The mouth of politicians cannot be shut, senior advocate Kapil Sibal has argued in Supreme Court while representing UP minister and Samajwadi party leader Azam Khan. However, what comes out of some politicians’ mouths bear close watching, particularly if they have a penchant for courting controversies like Khan does. He has now offered to tender an unconditiol apology to the Bulandshahr gangrape survivors, but only after the apex court sternly told him to do so. When the entire country was shaken by the horrendous July 29 incident in which a family from Noida was waylaid by an armed gang on the highway and the woman and her teege daughter dragged to the fields and violated, Khan had chosen to label it a ‘political conspiracy’ to blacken the Samajwadi Party-led government’s image. The teege survivor, through her father, later moved the Supreme Court seeking Khan’s prosecution. Displaying an arrogance typical of a high and mighty minister, Khan did not bother to appear in the case despite being served court notices; filly, an exasperated SC bench had to direct him to make his stand clear by filing a counter-affidavit. However, when we hark back to shocking comments made by other political leaders over a crime as heinous as rape, Azam Khan is hardly an exception. Was it not Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav whose heart once bled for rapists being hanged as ‘boys are boys, they make mistakes’, who had threatened to repeal the law that punishes by death rapists who kill or permanently incapacitate their victims or are serial offenders? And when his son Akhilesh Yadav was asked at a press meet about the rising number of rape cases in UP, the young CM singled out the ‘offending’ jourlist, who happened to be female, by asking in turn: “You are safe, so why are you bothered?”
Such irresponsible, misogynistic talk is spread across the political spectrum; this insensitivity among leaders is irrespective of gender too. West Bengal CM Mamata Bannerjee straightaway goes on the defensive whenever incidents of sexual crimes like Park Street rape case are reported in the state, ever ready to sniff a conspiracy by her political opponents (read Left Front). She has attributed the rise in such cases to ‘men and women interacting more freely now, it’s like an open market with open options’. She has taken on TV channels for ‘negative jourlism’, for holding ‘juicy discussions about one or two incidents (of rape)’, and thereby ‘insulting the mothers and daughters of Bengal day after day’. Then there is former Harya CM and INLD leader Om Prakash Chautala, who while lending support to the khap panchayat’s demand to lower the marriage age for girls ‘to counter rising incidents of rape’, had once invoked backward social mores as justification: “We should learn from the past, especially in Mughal era, people used to marry off their girls to save them from Mughal atrocities...”. Senior BJP leader from Madhya Pradesh Babulal Gaur believes the rate of crimes against women depend on ‘how completely dressed they are and how regularly they visit temples’. Another prominent Samajwadi Party leader Abu Azmi’s prescription is that ‘women should not venture out with men who are not relatives’, quite unmindful of the fact that most rapes reported in the country are actually perpetrated within the four walls of home, by those related or known to the victim. VHP leader Ashok Singhal sees western influences behind rising rape cases in India, going as far back to a pre-British India when ‘virginity used to be preserved’. Some other leaders have even more bizarre theories about such crimes, like BJP leader Kiran Bedi seeing an ‘animal instinct’ in operation as in ‘male pigeons always chasing female pigeons’, Bengal Congress politician and Jangipur MP Abhijit Mukherjee pouring scorn on ‘dented and painted’ women coming out to protest on the streets crimes against women, and Harya khap panchayat chief Jitender Chattar attributing sex crimes to ‘spicy food like chowmein leading to hormol imbalance’. Given such a milieu, it is indeed courageous for the teege survivor of the Bulandshahr atrocity to make an incorrigible leader like Azam Khan eat some crow in court.