Maliwal is purportedly arguing with men in security uniforms who have asked her to leave Kejriwal’s house. She says she has called the police, threatens them that they will lose their jobs, and seems calm.

“Without any context,” scoffed Maliwal on X, but failed to provide any.

A second clip, apparently captured from CCTV footage, shows Maliwal being escorted out. Once again, she seems unruffled.

At the time of writing, Bibhav Kumar has been arrested.

AAP claims Maliwal is muddying the waters at the behest of the BJP. She denies the charge.

Questions, questions

Bibhav Kumar (in checked shirt) with Arvind Kejriwal at Lucknow airport/HT

1. What did Sanjay Singh mean when he said Bibhav Kumar had “misbehaved” with Maliwal?

An assault on any woman, leave alone an MP and a party member, inside the chief minister’s official residence cannot be a private matter to be resolved internally. This is not some gharelu jhagda where the family patriarch steps in and sorts out matters amicably.

There are constitutional figures of authority involved. There is women’s dignity involved. There is precedent and setting an example. And there is the public’s right to know from a party that has from its inception claimed to stand for the common citizen.

One in three women in India is subjected to violence—a statistic that Maliwal should know only too well. As a national party, AAP must come clean about the ‘misbehaviour’. Doing so will send a message to these women.

2. Why did Maliwal delay her medical examination?

It is possible that a brutal assault, as the one described by Maliwal, would leave any woman in shock. But, as the former head of the Delhi Commission of Women, Maliwal would have been aware of the importance and necessity of a medical examination, done as closely to the incident as possible.

The delay in conducting this examination on Saturday, over five days after the alleged assault, is inexplicable.

3. How do party positions determine reactions?

In the past few years, there has been an utterly deplorable trend in how parties respond to charges of assault. Positions are taken increasingly on party lines with an over-arching aim of embarrassing the opposition more than seeking justice for victims.

In Sandeshkhali, the twists and turns of sexual assault charges against TMC leader Sheikh Shahjahan will make you dizzy. Was it a sting? Was there sexual assault? Why has one woman taken back her statement? It’s hard to tell, given that our agencies, including CBI and police have been so politicised that there is a credibility deficit.

In Karnataka, nearly 3,000 videos allegedly featuring and shot by Prajwal Revanna of the JD(S), a BJP ally, could well have been leaked to coincide with the second phase of voting in the state. But the main questions remain: Did the BJP know of Prajwal’s reputation? Where on earth is the 33-year-old sitting MP from Hassan who is still missing-in-action after promising to return in a week to face charges? And, less often asked, what happens now to the women whose faces are visible in the videos, many of whom had not told their families of their abuse. What is being done to protect and counsel them?

In the political din, I suspect, nothing.

United colours of misogyny

The media throng outside Swati Maliwal’s house/HT/Raj K Raj]

In public speeches, male political leaders, of all parties, yammer away about women’s empowerment. But you cannot advocate for women’s safety in your public speeches and be less-than-open when your party affairs are under the scanner. If you promise action against one man’s misbehaviour and then are seen heading off to an election rally accompanied by him, well, that tells us just how seriously you take the charges against him.

It's the same sort of double standards with which the BJP and the National Commission of Women have seized upon the Maliwal incident to manufacture outrage while elsewhere attempting to deflect blame on the Congress over the Prajwal tapes in Karnataka; Home Minister Amit Shah said in public that the Congress ‘allowed’ Prajwal to flee the country.

This is outrage by political expedience. And if it feels more pronounced this election, it is perhaps because the stakes are higher and parties now know that women voters have the power to swing elections. The AAP has, in fact, made much of advocating for women. Its various laudable steps include free bus rides in Delhi, inducting women bus drivers, ramping up community clinics and schools and promising women a monthly stipend.

In the din of the charges and counter charges, we might never know the truth of what happened at Flagstaff Road on Monday morning. It’s an opportunity lost both to the party and for women who believe they have the right to be safe in public life.

In numbers

In the first decade since the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, complaints have steadily risen, shows data for 300 listed companies—except for the first two years of the pandemic when the number of complaints fell. But in 2022, there was a 51.5% spike in the number of complaints, or 1,160 for the year.

Source: Analysis of the complaints filed by India’s top 300 companies by Akshi Chawla of CEDA (Ashoka University).

Rest in power

AP

Alice Munro, beloved Canadian writer of short stories and winner of the Nobel in 2013 died on Monday aged 92. Her story collections, Lives of Girls and Women, The Love of a Good Woman, “focused on women at different stages of their lives coping with complex desires,” writes The New York Times. Adds The New Yorker where nearly all of Munro’s early work was published, “What Munro did was not so much write about women as write from inside them.”

