Misbehaviour, misogyny and muddying the waters - Hindustan Times
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Misbehaviour, misogyny and muddying the waters

May 19, 2024 02:48 PM IST

Did Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s aide, Bibhav Kumar assault Swati Maliwal as she has claimed?

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.

New Delhi, May 18 (ANI): Personal aide of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Bibhav Kumar being taken to the Aruna Asaf Ali Government Hospital for a medical examination after he was arrested by the Delhi Police in connection with the alleged assault on Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Rajya Sabha MP Swati Maliwal, in New Delhi on Saturday. (ANI Photo)(ANI)
New Delhi, May 18 (ANI): Personal aide of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Bibhav Kumar being taken to the Aruna Asaf Ali Government Hospital for a medical examination after he was arrested by the Delhi Police in connection with the alleged assault on Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Rajya Sabha MP Swati Maliwal, in New Delhi on Saturday. (ANI Photo)(ANI)

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”.

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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

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

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.

The following article is an excerpt from this week's HT Mind the Gap. Subscribe here.

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