A long-time resident of a small rural community in southwestern Ontario where she also grew up, Munro wrote about ordinary people facing extraordinary situations, often borrowing from her own life. “The first story in her first book evoked her father’s life. The last story in her last book evoked her mother’s death,” writes Gregory Cowles, a senior editor at New Yorker.

In a long interview to The Paris Review she spoke about juggling writing with bringing up her children. It wasn’t, she said, that she neglected them, “But I wasn’t wholly absorbed. When my oldest daughter was about two, she’d come to where I was sitting at the typewriter, and I would bat her away with one hand and type with the other…this was bad because it made her the adversary to what was most important to me.”

Her “second oldest friend” fellow Canadian author, Margaret Atwood wrote that she had been inundated with requests for a “few sentences”. “But Alice does not reduce to a sound bite, so I’m writing this for you, Dear Reader.”

Read Margaret Atwood’s tribute here.

Smells like an election

Four days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India would make cash-strapped Pakistan wear bangles if it wasn’t wearing any already, Kangana Ranaut, the BJP’s candidate from Mandi echoed the analogy, saying if the neighbouring country does not wear bangles, India will make it wear them.

It’s Naina v Sunaina Chauthala in Haryana’s Hisar that has not seen a woman candidate for Parliament in six decades. Naina is a sitting MLA and represents the Jannayak Janta Party founded by her son, Dushyant Chauthala. Sunaina is her sister-in-law and represents the Indian National Lok Dal. Interestingly, the BJP’s candidate is also a Chauthala, Ranjit Singh and related to both Sunaina and Naina. The Indian Express has details here.

News you might have missed

A Bengaluru court has granted interim bail to JD(S) leader HD Revanna, son of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda and the father of Prajwal Revanna, accused of serious cases of sexual assault and filming close to 3,000 cases of those assaults. Revanna senior had been arrested in a related case of organising the abduction of one of the women, a 47-year-old helper in his house, in the videos. The woman has said she was sexually abused several times between 2019 and 2022 by both father and son.

Read more in The News Minute: Survivors recall years of abuse in the Revanna household

And, When violence is consumed as porn

And the good news…On Tuesday, IIT, Delhi kicked off the third season of its mentorship programme for 100 girls to encourage them to think about careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). The programme will take place on the IIT, Delhi campus in three phases starting May 14 and going on through January 2025.

Watch

Nemo Mettler, the winner of the 68th Eurovision, for Switzerland held last weekend, is the first person who identifies as non-binary to take top prize at the song contest.

Nemo now wants Swiss authorities to allow non-binary designations on official documents.

Watch them perform The Code where they talk about breaking the code between genders.

Around the world

A 29-year-old fitness influencer in Saudi Arabia, Manahel al-Otabi has been in jail since 2022 and was in January sentenced to 11 years in jail for “terrorist offences”, claims Saudi Arabia in response to a United Nations request for detail.

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, aren’t buying the story and say her real offence was her choice of clothing and the posting of hashtags such as #AbolishMaleGuardianship. Her sister, Criticised for its often brutal repression of women, the Saudi Arabia has been trying to fix its image by allowing women such freedoms as driving cars and even going off on space missions. Other efforts include “sports washing” or buying up events like the Tyson Fury/Oleksandr Usyk fight on Saturday and the Women’s Tennis Association finals (roundly criticised jointly by Martina Navratilova and Chris Everett here). Next year, the United Nations has decided, bizarrely, to appoint Saudi Arabia as the chair of a gender equality forum.

In her first post-divorce interview, Sophie Turner told British Vogue about mum-shaming and the immediate fall-out of her divorce with Joe Jonas. “The worst few days of my life,” is how she describes it. Turner was the target of a whisper campaign that painted her as a bad mother who partied ‘without a care in the world’ while her husband Joe Jonas tended to their two daughters.

Elsewhere, Uganda’s constitutional court has ruled to uphold the country’s inexplicably harsh anti-LGBTQI laws passed in May last year that include the death penalty

With its first acquisition of a Louise Jopling self-portrait, Tate Britain is hoping to set right a historic wrong. Although Jopling was one of the most famous British artists of the 19th century and a suffragist who exhibited at the Royal Academy, she was dismissed by the art establishment as an amateur. The Guardian reports that Jopling’s works, the self-portrait and two others, will be shown alongside two of her other paintings at the gallery’s new exhibition, Now You See Us which explores female artists through British history.

        

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That’s it for this week. If you have a tip, feedback, criticism, please write to me at: namita.bhandare@gmail.com.
Produced by Mohd Shad Hasnain shad.hasnain@partner.htdigital.in.

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